Not too long ago, I was in a downtown record store on Yonge Street. A young couple were standing next to me and eyeballing the latest in USB Turntables, and they were discussing how they wanted to transfer a lot of their stuff to digital format so that they could put their stuff on their iPod/iPhone.
This turntable retailed for around $80 CDN. Not bad price, I thought. Then I took a closer look. Oh boy.
The whole body of this turntable appeared to made of some kind of plastic. ANY kind of noise near this unit is going to be transferred right into that tonearm and onto whatever/where ever you are recording. Besides, plastic is a lot cheaper than the old wood they used.
But wood must have been good for something other than just nice to look at. The REASON was that wood does not conduct sound very well. Turntables TURN because of a motor mounted inside. Motors are not 100% smooth, so wood dampens the vibration, resulting in a lower wow and flutter value. Important!!!
Plastic? Ouch. Don't have the numbers in front of me, but I'm willing to bet that plastic-body TT's carry all kinds of wow/flutter and turntable RUMBLE. Not good for those quiet passages, eh?
The tonearm: not even a counterweight to set the tracking force of the stylus/cartridge. So we are looking now at something I might have owned when I was a kid. I've even read stories on the net about these tonearms and their INABILITY to ride out the grooves on some modern releases.
What kind of cartridge/stylus combo are we looking at? Hmmm...dunno. Is the tonearm plastic too? The trend these days is towards carbon fibre material. No resonance, no extra noise, just the sound off the record.
Needle won't track? Solution simple, right off the internet (I swear it's true):
TAPE A PENNY TO THE TONEARM HEAD.
This will not be a viable solution in the coming years, as the Canadian Government is not making pennies anymore. Better start hoarding them NOW.
What is this, 1965? Mom and Dad's Turntable? Next thing, you are going to tell me that you want to stack your LPs three or four at a time, and let them drop down to the record below on your platter when you are done.
Fun to look at when you are a kid. Do you think it's so much fun to watch a $30 Audiophile Remastered record drop down about 8 inches or so onto ANOTHER $30 Audiophile Remastered record? Yeah.....didn't think so.
You want to pay $80, OK. Then please....don't complain when your vinyl sounds like shit when you hear the end result in digital format. Oh yeah: "Vinyl sucks, man!" No.......your TURNTABLE sucks.
So my first word of advice is this: spend the money on a half-way decent USB turntable. Audio-Technica makes a nice brand in the $400 range. Nice and solid.
Or.....find a used "old skool" turntable. They are available. And you can get a working one from a place like Ring Audio for around $100 or so.
NEXT UP: PART TWO - ok, ya got the turntable. Now what?