UPGRADING THE DIGITIZING SYSTEM


When I originally created a “how-to guide to audioblogging,” it was largely reflective of my own experiences of tinkering with different audio options. Over the years though, I’ve upgraded that system and it made sense to talk a little about that, both to share with all ya’ll as well as get a sense of what’s working for you.

My man Brendan wrote a very detailed guide of his own that I’m in the process (B, really, I’m getting there!) of combining with my own experiences but here’s the skinny version before that’s done.


If you’re just getting started, keep in mind that digitizing requires an electrical chain that begins with the stylus and ends with a sound file. How complicated or sophisticated you want to make that chain is really up to you. The basics of a standard chain are:

Stylus/Cartridge
Turntable
Preamp
Analog/Digital Converter (ADC)
Computer

However, in some, these things are combined. For example…

When I originally began Soul Sides in 2004, my chain was this.

  • Stylus + Cartridge + Turntable + Preamp: Vestax Handy Trax Portable Turntable
  • ADC: A basic y-adapter (newer versions of the Handy Trax have built-in USB outputs but my generation was too early to come equipped like that)…and that ran straight into the line input of my Apple Powerbook G4 (PPC) where I used (and still use) Sound Studio to convert into MP3s.

    Cheap, simple. Total retail cost (not including the computer): $130? Of course, the sound quality that a portable turntable is going to generate is not likely to be the best you can ask for. Anyways, in 2006, when I moved from S.F. to L.A., I had a desk wide-enough to accommodate both a turntable and mixer and so I upgraded:

  • Stylus/Cartridge: Shure White Label cartridge
  • Turntable: Technics 1200
  • Preamp: Rane TTM56 DJ mixer
  • ADC: a basic y-adapter running into my Apple PowerBook G4 (Intel).

    Retail cost of this set-up…not cheap. If you went by the prices you see on Amazon, we’re talking about $1500! But of course, that’s sort of misleading because the turntable and mixer were part of my DJ set-up and therefore, equipment I would have owned regardless if I were digitizing or not. I would never, ever recommend someone just walk out and snap up a 1200 and Rane mixer if they just want to digitize. But the point here is that I altered the chain by adding a preamp (i.e. the DJ mixer). I also improved the cartridge/needle by buying the White Label.

    I basically added another component in the chain and hopefully, improved the sound signal as a result. However, I was still running all this through a cheap y-adapter into a stock Apple soundcard. I’d say for many people, this will produce acceptable results. Many folks probably already have a digitizing chain that runs through a stock soundcard and they’re happy with that.

    For me though, I just wasn’t loving what I was hearing. And that could totally be subjective/psychological. But whatever the case, I got restless with this and decided to upgrade again and that brings us to present. This wasn’t all cobbled together at the same time, but happened over the course of the last half year and it’s what will likely be the lasting chain for some time to come.

  • Stylus/cartridge: Ortofon Nightclub-E or Pickering XV-15
  • Turntable: Pioneer PL-530
  • Preamp: Radial J33 phono preamp
  • ADC: Apogee Duet, running into the Firewire port of my Powerbook G4.

    A few crucial differences here from previous set-ups. First of all, I bought a dedicated, stand-alone phono preamp. That way, I could return my Rane back to my DJ set-up where it belonged and I had a smaller preamp that I could fit into my home office. The Radial got the highest marks from my peers. More importantly, I finally decided to upgrade from using that y-adapter and bought a Duet, which is a stand-alone audio converter. Essentially, it replaces my laptop’s soundcard with one of the most well-respected analog/digital converters out there. The turntable switch-up wasn’t an upgrade so much as an aesthetic change of tastes. I still have my two 1200s but I wanted something different for the house, just for the hell of it and I liked the look of the 530. I don’t know if the sound quality, overall, is better on this or the 1200 but I doubt it’s a massive difference. I did upgrade to an Ortofon Nightclub-E, which is regarded by DJs as the best “bang for the buck” in terms of sound quality for a DJ needle but most non-DJs would probably prefer the Pickering that came with the PL-530 I bought on Craigslist. It’s a good quality hifi cartridge and personally, I like the built-in brush.

    In this case, calculating the retail cost means I would have to include the turntable since I bought it specifically for digitizing. Assuming standard, “market rate” on all the components, we’re talking about $1000 (by buying used and using credit I had, my total cost was more around $650 so you can find good savings if you’re patient). Regardless, that’s pretty hefty and I can imagine people thinking, “do I really need to drop a grand for a digitizing system?”

    Of course not. It really depends on how far you want to take it. I’ll wait to finish up that digitizing guide that Brendan and I are working on to really get into the nitty-gritty of each part of the chain but just wanted to share how “the magic happens” at Soul Sides Central these days.

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