This affordable little box will hook up your turntable to your computer's USB port, thus allowing you to transfer vinyl LP's to digital. If this doesn't answer all those emails I've received asking how to do this, then I don't know what will. It can be powered from the USB port or an external wall wart. The phono inputs take standard RCA cables, and RCA line- level outputs provide an RIAA EQ'ed stereo signal that can be patched into your receiver or monitor controller (though not back into phono inputs-I tried this and it was super distorted and loud!). There's a level-setting pot, a low-cut switch to remove rumble, a level and clip LED, and a phono/line switch that allows you to connect unbalanced, line-level devices (like a cassette deck) instead of a phono cartridge. There's a S/PDIF RCA input on the rear which I didn't try, which seems like it would be handy if you had a CD/DVD player with digital outs, plus optical ins and outs that will interface with the USB. All this adds a crazy amount of flexibility for I/O. There's even a handy 1/8'' headphone output on the front. All this for $99 street? Yup. The specs for this device look fine; although I'm sure "real" audiophiles would scoff at this device, I found that any anomalies in the program material were 100% the result of vinyl background noise and distortion as well as the fidelity of my cheap Technics turntable and eight-year old needle. The Phono Plus is great and easy to use, but I have to make a brief aside about the software.
ART supplies us Mac users with a copy of Audacity, a free multitrack program. They didn't invent or write this program-it is only something they provide for the user-so I'm not offering this part of the review as a slam on ART, but as a warning to anyone trying to use this software. Initially, Audacity wouldn't work at all (it has problems with Mac OS X 10.4). I waited, and a few months later someone rewrote the code to slightly fix this problem. It still involved diving into the Audio MIDI utility in the Mac, somewhere I'd never been, and changing settings. So now the software worked, but man, what a frustrating program. Maybe I'm spoiled by working with professional recording software-and I know it's free-but this thing is clunky to use. Edit points I inserted to divide the LP side into tracks were not visible and frequently ended up in the wrong spots, and some expected functionality is either not provided or is well hidden. I tried twice to transfer an album into iTunes through Audacity; each time something was messed up due to Audacity, and I had to toss the tracks out and try again. Eventually, I quit. Next time, I'll grab the Mbox from the studio and plug the Phono Plus into it and try this in Pro Tools, a platform I know how to use. I did find myself wanting to EQ, normalize, and compress the tracks anyway; Audacity didn't seem to have any way to do this stuff. Any other DAW software would most likely recognize the Phono Plus as an interface and make this a breeze; I wish Pro Tools would recognize it!
In all though, I think the USB Phono Plus is a great idea. I imagine many record collectors would want to transfer some of their rare vinyl to make into a CDR or play on a computer or MP3 player. I could also see grabbing one for most any studio, even just to use as a phono preamp so you could plug a turntable into any two-track return, as well as a way to transfer vinyl into your computer, a service we all get calls about performing. And for $99, you can't complain about the cost! ($119 MSRP; www.artproaudio.com)