Written by Nathan Davis
The forth in an occasional series of Weekend Projects on a variety of topics to help the novice collector of 78rpms.
View the full series here.
The following step by step article may be of help to those who want to transfer their 78rpm record collection to digital files, but who are unsure on how to approach this.
First up, I recommend a turntable equipped with a USB input/output as well as a built in pre-amp. There are many new turntables that include these features as well as have direct-drive (as opposed to belt driven). Some ‘modern’ turntables also include 78rpm speed control with adjustable pitch control and interchangeable cartridge head for various 78rpm styli.
I personally use a USB Audio-Technica turntable.  These turntables are stable, reliable, easy to set up and prove to work without problems for the professional and novice.
STEP ONE: Connecting the Turntable to your Computer
Connecting your turntable to your computer can be the most difficult part of the setup process, as it all depends on the approach you take.
All modern computers (both PC and Mac) have sound cards that allow for high-quality audio processing – but some of the most recent iMac’s and PC’s have done away with using the headphone audio input as the sole or main audio input. If you’re using a 2010 or older iMac for example, you can only connect your turntable to your computer via a USB audio input since the headphone input is now exclusively used for audio output only.
As a result, many new turntables have been designed for USB connection to a computer (and most of these turntables; including those in the lower-end price range); now include a pre-amp or phono-amp for boosting the audio signal from the turntable to the computer. In effect, the process has been simplified and modernized for both the professional and amateur user.
Below, I’ll outline the USB approach…
Bear in mind though, if you’re using an older style turntable, as a possible work around to this, there are some adapters available that convert 3mm headphone cables or older-style RCA cables to USB inputs… [See photo at below as an example…]
Keep all these points in mind when shopping for a new turntable and or computer if your main aim is transferring music from analogue to digital format… You’ll most certainly need a USB cable input rather than the older style RCA/headphone cable input as well as computer with sufficient RAM and a good ‘sound card’ for audio processing. (Thankfully, most, new computers have these specifications…)
Also bear in mind that if your turntable doesn’t have a built-in pre-amp, you’ll need to include an external pre-amp as part of your turntable/computer setup. The photo below illustrates an external pre- amp setup between turntable and computer/ laptop.
Connecting your turntable to your computer is a simple task of connecting the USB jack from the back of your turntable to a spare USB port on your computer.
STEP TWO: Setting the Pre-amp Selector Switch
For increased flexibility of use, most new turntables have an internal stereo phono pre-amplifier installed. The pre-amp selector switch is usually located on the rear panel of a turntable.
Select the internal stereo pre-amplifier (LINE) to activate it (when using a USB configuration) or bypass the pre-amp (PHONO) for use with systems having specialized magnetic phono input jacks or is connected to an external pre-amp, (when using an RCA cable for example).
If you’re using an older-style RCA connector, observe that the red cable is for the right channel and the white cable for left channel.
When using the turntable with a computer’s sound card, set the switch to LINE and connect the turntable to the audio line input on the computer’s sound card.
STEP THREE: Checking your configuration is correct
Once your turntable is connected to your computer, you can easily check to see it all is working by playing a 78rpm on your turntable and listening to it, either through your computer speakers or headphones.
Be sure to look over our article titled, “Using ClickRepair – Weekend Project”. This step-by-step guide will explain the process of using ClickRepair and Audacity when transferring your 78rpms into digital form.
1. See our article on 78rpm styli here.
2. See a review of the Audio-Technica AT-LP1240-USB Professional Turntable here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wgCJM3bCoJg
3. Read an interesting review of the Audio-Technica AT-LP1240-USB Professional Turntable here: http://www.whathifi.com/audio-technica/lp1240usb/review