Stanton, one of the most recognizable names in pro DJ equipment and represented by the likes of Paul Oakenfold, recently released a hot new USB turntable — the T.90 — allowing old school audiophiles, DJs, and accidental LP owners a chance to convert records to CD or to proudly spin the vinyl for yet another day. At nearly $400 USD, does the Stanton T.90 produce worthy results, or are you better off with a cheaper alternative for digitizing your record collection? Continue reading to find out the results of our tests.
Features & Design
The Stanton T.90 turntable is a flat-out gorgeous product. The folks in Stanton’s design team really put some time and attention into the aesthetics of the T.90. Every inch of it is sleek, sexy, and worthy of being on display. The silver-and-black color scheme is perfect for integration with other audio equipment, home theaters, and computer-based recording stations. Even the glowing blue accent lights add a cool, high-tech look to an already superior turntable.
The outer frame of the T.90 is made of handsome, aluminum-looking, high-grade molded plastic in order to reduce weight. The rest of the T.90 is metal and very, very solid. Despite the plastic frame, the T.90 weighs in at a sturdy 18 lbs. and 10 oz. It measures approximately 17″ x 14.5″ x 5.5″, which makes it a bit larger than the average turntable. Still, it fits in quite well with related equipment.
Some of the Numerous Features
* Pro-quality turntable with high-torque direct drive motor and unique design
* S-Shape tone arm for lower distortion and superior tracking
* Unique digital features like Key Lock (Master Tempo) and S/PDIF output
* 2 Start/Stop switches for mix or battle setup
* 3 playback speeds (33, 45, 78 rpm), plus Quartz Lock and target light
* Pitch control slider with selectable range (+ / – 8%, 12%)
* Frequency Response 30 Hz to 20 kHz +1/- 2 dB
* THD+N < 0.03% at 1 kHz
* S/N (Signal to Noise) Ratio: Line <-65 dB
* Digital Output (SPDIF) 0.5Vp-p (Load 75 ohms)
* 3-speed full manual motor – 8 pole, 3 phase, brushless DC motor
* Speeds – 33-1/3 and 45 rpm and 78 rpm
* Wow and Flutter – less than 0.15% WRMS (JIS WTD) with 33 1/3 rpm
* Pitch Controls +/- 8%, +/-12%
* Pitch Bend +/- 6%
* USB Functiion – A/D, D/A 16BIT 44.1KHz or 48KHz USB SELECTABLE
* Computer interface: USB 1.1 compliant, WINDOWS XP or Mac OSX
Rock the House, Not Your Records
Users should be very pleased by the damping (shock absorbing) pedestal feet under the T.90. Soft rubber pads line the four feet, and rubberized stocks connect the feet to the undercarriage. The turntable’s platter has a very, very slight cushiony feel. Add the soft felt turntable pad to the mix and your records are really pampered. Once the T.90 was properly set up, I was able to play a record while repeatedly thumping my hands on the table, never once hearing the record skip. As with any turntable, damping can only go so far. Be kind to your vinyl.
In addition to the USB output for easy conversion of LP to CD, the T.90 has several audio outputs for connecting the turntable directly to a receiver, to powered speakers (like the amazing audioengine A5 speakers), or directly to a computer sound card. On the back of the T.90 you’ll find the left/right RCA jacks, a digital audio out jack, and an S/PDIF (Sony/Philips Digital Interface Format) jack.
Image Courtesy of Stanton
The T.90 turntable has a high-torque direct drive motor that far surpasses the motor on other turntables like the ION iTTUSB. Why is it important to have a high-torque motor? For starters, the T.90 will start up from a dead stop to full playing speed in less than a second. According to Stanton, the motor will last longer, will stand up to scratching and mixing better, and will generally be more accurate for proper playback.
Some official stats on the high torque motor:
* Starting Torque – more than 1.6 kgf.cm
* Starting Time – less than 1 second with 33-1/3 rpm
* Braking Time – less than 1 second with 33-1/3 rpm
* Braking System – electronic brake
* Time for Speed Change – less than 1 second with 33-1/3 rpm
* Less than 1 second from 45 to 33-1/3 rpm
* Less than 1 second from 33-1/3 to 78 rpm
Scribble Scratch, Yo
Jonesing for some home-spun scratches that Grandmaster Flash or DJ Jazzy Jeff would be proud of? The T.90 is designed to let you get crazy with your old school hip-hop scratching without ruining the motor or the needle. If desired, the T.90’s motor can be switched into “neutral” with the easily accessible “Motor On/Off” knob so you can manually control the speed at which you spin your records. You can also turn the motor off while a record is spinning for a graduated spin-down effect.
