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Best USB Record Turntables 2018

For fans of vinyl it’s never been easier to listen to your favorite records. The new turntables come with USB for high fidelity digital connectivity  to your stereo receiver. These also come with analog RCA (e.g., “banana plug”) outputs. In this review we cover the Audio Technica LP5 (about $450), LP120BK (under $300), LP60 (under $100) and Ion ARCHIVE-LP (about $85).

There are many excellent USB Turntables, including others from Sony, Lausen, Jensen, Dennon, Pioneer and other manufacturers. The ones listed below are great values with a combination of the right price, manufacturing quality, audio conversion software and, of course, great sound.

Audio Technica has been in the business for about 50 years, and has a full line-up of over 2 dozen turntables to choose from. Their AT-LP120 model is top of our list for the features you get at a mid-range price point. Their LP5 is a top of the line unit, and highly recommended if you are in the market for a professional / audiophile category turntable. For an entry level player, the LP60 gives great sound at a great price.

Best Overall: Audio Technica AT-LP120BK-USB

Audio Technica AT-LP120BK-USB (around $280) is a  Direct-Drive Turntable with both USB and RCA Analog output connections. It’s available in both silver (AT-LP120-USB) and black (AT-LP120BK-USB), and comes with the hinged, removable dust-cover and professional grade head-cartridge.

Drive Method: We like the direct drive motor, which provides a quick spin up with the high torque motor. You can play all three standard speed records: 33-1/3, 45, and older 78 rpm.

An added bonus is a pitch adjust (+/-10 percent or +/-20 percent) coupled with a high-accuracy quartz-controlled pitch lock. So you can dial in the perfect sound for your individual records.

You also get reverse play capability, in addition to the standard forward play direction. This is useful if you are doing mix recordings, samplings or creating your own effects.

Platter: Stroboscopic platter with speed indicator. It’s made from die-cast aluminum, with slip mat and a start/stop button.

Tone Arm: The LP120 has an S-shaped tone arm assembly with adjustable counterweight, anti-skate adjustment, tone-arm height adjustment and lock. It has hydraulically damped lift control, so no worries about drop-scratching your records.

Cartridge: The cartridges are easily replaced if you need a new one, or would like to upgrade to a higher quality. Included with the LP120 is their “professional” grade cartridge (AT95E Dual Magnet), long-life diamond stylus and head-shell enclosure (½” mount universal).

Connectivity: USB 2.0 direct connects to your computer or supported A/V receiver. Or use analog RCA outputs. Cables for USB and RCA are included.

Software: Audacity software (Mac- and PC-compatible) is included to let you convert your records in .mp3 files. The software is easy to learn and you can get a good analog to digital conversion with the default set-up.

If you want to audio correct your records, the noise and pop filters do a good job of removing unwanted noise, and the equalizer settings can boost the outlying treble and bass frequencies. It also has volume normalization tools to help boost weak input signals and keep the volume consistent.

Other: This unit also has a selectable, built-in preamplifier so you can directly connect the turntable to equipment which doesn’t have a dedicated turntable input. But you don’t get a dedicated head-phone out jack, nor do you get a volume control on the turntable.

Specifications:
Signal-to-Noise Ratio: >50 dB
Pre-amp “PHONO”: 2.5 mV nominal at 1 kHz, 5 cm/sec
Pre-amp “LINE”: 150 mV nominal at 1 kHz, 5 cm/sec
Product Dimensions: 13.9 x 17.7 x 6.1 inches
Item Weight: 23.5 pounds


Best Entry Level: Audio-Technica AT-LP60-USB
Audio-Technica AT-LP60-USB (under $100) is a Fully Automatic Belt-Drive Stereo Turntable with both USB and RCA Analog outputs. It comes with the hinged, removable dust-cover and a standard grade head-cartridge.

Drive Method: The LP60 model has a factory-assembled, fully automatic belt-drive. The nice thing about this is no set-up is required. We like that you can use this straight out of the box, which is great for the entry level / starter audio person.

You can play the two most common speed records: 33-1/3 and 45 rpm (the older 78 speed is not supported).

Note that at this price point, it doesn’t offer any tracking adjustments. This is common with belt-drive units, and not a particular down-mark for the LP60.

Platter: The platter is a solid made, die-cast aluminum.

Tone Arm: A standard straight-arm with a lift switch that gets the job done. However, there is no adjustment for tracking force, anti-skate, or cartridge alignment.

Cartridge: The cartridges are easily replaced if you need a new one, or would like to upgrade to a higher quality. Included with the LP60 is their “standard” grade cartridge, long-life diamond stylus and head-shell enclosure (½” mount universal).

Connectivity: USB 2.0 direct connects to your computer or supported A/V receiver. Or use analog RCA outputs. Cables for USB and RCA are included – dual RCA (female) to 3.5 mm (1/8″) mini-plug (male) stereo adapter cable; dual RCA (female) to 3.5 mm (1/8″) mini-plug (female) stereo adapter cable.

Software: Audacity software (Mac- and PC-compatible) is included to let you convert your records in .mp3 files.

Other: This unit also has a selectable, built-in preamplifier so you can directly connect the turntable to equipment which doesn’t have a dedicated turntable input. But you don’t get a dedicated head-phone out jack, nor do you get a volume control on the turntable.

