So, you have a bunch of old vinyl albums. Music that was meaningful to you back when you were a kid, stuff you haven’t listened to in a while because you’re constantly on the go. You’d love to have those songs for the iPod but your teenager just rolls her eyes whenever you ask her to download them for you. Last year for your birthday she got you a dodgy copy of a Time Life Sounds of the Seventies CD full of comically mislabeled stuff like “Brown Sugar by the Beetles” that actually is “Sugar Sugar” by the Archies. Other than that, the family iTunes collection only has that one Adele song that you like, the rest being something called a Skrillex and those hippety hop Enema Man and Snoopy Snoopy Poop Dog tracks.
Well, there is a solution. For only about $30.00, you can get the Vibe Sound VS-2001-USBT turntable. It plugs into your computer and converts your records into mp3 files. A great solution, plus it’s a great excuse to take your records out of storage, look at the sweet cover art and liner notes, and reminisce about the time fifteen-year-old you snaked a case of Hamm’s from the neighbor’s garage and spent the afternoon in Mikey Walker’s basement listening to this very album over and over until you guys were too sloppy to turn the record over anymore.
You were pretty cool back then, you know.
Hooking up the VS-2001-USBT is a piece of cake (mmm… cake). It is USB powered, so you don’t need an extra power cord. It uses a standard USB A printer cable, so I just unplugged the printer temporarily instead of climbing behind the desk to hook up a new cable to my tower.
Windows 7 detected and installed without needing a driver. Device Manager calls it “USB Microphone.” This makes sense, since its brains are basically the same technology as your USB gaming headset; however, this will totally confuse granddad. Also, me after eight beers. “Microphone? I don’t have a microphone. But if I did… Awww yeah! Karaoke time. DON’T STOP BELIEVIN’! HOLD OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOON! STREET LIGHT PEOPLE OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOH!!!!!!”
I win at karaoke.
I also tried the turntable on Windows XP and Ubuntu Linux. If you are running Windows XP, Windows will automatically find the driver online. Ubuntu picked it up automatically without requiring a download.
One brief note, since this is kind of confusing. This is treated as a microphone, so you won’t actually hear anything while you record. You probably don’t want to anyway, since a small amount of that might feedback into your recording. But if you want to listen to the record to find a certain track, Windows 7 has an option to enable playback. Go to your Sound settings, then find the “USB Microphone.” Click Properties, then the Listen tab. Check “Listen to this device.”
Sorry, but Windows XP doesn’t support this. However, there are RCA stereo jacks on the back so you can hook it up to your home stereo instead.
The manufacturer includes a software CD with the highly-rated Audacity recording/editing software. It does a great job of blending user-friendly options with advanced features. There have been several updates since the CD was made, so you might want to grab the latest version. The CD includes version 1.2.6; version 2.0.1 is available at http://audacity.sourceforge.net/download/ The user manual has a Getting Started guide for version 1.2.6, so you might want to install that to start out with.
I found it simple to use, but less computer-savvy people will have a learning curve. For example, the first recording I made got very distorted during loud parts. Go into the “Microphone” Properties and select the levels tab. Move the slider down about half way, maybe a little more. Audacity also has an option to fine tune it even more, but this should work fine as a quick and dirty fix.
(Off topic: Why do fixes have to be both quick AND dirty? This fix is quick, sure, but it isn’t like step two involves peephole camera footage of the lady staying in room number 402 at the airport Hilton. NOT THAT I KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THAT, OFFICER.)
Anyway, recording is fairly simple but it isn’t a one step process. Pick up the needle and the turntable starts spinning. Hit the Record button, drop the needle, and you’re off. One thing I didn’t care for was that you have to manually place the needle on the record—no cueing mechanism like on most decent record players- but what do you expect for thirty bucks?
To create individual tracks, you either have to stop after each song (tough to time) or record the entire side of the album, then cut and paste each song into a new file. This is the most time consuming part; if you have a huge album collection you might be better off buying them from iTunes than spending hours on this. Or maybe find someone who’s having a rough time during the economic slowdown and give them a buck or two for each album they rip for you.
BAM! UNEMPLOYMENT SOLUTION! GET OBAMA ON THE PHONE. FROM NOW ON JUST CALL ME “MR. STIMULUS PACKAGE.”
Audacity can be as simple or complex as you want. Before you export your file to mp3, you can add filters and effects to remove scratchiness and pops and crackles. The basic ones mentioned in the Getting Started guide will work for most people. But if your name happens to be Inquisitive Q. Adventurepants, there is an excellent online guide to the advanced features at http://community.linuxmint.com/tutorial/view/627
The end result was surprisingly good for the price. It isn’t audiophile quality, but again what do you expect at this price point? It uses a basic needle and ceramic cartridge, which can’t achieve the frequency response you can get with diamonds and magnets. It’s also harder on your records; if you’re looking for just a record player, find something else. This will wear out your vinyl a lot faster. But it doesn’t really matter for the one or two plays it takes to rip them to your PC.
To check out the quality, I hooked up my Technics turntable through a USB dongle. I ripped a couple songs on each device and compared them.
As expected, the VS-2001-USBT sounded a little muddier than my player. With old Uriah Heep and Yes records, you lost a bit of the crispness and sound separation during the “proggier” moments when instruments layer together. But this is nit-picky; it’s nothing the average person will pick up on listening with $20 headphones while jogging.
Next I grabbed U2’s “Rattle and Hum,” which I bought on vinyl for some reason I don’t remember. (It probably involved impressing the girl that worked at the record store. Girls who work at independent record stores and dress like Rainbow Brite in the Mad Max universe like to talk about “the warmth of the vinyl sonic experience” and stuff.) There wasn’t much difference in the recordings. The recording with the VS-2001-USBT made Bono’s voice sound a little deeper and flatter, but it was no big deal. If you’re an audiophile, odds are you have the remastered version on a gold-plated Blu-Ray audio disc anyway. For the rest of us, the Vibe Sound VS-2001-USBT is a very solid choice.
The Vibe Sound VS-2001-USBT is a surprisingly good product for those who want to convert their vinyl into mp3s. There is a learning curve to the software; it isn’t like the one-click way you can add a CD to your iTunes library. The sound quality isn’t perfect, but it will meet most people’s needs. If you are very picky about audio, hire your neighborhood Skrillex to rip your albums using his pro DJ equipment. But for the rest of us, this thirty dollar solution is awesome.
Buy it, rip it, fall in love with your music again. Toss Uriah Heep’s “The Magician’s Birthday” on the iPod and take it on vacation with you. And if, on your trip, you run into Mikey Walker, steal him a Hamm’s for me.
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