Ever since the first big boom in colour television AKAI has been a presence in consumer electronics. And although a lot has changed since those days, we still seem to be spending a lot of time staring at screens as a major source of entertainment.
While vinyl records were also present in the early days, the format had a huge drop-off when CD appeared. With its inherent superior durability, longer play time, smaller size, etc., there were several improvements over the vinyl format as a whole, just not where it really counted, which was specifically how it sounded to our ears.
Largely, for this reason vinyl has had resurgence in recent years, such to the point where companies like AKAI can market a turntable in today's market with some confidence that it will sell.
Package and Contents
The Package and Contents
Right then, let's take a closer look at the contents of the package and see what's included.
The AKAI ATT023U USB Turntable comes in a nice bright red and white box that is sure to stand out on store shelves. Over all it's a solid design that should steer plenty of wondering eyes towards what's inside.
Inside the package, first and foremost we have the turntable base with feet included to help with vibration, which is a natural enemy of vinyl reproduction.
On top goes the steel platter (or plate) which is the heaviest by far of everything included. Next we have our tone arm and stylus, slip mat and counter balance. And lastly there's the adapter for 7" records and a small light to aid in visibility when the lights go down.
However, in order to transfer the vinyl across to the hard drive format for backing up, we also get a USB cable. A small manual also makes an appearance along with the free audio editing program, Audacity and Sound Soap SE for managing the audio "ripped" from vinyl.
The way in which a turntable works is a little different from that of an optical device such as a CD player. A CD player shines a laser into the "pits" and "grooves" of the CD's face in order to retrieve the data containing the audio; it then converts it into an electrical signal using the player's digital to analog converters. Once this is done the systems amplifier can 'amplify' the signal to a level that can be heard by the listener.
Now, the way in which this occurs is different with vinyl, namely because it's an analog format. Also, the process of retrieving the information is easier and more akin to the natural analog nature of our auditory systems.
Don't forget also that nobody can ever hear something digitally; it's not possible. Our biological auditory systems are analog devices only.
So, since sound is made of waves, containing both amplitude and frequency information, that data must be transcribed across to the record's face; this in the form of small grooves of differing sizes which the needle on the stylus picks up.
Once the signal has made it this far, it's onto the amps to increase the volume level of the signal to be heard through the listeners speakers.
Now let's take a quick look at some specs of the ATT023U.
- Belt drive turntable
- Manual speed adjustment 33 / 45/ 78 RPM
- USB output for Direct Encoding-Compatible with Windows and Mac
- Plug and play USB compatibility
- Anti-skating control for increased stereo balance
- 330mm aluminum die cast turntable platter
- 10% adjustable pitch control
- Static balanced S-Shaped tonearm with detachable head shell
- Effective arm length of 230,5 mm
- S/N ratio more than 60dB
- Includes Audacity Software for removing noise
- Audio out (CINCH)
- USB Cable
- 45 RPM adapter
- Head shell
Dimensions: (W x H x D)
- 44.5 X 14.8 X 36 cm
- 3.6 Kg
One of the features promised here by AKAI is the ability for the buyer of this product to back up his or her vinyl collection to hard disk. The purpose of this is to make life easier for both the listener and the original delicate vinyl record.
Of course, for this to be done the signal must be converted into optical data to sit on a hard disk, the same sort of optical data you might find on a CD. So yes, you can easily access and listen to your collection as well as protect the original vinyl, but it'll be at the cost of some of the sound quality that defines the medium. Make sense? - I hope so.
For this process to take place the turntable gets connected using a USB cable running to either your PC or Mac. While USB is not the fastest choice for sending data, it's the most universal at the moment as well as being cost affective.
Setup and Installation
Once everything is unpacked and ready to go, it's a pretty simple task to set the whole thing up and get it going.
However, if you're not familiar with turntables please read on to make sure that it gets setup correctly. Unfortunately the manual does not provide nearly enough information and leaves out completely any information regarding the belt drive system used. Also not explained is how to connect it, which is truly bizarre.
