The Airplay Turntable Kit

Sun 23 November 2014 by psu

I've mentioned before that I bought a lot of LP records when I was in graduate school. At the time the LP->CD switch had just gotten into full swing and you could buy vinyl at a huge discount compared to new what new CDs cost. So, I bought a few hundred records (including lot of sets from Mosaic which will never be on CD).

Over the years I would play the records occasionally, and I kept a turntable hooked up to my "stereo" for most of this time. At some point the stereo became just a box to play sounds from video games or the television, so I packed the turntable away. Then during a house renovation I got rid of the stereo completely, shifting over to self-powered speakers. This is because receivers suck.

Of course these days all the music is streamed over the network. But ten years after starting to make this shift I felt like I wanted to be able to play the records again. I guess part of this might be some subconscious reaction of the recent renaissance in the market for vinyl records. On the other hand, I am pretty skeptical of this alleged "recovery". The increase in vinyl sales is less impressive when you realize that they've gone from almost zero percent of the whole market to just barely more than almost zero percent of the whole market.

No. I just felt like it was time to be able to play my records again. However, I needed LP playback to integrate into the new world order. I did not have a whole stack of amplifiers and dedicated speakers anymore. I just had a few Airport Expresses and Audio Engine speakers. So, what to do?

It turns out there is not much of a market for a dedicated device that allows you to stream LP playback over your local area network. However, there are many devices that let you capture the signal from the turntable in your computer. While I'm not actually that interested in converting my LPs to MP3s (seems tedious and soul crushing to me), it's easy to take advantage of the tools to get what we need.

First, you set up your turntable. Here is mine:

IMG_3656

This is a circa 2001 Music Hall MMF 1.5 turntable. You can still buy a version of this table now. It's on the low to mid end of the sort of thing sold to insane audiophile types. I like it because it's very very quiet.

Since it had been sitting in a closet for ten years, I had to get it cleaned up. It turns out that if you live in Pittsburgh you can just take your things to Galaxie Electronics, which is in the same building as Jerry's Records and they will clean it up for you for less than the cost of three or four classic cocktails at your favorite Lawrenceville bar.

If you get your turntable kit to work, you should get to know Jerry. He's a national treasure for vinyl dorks.

Once your table is all set, the next thing you need is a box to take the signal from the turntable and turn it into something that the computer can understand. Three things must happen:

  1. You need to amplify the signal.

  2. You need to apply the so-called RIAA equalization to the signal. This undoes a transformation that is performed on the original signal to make cutting records possible. Watch this informative video for details.

  3. Most importantly, you need to sample the signal and turn it into packets of digital data.

Luckily, there are a lot of devices to do this. I bought a cheap one:

IMG_3557

You can get this Amazon or any number of other retailers. If you want the true nostalgia trip, you can get something like this with a tube in it: https://www.amazon.com/Bellari-VP530-Tube-Phono-Preamp/dp/B002PSLTIC. You can also spend a lot of money on "audiophile" devices for this. Although the true nuts would never think of sullying their precious analogue (they always spell it that way) signals with the stink of digital processing. Not surprisingly, a lot of DJ or professional recording equipment also lets you do this at varying amounts of money. You can let your own personal interests guide you here.

I like the ART Phono device for three main reasons.

  1. USB powered.

  2. It has a nice headphone jack to make sure everything is working before you apply the signal to your computer.

  3. If you want you can bypass the reverse RIAA equalization so you can digitize other kinds of signals.

OK. Now you are almost done. The last thing you need is to pick up a piece of software that will stream the USB audio input of your computer to your wireless speakers.

Luckily, this is easy. You just go get Airfoil. You set it to capture the USB audio input of the computer, and then you can pick from any Airplay speakers that you have in your house. And you are done. I use the Mac version. Apparently they have something that works for Windows too.

So. Set up your turntable and hook it up to the ART Phono box. Hook it into your computer for power and then play a record. Listen to through the headphone jack to set the levels. Then fire up Airfoil and start streaming your USB input to your speakers.

Now you are done:

IMG_3654

My next step will be to replace the laptop in the picture with a new iMac. But that will have to wait a few weeks. Just because.

Note on the LP: That album is a late 2000s reissue of the single album that John Coltrane recorded for Blue Note Records. I probably bought this copy the last time they reissued the record in some deluxe remastering or other. I actually meant to play my other copy of this record, which is an earlier reissue from the 80s.

But, the record I really meant to play first was this one:

MHS-Musical-Offering

I first ran into this music in college when I, like many dorks, read Gödel, Escher, Bach for the first and only time. The book talks about this music a lot, and I found this recording in my dad's stash. Later on I would find my own copy on LP but for some reason no one has ever transferred this to CD. I remember the album being on modern instruments and without a lot of the nonsense and baggage that the current Historically Correct Music movement brings to the table. So after posting this page I can now go and actually see if my memory is right. I bet it isn't.

Update: It is! The main theme in the first three part fugue comes in on a flute. No one would do that these days. Also: no damn harpsichords! Except in the background.

Maybe I'll have to figure out how Audacity works...

Category: Things