USB turntables

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Revision as of 22:52, 18 February 2009 by Aaamonty3 (talk | contribs) (Set up Audacity to record from the turntable)
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USB turntables are designed to transfer records to digital audio files or CDs by connecting to the computer's USB port, and are especially useful if your computer doesn't have the line-in port needed when digitising LPs with a conventional turntable. USB turntables often include a line input for transferring from tape decks or similar sources as well. Audacity is suitable for recording from any make of USB turntable, using the instructions on this page.
Several manufacturers of USB turntables now bundle Audacity with their product, notably Ion Audio , Numark , Kam  and Lenco .


Ensure the Audacity software is up to date

Make sure you have a current version of the Audacity software as the software provided on the turntable manufacturer's CDs can be out of date. Note that neither the version number of the CD nor that of any guides produced by the manufacturers relates to the version of Audacity that you have. You should always check the current version of Audacity you have by clicking Help > About in the program (or Audacity > About if you are on OS X). Then go to the Audacity download site  and, if needed, grab the latest Audacity download for your operating system.


Ensure your manufacturer's guides are up to date

There can be confusion about the guides provided with the turntables, which are written by the turntable manufacturer rather than by Audacity. Sometimes the guides supplied with the turntables are out of date, or have errors. 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 Mixer 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 except in the legacy 1.0.0 version of Audacity which is only appropriate for Mac users on OS 9. Preferences 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 the Mixer Toolbar that current guides state). Instructions on this are below.

If you wish you can download current manuals in .PDF format here:


Ion

Ion QuickStart Guide  (English, German, French, Spanish and Italian) for setup and connection of the turntable.

Ion Guide to Audacity  (German, French, Spanish and Italian).

Ion Guide to Audacity  (English).


Kam

No online or donwloadable manuals are available at present.


Lenco

Manuals  (English, German, French, Spanish and Dutch).


Numark

There is a QuickStart guide  available. Downloadable guides to Audacity are no longer available from Numark but you can download the same guides from Ion (part of the same company) as above.


Stanton

Manual  (English).


HINT: To read or print PDF documents you need a PDF Reader such as Adobe .

Set up Audacity to record from the turntable

After connecting the USB cable of the turntable to the computer, set up Audacity by going to the Audio I/O tab of Preferences and:

  1. Select the USB Audio CODEC as the recording device and select your inbuilt sound or soundcard by name as the playback device. Do NOT choose Microsoft SoundMapper if you are on Windows.
  2. Enable software playthrough if you want to hear the turntable through the computer speakers while it's recording.
  3. Set recording channels to 2 (stereo) if you want to record in stereo, otherwise leave recording channels set to 1 (mono).
  4. 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) does not function with USB turntables, so it is not possible to vary the input level into Audacity. If you are on a Mac, you should also click 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. 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.
  5. Make sure that your Project Rate bottom left of the Audacity screen is set to 44 100 Hz.
  6. Then, ignoring any instructions in the manufacturer's guide to select "stereo mix", simply press the red Record button in Audacity to start recording from the turntable.

Playing records through the computer or a phono amplifier

The turntables can be connected with the provided RCA output cables to an external stereo system or amplifier so you can play records with the turntable as you would with a conventional turntable, without having to record. You can connect the RCA cables to either the phono input of a home stereo, or to powered speakers, in which case you must choose phono on the "phono/line" switch on the turntable (next to the cables). You can also connect the cables to a CD/AUX/TAPE input on an amplifier, in which case you must set the switch to line.

But you cannot automatically play records through the computer speakers unless you are recording, because the turntable has been designed primarily as a recording turntable.

If you do want to play records through the computer speakers without recording, the simplest way is to use Audacity to do this (which means of course it must be running). Click on the downward pointing arrow in Audacity's right-hand (red) recording VU meter and click Monitor Input (or Start monitoring in Audacity 1.3.3):


Meter Toolbar


Then (providing you've enabled software playthrough on the Audio I/O tab of Preferences), you'll hear the turntable whenever it's playing without having to record. If the VU meters are not visible, go to the Interface tab of Preferences and check Enable Meter Toolbar. In 1.3.3, instead click View > Toolbars > Show Meter Toolbar.

Depending on your equipment, there are other ways you can get the turntable to always play through the computer speakers, without having to launch Audacity.

  • Attach its RCA output cables to any CD or AUX input you may have on your computer, and set the turntable level switch to line.
  • Attach its RCA output cables to the RCA inputs on the HiFi speakers that are included on some recent multimedia computers, and set the turntable level switch to phono.
  • Attach its RCA outputs to a phono amplifier, set its level switch to phono, run a cable from the headphones out of the amplifier to line-in on your computer, then unmute line-in as a playback device in your system mixer (e.g. Sounds and Audio Devices on Windows XP or earlier).


HINT: Some users report that if you connect the RCA cables in any way either to the computer or computer speakers, or to an external device like a home stereo, the USB output is muted so you cannot record from it. If this applies to you, you need to unplug the RCA cables from the device they are plugged into.

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. This occurs because due to a driver problem, the turntable switches the system's default sound playback device away from your sound device to the turntable (which of course is not meant to be a playback device for the computer). You will have sound in Audacity but not in other applications that simply use the current default device. System sound will be restored as soon as you unplug the turntable at its USB connection, but if you need system sound for other applications while the turntable is plugged in, do this:

  • Vista: right-click over the speaker icon in the System Tray > Playback Devices and select Speakers for the inbuilt sound device (not Speakers for USB Audio Codec) as the default device. You can also access this menu from Start > Control Panel > Hardware and Sound > Sound (if you're using "Classic View" there's a direct link to "Sound" in the Control Panel), then click on the Playback tab.
  • 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 sound as the default device.