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With a single push of a button, the T.90 can switch its motor to play records in reverse. There’s nothing like a little Billie Holiday playing backwards.
Mac & PC
Stanton’s T.90 can be hooked up to any Mac or PC with a USB port (or high quality sound card) and either OS X or Windows XP. The included software, Audacity, is probably the easiest way of getting music converted from vinyl to digital audio. It’s not flawless (e.g. noise reduction feature vigorously sucks the spirit out of some jazz), but it’s a great tool for those with simple needs or a sufficient amount of skill and patience. Audacity is open source, which means that it’ll always be updated and improved, and it’s free.
Buttons and Knobs
There are a number of buttons and knobs for you to get familiar with. Among them are two Start/Stop buttons that control the turntable, a “reverse” button to play records backwards, a Motor On/Off knob to switch the motor into neutral for scratching and manual control, buttons for selecting 33, 45, or 78 rpm, and Key Lock, Pitch Lock, and Pitch Select (8% or 12%) buttons. There are also anti-skating and tone arm counterweight adjustment dials. See the Stanton website for details on proper tone arm and cartridge settings.
Under the back side of the T.90 are the power button, power plug, Digital Audio jack, USB port, RCA outputs (left & right), and a little switch to change between phono and line modes.
Stanton T.90 Controls
Ye Olde Seventy-Eights
Less expensive USB turntables offer user selectable speeds of 33 rpm and 45 rpm. This is fine for most records, but certainly not for all. Another popular recording standard was the 1900-1940s era 78 rpm (which varied between 74 and 82 rpm). Many fantastic recordings were released in that era. With variable pitch and key settings, the T.90 can easily play 78s with accuracy and ease. Those opting for less expensive turntables for converting records to digital files will sadly miss out on nearly 40 years of really great music and radio-style voice recordings.
Hooked on Orthophonics
Looking at several of my album covers, I see interesting manufacturers’ notes about the recording technology used. It seems that the “‘New Orthophonic’ High Fidelity” recording methods used toward the end of the 1950s were “designed for the phonograph of today or tomorrow… You can buy today without fear of obsolescence in the future.” The Stanton T.90 turntable plays Orthophonic, Stereophonic, Quadraphonic, and other records just fine. As for obsolescence… so long as Stanton and other turntable manufacturers keep making quality products like the T.90, your vinyl records will never go the way of the buggy whip.
Setup & Use
Setting up the T.90 is somewhat easy, though it can require a bit of time. There were no directions or instructions included in the product packaging. This was certainly a setback, but a minor one. The T.90 can be assembled with a little common sense and by looking at a picture of the assembled turntable on the box or on Stanton’s website.
Items included with the T.90:
* 45 adapter
* Stanton 500B cartridge
* Slip mat
* Cloth dust cover
* RCA audio cable
* USB cable
* Software CD (Mac & PC)
Once the T.90 has been put together, connect it to your computer with the included USB cable. As an option, you can also connect the T.90 to a receiver or to a set of powered speakers so you can simultaneously monitor the records you transfer to the Audacity software.
Setting up Audacity on my MacBook Pro was simple and fast. I had it installed and ready to record in less than one minute. Recording was easy, too. Start the turntable, hit the “record” button, and the T.90 and Audacity take care of everything. Once your track has come to an end, hit the “stop” button and the file will be ready for saving in Audacity file format (not a standard playable format) or exporting to one of many formats, including AIFF, WAV, MP3, Ogg Vorbis, etc. You can also record multiple tracks into one Audacity file and export each track quickly and painlessly using the “Export Selection To…” option.
I converted the soundtrack to Lee Marvin’s old 1950s TV show M Squad from a 33 to AIFF. Playback was so good I was giddy with excitement. I was actually so pleased with the quality that I became more and more impressed as each track played through iTunes. I did the same with some other albums as well: B.B. King, Billie Holiday, Chick Corea, George Winston, Sammy Davis Jr., etc. George Winston had some pops and cracks, but Audacity let me correct those minute details rather quickly. In the end, I was left with a great sampling of some “oldies but goodies.”
