The Ion iPTUSB ($149) is a portable turntable with an impressive amount of features, including a direct USB output for archiving your vinyl to your PC. Whether you're a seasoned crate-digger or a vinyl holdout looking to downsize your hi-fi, the Ion iPTUSB strikes a great balance of portability, features, and sound quality.
In the world of USB-enabled turntables, the Ion iPTUSB is one of the coolest kids in town. Sure, we've seen portable turntables that are smaller, and USB turntables that offer better audio quality, but not until the Ion iPTUSB has there been such an affordable, and attractive compromise.
The Ion iPTUSB measures 12 inches long by 4 inches thick by 12 inches wide with its lid on (3.5 inches high with lid off). It is constructed almost entirely of plastic (the handle is metal). If you feel like you've seen the Ion iPTUSB somewhere before, you're not crazy. Ion's parent company, Numark, released a turntable called the PT-01 back in 2006 (see our review). The PT-01 is cosmetically identical to the Ion iPTUSB, but lacks the capability to connect with USB, or record using a line-input jack. If you're not thrilled about the Ion iPTUSB's USB integration, the Numark PT-01 is still available, and a great value.
The Ion iPTUSB is designed for two groups of people: those who don't have the space to permanently set up a full-size turntable, and record-shop junkies looking for a portable way to demo (and possibly record) vinyl on-the-go. If you're looking for the highest-quality means to archive your beloved collection of vinyl, we recommend steering clear of USB turntable solutions altogether, and going the high road of investing in a phono preamp, audio card, and recording software.
Our favorite design feature of the Ion iPTUSB is probably the easiest one to overlook. Through some marvel of engineering, the Ion iPTUSB measures only 12 inches square, allowing it to fit perfectly alongside your dusty record collection.
With its small size and impressive list of features, it's not a stretch to call the Ion iPTUSB the Swiss Army knife of turntables. Most of the Ion iPTUSB's features are the same great features found on the less-expensive Numark PT-01: a built-in speaker; battery power (or AC adapter); 33, 45, and 78rpm modes; RCA line output; pitch control; tone control; dual headphone jacks; a replaceable needle; and an adapter for 7-inch records. The Ion iPTUSB distinguishes itself from its Numark ancestor by including a USB output, a 3.5mm stereo line input with adjustable gain, a USB cable, and Mac and PC recording software.
The Ion iPTUSB is missing a few features that will make phonograph purists turn up their noses in disgust. For example, the Ion iPTUSB's fragile, all-plastic tone arm lacks counterbalance, needle alignment, or antiskate controls. Also, the base of the turntable is woefully lacking in shock absorption.
With a turntable as small and light as the Ion iPTUSB, we weren't expecting much in the way of sound quality. While the Ion iPTUSB's built-in speaker won't blow you away, its sound quality over the headphone or the RCA output is remarkable. If you're the kind of person who drags out their record crate only a few times a year to rekindle the analog nostalgia, the Ion iPTUSB offers an ideal combination of convenience and quality.
The Ion iPTUSB's USB recording quality was well above our expectations. Getting started was a snap, since our PC recognized the Ion iPTUSB the moment we connected it over USB. We were frustrated to find the two pieces of included recording software were either too basic (EZ Vinyl Converter), or too complicated (Audacity) for what we wanted to accomplish. Whichever tool you choose (we recommend grabbing Cakewalk's Pyro software) you'll be pleasantly surprised by the Ion iPTUSB's recording quality. We also made several recordings using the Ion iPTUSB's 3.5mm line-input, and achieved good results recording music from an MP3 player to our PC (a cassette deck, CD player, or MiniDisc would also work).
Ion rates the battery life of the iPTUSB turntable at 16 hours, which means you may have to confront the irony that your turntable's battery performance is better than that of your MP3 player.