Okay, vinyl collector: What kind of person are you?
Are you willing to accept that in order to transfer your LPs to the digital realm, you'll have to put forth a bit more effort than simply dropping a needle and pressing a button?
If so, Audio-Technica's new AT-LP2Da turntable and recording software package might be a great (and, at $200, relatively cheap) investment.
But if using a computer to record your albums seems to contradict the reason you love vinyl in the first place, then this review probably isn't worth your time.
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The LP2Da is not some fancy, complex recording machine. It is, in fact, just a clever package of products that already exist on their own.
The whole kit consists of an Audio-Technica turntable, connecting cables and Cakewalk recording software for PCs.
Of course, recording vinyl to your computer is nothing new, but what makes this setup unique is the streamlined path from record to iPod.
Literally within a few minutes of finishing a recording, you can have MP3s of your album on your Apple iPod or another player, labeled just like any properly purchased MP3.
Everything you need is in the box — no need to wrangle up parts from a bunch of different stores on your own.
The supplied turntable has an internal amplifier that can be turned on or off. For those of you who have stereo receivers with phono preamps, I suggest going through your receiver and disabling this turntable's internal amplification.
Using the extra stage of a stereo receiver, particularly a nice one, is a much better option. It can help sweeten the sound, not to mention act as a volume regulator when you're setting levels.
The package also comes with a cable and adapter that converts the turntable or receiver's RCA outputs to a stereo mini-jack for connecting with your computer's audio input.
Once everything is properly hooked up, it's simply a matter of installing the Cakewalk software and recording ... well, ideally that is the case.
I ran into a few setup issues and more than once had to go to my audio control panel and fiddle with faders, mute buttons and the like to get the signal flowing properly to the software's record channels.
Sadly, the instructions accompanying the LP2Da are minimal and refer mainly to the turntable, when the information you'll crave concerns the Cakewalk software and your computer's settings.
A call to Audio-Technica's tech support answered all of my questions, but the information I need should really be included in the package, not in e-mail attachments and phone calls.
Setup woes aside, the good news is that this thing actually works like a charm.
I had the best luck recording an entire side at a time, then going back into the long file and chopping it up into tracks.
There are some effects available to "clean up" the vinyl too. The "remove clicks" feature does a fine job, set with the sensitivity fader at half and the "remove clipping" option enabled.
Skip the "remove noise" option, which at best accomplishes nothing and at worst will make your record sound like it's coming through a wah-wah pedal.
I found the EQ tinny, but after applying the click remover, which will take care of a good number of crackles, you might want to compensate by boosting the high frequencies a hair (anything more will bring out the EQ's deficiencies).
Cakewalk records tracks as WAV files, but by selecting a file and using a drop-down menu, you can simultaneously convert multiple files to MP3s.
Naming the songs in an iPod-friendly manner is easy, too.
In Cakewalk's explore tab, find the files you've recorded. You'll see the usual columns for Title, Artist, Album, and so forth.
Double-click on them and use your cut-and-paste skills to enter info for multiple songs off the same album. It would be better if the album names would auto-fill.
When you drag the newly named files into iTunes, they'll alphabetize and look just like all your other MP3s.
Sure, the digital process inherently decreases the quality of an analog track, but if you're looking for perfection, you might as well throw away your iPod and never listen to another MP3. Portability brings with it certain compromises.
The files I converted from my LPs may have lost a hint of their analog "warmth," but just barely, and their presence in my iTunes library is quite satisfying.
It's a shame the instructions aren't better or more readily available, because nothing involving the Audio-Technica LP2Da is that complicated. You just need to know how to set your computer up properly.
I had fun with this software-turntable combo, and I'll be sad to return it.
Still, I can recommend it only to those with a lot of patience and free time — since obviously, songs on vinyl must be recorded in real time.
Copyright © 2007 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Ziff Davis Media Inc. is prohibited.