The first thing that must be done is to turn the platter (steel plate) upside down and locate the belt stretched around the circumference of the inner ring of the platter. Now place it down on the base unit and lock it into place by pushing down until it's down all the way and is flat.
Now, the platter has service holes cut into it, so spin the platter until you can look straight through and see the little copper post looking back at you.
Now, feel around and grab that belt mentioned before and stretch it out onto and around the copper post located beneath, just like a simple pulley setup.
The drive system is now ready to go. Place the slip mat down onto the platter and it's time to move across to the tone arm.
There are two jobs here. Firstly, we need to connect the stylus to the front of the tone arm; this is done (carefully) using the clamp on the arm to fasten the stylus in place (once it's lined up with the four locators).
Finally, there is also a dust cover for the needle; make sure to slip it off before use.
The second job here is to fasten the counterweight to the other end of the tone arm where the stylus was connected. The counterweight slips over the end of the poll and can be slid up and down to provide the adequate amount of weight to the needle on the stylus.
Okay then, now that's all done it's time to find an empty power outlet, plug it in and then find the device from which you will be listening back (ie. An amp, PC, etc.). Then use the supplied cable from the turntables right and left to the inputs of your device.
That's the basic setup for playback. For recording there are naturally going to be other steps, but I will cover those a little later.
Testing Playback Performance
For playback testing I connected the turntable to my amplifier and set it to stereo playback.
At first I was quite taken back by how natural it sounded and I had almost forgotten the fruits of the vinyl format.
The high end sounded simply fantastic. To be totally honest, my playback monitors are nothing to make mention of. And yet still; the unrelenting smoothness of 'vinyl's' high range makes it through.
I have found in my experience, especially with testing this turntable in particular, that the way in which the high end maintains its softness and warmth, even when the volume gets pushed up quite high, is still a testament to the format and also the turntable being used here today.
During my testing of the high-end, no-matter what I listened to, nor at any volume with any amount of treble added through my amp, the high end stayed smooth, crisp and most of all caused no tired sore ears what so ever - Fantastic stuff.
In fact, I haven't heard such a fine high end since I recently took a look at an 'audiophile' sound card from ASUS. There are few things I've heard that compare to the sound of vinyl being re-produced well.
When taking into consideration the mid-range frequencies, the story is much the same really; that being that they are a pleasure to hear using AKAI's turntable.
I found when listening to drum kits, horn sections, percussive or acoustic instruments and the human voice also, that the sound being delivered was some of the smoothest and most natural I've heard in some time. There's big emphasis on the word "natural" here, as this is an almost foreign thing these days with a big trend towards a lot of popular music sounding as un-natural as you like.
How about those all important bass frequencies? They are a must when producing a full rich soundscape with almost any type of music.
In a word, dynamic, like the high and mid-range frequencies above.
AKAI's little ATT023U really does a great job at reproducing strong omni-present low end at all times, no-matter the music being played. I compare the low end to that of 24-bit 96KHz resolution files in the digital domain.
In a sense, when you listen to your vinyls on this turntable, the sound quality is comparable (in many facets) to a high-bit (low-compression ratio) audio file based off a digital system.
So, we know it sounds great in all departments, but how easy is it to actually playback your favorite vinyls?
I'm glad to report it's very easy, as long as you remember to take good care of the needle itself; this by using the small boom arm located at the big end of the tone arm to raise and lower the needle onto the records surface, as well as keeping dust and dirt off the needle by using the dust cover provided when not in use.
Now, the playback of your old 33's is, well, 33 1/3 RPM to be exact and it's the first clearly marked button in a line of buttons at the lower portion of the unit.
Of course, other record sizes are also supported with the use of the small plastic adapter disk and corresponding speed selection.
The other buttons up the side are for recording of your records onto computer hard disk. I believe this can also be done by just using a flash card in the top slots; this to negate having to actually have a computer with you, which is definitely handy.
