Retro style, modern features: Vinyl ripping with the Crosley Revolution
When the Walkman portable cassette player revolution had firmly gripped the world in the early 80's, Audio-Technica produced a unique product that capitalized on the portability trends, but applied it to vinyl records. It created tiny, clamshell-style record players that stripped away the big turntable in favor of one with a 3.5" diameter that could still play 12" LPs.
The most notable versions of this turntable were the AT-727 "Sound Burger," and the AT-770 "Mister Disc." And though these devices weren't commercial breakthroughs in their time, they now fetch significant sums on eBay, and have enjoyed a massive resurgence in consumer interest.
The interest has been so great, that two weeks ago, retro consumer electronics company Crosley Radio released a new turntable styled after the Sound Burger named the Revolution that goes a step further than its forerunner by adding modern trimmings like a USB interface and FM transmitter.
Even though downloadable and streaming music has been cutting into CD sales for nearly a decade, the trade in vinyl records has been enjoying steady growth alongside downloads. Market research leader Nielsen has charted growth in vinyl record sales for the last four years. Though vinyl is a format that has been "replaced" by more than half a dozen technologies, its staying power cannot be denied.
While people like to theorize that records are appealing because of their cover artwork and liner notes, or the exciting variances in sound quality between record players, the truth of the matter is, there's never been a better hard format for single songs than the 7" record.
As Nielsen repeatedly shows, people would rather have a couple of songs they like from an artist than a whole album of songs they may or may not ever listen to. The 7" record and the digital download both cater to that tendency. Many 7" singles released today even come with their own "digital copy," typically a slip of paper with a URL and password on it where the buyer can download a digital version of the record they just purchased.
At any rate, record players remain relevant today, and are only gaining more relevance as vinyl surges in popularity.
The Revolution is about 11" x 5" x 3.5", has a built-in carrying strap for lugging it around to record swaps, and can be powered by 6 AA batteries or the supplied AC adaptor. In terms of I/O, it's got built-in 2W stereo speakers, headphone jack, line level output jack, USB 2.0, and FM transmitter with a two-way selector for FM frequencies 88.1 FM and 88.9FM. The Revolution supports both 33rpm and 45rpm playback, and while it may not have the highest quality needle, the Revolution's cartridge is both affordable and easy to find.
The reason this record player immediately grabbed me, aside from its unmistakable design, was the FM transmitter. There are plenty of USB turntables available for very little money, but they require a PC if you want to rip tracks from a record. Since FM receivers are dirt cheap, they're embedded in smartphones of all sorts, and in a lot of Portable Media Players. Many of these let the user record off of the radio, so I was captivated by the idea of a fully wireless, no-PC vinyl ripping solution.
The 100% wireless PC-free ripping solution
If you are a digital music maker and frequently go on sample-scavenging missions, you can pop a disc onto the battery-powered Revolution, tune your FM recorder to one of the available signals, and rip a sample right there on the spot with no wires whatsoever. I've done it, and it works.
Unfortunately, audio quality is an issue that needs to be considered. If you're in an area with a strong FM signal on the two frequencies the Revolution broadcasts upon, you're going to have a hard time getting a good sound in your FM recorder. I fall into this category. I recorded them on a Sandisk Sansa Fuze, which captures FM as .wav files, and did not do any equalizing or sound correction...you can hear the results in the video I've embedded below.
The "wired" PC-free ripping solution
The other alternative for PC-less ripping would require a pocket voice recorder or dictaphone with a line in jack such as the Sony ICD-UX71 and its kin. With a 3.5mm stereo cable, you can run the Revolution directly into the dictaphone and rip away. The results this way will be vastly improved, but will require a bit of doctoring after recording is completed.
The fully-wired solution with your PC
Even if you're not out combing through dusty racks of vinyl, the Revolution can still come in very handy as a space-saving desktop USB turntable. Without any manual driver installation, the Revolution was recognized by a Windows 7 and an OS X 10.5 notebook as an external sound card, and worked immediately. If that doesn't work, the deck comes with a driver and software disc for older operating systems (Win2k, XP, OS X 10.3 and up, ) and failing that, there's always the line out jack.
If you're an audiophile, this will by no means replace any of your turntables, but it is an extremely light, versatile, and above all, cool looking solution for listening to and ripping records on the move.
The Revolution can be purchased directly from Crosley now for $149.95.