Difference Between Standard & USB Turntables

by Fred Decker

    Decades after they were kicked to the curb by the advent of CDs, vinyl LPs are making a comeback. Figures released by the Nielsen Company in mid-2012 showed a 14 percent surge in sales of LPs from the year before. Fueled in part by new releases and in part by the quantity of vintage vinyl still in circulation, this revival of interest in LPs has created a corresponding resurgence in turntable sales. Some are traditional stereo models, while others have modern USB connections for hooking up to a computer.

    Turntable Basics

    Regardless of how they connect, all turntables have a few basics in common. They have a platter to turn the records, a motor to turn the platter, a cartridge and stylus to create the audio signal, and a tonearm to convey it to the turntable's outputs. Belt-drive turntables place the motor away from the platter's spindle to reduce noise, but the belts can slip and distort your sound. Direct-drive turntables are more durable, and depend on higher engineering standards to control unwanted sound. The best turntables use a highly sensitive stylus and cartridge, with a tonearm equipped with a counterweight to keep the cartridge from pressing against your record too firmly.

    Standard Turntables

    Standard turntables have a pair of conventional audio outputs for the left and right stereo channels. Most also have a ground wire, which connects to a grounding screw on the back of your amplifier and prevents a loud hum from interfering with your enjoyment. Most professional-quality turntables use a direct-drive system, while lower-priced models are often belt-driven. The signal from a turntable's cartridge is very weak, and must be increased to the same level as a CD player through a preamplifier. Some stereos -- and some turntables -- have one built in. Others require an external model. Self-contained portable turntables have their own amplification and speakers.

    USB Turntables

    Like standard turntables, USB models can be either belt-driven or direct-driven, depending on their price. Rather than the conventional audio outputs, they convert the analog audio signal from the tonearm into a digital signal, and then transfer it to a computer or other device through a standard USB connection. Preamplification isn't necessary, since the signal isn't going to an amplifier. USB models vary in quality, like their analog brethren. Some offer a minimalist set of features, and are primarily intended for occasional use by consumers transferring LPs to the computer on a one-time basis. Others offer audio quality and features comparable to good conventional turntables.

    Combo Turntables

    Many models offer the best of both worlds, combining conventional analog audio outputs for connection to your stereo, as well as a USB port for hooking up to your computer. This offers the best of both worlds, regardless of your position in the endless debate over analog vs. digital sound quality. Playing your prized vinyl collection through a good-quality stereo system can provide exceptional sound quality, with a warm and organic quality that digital audio struggles to match. On the other hand, the crisp clarity of digital -- and the ability to put your favorite songs on your iPod -- are major benefits with USB.

    About the Author

    Fred Decker is a trained chef and certified food-safety trainer who has written and blogged on food-related topics since 2007. Previously he sold computers, insurance and mutual funds. Decker was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.

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