If you make this change just the once and then leave the turntable plugged into the USB port (but not of course plugged into the mains), it will not turn off system sound next time you start it up for another recording session.

Higher speed transfers and 78 rpm dubbing

Because Audacity can change the speed of recordings, it's possible to record your 33 1/3 rpm records into Audacity at 45 rpm (so transfer them more quickly), or you can record 78 rpm records at either 33 1/3 rpm or 45 rpm (even though the turntable does not offer 78 rpm). Once the track is recorded into Audacity, simply select all the track by clicking in the Track Panel (where the mute/solo buttons are) and click Effect > Change Speed. In the "From" box choose the speed you played the record at (e.g. "33 1/3" or "45") and in the "To" box choose the speed you want to convert the recording to (i.e. the speed it should be played at according to the label).

Where you are recording at a faster speed than normal e.g. recording a 33 1/3 rpm record at 45 rpm, it's recommended to set the sample rate in the Project Rate button bottom left of the Audacity window to a higher sample rate than 44.1kHz to ensure you record the full audio spectrum. For recording 33rpm records played at 45rpm, a sample rate of 60k or more is needed to record the full 20kHz spectrum. If 44.1k sample rate is used when recording, the final audio will be limited to 14.8kHz bandwidth.

Accelerated recording does not give the best sound quality, for two reasons:

First, the playback equalisation curve is being applied incorrectly in the record deck preamp. While correct for normal speed play, all music content is frequency shifted during accelerated play, and equalisation is therefore incorrect.

Secondly, cartridges behave poorly beyond 20kHz, and an accelerated deck is using the cartridge at up to 27kHz to play back audio content of up to 20kHz. Consequently distortion will rise, high frequency response will be more peaky, and generally the highest frequencies will be lost. How much of an issue this quality loss is depends on the cartridge, but it will always be present, with no cartridges giving as good performance to 27kHz as they do to 20kHz.


Special note on 78 rpm transfers

Where you are recording 78 rpm's, there is a problem in that the pre-amplification built into the turntable is designed for records made from the 1950s onwards. This is because the pre-amplification not only provides the necessary amplification for the cartridge signal that's sent to Audacity, but applies what is known as "RIAA playback equalisation" to it. This equalisation is essential when playing records made from the 1950s or later, as it cancels out the high frequency biassed "RIAA recording equalisation" that such records are cut with, and so makes them sound normal again. The problem is that as most 78 rpm records were not cut with such a strong high frequency bias, they therefore sound dull if played through modern equipment like your USB turntable that applies RIAA playback equalisation.

So to make a fully professional job of transferring your 78 rpm's you would be advised after recording to use Effect > Equalization in Audacity and draw and apply the reverse of the RIAA playback curve, that is, the green recording curve shown in the diagram here . This will cancel out the unwanted RIAA equalisation then you can apply one of the 78 rpm playback curve presets supplied with the Audacity Equaliser. Note that these curves are generic and in practice many different equalisations were used according to the record label or even the recording engineer. You can see turnover and rolloff information for many 78s and pre-RIAA labels here . (A PDF Reader such as Adobe  is needed to read this document.)

Troubleshooting

Turntable not recognised by operating system

If the USB audio codec is not recognised in Audacity's Recording Device list in the Audio I/O tab of Preferences, you cannot record from it. Make sure the turntable is plugged into the mains and switched on. 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.

White Noise

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 this problem. 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 Beta 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

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 many users report that this gain knob does not work.

Windows Vista

There are quite frequent reports on Vista of USB turntables only recording in mono even when Audacity is set to record in stereo: only one channel of the LP is transferred and if Audacity is set to record in stereo, this single channel is then duplicated in both channels of the Audacity waveform. A user has reported this can be solved by navigating Start > Control Panel > Hardware and Sound > Sound > Recording tab, then right-click over USB Audio Codec and hit Properties. Change the setting for input channels from "1" to "2". This is only a solution if the USB Audio Codec drivers default to "1 channel" but otherwise record properly in stereo.

There are also some reports that the input from the turntable is not picked up under Vista when the "USB Audio Codec" is selected as "recording device" on the Audio I/O tab of Audacity Preferences, but is picked up when "Microsoft SoundMapper" is chosen as "recording device". If this affects you, you just need to ensure that "USB Audio Codec" is selected as the current device on the Recording tab of "Sound" in the Windows Control Panel. To access this tab, click Start > Control Panel > Hardware and Sound > Sound (if you're using "Classic View" there's a direct link to "Sound" in the Control Panel), then click the Recording tab. Or you can right-click over the Speaker icon in the System Tray > Recording Devices.

If you have further problems with your turntable under Vista, please request support from the turntable manufacturer.

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, which may not be fully up-to-date or compatible with Vista. Please click here for help on updating your computer's sound device drivers.

Further support from the turntable manufacturer

Audacity's technical support team can only help you with problems directly related to the Audacity software. For product support for your turntable please contact the manufacturer as below.

Grace

E-mail or telephone support: Contact Grace

Ion

Web form or telephone support: Ion's Ask a Question web page

Kam

Please contact your turntable supplier in the first instance. For more information, see Contact Kam 

Lenco

Visit Lenco's Contact Us webpage 

Numark

Visit Numark's Ask a Question webpage .

Stanton

Visit Stanton's Contact Us webpage .


Recording, editing and exporting

Once your USB turntable is set up and working properly, go to "Transferring tapes and records to computer or CD" (skip to the last section) for instructions on how to make and edit your recording, export it to an audio file, and then import it to iTunes/Windows Media Player and/or burn it to CD.