Analog music is awesome, but it isn’t always very convenient. Yes, putting your favorite album on a turntable and dropping that tonearm at home is an amazing experience, but you can’t take it with you. Plus, if you have a rare or inherited copy of a record that you love, it will only offer a limited number of plays before you need to find another one to replace it. The playing life of your vinyl can be improved by properly setting up your turntable and using the best methods to clean your records, but if you truly want to hold onto those sounds forever, you should consider digitizing them.
Doing so will not only preserve the record for future listeners and allow you to take entire albums with you on the go, but it will also give you a convenient means for cleaning up noisy records using a bevy of simple software applications.
The only question: How do you do it without running out of patience and money?
Sadly, there is no catch-all method for digitizing your vinyl collection. The exact process depends on what kind of equipment you have. Some turntables come with built-in phono preamps; others don’t and rely on a receiver with a built-in phono preamp or a stand-alone phono preamp. Many modern turntables feature both a built-in preamp and USB output, allowing you to quickly and efficiently convert that musty copy of Steely Dan’s Can’t Buy a Thrill with little effort.
That’s not to say you can’t convert your vinyl to a digital format without an integrated USB output, but opting for a turntable built with said output makes the process far easier. Below are two such offerings we recommend; if these don’t work for you, check out our rundown of the best turntables.
Sony PS-HX500 ($330 to $500)
If you’re deeply invested in a large collection of vinyl records, a high-quality player like the Sony PS-HX500 might be worth your money. The player is outfitted with a top-notch Texas Instruments digital audio converter (DAC) that transfers at a minimum of 16-bit resolution (that’s CD quality). That’s just the minimum, though — this bad boy can transfer files up to 5.6MHz DSD, which no other record player can do. If you’re an audiophile, this is simply the best choice.
Audio Technica AT-LP120 USB ($299)
Audio Technica’s AT-LP120 USB isn’t stylish, but it’s a mainstay as far as budget turntables go. It comes equipped with a selectable integrated preamp (so outboard phono preamps are unnecessary) and a USB output that’s compatible with both PC and Mac systems, not to mention three speeds (33 1/3, 45, and 78 rpm) and the ability to rip at 16-bit/44.1kHz and 16-bit/48kHz sample rates. Best of all, it offers admirable sound for the price.
Aside from your turntable, you will also need a few cables to make the necessary connections. If your turntable lacks a USB output, for instance, you will need a stereo RCA cable and an RCA-to-3.5mm cord. Both cables are relatively affordable — typically under $10 — at your local electronics store or online sites like Amazon. You also need a computer with a “line-in” port and enough space to save the resulting files, as well as a little patience, given you must play an album in real time in order to properly record and convert it.
You can always purchase a dedicated phono preamp if neither your A/V receiver nor your turntable has one. There is a wealth of preamps on the market, ranging anywhere from $20 to upward of $1,500, but opting for a nicer device will nearly always result in heightened clarity and a more natural soundscape. In the unlikely case that you’ve gotten this far but don’t actually have a record collection, we can help there too.