In my tests, I used the T.90 with Audioengine’s A5 speakers, and the sound was just awesome. Even my oldest, most worn records from the 1940s and 1950s came to life. Count Basie and Billie Holiday filled my room with beautiful sounds and wonderful memories. My newer records (from the 1970s and early 1980s) sounded nearly flawless; there was not a single pop or scratch or hiss — just great audio.
Of course, early records are based on much older technology and therefore will not perform like today’s CDs and audio DVDs. (There’s plenty of bona fide audiophile controversy about record vs. digital quality.) Some of the more modern LPs and EPs produced had ranges as low as 20Hz and tests have been conducted at 10Hz (far below the level of normal human hearing). The RIAA degradation specs suggest that after a few plays, the T.90 operates between 30Hz and 20kHz, which is a pretty aggressive range. Whatever frequencies your vinyl recordings do offer, the T.90 is most likely going to handle it with plenty of range to spare.
Doodie In, Music Out
There’s a great Russian saying: “Trudno sdelat’ konfyetku iz govna.” It translates to, “It’s hard to make candy out of crap.” With the T.90 and Audacity software, even old, scratched-up records can be converted to WAV or AIFF, edited with care, and returned to a more pleasant condition. It’s like crude plastic surgery for sound waves, but it works. As long as your records aren’t stuck in a… stuck in a… stuck in a… stuck in a… stuck in a skip cycle that prevents songs from playing through, there’s little that can’t be done to patch things up.
Comparisons to Competitors
The Stanton T.90 isn’t the only USB turntable on the market. There are a few notable competitors, the most recognizable and widely available one being the ION iTTUSB. While the iTTUSB is a lot cheaper (average $115 USD), it only plays vinyl at 33 and 45 rpm and absolutely does not have any of the more advanced features that DJs or more dedicated audiophiles would look for. Forget playing seventy-eights, and leave the DJing to someone else. The iTTUSB is simply a one-trick pony (maybe two), whereas the T.90 has a wide range of options and long lasting, high quality construction.
While the T.90 turntable was a total blast to use, there was one area in particular where Stanton dropped the ball – at least for folks who are not professional DJs. The egregious error is the total lack of documentation in the product packaging. Upon opening the box, the only paper to be found was a large fold-out sales poster with all of Stanton’s recording and DJ equipment (which, ironically, did not include the T.90). No setup instructions, no diagrams, no “call us if you have questions” leaflet, nothing. When setting up the T.90 turntable, I was able to determine how the parts fit together, but this is due in part to the numerous turntables I possessed throughout my youth. Someone less familiar with turntables may find themselves frustrated and needing to call for help.
Customer Support Stinker
Because there will always be a customer needing support from the manufacturer, I thought I would call Stanton to see how their customer support team handles questions. I had two simple questions that any tech support rep should have been able to answer: first, about the high-torque motor, and second, about the Motor On/Off knob. On the first call to Stanton, I was greeted by a soft-spoken, unprofessional-sounding teenager. I asked my first simple question and was put on hold. I was transferred to rep #2, then rep #3, and then to a 4th rep who had me repeat the question twice. I was placed on hold for nearly 10 minutes. When someone finally picked up, they apparently lifted the receiver and simply placed it back down again, hanging up on me. Another call landed me with the main receptionist who sounded unhappy to have me on the line. I was again bounced to several more support reps who were confounded by my all-too-easy question. Finally, I was transferred to Roger, who, thankfully, knew what he was talking about. He was patient, kind, and brimming with good, useful data, even in response to some of the silliest questions I could think to ask. The rest of the support team really struck out in the worst way. Hopefully Stanton will do something to improve the communication skills of its support team.
The Stanton T.90 is a beautiful sight to behold. It is very well designed. It has solid, high quality construction, plenty of features, and offers DJs and home audio enthusiasts a moderately-priced way to bring new life to a proud collection of records. The audio output is excellent, both via USB and through the standard RCA/digital audio ports. The T.90 is a great turntable for DJs and is probably more than the average Joe would ever expect, however, it’s no Continuum Caliburn. That’s an entirely different breed of turntable for the uber-rich.
Though the T.90 is priced about three times higher than the competition, it’s worth it in the long run, especially for people who are going to put their turntable to work on a regular basis.
• Gorgeous design
• Easy to digitize records
• Excellent sound quality
• 33-1/3, 45, and 78 rpm
• Variable pitch and key lock
• Multiple audio outputs
• No documentation
• High price point
• Sloppy customer support from Stanton