USB turntables

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USB turntables are designed to transfer records to digital recording software by connecting to a computer's USB port, making them suitable for use with almost any modern computer. They usually also include an line-in input for connecting tape decks, radios or similar sources. Recordings can then be burnt to CD.
Much of the information on this page also applies to recording with USB tape cassette decks and external USB soundcards.


Contents


Alternative solutions

USB turntables or tape decks are convenient, but they can be prone to freezing up on slower computers. There are many models on the market, but many are not made to high standards. Turntables offered on internet shopping websites where the manufacturer does not have their own website should generally be avoided.

USB turntables can suffer from:

  • excessive output level with no gain control on the turntable and no ability for the operating system to control the level
  • low quality ceramic cartridge instead of magnetic
  • audible rumble
  • turntable arm lifts off before the end of the record
  • incorrect speed or variable speed
  • transmission hum
  • unbalanced stereo recording.

If your computer has a line-in (blue) input, you can digitize LPs and tapes with an existing turntable or tape deck at less cost. All that is needed is a phono pre-amp for connecting a turntable to the computer, and only a cable for connecting a cassette deck. No intermediate amplifier is needed for a tape deck because its output will already be at line level, and it does not need RIAA equalization.

If your computer lacks a line-in, you can purchase an external USB interface or soundcard, and connect a turntable through a phono pre-amp to line-in of the USB device. Some USB interfaces already come with a built-in phono pre-amp. An existing cassette deck can be connected directly with an external USB soundcard.

Some users with extensive experience of digitizing LPs and tapes believe that connecting a good quality conventional turntable or tape deck to an external USB interface or soundcard is an ideal solution. USB soundcards usually do not suffer from the transmission problems of USB turntables or tape decks, and are also free from the random clicky noise that can afflict sound devices built into computer motherboards. Moreover their analog-to-digital converter (ADC) may be superior to that provided with a USB turntable.

On the other hand, USB turntables or tape decks can still be a good choice if you lack decent record or tape equipment or have a noisy built-in sound device and are prepared to shop around for a quality turntable or deck. Transmission hum can mostly be removed after recording using Audacity's Noise Removal, and channel imbalances can be corrected with Amplify and Normalize|Normalize.

There is an impartial review here of the pros and cons of USB turntables versus other solutions involving conventional turntables. A feature comparison chart for popular USB turntables is included plus reviews of different programs such as Audacity for recording, editing and converting to MP3, WAV and audio CD.

Audacity and USB turntables

Audacity is suitable for use with any USB turntable. Many manufacturers of USB turntables include Audacity with their products, for example Lenco.

It is recommended to choose a USB turntable with a gain (volume) control on the device, so the signal sent by the turntable can be controlled prior to it reaching Audacity. Cheaper turntables purchased through magazines or general purpose online shopping websites often lack such a control.

The first thing to understand when you unpack your new turntable is that we although we make the included Audacity software, we do not make the turntables, and have no direct relationship with the turntable manufacturer. They are free under our licence to bundle any version of Audacity with their products without reference to us. Any included Manuals are also usually written by the manufacturer.

Turntables can sometimes lie around in shops or warehouses for a long time before the consumer purchases them, which is nothing we can control. Therefore your first job is to make sure the Audacity software is up-to-date, and check over any included turntable Manual.

Update the Audacity software

Check your current version of Audacity clicking Help > About Audacity in the program (or Audacity > About Audacity if you are on OS X). Then go to the Audacity download website to check what the latest available version is and, if needed, download the latest Audacity version suitable for your computer and operating system.

Check the manufacturer's Manual

You should always familiarise yourself with the turntable controls and general operation by reading its Manual carefully. One thing we've noticed is that sometimes the manufacturer's guides supplied with the turntable are out-of-date, or have errors, especially in describing how to set up the Audacity software. These are the main errors that you may come across:

  • You don't need to select stereo mix in the dropdown selector of Audacity's Device Toolbar. The dropdown selector is always greyed out when the turntable is correctly selected as Audacity's recording device.
  • Audacity Preferences are not under the File menu but are under the Edit menu, except for users on OS X where they are under the Audacity menu.
  • You do not need to select Monitor Input each time you launch Audacity. Monitoring the input is optional and allows you to hear the turntable through the computer speakers just like an ordinary turntable whenever it's playing, without having to record. If you want to select Monitor Input, you need to have the Meter Toolbar enabled (note: NOT Mixer Toolbar as some guides state).

