The very, very first blog post I ever wrote–2005, maybe?–consisted of musings on the ION USB turntable, a $129-ish gadget available at Radio Shack (when we still had Radio Shacks) that promised to turn my old vinyl into modern MP3s. The vinyl resurrection was still a couple of years off and I’d become obsessed with finding a way to turn my favourite records into something digital.
But in the end, I couldn’t be arsed. I never bought an ION or anything like it. Eventually, I ended up with a studio in my house to which I connected one of the last of the old-school Technics SL-1200s. If I need anything digitized, I play the record on the 1200, run it through Pro Tools running on an iMac to create a .wav and, if necessary, an MP3.
But this is hardly normal. How many people have a fully-equipped studio in their homes? There has to be something between the ION (which, if you’ve handled one, you’ll know is rather…plastic-y) and my pro setup. This is where the Sony PS-HX500 come in.
From all appearances, it’s a standard belt-drive design with analogue line-outs to connect to your stereo. But it also has a digital out, meaning that it can connect to the USB port of a computer. Install some simple software and it also becomes a device for digitizing vinyl. And not just into MP3s. This Sony will convert your vinyl into Hi-Res Audio, the lossless high-quality digital format that the consumer electronics industry is praying will catch on.
Here’s a look at the back panel.
I’ll skip over the basics of playing a record other than to say that the PS-HX500 is smooth, quiet and behaves like a normal turntable. The unit is hefty enough to be isolated from most outside vibrations and the belt-driven platter spins up to speed in a reasonable amount of time. (Note to DJs: This turntable is NOT for you. It’s for playing records. No slip-cueing or scratching, please.)
The Hi-Res Audio encoding software runs on Windows 7 and above along with Mac OS X10.9 and beyond. Finding the download location is a bit tricky (HINT: When you go to the website, go Support by Type→Drivers & Software then enter the model number (PS-HX500). From there you’ll be taken to the turntable’s home page where you click on Drivers&Software. Download what you need for Windows or Mac.)
Once your PS-HX500 is connected to your computer, the software will recognize the device. Now all you need to do is find a record to digitize. Sampling frequency goes from 44.1 kHz/16-bit (CD quality) to 192 kHz/24-bit (Hi-Res Audio). If you reach that territory, you’ll need to investigate the world of DACs (digital audio converters), which is a whole ‘nother level of geekiness.
So what does everything sound like? I connected the Sony to the iMac in my office and ran through some trial rips. In every case, the Sony and the software did exactly as advertising. Coordinating the drop of the needle with hitting REC on the software took me back to my basement bedroom at my parents’ house where I’d spend hours making mixtapes with my old Akai cassette recorder.
Frankly, I can’t find any negatives about the PS-HX500 other than it looks a little…ordinary. Some will call it “bare-bones” or maybe “retro.” But since functionality trumps pretty much everything, that can be easily overlooked. With an MSRP of $789.99 CAD, it’s not a bad deal, either, given that a proper analogue-only turntable will cost you around $500.
If you think that Hi-Res Audio is in your future, a hybrid turntable like this could be just what you’re looking for.
Now if someone could just find a way to digitize LPs in something other than real time…