LP TO CD

Forget about the ION turntable critics raved about last year. A new one from Audio-Technica is far superior and costs less than $100.

The ION was supposed to make it easy to transfer your old phonograph records to digital files that could be turntableburned to CD. But we followed all the instructions and got nothing, so we just used it as an ordinary record player. The new Audio-Technica, on the other hand, was a breeze to set up and worked as advertised immediately.

There are tens of thousands of phonograph records still around, and for many of them, there is no CD or tape version. Fortunately, they can still be saved by transferring the sound to a computer that can convert those sounds to a digital file. You need software to do this, and some of the best that money can buy comes free in the box with the Audio-Technica; it’s Cakewalk’s Pyro 5. We set everything up in five minutes. We installed the software and connected the record player with a USB cable to our Sony Vaio laptop and started burning Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass to a CD.

The Audio-Technica turntable we used has the catchy name of “AT-LP2D-USB LP-to-Digital Recording System,” and we found it for $95 at Amazon.com . (List price is $229 at audio-technica.com.) This thing screams quality all the way. The turntable platform is heavy and belt-driven, which is what any audiophile wants because it eliminates wobble and flutter as the record turns. A hinged plastic dust cover keeps the records clean, and the pickup arm returns to its resting perch and shuts off the player when it comes to the end of a record.

You can plug the record player into the jacks on the back of almost any stereo system. These are typically labeled “audio in,” “TV” or “aux,” which stands for auxiliary. The cable for doing this comes already attached to the record player. If you plug the player into a stereo and the computer, you can listen to it as an ordinary phonograph at the same time as converting your record to digital.

Pyro 5 is great music software. It will handle the transfer of your old record to a new CD and can do the same with audio tapes. It can be used to remove the hiss and crackle that often comes with old records, and it also can transfer the music to DVD or iPod or any other digital player, either as one continuous stream or in separate tracks. (The Audio-Technica turntable also came with a free analog-to-digital transfer program called Audacity, which you’ll need if you have a Mac. Pyro works only with Windows.)

We want to praise the short manual that came with the Audio-Technica turntable. It was clear, easy to follow and came with color diagrams of how things fit together. This kind of manual has not been our usual experience.

We also want to comment on the expected question of why bother to convert a phonograph record to CD when you can often simply go out and buy the CD version. The simple answer is that the sound is different.

Many professional musicians and songwriters, most notably and recently Bob Dylan, have complained bitterly about the sound quality of CDs. We have noticed the same thing; CDs lack the warmth and mellowness of phonograph record sound.

Part of it is what is called “dynamic range.” A digital recording records the full dynamic range of a piece, from the loudest loud to the softest soft, while a phonograph record has a restricted range. In practice this means that in order to hear the soft parts of a digital recording you have to set the volume so high that when the loud parts come on you get blown out of the room.

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