Therefore for setup and operation of Audacity, we strongly recommend you to use this Tutorial.

PDF Manuals

If needed, up-to-date turntable Manuals are available as below. They are in English unless otherwise stated. To read or print PDF documents, a PDF Reader is required such as Adobe.

Grace

Innovative Technology

Ion Quick Start Guides

Numark

Note: Ion/Numark do not currently include Audacity on the CD supplied with their turntables.

Lenco

  • Select your turntable model from this page then scroll down on the page that appears to find the manual
  • For manuals in other languages, go to the turntables page in German, French, Spanish or Dutch, then click on the link for your turntable model
Note: Ignore Lenco's instruction that you have to select "stereo mix" in the Audacity Mixer Toolbar. This is not required.

Stanton

Set up Audacity to record from the turntable

The turntable must be switched on and its USB cable connected to the computer before launching Audacity, because Audacity is not able to recognise a device if you plug it in while it's already running.
  1. Go to the Device Toolbar
    1. Select the USB Audio CODEC as the recording device and select your inbuilt sound device or soundcard by name as the playback device. If you are on Windows, do NOT choose Microsoft SoundMapper for the playback device. On Windows 7 or Vista, you can try Microsoft SoundMapper as the recording device if the "USB Audio Codec" choice doesn't record.
    2. Set recording channels to 2 (stereo) if you want to record in stereo, or set to 1 (mono) for mono recording.
  2. Go to the Transport Menu and check "Software Playthrough" to be "on" to hear the turntable through the computer speakers; this setting can be toggled on/off easily from the Transport Menu.
  3. Go to the Mixer Toolbar and turn up the left-hand output volume slider (by the speaker symbol). The right-hand input volume slider (by the microphone symbol) can often be used to vary the loudness of the recording, but it may not function with all turntables. If it does not, try adjusting the input level on the turntable or in the Windows system mixer (right-click over the speaker icon by the system clock).
  4. If you are on a Mac, you should always set up the turntable by clicking on the Mac hard disk, then Applications > Utilities > Audio-MIDI Setup. Click on the Audio Devices tab, then on the left-hand side, select USB Audio CODEC in the Default Input and Properties for dropdowns. You can vary the input level here, too. If you are on OS X 10.1 or earlier, go to Apple Menu > System Preferences > Sound, click the Input button and select USB Audio CODEC.
    An alternative procedure for setting up a USB input device in Audacity on Mac OS X is documented here.
  5. Make sure that your Project Rate bottom left of the Audacity screen is set to 44 100 Hz.
  6. Then simply press the red Record button in Audacity to start recording from the turntable - ignore any instructions in the manufacturer's guide to select "stereo mix",.

Playing records through a phono amplifier or computer

If your USB turntable has RCA outputs or RCA cables then it can be connected to an external stereo system or amplifier to play records like a conventional turntable. Connect the RCA cables to either the phono input of a home stereo, or to powered speakers, choosing phono on the "phono/line" switch on the turntable. The cables can also be connected to a CD/AUX/TAPE input on an amplifier, setting the phono/line switch to line. The phono/line switch is usually underneath the turntable chassis.

Note you cannot automatically play records through the computer speakers unless you are recording, because the turntable has been designed primarily as a recording turntable. To play records in Audacity without recording, make sure software playthrough is enabled in the Transport menu,then click in the right-hand recording VU meter with the microphone symbol, which turns on "monitoring". Click in the meter again if you want to turn monitoring off.

Meter Toolbar

If the VU meters are not visible, click View > Toolbars and enable the Meter Toolbar.

Depending on your equipment, there are other ways to play the turntable through the computer speakers, without having to use Audacity:

  • Attach the RCA output cables to the RCA inputs on the HiFi speakers included on some recent multimedia computers, setting the turntable level switch to phono
  • Attach the RCA output cables to the CD input on the computer, setting the turntable level switch to line
  • (Windows and Linux only) Attach the RCA output cables to a phono amplifier, set the turntable level switch to phono, run a cable from the line-out or headphones-out of the amplifier to line-in on the computer, then unmute line-in on the playback side of the system mixer (for example, Sounds and Audio Devices in the Windows XP Control Panel)


Some users report that connecting the RCA cables to the computer, computer speakers or an amplifier or home stereo mutes the USB output, so preventing recording. If necessary, unplug the RCA cables, and keep them free of any bare metal, before attempting to record.

