Getting your precious vinyl into digital form just got a whole lot easier. TerraTec, maker of a variety of useful audio tools, finally released its much-anticipated Phono Preamp for digitizing records into your PC.
Product PointsApplications: Studio; broadcast
Key Features: Portable-sized standard RIAA curve phono preamp; powered by a soundcard’s joystick port
Contact: TerraTec at 407-331-4002; ww.terratec-us.com/ttus/products.htm
The physical nature of phonograph records makes it very difficult to accurately represent and reproduce bass frequencies, and high frequencies have to compete with surface noise. The groove in a record is an analog representation of the frequencies produced by playing a piece of music. But because lower frequencies can literally pop a needle out of the groove, they are attenuated before the record is pressed.
When the record is played back the Phono Preamp boosts the frequencies, essentially returning the low-end ingredients of the music. To help overcome noise, high frequencies are boosted before the record is stamped. The Phono Preamp reduces these frequencies upon playback.
Here’s the trick: the frequencies that are added and removed are not random and they don’t change from record to record. In fact, the equalization curve is a standard developed by the RIAA. So every record made since circa 1955 has used the RIAA equalization curve. And stereo receivers with phono inputs should more or less add and remove the right spice of frequencies to accurately reproduce your music.
If you were to try and play records without a proper preamp, such as using a tape or CD input on a receiver, the levels would be extremely low, hissy and lack bass frequencies. If you were to plug directly into the microphone jack on a sound card, the level might be acceptable but the sound would still be hollow, hissy and lack bass.
What’s so cool about the TerraTec phono preamp is its portable size. Now you don’t have to haul out your old clunky receiver just to digitize records into your PC. Essentially TerraTec has reduced the clutter factor from a full size stereo component to a pack of cigarettes.
The TerraTec Phono Preamp works with all moving magnet pickups and includes selectable input capacity and output amplification to fine-tune the signal for your particular setup. It gets its power from the joystick/MIDI/game port on your sound card or motherboard.
Simply plug your turntable into the preamp and the preamp output into the line input on your sound card. The inputs are standard RCA cables and the output is a miniplug.
Next, open the mixer panel of your sound card and make sure the fader for the channel you plugged into is up. Any standard audio software can be used to record your records. The best results are obtained with a package that has good metering for setting recording levels
Prior to acquiring the TerraTec Phono Preamp, I used a full-size Adcom stereo preamp with my trusty old Technics turntable and Grado cartridge to record my records. It was a bit of a hassle because I had to run an extra set of patchcords from the preamp to my mixer and then to my computer. Plus, the output levels are controlled by the volume knob and required quite a bit a tinkering to find the optimal level.
In comparison to my Adcom preamp, the TerraTec box sounds great. As with any audio chain, all the links have to be clean. My records are not in the best of shape; I could use a new cartridge and my turntable has seen better days. With a little noise reduction and some sweetening, however, I’m bringing my old collection back to life.
The TerraTec Phono Preamp is a useful tool that works well for digitizing vinyl and can help reduce the clutter in your studio. I think the company could do well with this product, especially if it drops the price below $50. Currently, the preamp sells for $79.