Well, it’s done. Ordered a Stanton T.92 turntable (USB), and it came the next day. Decided to go with a DJ-style turntable because it would (1) Probably be more physically robust, (2) be easier to set up and more forgiving in actual use, and (3) I’m using this for sampling, not archiving.
I wanted the precision in pitch & tempo of a direct-drive motor, ‘hrumble’ be damned (for that, after all, can be notched out or otherwise altered– again, not archiving). I only played with it a little to verify that I could set it up and balance it well enough to just coherently play a record, and it seemed easy enough. Even though I went out of the way to get a turntable with USB conversion as a built-in, it turns out that the built-in phono preamp isn’t very good. Too… metallic, is how I’d describe it. Too much upper-midrange, very tinny or brassy. (This was with Audacity on a cheap Windows laptop… later this week I’ll try hooking it up to the Mac and see if the sound is any better). The turntable also has phono (ie raw) outputs, as well as RCA line outs and coax s/pdif (the latter two reportedly use the same built-in phono preamp as the USB stage does). Part of why I picked this one, I can hook it up to anything.
That said, I was in the market for a cheap USB audio interface with RCA inputs anyway. This morning, lo and behold, this Behringer interface (with built-on RIAA phono EQ setting) went on sale today, so I grabbed one. While cheap, it has reportedly better freq response than the built-in, and I’ll have other uses for it (eg tape in/out) once I get to the point of using a mixer again.
Also ordered a rubber mat for the Stanton (a perfectly fine felt one was included, should my midlife crisis ever lead to an extremely unlikely second career in scratch). Also some cheap generic headshells (at less than $8/pc) and an Audio-Technica cartridge that reads like it will have a freq-response/tone more to my liking.
I’m going to hold off on getting a cart for 78rpm just yet. For one thing, I don’t have enough 78s collected yet to make it worth the expense. Soon. Before they all disappear. But all in all, I’m essentially done acquiring the turntable stuff, since I already have all the software I need. I had budgeted $500 total for the setup, and came in under that. It’ll do.
Back to the turntable itself: It was strange to unbox this thing in 2012. While I’m plenty old enough to have grown up with records, I never had a ‘stereo system’ with a ‘turntable’. Like any other 1970s Boston kid, I had a ‘rekkid playa’, upon which we could play our ‘rekkidz’. By today’s standards, these little stereo systems were tinny little plastic things that skipped, sucked, sounded perhaps slightly better than AM radio, and destroyed records. But we didn’t seem to care.
I don’t think I even heard the word ‘turntable’ used in the modern sense until the early-80s, when high-end direct-drive Technics became the status/class marker of choice amongst the college set. To this day, the Technics (and its many clones) still come in the dull silver-grey that used to signify high-end consumer electronics 25 years ago. I was too busy playing with guitars and computers back then to notice that the turntable had become an instrument, in its own right, almost a decade before.
Now… to find more rekkidz.