Windows system sound requires reset

If you are on Windows, system sound won't be available while the turntable is plugged in at the USB connection. On Windows, any newly connected USB device (not only a turntable but for example a USB tape deck or USB microphone) may take over as the system's default sound playback device even if it's not meant to be a playback device for the computer. As a result, you will have sound in Audacity but not in other applications that simply use the default playback device. System sound will be restored as soon as you unplug the device at its USB connection. If you need system sound for other applications while the USB device is plugged in, do this:

  • Vista or 7 : right-click over the speaker icon in the System Tray > Playback Devices. Right-click over Speakers for the inbuilt sound device (not Speakers for USB Audio Codec) and choose "Set as Default Device".
    • You can also access this menu from Start > Control Panel > Hardware and Sound > Sound then click on the Playback tab. If you're using "Classic View" on Vista, there's a direct link to "Sound" in the Control Panel.
  • XP or earlier: click Start > (Settings) > Control Panel > Sounds, Speech and Audio Devices > Sounds and Audio devices. Or you can right-click over the speaker icon in the System Tray > Adjust Audio Properties. Then click on the Audio tab, and in the Sound Playback panel, click on the downward pointing arrow in the dropdown box and select the inbuilt soundcard as the default device. Click OK.

If you make this change just once, you can leave the turntable or other USB device plugged into the USB port and it will not turn off system sound next time you start it up for another recording session. It is however recommended to unplug the USB turntable or cassette deck from the mains when not required.

Transcribing & processing 78 rpm records

Few USB turntables offer 78 rpm playback, but you can record at 33 1/3 or 45 rpm then use Effect > Change Speed in Audacity to convert to the correct speed. In the "From" box in Change Speed, choose the speed you played the record at (for example, "33 1/3" or "45"). In the "To" box, choose the speed you want to convert the recording to (the speed it should be played at according to the label).

Note that you should reverse the RIAA equalization before changing speed - now the transfer will be "flat". Then change the speed. Then apply the "proper" 78 rpm equalization (whatever that may be).

See this this page in the Audacity manual for a detailed tutorial on the transfer and processing of 78 rpm records. Most of the steps and advice there can be applied in any version of Audacity.

Warning icon Note that you should not use a normal stylus (needle) to play 78's. The grooves on a 78 are significantly larger than the grooves on an LP and the normal stylus will bottom out in the grooves; this will result in noisier transfers and could potentially damage your stylus.


Troubleshooting

Turntable not recognised by operating system

If the USB audio codec is not recognised in the Audacity Device Toolbar, you cannot record from it. If you connected the turntable while Audacity was already running, try Transport > Rescan Audio Devices or exit Audacity and relaunch it.

Make sure the turntable is plugged into the mains and switched on, and its USB cable is connected to the computer. Ensure you are plugging into a spare USB port, not a USB hub. Try a different USB port. Try using another USB cable - sometimes a faulty cable can cause this problem.

If that does not help follow, this sequence and reboot

  1. Exit Audacity
  2. Unplug all other USB devices (on Windows, use the "Safely Remove Hardware" icon in the System Tray)
  3. Switch off and unplug the turntable at the USB connection and at the mains
  4. Plug it back into the USB port, and switch it on
  5. Wait a couple of minutes then completely shut down the computer and restart

When the computer has finished rebooting, open Audacity and see if the USB device is now in the Recording Device list.

If it is essential you run another USB device at the same time as the turntable and it is not already connected, connect it before connecting the USB Turntable, not afterwards.

If problems persist, request support from the turntable manufacturer.

Recorded waveform is not centered on the horizontal line at 0.0

This is known as DC offset; it's less common with USB turntables or interfaces than with built-in soundcards. If offset is present, use Effect > Normalize to remove any DC offset before editing or exporting the recording. To do this, put a check mark in "Remove any DC offset..." but leave "Normalize maximum amplitude..." unchecked.

