Stanton T.90 USB Turntable
Vinyl will never completely die. Despite being dethroned by cassette tapes, bludgeoned by CDs, and pummeled by MP3s, records are still out there and the people who love them are rabidly enthusiastic about the medium. Still, despite being the most public face of vinyl's livelihood, many DJs actually have divided feelings about its practicality. The allure of trading in a back-breaking crate of records for a palm-size hard drive loaded with digital audio is a convenience few DJs can resist. The problem then becomes converting your existing investment in often-rare vinyl into a quality-sounding digital audio file. One solution is to purchase a high-quality computer audio card, recording software, and a phono-to-line preamp that can bridge between the antiquated phono outputs of your existing turntable and the modern line inputs of your computer audio card. However, USB-compatible turntables like the Stanton T.90 ($435 list, $399 street) offer a much tidier solution by combining a turntable, computer audio card, phono-to-line preamp, and bundled recording software all in one product.
The Stanton T.90 turntable is impressive looking, with sleek lines, well-placed features, and a build quality that inspires confidence. The T.90 measures 17-inches wide, 14.5-inches deep, and 5.5-inches tall (including tone arm). Much of the T.90's exterior is made from high-grade plastic, which compared with venerable turntable staples such as the Technics SL-1200, feels a bit less professional. Sacrificing an all-metal body has an advantage, however, because the T.90 feels much lighter than many professional turntables.
While the Stanton T.90 has a dizzying array of features compared to most consumer turntables, it's only about average compared to many modern DJ turntables such as the Numark TTX and Vestax PDX-2300MK2 Pro. There's a mode selector switch for 33, 45, and 78RPMs, dual start/stop brakes, a reverse button, pitch control with selectable 8 percent and 12 percent ranges, and a key-lock mode for digitally modifying a song's speed independent of pitch. On the back you'll find a USB port for connecting to your computer, stereo RCA outputs with a switch for phono or line impedance, an S/PDIF digital coaxial output, and a power switch.
The T.90 comes bundled with two programs, Audacity and Cakewalk Pyro 5. Audacity is a free, open-source audio recording and editing program available for both Mac and Windows. It has a powerful set of features but it's not designed for novices. Users looking for the shortest route to recording their vinyl will want to install Cakewalk's Pyro 5 software (Windows only). Pyro is both intuitive and streamlined specifically to users looking to archive LPs, CDs, cassettes, and DVDs.
Connecting the T.90 to our Windows XP machine was an astounding success. The native USB audio drivers were recognized immediately, and no installations were required in order for our machine to recognize the T.90 as both a recording and a playback device. After installing and running Cakewalk Pyro 5 and selecting the "Make CDs from your cassettes and LPs" option from Pyro's menu, we were soon off and digitizing vinyl into WAV, MP3, and WMA files.
The sound quality was as good as can be expected from old, scratchy records. The built-in audio card records 16-bit at 44.1khz (which you can upscale to 48khz). Because the Stanton T.90 doubles as both a recording and a playback interface for your computer's audio, you can instantly play back the results of your digitally recorded vinyl through the T.90's RCA outputs--but there's more. The T.90 will even allow you to simultaneously mix your computer's audio and your turntable's audio into the same output--bridging both the analog and digital worlds. What DJs do with this feature is up to their imaginations.
The Stanton T.90 turntable is a great tool for aspiring and professional DJs. If you're only looking for a means to digitize your collection of vinyl gems, you'd be much better off purchasing a simpler, consumer-grade USB turntable like the Ion iTTUSB or just purchasing a quality computer audio card and outfitting your existing turntable with a phono-to-line preamp such as the Rolls VP29.