Ok, so let's make the assumption that you have acquired a half-way decent turntable! You don't have to spend a ton of money at this point. Just so long as the table will deliver a relatively good signal, with minimal motor noise, rumble, wow & flutter.
As I've mentioned, an old skool table will do the trick. Just be careful of a worn stylus, loose belts, uneven speeds. What I did was take my old Dual 506 in to RING AUDIO and let the boys at 'er. I asked for a new belt, check out the motor, stylus and cartridge. Got the table back with a new belt (important, as the belt has probably stretched out of shape if standing around for too long) and was told my stylus was still good, probably an average year's worth left. Then bring it in for a replacement. GOOD TO GO!
The next step is getting the signal from your turntable cartridge to your PC. If you just run your turntable and leave your amp/receiver OFF, you can hear the signals coming off the cartridge but with no amplification. Excellent! That is what your amp/receiver does. Provided you have a phono input, that signal from the cartridge will be amplified AND RIAA equalization put on the signal before it is forwarded to your speaker system.
Whoa....wait...RIAA equalization? What the heck is THAT? Well, try to imagine how those sound engineers put 20 minutes worth of music on one side of a 12" hunk of plastic! To be able to fit all those grooves onto the platter, the low end frequencies were supressed (limited) and the high ends exaggerated a bit. I'm no expert on this. Click here, RIAA EQUALIZATION , to better understand what I'm talking about.
One good thing....most of the old receivers/amps have this RIAA EQ built into their electronics via the phono input jack. But a lot of the newer receivers/amps DO NOT HAVE A PHONO INPUT!! Running your turntable into anything but a phono input jack will not work, and might even damage your amp/rcvr.
That is where a phono pre-amp comes in. It will take the place of the old circuitry that was present in the receivers with a phono input. Also, a phono pre-amp allows you to plug your turntable directly into the pre-amp without having to set up a big, space-consuming rcvr.
There are many different phono pre-amps available. Costs start at around $200. I purchased a Rega Mini FONO A2D pre-amp. (A2D = "Analog to Digital"). See the photo (Front View - Left, BackView - Right):
Simple to use. On the front, there is a level controller, then the USB outlet, followed by a Earth pin (for ground). The back view shows white/red INPUT RCA jacks, another set of OUTPUT RCA jacks, an input jack for the charger, and a red LED light to indicate when it on.
Not too hard to set up. Red and White RCA jacks from your turntable into the pre-amp INPUT jacks. Then a special cable that runs USB from the output jack to a usb terminal on your PC (I bought gold-plated ones from STAPLES for $30 CDN).
I can put my turntable, the phono pre-amp and my laptop on a regular-sized coffee table.
If you have an old rcvr/amp, you can run your turntable into the phono input jacks, then you can buy a cable that will allow you to run out of the HEADPHONE socket and into the microphone socket on your PC/laptop. It works, but I found that there was a lot of noise and other issues that made it unreliable.
And that's really what you want.....a solid, reliable signal. Otherwise, why bother?
You will need software on your PC to be able to further manipulate the music. The best one out there is a cool program called AUDACITY.
It's free. Download it and the manual and any tutorials. A bit of a learning curve, but not so steep that with a little determination, you couldn't figure it out. (After all, you got THIS far, didn't you?).
That's it in a nutshell! If you don't believe how good it sounds, check out my podcast "Rippin' Da Vinyl" elsewhere on my blog. All the tunes I used for that show were ripped off the vinyl and onto my laptop in this exact fashion. Even transferring back to mp3 192kbps for broadcasting purposes, the sound still came through.
Good luck. Drop me a line in the comments section if you have any questions or issues.
- Meester Music