For those of you with vinyl music collections, making the transition to digital music can be frustrating and expensive. You could purchase digital versions of your albums from online music retailers such as iTunes, eMusic, or Amazon--but who likes paying for music they already own? Another option would be to transfer your analog recordings to your computer using a turntable, phono preamp, audio card, and editing software. The gear required for digitizing your own records can be expensive and cumbersome, however, making all-in-one USB turntable solutions such as the Ion TTUSB10 ($199) seem very attractive.
As a company, Ion (a division of Numark) makes several all-in-one USB turntables, including the entry-level TTUSB05, and their original, the TTUSB. Generally, Ion's turntables are aimed at an audience concerned more with price than performance. That said, Ion's products offer a great value and borrow heavily from Numark's reliable, high-end designs.
The Ion TTUSB10 is a full-size turntable with a hinged, clear-plastic lid and four shock-resistant rubber feet. With the lid closed, the entire turntable measures 6 inches tall, 17 inches wide, and 15 inches deep. Aside from the TTUSB10's metal tone-arm mechanism, the majority of the turntable is constructed from a lightweight metallic plastic (including the platter).
The top of Ion TTUSB10 features a power switch, an oversize start/stop control, a 3.5mm auxiliary input jack, and two buttons for switching between 33rpm and 45rpm modes. If you do find yourself recording 45s, Ion includes a black-plastic 45 record adapter with the turntable. Noticeably absent from the top of the TTUSB10 is a fine pitch adjustment control, common on professional DJ turntables.
On the back of the Ion TTUSB10, you'll find the attached RCA and power cables, as well as a USB jack, a line/phono switch, and a knob for gain control. We wish that the TTUSB10's power and audio cables were swappable instead of attached, but we understand that the audience for this turntable will probably appreciate ease of use over ease of repair. On the upside, all of the tone-arm components (cartridge, needle, headshell, and counterbalance) are seemingly standard and easily replaceable.
The Ion TTUSB10 is a relatively basic turntable. When compared to a seriously tricked-out modern turntable such as the Numark TTX1, the TTUSB10 seems rather bland. The good news is that the TTUSB10's lack of fancy frills offers technophobes and klutzes fewer things to screw up. In today's age of push-button simplicity, the intricacies of a turntable can be intimidating. For these users, the straightforward features of the Ion TTUSB10 will be seen as a value--not a detraction. Demanding users, however, will find the TTUSB10's features limiting. At around $200, the TTUSB10 is not the cheapest option on the market, and we would like to have seen Ion include a pitch adjustment, a headphone output, a 78rpm mode, and an RCA input. Without these extra features, there's little reason to choose the TTUSB10 over the less-expensive TTUSB05, except for the turntable's better looking, beefier design and minijack recording input.
The TTUSB10 is not the best turntable we've ever used, but it's still a solid value for the price. Our major complaint is Ion's use of an all-plastic turntable platter. As a material, plastic is inherently prone to warping over time, making it a less-than-ideal playing surface for a music medium that depends on flatness. The TTUSB10's platter also lacks the traditional strobe pattern used to verify a record's actual speed on many professional-grade turntables. If the TTUSB10 were simply a budget consumer turntable, then the lack of fine pitch adjustment or a strobe pattern wouldn't be troubling. Considering that the TTUSB10 is meant to be used as a means to accurately archive your music collection, however, the lack of pitch calibration is a drawback.
We found the sound and recording quality of the TTUSB10 to be more than adequate for the average user. We were frustrated by the bundled software, however, finding the included basic software (EZ Vinyl Converter) a little too basic, while the advanced software (Audacity) was too complex. Spending some extra money for a full-featured vinyl recording program such as Cakewalk Pyro is a worthwhile expense.
While we recommend the TTUSB10 as an attractive, inexpensive way for people to digitize their old records, users who are less concerned with style should consider the less-expensive Ion TTUSB05. If you're really looking to invest in a high-quality vinyl-ripping solution with all the trimmings, consider buying components separately or spending more for the Stanton T.90.