White Noise

Sometimes "white noise" can smother the entire frequency range of the recording, or there can be other distortion. Remove the cartridge/headshell from the tonearm and reseat it tightly and securely. A loose cartridge is a known source of white noise. A poorly fitting or defective USB cable might also cause noise problems. Try a new USB cable and make sure both ends are tight.

No signal in one stereo channel

The most likely explanation is a loose cartridge/headshell. Remove the cartridge and headshell from the tonearm completely and reseat it tightly and securely. A loose or defective USB cable can also cause this problem. Try using another cable.

Recordings freeze up or have dropouts

Reports of recordings from USB turntables freezing or having dropouts are not that uncommon. Generally they are not caused by Audacity, but by poor quality equipment and cables, or lack of sufficient USB bandwidth.

  • Check the Project Rate bottom left of the Audacity screen is set to either 44 100 or 48 000 Hz - setting a very high rate might overload the USB bandwidth and cause transmission problems
  • Check the USB cable for tightness at both ends and try using a different cable instead
  • Always use a spare USB port, not a hub
  • Limit USB bandwidth whilst recording by using other USB devices sparingly e.g. simply disconnecting from the internet may help if you use a USB modem for internet access.
  • Check for any system warnings (e.g. in Device Manager in Windows) about the Universal Serial Bus Controllers.
  • There have been isolated reports that recordings freeze up if they are attempted whilst the unit's RCA cables are connected to an external input such as a home stereo, although concurrent recording and playing through external equipment is implied as being possible.

Generally, if you find you can record into Audacity without interruption from another source such as a microphone plugged into your computer's microphone port, this implicates the turntable or USB cable. To check if other sources record satisfactorily, change the Recording Device on the Audio I/O tab of Preferences to your inbuilt sound.

If recording from other sources works fine, try using the latest version of Audacity if you are not already doing so: it's possible very recent turntables might work better with the most modern Audacity version. Otherwise, request support from the turntable manufacturer.

If recordings from sources other than the turntable are also freezing or have dropouts, there could be problems with insufficient computer resources. Please see our Managing Computer Resources and Drivers page for tips on correcting this. If you're using "software playthrough", it's also possible that problems with your inbuilt sound device (used to play back your recording whilst you are making it) are disrupting the recording. Please look at our list of tips on Updating Sound Device Drivers for help.

Speed too fast or slow or erratic

Note that some models of USB turntable e.g. Numark have a variable pitch slider which allows the pitch to be increased or decreased by up to 10%. In the Numark model the pitch is unchanged when the slider is at central position. When the slider is moved away from the centre and towards the tone arm the pitch is decreased (the platter is slowed down), and when the slider is moved away from the tone arm this increases the pitch (speeds up the platter.)

If the problem is one of fast speed, this can be due to a belt that is improperly installed. If the belt slips out of the groove when the turntable is rotating and is able to ride up or down on the spindle, the platter will spin too fast. You'll need to adjust the position of the belt on the inner ring of the platter. The inner ring of the platter is quite a bit wider than the belt itself. The belt should wrap around the middle part of the inner ring. If it is wrapped too high or too low around the inner ring, it could cause the other half of the belt to ride up or down on the spindle. Follow these steps to check the belt for proper alignment:

  1. Remove both the record and the slip mat from the turntable.
  2. Rotate the platter so that you can see the brass motor spindle through one of the holes in the platter (it should be located in the bottom-left corner of the turntable).
  3. Reposition the belt so that it is wrapped around the spindle's groove.

If adjusting the belt or any variable pitch slider does not help, please request support from the turntable manufacturer.

Recordings too loud or soft

If the recordings are coming in at too high a level, so that they show clipping on the red VU recording meter, look for any control on the turntable that allows you to reduce its output volume. For example Ion and Numark models have a "gain knob" underneath the chassis that controls the output level. Be warned however that some users report that this gain knob does not work. Try to aim for a maximum peak of around –6.0 dB (or 0.5 if you have your meters set to linear rather than dB). Tip: enlarging the Meter Toolbar by clicking and dragging helps with this task.

Alternatively, you may find that the input level from the turntable is so low that the adjustment of the input slider on Audacity does not provide enough gain to get near -6 dB.

If adjusting the input slider on the Audacity Mixer Toolbar does not help, try turning the input level up or down (as appropriate) in the system mixer (usually accessed by right-click over the speaker icon by the system clock). For details on Windows, see our system mixer help - click that link, look for the image for Windows Vista/7 or XP as appropriate, then turn down the input level for "USB Audio Codec".

