SAN FRANCISCO - Most people gave up on their vinyl music collection two decades ago, when compact discs all but nudged LPs off store shelves for good. If you held onto any favorites, DJ equipment maker Numark Inc. is looking to breathe new life into them with a USB-equipped turntable.
It can pipe the tunes of yesteryear into your computer, where you can store them in digital form or load them onto a media player and take them on the road.
The Numark TTX USB ($399) is a sturdy, DJ-quality turntable with well-fashioned components and nice styling. Nothing about this unit threatens to date it visually, and that's important if you're considering showcasing a turntable alongside some other home theater devices.
Numark was not the first company to market a USB-equipped turntable. ION Audio also makes USB turntables, and theirs start at $99. But the heavy-duty build of the Numark unit was more impressive to me.
And it's always possible to skip such devices altogether and pipe the sound from your old, non-USB turntable into a computer. You can feed the audio signal into a USB-equipped mixer or use an add-on like Creative Technology Ltd.'s Sound Blaster PC cards with traditional left and right phono inputs.
The on-board USB connection just made the process easier for me. Numark is selling ease of use and top-notch physical components with the TTX USB unit.
The Numark also includes the software needed to import music from 33s and 45s to a computer hard drive. Once you plug the USB cable from the turntable into the computer and launch the application, it's as simple as pressing record and lowering the needle down onto the album surface.
Of course, this is a real-time affair: There are no shortcuts to ripping vinyl to a digital file. If you want to convert 50 minutes of album music into MP3 format, it takes 50 minutes of recording, plus a few minutes for the conversion and encoding, in contrast to the few minutes it takes to burn a CD with files already in digital form.
I invited a friend and her albums over for a Sunday afternoon of vinyl ripping. She brought a lot of good 1980s music, some bad 1980s music and a few nicely remastered jazz albums to keep things respectable. Like me, she had kept her LPs, waiting for an opportunity like this to reinvent them in digital form.
The Numark unit faithfully replicated the music, along with the occasional crackle and hiss of a weathered album. The files were encoded as MP3s at 160 kilobits per second, slightly better than the default 128 kbps in most CD ripping programs.
The EZ Vinyl Converter program also automatically puts the resulting MP3 files into an iTunes music folder if you have iTunes installed.
There is software to remove - or at least soften - the cracks and hisses that can be heard on aging vinyl albums. Audacity can do a decent job, and the software is free to download. Audio Cleaning Lab from Magix ($39.99) also has many tools for sprucing up sounds transferred from vinyl to digital format.
The tricky part came when I wanted to insert the track titles.
One method was to lift the tone arm after the end of a song, effectively pausing the process and clicking "next" on the application, an action that took us to a screen to insert the track info.
Doing that for a select number of album tracks was tedious, though.
And on some tracks, I forgot and ended up with two songs in one MP3 file.