Stanton T.90 USB Turntable

Taking LPs Into the Digital World

There’s no shortage of sharp designs in the turntable biz, and the T.90 has a slick, modern style that suits its features. Molded from high-grade plastic and metal, it has cool blue LEDs that glow off to either side of the platter. It’s light enough (at 18 pounds) to be a portable rig but heavy enough to prevent skips if you’re walking around the room.

Many of the T.90 USB’s features are geared for the ever-growing DJ crowd—a market Stanton has served for many years. For example, dual Start/Stop buttons and a Reverse button are handy for DJ battles as is a pitch control that allows speed variations of up to ±12 percent. DJ’s will also appreciate a clever, digital-only Key Lock feature, which lets you vary the tempo of a song without changing pitch. But even non-DJs will appreciate the ruggedness and simplicity of the Stanton’s construction, and we think its overall versatility will appeal to a wide variety of users, too—especially to vinyl first-timers.

The high-torque, direct-drive motor starts and stops on a dime, and a strobe light lets you keep an eye on the platter speed. The T.90 has three playback speeds (33, 45, and 78 RPM) and anti-skating. As on most DJ ‘tables, there is no queing device for lifting and lowering the tonearm, so dropping the needle down demands a soft touch. Around back, the T.90 sports a built-in phono preamp with RCA output jacks (with a bypass switch for those who may already own even higher quality phonostages), a USB port, and S/PDIF digital outputs (to hook the deck to digital mixers or computer soundcards). A Stanton 500B high-output cartridge, slipmat, and the Cakewalk Pyro 5 sound editing program round out the mix.

The documentation that comes with the T.90 USB is brief and barely helpful, so for things like balancing the tonearm or other set-up questions, we suggest that users turn instead to Stanton’s cool online guide, which is thorough,well-illustrated, and easy to use. Happily, the T.90 USB is fairly simple to set up, and I was up and spinning in about 15 minutes.

There was one unexpected hazard that I discovered soon after queuing up my first LP: my cat loves spinning, shiny platters, and his scratching skills need some work.

Getting Wax in Your Ears

For generation iPod, the vinyl sound is about as familiar as a theremin’s, and even though I own about 500 records myself, my listening has been dominated by CDs and MP3s for many years. Over the last month, however, I’ve gone on a vinyl binge, and one of the first things I noticed—and kept noticing the more records I played—is that vinyl just has a smoother, fuller, and more dynamic sound than digital media such as CDs or MP3s. You might argue that music doesn’t sound as detailed or precise, but overall it’s more pleasing to the ears, especially over long listening sessions. The difference is most evident when I listen to jazz albums, like Jazz Samba [Polygram Records], the classic Braziliansamba album featuring Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd. Recorded at a Unitarian church in Washington, D.C., Getz’s breathy tenor sax vibrato floats above samba polyrhythms, while Byrd’s subtle, silky guitar weaves its way through the mix. Vinyl really brings out the intimacy of this session, and gives you the extraordinary feeling that you’re sitting right in front of the musicians.

The Analog-to-Digital Scene

The Cakewalk Pyro 5 music editing software is simple enough to install and setting it up for recording was as easy as connecting a USB cord from the back of the T.90 USB into my laptop. The program interface is, well, a cakewalk. After you point to a folder for file storage, you simply drop the needle and hit the Record button. I was concerned about possible interference from the computer’s circuit board, but to my delight, all the recordings I made came off without a hitch and sounded great. You can record an entire side of an LP and go into the WAV file later to clean up the recording, separate tracks, and convert them to WAV, MP3, or WMA files—all of these operations are surprisingly easy and intuitive. I must say it’s a strange sensation listening to vinyl-to-WAV files. You still hear the subtle noises (scratches, dust) and dynamics of vinyl, yet the file is playing off of a hard drive. But this is one anomaly that I’m learning to love.

Conclusion

The T.90 USB might have more DJ-focused features than most people need, but its DJ roots also make it one of the better built, higher-quality USB turntables out there, one that lets you enjoy the best of both audio worlds—the convenience of digital, and the sound quality of vinyl. PB

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