Review: Audio-Technica AT-LP2D-USB turntable
Jun 12, 2008 12:00 PM,
By Jason Bovberg
Music is a particular passion of mine. I’ve been listening to it all my life, from 8-track to LP to reel-to-reel (believe it or not) to cassette tape to DAT to CD to Super Audio CD (SACD)/DVD-Audio (DVD-A) to MP3. To me, a leisurely evening spent spinning my old LPs is an evening to cherish. I’m one of those guys who enjoy music presented at its highest possible quality, so naturally it was with great reluctance that I entered the digital age, when high-fidelity analog recordings gave way to the CD, and finally to the lowly, compressed, digital MP3. I hoped against hope that—at about the same time as the latter development—SACD/DVD-A would catch fire with consumers the same way it enraptured me: High fidelity had arrived on the digital scene. But no, to my great disillusionment, hi-fi CDs burned out as quickly as they ignited, and now we’re left with a generation of consumers who prefer listening to flat, digitized recordings over inadequate earbuds to experiencing beautiful music in carefully coordinated listening areas or through nice headphones.
Well, I still get a burst of joy from my old LPs, and I listen to my modest collection of SACD/DVD-A discs with great relish. I do have an iPod, and I’ve recorded most of my CD collection to it—at a very high bit rate, I might add. There’s an undeniable convenience to the MP3 player, but that doesn’t mean I should have to sacrifice the audio quality that I’ve become accustomed to. For a long time, I’ve been seeking a way to transfer my old, pristine LPs to digital files and enjoy them on my iPod. I considered recording the albums to DAT and converting them to LP, but my already antique DAT deck was on its last legs, and I didn’t feel like scouring eBay for another one. With no real solution presenting itself, I fell back to my routine of devoting quality time on occasional evenings to my turntable and my LPs.
Now, finally, the perfect solution has dropped into my lap. Audio-Technica has come up with a USB turntable—the AT-LP2D-USB—that provides precisely the functionality I’ve been seeking, and the solution comes at a supremely affordable price. The USB interface let me easily hook the turntable up to my MacBook so that I was quickly translating my LPs into the digital realm at high quality.
Digging into it
The belt-drive AT-LP2D-USB turntable resembles my old, trusty Technics unit, although it’s a bit more compact. It supports 33.3rpm and 45rpm recordings and features a simplistic, automatic push-button start-and-stop tonearm. The Integral Dual Magnet stereo cartridge (with diamond stylus) is a very capable cartridge for this otherwise basic, even clunky rig. The AT-LP2D-USB offers both line-level and phono-level outputs.
Out of the box, the AT-LP2D-USB requires some basic physical setup. You have to set up the platter and go through the rather delicate procedure of stretching the belt over the internal motor pulley. After putting the dustcover in place and connecting the turntable to your computer with the included USB cable, you’re ready to rock and roll. The entire procedure—broken down in the slim Installation and Operation guide—took me about 10 minutes. What took longer was the necessary software installation.
Audacity or Cakewalk?
For the crucial process of translating the AT-LP2D-USB turntable’s analog feed into the digital realm, the system comes with copies of Audacity (for the Mac or PC) and Cakewalk Pyro (for the PC). Another guide—the well illustrated AT-LP2D-USB Turntable Software Guide—goes into good detail about the process of installing and setting up each package. For information about how to get the most out of actually using the software, you’ll have to go elsewhere, unfortunately. As a first-time user, I would really have liked to see basic user guides for both Audacity and Cakewalk—just enough to get through the entire process of getting that digital file into a usable format, or even to get the file playing in iTunes or on various media players.
Admittedly, the software packages aren’t Audio-Technica products. Audacity and Cakewalk have features that go well beyond the requirements of this turntable. They’re included really as a courtesy here. But I’d still like to see a little more basic instruction. How about a quick guide covering the tools that let you edit, clean up, and equalize your new digital tracks? Apparently, you can use the software to remove the more distracting pops and clicks of your dirtier LPs, but after some tinkering, I couldn’t find how to do it.
The first analog track I translated to digital was Siouxsie and the Banshees’ 12in. single “Peepshow.” The beginning of the 10-minute recording had about six seconds of empty space, and the end had maybe 10 seconds. I found out how to edit out that blank space, but I still haven’t determined how to equalize the volume level so that it matches the rest of my digital recordings. Wanting to get the track onto my iPod, I tried converting the track to MP3 format and found that MP3 conversion didn’t work. The other option, recording to WAV, did work, and iTunes recognized the track. As I write this, I’m listening to “Peepshow” through my Sennheiser headphones connected to my iPod, and the sound quality is top notch.
Next, I tried a full album—Cat Stevens’ Catch Bull at Four—and managed to create separate tracks out of each of the album’s songs. In iTunes, I was able to manually supply all the track information I needed. With some experience, I’ll be able to adjust the pitch of the recordings and apply any filtering I need. For now, the turntable’s basic USB connectivity is itself a real boon to my personal music collection.
Become a music lover again
I’m more than impressed with essential capability of the Audio-Technica AT-LP2D-USB turntable. It sounds fantastic—far better than bargain-basement turntables you’ll find lurking around electronics stores and more than adequate in comparison with midlevel units I’ve listened to. Frequency response is terrific, with fine clarity and no breaking up at the high end.
What a great way to rediscover your old LP collection—a much better alternative than selling off those beauties at a garage sale. I urge you to find that old joy again, that joy of respecting music and enjoying it to its fullest rather than making do with flat, crappy, compressed digital copies. The Audio-Technica AT-LP2D-USB is a way to find your way back into that mindset. It’s a cheap (under $200), practically plug-and-play way to introduce that music lover inside you to the digital age.
Jason Bovberg ([email protected]) is a senior editor for Windows IT Pro and SQL Server magazine and a regular contributor to Residential AV Presents Connected Home. He specializes in networking, mobile and wireless, hardware, and home computing. He has more than 15 years of experience as a writer and editor in magazine, book, and special-interest publishing.