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Vinyl takes another turn

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Turntables are making a comeback, with or without USB.

Rega RP1 grey.

Rega RP1 grey.

TO USB or not to USB? That is the question when it comes to turntables. Many ''record players'' are now built with USB plugs, allowing you to transfer the content of your vinyl records straight to your computer, although plenty of them need software and not much of it is terribly user-friendly.

The problem is that making a recording to your computer involves digitising the music, maybe even using the unspeakable MP3 format. This means purists won't touch USB turntables, and people who are into vinyl usually are purists. So USB is a feature more likely found at the lower end.

For example, the Denon turntable we've looked at today costs $600, while a Denon with a USB is $200 less. But you can have a Pro-Ject Debut III with a USB for the same price as the non-USB included here; it's just a matter of ordering it.

Denon DP300.

Denon DP300.

There are two ways to go with turntables. You either buy entirely manual models such as the Rega or the Pro-Ject and do everything yourself, or buy one such as the Denon that automatically lifts the arm, lowers it onto the record and then at the finish lifts off and returns. Though many people like the automatic functions, purists like sinking their money into sound quality, rather than features.

I'm one of the latter, but have to admit it's not unusual for me to wake up on the couch with the stylus at the end of the record, where it's been click-clicking for who knows how long.

If you have some beaten-up records in your collection, and especially if you have 78s, a cartridge especially for them is a good idea and the easiest way to change cartridges is to have them already mounted in headshells. All you do is swap headshells. That's the problem with the Pro-Ject; although there's a 78rpm speed option, the headshell is part of the arm and can't be changed.

Pro-Ject Debut III.

Pro-Ject Debut III.

By the way, if your amplifier doesn't have a dedicated ''phono'' input, you'll need a phono pre-amp between the turntable and the amplifier. A good one costs about $150.

A good measure of a turntable is the weight of the platter. The heavier the better. The downside is that heavy platters wear out drive belts faster.

Rega RP1
$599
synergyaudio.com

A DEAD-sexy, English-made turntable with an Ortofon OM5E cartridge in a slim, angled casing at the end of the tonearm, all on a slender plinth. You can order coloured mats (red, blue, yellow or violet). A performance pack containing a better cartridge, belt and mat is $150. It's not just the best-looking turntable here but it's tough and, according to the dealers with whom I spoke, reliable. You'll need a phono preamp if your amplifier doesn't have ''phono'' input. A purist's turntable at a good price.

Denon DP300
$600
audioproducts.com.au

A MORE conventional turntable with several of the automatic functions that are absent on the other two. For example, you can turn a dial to choose between 17-centimetre or 30-centimetre records (singles or LPs) and the tonearm will move to the required starting point, lower, play the record then lift off and return at the end. Changing cartridges is also easy, especially if they're already mounted in extra headshells available as an option. A built-in phono preamp makes it possible to connect to an ''aux'' input of an amplifier that has no ''phono'' input. If it does, the internal preamp can be switched off. There is a manual arm lift. The plinth is available in black or silver. It's supplied with a Denon moving magnet cartridge. An idiot-proof model for the less exacting listener.

Pro-Ject Debut III
$549
internationaldynamics.com.au

IN THE stuffy old game of turntables Pro-Ject is a relatively new brand, but excellent pricing has made the Debut III the biggest-selling audiophile turntable in the country. It was the first to offer lots of colour choices for the plinth - there are 10 - and all look good. That got the model off to a good start but continuing success is down to quality and reliability. It is an entirely manual model with all your money going into sound quality. The motor is decoupled so vibrations are isolated. The tonearm is designed for it and the headshell is part of the arm. It's fitted with an Ortofon OM5E moving magnet cartridge, with 78rpm an optional fitting. Great all-rounder at a good price but you need a phono preamp if your amplifier has no ''phono'' input.

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