Specifications:
Signal-to-Noise Ratio: >50 dB
Pre-amp “PHONO”: 2.5 mV nominal at 1 kHz, 5 cm/sec
Pre-amp “LINE”: 150 mV nominal at 1 kHz, 5 cm/sec
Product Dimensions: 18 x 6 x 16 inches
Item Weight: 8.82 pounds

Here is a 3m30 second unboxing, set up video for the LP60:


Best High-End: Audio-Technica AT-LP5 Direct-Drive Turntable

The Audio-Technica AT-LP5 (about $450) is a Direct-Drive Turntable with both USB and RCA Analog outputs. It comes with the hinged, removable dust-cover and a high-end grade head-cartridge. Here is a short intro video from the folks at A-T :

Drive Method: The direct drive motor is very smooth, has excellent torque (>1.6 kgf.cm) and provides a quick spin up. Surprisingly the 78 rpm speed is not available, with the LP5 only supporting the two most popular speed records: 33-1/3 and 45.

An added bonus is a pitch adjust (+/-10 percent or +/-20 percent) coupled with a high-accuracy quartz-controlled pitch lock. So you can dial in the perfect sound for your individual records.

You also get reverse play capability, in addition to the standard forward play direction. This is useful if you are doing mix recordings, samplings or creating your own effects. And it’s just a lot of fun to test out for myself all the myths about tracks with hidden messages when played backwards.

Platter: It’s made from die-cast aluminum, with slip mat and a start/stop button.

Tone Arm: The LP5 has a  J-shaped tonearm, modeled after original Audio-Technica designs from the 1960s and ’70s. This is engineered to minimize tracking errors. It comes with adjustable counterweight, anti-skate adjustment, tone-arm height adjustment and lock. It has hydraulically damped lift control, so no worries about drop-scratching your records.

This does require assembly and set up, but the engineers at Audio-Technica have some great videos to help with the process (see below).

Cartridge: The cartridges are easily replaced if you need a new one. Included with the LP5 is their highest grade cartridge (AT95EX Dual Magnet), long-life diamond stylus and head-shell enclosure (½” mount universal).

Connectivity: USB 2.0 direct connects to your computer or supported A/V receiver. Or use analog RCA outputs. Cables for USB and RCA are included.

Software: Audacity software (Mac- and PC-compatible) is included to let you convert your records in .mp3 files. The software is easy to learn and you can get a good analog to digital conversion with the default set-up. If you want to audio correct you records, the noise and pop filters do a good job of removing unwanted noise, and the equalizer settings can boost the outlying treble and bass frequencies. It also has volume normalization tools to help boost weak input signals and keep the volume consistent.

Other: This unit also has a selectable, built-in preamplifier so you can directly connect the turntable to equipment which doesn’t have a dedicated turntable input. As with the other two Audio-Technica turntables, you don’t get a dedicated head-phone out jack, nor do you get a volume control on the turntable.

Specifications:
Signal-to-Noise Ratio: >50 dB
Output Level: Pre-amp “PHONO”: 4 mV nominal at 1 kHz, 5 cm/sec
Output Level: Pre-amp “LINE” 150 mV nominal at 1 kHz, 5 cm/sec
Phono Pre-Amp Gain: 36 dB nominal, RIAA equalized
Product Dimensions: 21 x 9 x 16 inches
Item Weight: 22.9 pounds

The LP5 does require set to get it to perform at it’s peak. Here is a 7m30s video tutorial for the unboxing, assembly and set up of the unit:


Simplest For Digital Conversion: Ion ARCHIVE-LP Digital Conversion
The Ion ARCHIVE-LP Digital Convers Turntable (about $85) is designed for converting your LP record collection from analog to digital .mp3 files. It comes with analog RCA outputs in addition to the digital USB. This is a starter unit.

We like the Ion Archive for it’s easy to use the included “EZ Vinyl/Tape Converter” software, and how quickly you can convert your record collection to digital.

Drive Method: Belt Drive, which is part of the reason for the low cost of this unit (direct drive tend to be more expensive). It plays 33 ⅓ ,45 and 78 rpm, however you’ll need a separate stylus for the 78’s. The Ion ICT06RS costs about $32.

Platter: Standard aluminum with a rubber anti-skid mat.

Other: The Ion Archive has a nice, natural wood finish which makes it an attractive turntable. It’s also one of the few that has built-in stereo speakers, so you can listen to your records direct from the player. However, the speakers are small with almost no bass and sometimes a little bit tinny. Also, no dust cover on this unit.

Specifications:
Product Dimensions: 20 x 18 x 7 inches
Item Weight 9.15 pounds


A couple of final thoughts for selecting a turntable.

The drive method (e.g., belt vs direct) is one of the most discussed trade-offs for a turntable. Generally, if you can afford the higher price for a direct drive system, it’s the better choice in our opinion. With the motor connected directly to the platter, you get a more consistent playback speed and better adjustment controls.

Direct drive will also last longer than a belt system (which can eventually stretch, wear or rip).

The downside of direct drive is that you may experience a higher level of noise in the output signal since the drive motor is directly connected. However, this can be cancelled / corrected with the audio software programs and generally is not an issue.

On the topic of needles, cartridges and headshells: You’ll find that turntables are either set up for a “universal” head or a “proprietary” head. We prefer the “universal” since you can get cartridges from a number of different suppliers, at different quality levels and price points.  All the turntables reviewed here are “universal” types.

If the turntable you choose uses a non-standard size, it’s best to be sure that the manufacturer has a wide selection of available replacement cartridges. You may sometimes find a deal on a turntable, only to be disappointed later at the selection / price of a cartridge.

The same holds for the headshells. Since one of the fastest and easiest ways to upgrade your turntable is by upgrading these components, you want know what’s available for later on.

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