On Mac, click on the Mac hard disk, then Applications > Utilities > Audio-MIDI Setup. Click on the Audio Devices tab, and make sure USB Audio CODEC is showing in the Default Input and Properties for dropdowns. Then adjust the volume using the slider underneath the "Audio Input" box.

Additional solutions for excessive output volume:
  • If the cartridge is replaceable, take it to a hifi shop and see if you can get a lower output cartridge. If the cartridge is ceramic (cheap USB turntables often use these) it will have a high output. Replacing this with a magnetic cartridge will give lower output and better quality.
  • If the turntable has RCA leads for connecting to speakers, plug the leads into an RCA stereo > 1/8 inch TRS adaptor (obtainable from any electrical retailer), then connect the adaptor to line-in of the computer and set Audacity to record from line-in. The input of the line-in can then be controlled using the Audacity input slider.

Buzz from ION turntable

The ION TTUSB10 turntable produces a faint but noticeable buzz at 60 Hz and its overtones (120 Hz, 180 Hz and so on). This is largely due to corresponding amplitude modulation on a much higher carrier frequency at 12000 Hz or higher. This buzz can be substantially reduced by using the Notch Filter to suppress the carrier frequency.

Windows Vista and 7

Stereo recording

External devices such as USB turntables usually default to mono recording on Windows Vista and 7. This means that if you are recording a stereo LP into a stereo Audacity track, only one channel of the LP will be transferred, and this will be duplicated in both channels of the track. To record in stereo:

  1. In Audacity, go to Device Toolbar, select "USB Audio Codec" in the "Recording Device" dropdown, and choose "2 (Stereo)" in the channels dropdown.
  2. Right-click over the speaker icon in the System Tray > Recording Devices. Alternatively, click Windows Start > Control Panel > Hardware and Sound > Sound, then the "Recording" tab (in "Classic View", there's a direct link to "Sound" in the Control Panel).
  3. Right-click over USB Audio Codec and hit Properties
  4. On the "Advanced" tab, in the "Default Format" section, change the dropdown menu to "2 channel 16 bit 44100 Hz"
  5. If the input into Audacity is too loud or distorts, even when using the Audacity Input Level Slider, also click the "Levels" tab in "Sound" for the USB Audio Codec and move the slider to the left.

Microsoft Sound Mapper

There are some reports that Audacity does not detect the turntable input on Windows Vista or 7 when "USB Audio Codec" is selected as "Recording Device" on the Audio I/O tab of Preferences. Try selecting "Microsoft Sound Mapper" in Preferences instead, making sure that "USB Audio Codec" is selected in the Recording tab of "Sound" in the Windows Control Panel. To access this tab, right-click over the speaker icon in the System Tray > Recording Devices. Alternatively, click Windows Start > Control Panel > Hardware and Sound > Sound, then the "Recording" tab (in "Classic View", there's a direct link to "Sound" in the Control Panel).

Playback of recordings

If you experience difficulties playing back your recording in Audacity after you have made it, there could be problems with the drivers of your computer's sound device. These may not be fully up-to-date or compatible with Vista or 7. Click here for help on updating your computer's sound device drivers.

If you have any other problems with your turntable under Vista or 7, please request support from the turntable manufacturer.

Further support from the turntable manufacturer

Audacity can only help you with problems directly related to the Audacity software. If you have a question about using Audacity, please post a question to the correct Forum for your operating system and version of Audacity.

For product support for your turntable, please contact the manufacturer as below.

Grace

Email or telephone support: Contact Grace

Innovative Technology

Innovative Technology Support and Sales Enquiries

Ion

Ion Support

Kam

Kam no longer manufactures USB turntables. Please contact your turntable supplier or contact Kam for advice.

Lenco

Lenco's policy is that you should contact the store where you purchased the turntable. See this page for details.

Numark

Numark Support

Stanton

Visit Stanton's "Contact" page.

Recording, editing and exporting

Once your USB turntable is set up and working properly, see Transferring tapes and records to computer or CD in the Manual for instructions on:

  • making and editing your recording
  • exporting to an audio file
  • importing the exported file to iTunes or Windows Media Player
  • burning the exported file to CD
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