USB turntables

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Setting up and using Audacity with your USB turntable


Introduction

These instructions relate to the use of turntables that connect to the computer via its USB port for the purpose of transferring records to digital audio files or to CD. Unlike conventional turntables, USB turntables therefore do not require the computer to have a line-in port in order to make recordings. Audacity itself only makes the audio editing software of the same name, but several manufacturers of USB turntables now bundle Audacity with their product, notably Ion Audio, Numark, Kam and Lenco. Audacity is also suitable for recording from any other make of turntable that connects to the computer via its USB port, using the instructions on this page.

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you have a current version of the Audacity software as the software provided on the turntable manufacturer's CDs can be out of date.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 Sometimes the guides supplied with the turntables are out of date, or have errors.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. 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

Quickstart Guide (English, German, French, Spanish and Italian)

German, French, Spanish and Italian Guide to Audacity

English Guide to Audacity


Kam

No online or donwloadable manuals are available at present.


Lenco

Manuals in English, German, French, Spanish and Dutch


Numark users can go to the Numark site, click on Support, then on Manuals. In the "Select A Manual" dropdown, navigate to "Turntables" then choose the following two guides

"TTUSB QuickStart Guide-Multilingual"
"Audacity Software Guide-Multilingual"

Note the "Audacity Software Guide-Multingual" is in fact in English only and is the same document as the "Ion English Guide to Audacity" above (Numark and Ion are part of the same company).


Stanton

Manual in 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 the phono input of an amplifier or "home stereo" with attached speakers, so you can always listen to records when the turntable is playing, without having to record. 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 1.3.2). Then (providing you've enabled "software playthrough" on the Audio I/O tab of Preferences) you will hear the turntable whenever it's playing without having to record. If the VU meters are not visible, go to the Interface tab of Audacity Preferences and check "Enable Meter Toolbar". In 1.3.2, instead click View > Toolbars > Show Meter Toolbar.

According to 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 to the computer or computer speakers, or to the phono input of a stereo amplifier, the USB output is muted so that you cannot record from it. If this applies to you, please unplug the RCA cables from the device they are plugged into.

System sound needs to be reset on Windows computers

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 turntable). 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 96 000 Hz (or to the highest rate supported by your sound device that you can). Otherwise when slowing down the speed with Effect > Change Speed, some of the original high frequencies in the recording will be lost.


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 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. If that does not help, close Audacity, switch off and unplug the turntable at the USB connection and at the mains. Plug it back into the USB port, and switch it on. 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 the turntable is still not recognised, try using another USB cable, as sometimes a faulty cable can cause this problem. 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.


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 freezing up

Reports of recordings freezing with USB turntables are not that uncommon, and generally they are not caused by Audacity! It is sensible to check your Project Rate bottom left of the Audacity screen is set to either 44 100 or 48 000 Hz, as setting a very high rate might overload the USB bandwidth and cause a freeze. Otherwise, the root of the problem most likely lies with the turntable. There are a number of known potential problems you should check:

  • 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, this clearly implicates the turntable or USB cable. To check if other sources record satisfactorily, you need to change the recording device on the Audio I/O tab of Audacity Preferences to your inbuilt sound. If recording from other sources works fine, or if you have concerns the turntable is not working properly, please request support from the turntable manufacturer.

If recordings from sources other than the turntable are also freezing, there could be problems with your having insufficient computer resources, or if you are using "software playthrough", there may even be problems with your inbuilt sound device as that will be used to play back your recording. Please look at our list of tips on Managing Computer Resources and Drivers for help.


Turntable playing too fast or speed erratic

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 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.

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.

Ion

Email support: click here
Support by telephone or fax: Ion's Contact Us webpage


Kam

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


Lenco

Visit Lenco's Contact Us webpage


Numark

Email and telephone support: visit Numark.com and follow the links for "Support" then "Tech Support".


Stanton

Visit Stanton's Contact Us webpage

Recording, editing and exporting

Once your USB turntable is set up and working properly, go here 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.