The top performers in our review are Ion Max, the Gold Award winner; Ion Select, the Silver Award winner; and Audio-Technica LP 120, the Bronze Award winner. Here’s more on choosing a system to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of the 10 products.
Vinyl records were the most popular from of audio media for a long time – from the 1950s until tapes took over in the 1980s and '90s, leaving vinyl records all but obsolete. Tapes and CDs grew in popularity quickly, partly because they are both portable forms of media. CDs eventually took complete control of the market for their undeniably better sound quality and overall convenience.
Since the switch from analog to digital media, many people are left with shelves of vinyl records and crates of unused tapes. Those analog recordings are treasures. They hold great recordings to some of your favorite songs, some of which you can't find on streaming internet media such as Spotify, YouTube or Pandora. Playing a record is not nearly as convenient as opening your computer and playing a song on iTunes, but you can convert all those records and tapes to a digital format so you can play those recordings on your computer.
Vinyl converters allow you to transfer the audio recordings from your vinyl records into a digital format such as MP3 so you can play them on your digital devices such as a computer, iPod or other portable media player. This enables you to condense all those vinyl records down to a single hard drive where all the songs are accessible with just a few mouse clicks. Also, if you have a bunch of unused tapes and are looking to render that media to a digital format, take a look at our Cassette Tape to MP3 Converter site.
All of the vinyl converters in our lineup connect to your computer via USB. This makes the transfer from your converter turntable to your computer minimalistic and simple. Most of the turntables include software that you should install on your computer in order to complete the audio transfer.
You start by connecting the turntable to your computer via USB. Then you put the record that you want to digitize onto the turntable with the needle on the beginning of the record. You then press Start or Play on the turntable and Record in the software – this will begin the conversion process. After your audio is converted, you will be able to save it as an MP3 or other file format of your choice. Then you can store it on your hard drive, burn a CD or use an audio editing software to clean up the audio file.
Converting vinyl records to a digital format is a time-consuming process. Conversions are done in real time, meaning if you are converting a 30-minute LP, the conversion is going to take 30 minutes. After the conversion is complete, you'll need to go into the software, listen to the audio for any discrepancies, separate the audio tracks (so you don't have a single 30-minute audio track) and – if the software offers it – use cleaning tools to remove unwanted hisses and cracks associated with vinyl recordings. Keep this in mind – if you have a library of vinyl you want to convert, it's going to be a long-term project.
Though this process can be tedious, it can also be an enjoyable journey down memory lane. Pulling out old favorites and reintroducing them into your current library of digital files can breathe new life into your music collection with old favorites. If you want additional information about vinyl conversions, read our articles on vinyl turntable converters.
We listened to all of the USB turntables in house and tested them to bring you hands-on vinyl converter turntable reviews. We hooked up each vinyl to digital converter to the same computer and used the same 33 and 45 records to conduct our testing.
Audio Quality Test
We used three records – a worn down "Rubber Soul" album by The Beatles, a brand new "Lazaretto" by Jack White and a worn-down and slightly warped 45 of "Let It Be" by The Beatles for conversion. We used records in different conditions to simulate multiple conversion situations. We then used each turntable to convert the record to a digital file. We compared single audio tracks from the converted record to a digital download of the same song. We listened for any discrepancies such as hissing, pops, lack of bass, panning issues, scratches and other differences. After our testing was completed we gathered all the data from our listening tests and converted into a percentage score (or grade) to display the turntables that create the best conversions.
The audio converters that produced the best sound quality were the Ion Select and both of the Audio-Technica turntables – LP60 and LP120. In our listening comparisons, we found much fewer audio discrepancies in the converted audio when compared to digital downloads of the same content. Ion Select produced conversions that still had some static noise that is associated with vinyl recordings, but the conversions had prominent bass, good volume and original details in the audio such as stereo panning, effects and other song intricacies.
Ease of Use
The process to convert vinyl to digital is fairly straightforward. You connect your turntable to your computer via USB, record the audio while the record plays and your conversion begins. Some vinyl converter come with software will others don’t. If we software didn't come with a designated software, we downloaded Audacity to complete the conversion.
We specifically looked for software and attributes within that make the conversion process simpler. Some software walks you through the conversion process step-by-step, enabling first time users to successfully complete their conversion without a hitch. Step-by-step software lets you know when to start your turntable and when to hit record on the software.
Automatic track detection is another feature that allows you to be less hands on during the conversion process. Some programs detect silences in the audio and automatically split the files into separate audio tracks. This is convenient so you don't have to go back in to the software manually and do it yourself.
In our experience with programs that include automatic track detection such as EZ Vinyl/Tape converter, we found the automatic track detection to work well. A few programs did mistakenly create a new track when a song became quiet or paused, but this only happened during one song throughout the entirety of our testing.
After the conversion is complete, software that allows you to input metadata helps you keep digitized audio organized. Metadata includes the labels attached to each digitized song, such as title, band, album and year.
Top Ten Reviews seeks, whenever possible, to evaluate all products and services in hands-on tests that simulate as closely as possible the experiences of a typical consumer. We obtained the units in our comparison, some by loans from the manufacturer and some by purchase. The manufacturers had no input or influence over our test methodology, nor was the methodology provided to any of them in more detail than is available through reading our reviews. Results of our evaluations were not provided to the companies in advance of publication.
When a vinyl turntable comes with additional features outside of converting vinyl to MP3, it's an added bonus. These extra features make purchasing a digital converter turntable more worthwhile.
Turntables that feature built-in speakers allow you to use your converter turntable like a classic turntable and listen to the music on your record as it spins. There is no need for an additional speakers or wires. You can simply put your record on the turntable, set the tone arm, press Play and enjoy.
A headphone jack allows you to listen to your vinyl without disturbing anyone around you. You can enjoy your records in private without the use of speakers. Not all vinyl converters feature a headphone jack, but it's an extra bonus to have the ability to listen to your records with headphones.
The best vinyl converters not only exhibit the physical features that we looked for, but also provide converted files that sound comparable to the digital download. Some of the turntables were also coupled with software that was easy enough for a first-time user to start converting audio with.
Ion Max is the Top Ten Reviews Gold Award winner. This turntable has features that you won't find on the Ion Select or Audio-Technica LP120 such as built-in speakers and a headphone jack. The Ion Max also produces high-quality conversions for your LPs. The low price tag and extra features give extra intrigue to this converter turntable.
Ion Select is our Top Ten Reviews Silver Award winner. This turntable produces digital conversions of LPs that are crisp, with good volume and detail. This turntable also comes with EZ Converter software that walks first-time users through the process to make the conversion simple. This turntable does not come with many extras, but if producing high-quality audio files is your priority – Ion Select comes highly recommended.
The Audio-Technica LP120 is our Bronze Award winner. It is more expensive than both Ion models, and it doesn't have built-in speakers or a headphone jack, but the turntable does have turntable features to help produce high-quality conversions. The counterweight and antiskate mechanism helps put the right amount of pressure on the needle and keeps the needle from jumping around on the record. We found this turntable created conversions with better sound quality than the Ion Max, but not the Ion Select. This turntable comes with Audacity software that features audio tools such as noise reduction that EZ Converter doesn't offer.