If you’re after a bit of tech kitsch, or want to convert those dusty old LPs, the mBeat Portable USB Turntable Recorder will do the job, although its portable credentials aren’t great.
Hey you! Yes, you. Do you remember LPs?
If the answer to that was “no”, then this probably isn’t the review for you.
If you said “yes”, then there’s the chance that mBeat’s Portable USB Turntable Recorder could hold some appeal. It’s yet another product that neatly describes itself in its title. It’s a record player that also happens to be portable, and USB connected and powered.
USB connected record players are nothing new, just as record players themselves are a charming anachronism in 2014 outside of certain audiophile communities. Just to be clear, the mBeat Portable USB Turntable Recorder isn’t by any stretch of the imagination an audiophile product in any sense.
I can only imagine audiophiles recoiling in horror at the prospect of dropping the needle that comes with a $49 record player onto their precious vinyl. Instead this is a product more for the slightly older everyperson who happens to have some old LPs that they’d like to listen to one more time.
If you’re the listening type, the mBeat Portable USB Turntable Recorder comes with its own inbuilt speaker, as well as a standard 3.5mm headphone socket for connecting external speakers or headphones. The inbuilt speakers are very tinny, with no particular adjustment beyond volume control and a lot of distortion at top volume.
In a weird nostalgic way they reminded me of a cheap radio I bought at Walthamstow markets back in 1988 to accompany me on a paper round I had at the time, but that had terrible sound output too. You can tell that it’s a budget player, too, as there’s no automatic raising arm for the needle, which you have to manage manually.
Nostalgia can only take you so far, and while there’s a certain kitsch value in recreating the terrible speakers of the past, the real value in the mBeat Portable USB Turntable Recorder lies in its ability to connect up via USB to a PC or Mac and format shift your LP’s audio content into a digital format. It supports either 33 or 45rpm records, so if you’re old school enough to need to convert 78s, you’re out of luck.
That’s a format shift that’s totally legal under Australian copyright law, by the way (I wrote about it here), so if you do own a copy of Hall & Oates’ H2O on LP, you can convert and listen to “Maneater” to your heart’s content.
You don’t get fancy software for audio capture with a $49 USB turntable, although it’s again charmingly anachronistic that the software CD supplied with the mBeat Portable USB Turntable Recorder comes on a mini CD. I wouldn’t throw that into a slot loading drive if you have one, but the reality is that you don’t need to anyway, because the supplied software is the open-source Audacity, and you’re better off downloading the latest version anyway.
Audio pickup from the mBeat Portable USB Turntable Recorder’s needle was exactly what I expected it to be, which is to say that it’s functional but not particularly deep in pure audio terms. If you’re holding onto an LP that never got digital mastering (and there are plenty of those, especially if, like me, you’ve got a reasonable library of comedy records) then it’s a fair way to capture that audio, or avoid paying for the properly mastered digital audio, but you’re not likely to get the exact same quality, and naturally, it does nothing for scratches or skips on the LP source material.
The mBeat Portable USB Turntable Recorder is portable, either by plugging it into a 5v USB power adaptor, which isn’t supplied, although a standard Type B (think printer type) USB cable is provided, or with four AA batteries. Outside of themed parties, I can’t think why anyone would particularly need a truly portable USB record player, but it does work in this way, as long as you’ve got a stable enough surface to place it on.
I’ve reviewed plenty of USB Record players previously, and the mBeat Portable USB Turntable Recorder certainly stands out as quirky. In 2014, it’s hard not to come to the conclusion that a large part of the market for this kind of device has probably done their format shifting by now, but if you haven’t, or for some kitschy reason you feel the need to own a portable record player, it’s perfectly serviceable for its moderate asking price.