Testing the Record Function
Recording with the ATT023U
Right then, onto the aspect of this product which promises to deliver something your average turntable will not. What that something is, is the ability to record directly from the turntable itself to an optical device, such as a hard drive, to allow for the systematic backing up of vinyl collections.
This process is facilitated by the use of a USB cable to send the newly converted data across the system bus to a program like Audacity for editing and recording purposes.
Now, to ensure correct functionality of this feature, be sure to firstly install and run the Audacity program (which is a completely free and easy to use program for audio editing) - You can find it available for download here.
Open up Audacity and choose "edit" from the top drop down and then "preferences" from that menu. Once the preferences menu is open, select audio I/O, then choose your internal sound card or on board sound for 'playback device'. Then after making sure the turntable is connected to an empty USB port, select 'USB audio codec' from the drop down and then, below again, 'channels-2(stereo)'.
After doing the above, tick both the boxes directly below. You have now configured your system to see the turntable and to be able to record it as an incoming signal.
Still following? - Good. Now cue up the turntable with the record you want to record from (mind the pun). Then click the red circular record button up top of Audacity (the button is the same as a DVR/VCR/Cable TV record button). Also set the "REC VOL" on the turntables control face to around 12 o'clock.
Then simply hit play on the cued up record that you have ready to go and two mono tracks with wave form data will appear in the edit window of Audacity to signal that a 'hot' signal is coming through and being recorded.
Now, up the top of your edit window you'll see two sets of bars that look like a TV volume control. One is green and one is red; green means playback (monitor level) while the other is the record level. Never let the red one hit max, because it means your record signal is clipping. This simply means that the incoming level is too 'hot' for the equipment. Always tune this value from the turntables 'REC VOL' control, not from within Audacity itself.
To pause the recording, simply use the play/pause button on the turntable and again do this to resume recording. In Windows the space bar is your stop/start recording shortcut.
Also, remember to "save project as" as the first step when you begin a session. You will then be prompted on where to save and my strict advice is to save anywhere but where your Windows files are stored; this for obvious reasons of security and safety of the session data.
This is the same procedure used anywhere, right through to professional recording workstations.
With regards to the flash slots up the top left hand corner of the unit, once an SD card or a USB stick gets inserted it acts as the hard drive used before (through Audacity), except this time none of the controls are accessed through Audacity. Rather, the turntables own controls are used. Other than that it's the same process being followed.
Okay, well I think I have covered the basics of what you must know in order to record using AKAI's ATT023U turntable.
Editors note: I was also going to run this process through my Pro-tools workstation on the Mac, but for readability I'm only including information for Windows. If there are in fact any problems recording onto Mac using this turntable, just let us know here and we'll do our best to set you straight.
Right, thanks for your patience getting through that, but I really wanted to cover the process involved as it can easily become confusing if steps are missed.
Here we are once more folks; it's time to give you some final impressions and to let you, the buying public, decide on where your money is going to land.
For a retail price of a touch under $500 AUD, this turntable is not exactly cheap. However, cheap is not a word included in the audio vocab with great frequency, so on the larger scale it's pretty competitive really.
Does the performance warrant the money being spent? - Well, yes, I feel it does. In fact, AKAI even offer cheaper models; this are focused simply on playback, without the more complex and expensive record function included.
So, we know it offers enough of everything to warrant the price, but how about other facets? - The package comes with everything you need, so that's easy. The manual, well, it has to be said; this is one of the sparsest I've ever seen. There's no-mention of how the direct drive system works and that the drive belt must indeed be fitted to function at all.
But that is no real concern; it just makes life a tiny bit more confusing when setting everything up. However, it doesn't detract from the overall score of the unit and its general performance.
The recording function, while not 'audiophile' in its technical nature, is sure to be a fantastic function for everyone who wants to backup their precious vinyl for good.
To wrap it all up now, long live vinyl as the format for the audiophile! And well done to AKAI for keeping the spirit alive with a quality turntable.
This has been a great change of pace to my usual reviews and I hope you have all enjoyed reading something just a bit different this time around.
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