Aussie device digitises your vinyl

Your analog music collection can make the move to digital with INport, a new pocket-size device from Canberra's Xitel that transfers recordings from your stereo to your PC.

The US$69.95 Xitel INport provides high-quality digital sound transfers from turntables and cassette decks (and even older devices, such as eight-track, as long as you route it through the stereo receiver).

An external device, the INport is a 2-by-3-by-1-inch rectangular silver box with audio inputs on one side and USB outputs on the other. It includes a 30-foot cable that plugs directly into the rear of the audio component and connects to your stereo, as well as a 3-foot USB cable to connect your PC to the INport device.

Xitel also provides software that controls the input levels and is divided into two modules for recording and "ripping" of vinyl and other older recordings. It saves the tunes as .wav files; you can use any of a broad selection of CD-editing programs to convert to MP3 and burn them to discs.

"There is a huge amount of people who have a monstrous vinyl collection, with music that will never be released on CD," says Ben Davis, vice president of product management at Xitel. "So there is a need for a product like this that allows people to preserve their records by making backup copies, as well as being able to take the music with them so they can enjoy it in the car."

Put to the Test

The INport is overly simple to use--the hardware design is foolproof, and doesn't allow you to plug in any incorrect cables. The software is equally easy to use.

Due to its compact size, the INport also is easy to use when connected to a laptop. You can take the laptop to the stereo, transfer the files, and later move them to a desktop system or MP3 player. (This is ideal if you are visiting friends or relatives with lots of valuable records that they don't want to let out of their sight.)

You cannot, however, plug a turntable directly into the INport. Due to the low sound levels from a turntable, an amplifier is needed to boost the signal. This requires the turntable be part of an existing stereo setup, rather than a stand-alone component. For this reason, the product is geared toward those who have never given up the vinyl ghost and continue to maintain an operational turntable setup.

"A turntable without an amplifier has a very low output level. To add a preamp would have made the product too complicated," Davis says.

The INport is able to compensate for the varying sounds of early recordings with a module that automatically adjusts recording levels. Because the unit is external, it is not subject to noise interference from the PC--something Xitel claims is a drawback of internal sound cards.

Mix of Music

While the predominant market for the INport consists of baby boomers trying to recover lost music, Davis says modern DJs are using the component too.

"Younger guys with turntables are using this to mix music and immediately press it onto a CD," he says. "It is really changing the way they work."

CD media offers music collectors the path of least resistance, and provide most of the music that most people want to hear or buy. But the vast amount of pre-CD vinyl offers another musical world. And aside from the common contention that vinyl is somehow "warmer" than CDs, it contains an unmatched depth and breadth for people who do not share the tastes of the majority.

The "lost" recordings found only on vinyl include thousands of spoken word, comedy, and novelty records from the 1950s and 1960s, says Robin Thomas, a buyer for vinyl outlet Saturn Records in Oakland. "None of these will ever see the light of day on CD," she says. "And many people value the imperfections of an old recording as it sounds on vinyl."

Similar Tunes

This is not the first technology to try to migrate vinyl tunes to the digital age.

However, most solutions have focused on the software side, requiring you to assemble the hardware components.

Microsoft's Plus Digital Media Edition, a Windows XP add-on, includes such software, too. The Plus Analog Recorder lets you create digital copies of vinyl records or cassette tapes using automatic hiss and pop reduction and automatic track-splitting.

Xitel also markets a product to play MP3s through your stereo, a function also provided by competing devices.