Quality phono preamps with USB for digitizing vinyl, a big NO to stereo graphic equalizers (Week 32, 2022)

Sound Advice
By Don Lindich

Week 32, 2022

Q. I saw your recent column on digitizing music from a turntable with a built-in USB output. I have an old Sansui turntable with red-white analog outputs. What do I need to digitize my hundreds of albums?

-L.J., Minneapolis, MN

A. You need a phono preamp with a USB output. Connect the ground wire and red-white cables from the turntable to the corresponding connections on the preamp, and then connect the USB output to your computer. The preamp has analog outputs that connect to your receiver/amplifier or powered speakers for monitoring playback when recording. You cannot connect these outputs to the phono input (the outgoing voltage is too high) so use any other input such as Tape, CD, Aux, etc. The sound will also come from the computer speakers if you do not want to use a stereo to monitor playback while recording. The Vinyl Studio software I recommended in the prior column will work with the phono preamp and comes in Windows and Mac versions.

A good USB phono preamp choice is the $125 Pro-ject Record Box E. As a bonus it will likely make your turntable sound better than it did when using the receiver/amplifier’s phono input. There are higher-end USB phono preamps available, but they need a high-end turntable to warrant their purchase. The Record Box E is a good match for your turntable and I am confident that you will be very satisfied with it.

If you have a Sansui turntable it is likely 1970s-1980s vintage. I do not know what cartridge you are using, but if you are going to go through all the work of digitizing hundreds of records then you should consider a new cartridge as well, especially if you are using the one that originally came with the turntable. The $99 LP Gear Vessel A3SE cartridge is still my favorite under $100, and it is available pre-mounted on a headshell for $158 if your Sansui has interchangeable headshells (most vintage Sansuis do.) The A3SE has received widespread critical acclaim for sounding much more expensive than it is, and it can be easily upgradable by changing its stylus. lpgear.com

The $169 Goldring E3 is a step up from the Vessel A3SE but lacks the upgrade path. If you want to be one and done with no further upgrades and stay under $200 it is the way to go. If you want to max out your cartridge selection consider the Nagaoka JT-80LB, which sells for under $300. The JT-80LB continues to impress me with its precision, depth, tremendous detail and natural sound. See the E3 at goldringusa.com. Nagaoka does not have a USA website but it is listed with audio dealers nationwide.

Q. Have you considered writing about stereo graphic equalizers, and do you think they are a necessary addition to a stereo system?

-J.G., East Hampstead, NH

A. I do not consider them a necessary addition and I think they have more downsides than upsides. The very best audio gear does not even have tone controls, and equalizers are effectively a big tone control with a lot of adjustments.

I have a different opinion of the automated room equalization systems found in home theater receivers and processors. These can have some benefit for TV shows and movies, though I still prefer unaltered sound for music. These systems are not all created equal, and some do more harm than good. I find the Pioneer MCACC and Dirac systems to be the best, and they have never been disappointed me when testing them.