Monthly Archive: February 2017

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Story of Seasons: Trio of Towns Review

Few could have predicted that the niche “social farm simulator” genre would become a hotbed of competition in 2017, but thanks to trademark shenanigans and the surprising success of indie favorite Stardew Valley[1], that’s where we are today. Publisher XSEED Games is once again looking to capture part of the audience for these charming life adventures with Story of Seasons: Trio of Towns.The game delivers a warm-hearted, relaxing experience that rewards patience and perseverance, even if it does come with a few issues.

The game begins with a flashback to a time where your character had a life-affirming experience at the farm as a young child, inspiring them to dream about running their own farm. Flash forward to the present, where you’re going off with your uncle Frank to begin a new life as a fledgling farmer–though not without some stern disapproval from your father, who isn’t convinced you have what it takes to endure the harsh realities of country living. Can you grow from an inexperienced greenhorn into a farming wunderkind, all while forming important interpersonal relationships and eventually finding the love of your life? That’s what Story of Seasons: Trio of Towns is all about. Well, that and shoveling cow manure from time to time.

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The basic formula that drives Trio of Towns is familiar by this point: You operate on a day-to-day schedule, with an in-game timer that flows from morning to night each day. Performing activities like cultivating crops, tending to livestock, fishing, mining, or clearing out weeds, trees, and boulders from your fields consumes your stamina, which can be refilled by eating food or resting (and moving on to the next day). Eventually, your hard work will pay off with a bountiful harvest, yielding tender veggies, juicy fruit, and prime produce you can sell to earn money and invest further in your little farmstead. You can also head into town and interact with the local folks, forming important social relationships and eventually, after many moons, finding a nice young lad/lass to settle down with.

The amount of time and effort this will all take depends on the difficulty you choose at startup: “Seedling” difficulty makes things a fair bit more gentle, giving you more money for your sales and work and decreasing stamina consumption. If you want a more chill farming experience–and, really, given this genre’s appeal as “unwind and relax”-style games, many people do–you can pick this difficulty with no repercussions. If you’re really invested in the simulation aspect, however, there’s a stricter difficulty you can choose that puts more emphasis on the day-to-day micromanagement.

Trio of Towns makes the most of the aging 3DS hardware, giving players nicely rendered environments and an attractive cast of NPCs to engage with. 3D effects are used sparingly for things like the HUD, text boxes, and various graphical flourishes. Sometimes the game will try to do too much, however, causing it to chug a little when there’s a big rainstorm or a flurry of flower petals zipping across the screen. It doesn’t happen too often, but when it does, it can be somewhat distracting.

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One of the biggest changes in Trio of Towns is that, instead of one central hub town to explore, you now have three separate population centers to engage with, each with their own distinct flavor. Westown is a typical Western-inspired city, dotted with mines, train tracks, and cacti, while Lulukoko is a Hawaiian-themed tropical city filled with palm trees, exotic animals, and a beautiful oceanside ripe for fishing. The final area, Tsuyukusa, is a village with a classical Japanese flair, filled with blooming sakura trees, rice paddies, and flowing river water. Each of these villages has a unique culture and vibe to it, slightly changing the way you interact with the people who live there and giving you a variety of new activities and festivals to engage with over the course of the year. They also provide you with opportunities to acquire exotic livestock and crops–it’s pretty darn neat to be able to raise banana trees right beside rice and tomatoes, and the variety of stuff you can work with lets you customize and specialize to your heart’s content.

Of course, these towns also offer a new layer of simulation micromanagement. You build a personal relationship with each town separately by doing simple part-time jobs for residents (usually quick, somewhat tedious activities like parcel delivery or variations on standard farm chores, though more interesting stuff eventually opens up), participating in local events, and shipping items for sale to specific areas through the use of the farm’s shipping bin (which, thankfully, eliminates the need to physically travel to each town simply to sell stuff). Sometimes you’ll hit a snag in building your relationships with each area, blocking progress until you fulfill a set of arbitrary requirements to progress further.

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Other changes in Trio of Towns are smaller but still help change up the formula enough to keep the game from feeling overly familiar. Foraging for wild plants and materials is more prevalent here, allowing you to sustain yourself on harvesting things growing outside your fields if the going ever starts getting a little rough. Your crops now have individual values for elements like color and juiciness, and later in the game, when you’re entering competitions and fulfilling specific requests, growing for specific crop qualities becomes very important.

Building decorations for your farm (called “farm circles”) can not only make your fields look incredibly swanky but can also grant you special effects that will aid you in your agricultural endeavors. Tools can be improved and customized to increase effectiveness and efficiency, using less stamina to produce better results. The added complexity and customization these changes offer make for a more varied, interesting farming experience, adding to that sweet, sweet sense of satisfaction you get when that paycheck comes in and you can splurge on the cool farm bits you’ve always wanted.

But while Trio of Towns does add a few neat new ideas, it falters a bit in streamlining and eliminating some of the tediousness that’s been present in this genre for many years. I know–farming is hard, tedious work, so it makes sense that some of that would be present in a farming-themed game, but would improving the user interface a little really affect the feeling of “hard work yields satisfaction” these games deliver? The rucksack is a mess, with similar items taking up separate slots for reasons I can’t understand. You can’t assign specific, commonly used tools to controller buttons to make things easier when doing your morning farming routine. Instead, you have to open up a menu, select a tool, then manually put it away when done.

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The same goes with items–it takes a surprising amount of time and button presses to do something as simple as checking your pocket planner to see whose birthday it is. (You can assign specific items to a shortcut menu, but as I found out when attempting to put my planner on this menu, it treats all items assigned this way as something you hold and throw around rather than something you use.) Given the increase in the number of towns, it would also have been nice to have an in-game item that let me keep detailed notes on each of the game’s many characters to help me with boosting my social standing.

Perhaps the biggest issue with Trio of Towns, though, is that its narrative feels a bit weak. The core conceit of “I have to impress my stern father” isn’t terribly compelling as a plot mover, and rarely does the game make a move that makes you genuinely invested in the plight of the people in the titular Trio of Towns. Yes, you do learn a lot about the (sometimes tragic) backstory of your chosen romantic interest over time, but compared to the standards set by Stardew Valley, the story-related elements of Trio of Towns feel a little underwhelming.

But even with some annoying interface issues and a handful of other frustrations (why am I failing delivery quests when I know I put the right items in the shipping bin in time?), Trio of Towns manages to deliver a fun, relaxing experience that’s engaging and charming. Story of Seasons: Trio of Towns might not be that revolutionary step forward for this little sub-genre just yet, but it’s a pleasant little diversion in its own right that’s well worth your time.

References

  1. ^ Stardew Valley (www.gamespot.com)
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Review of Keyport Products: Consolidate the Clutter with Slide 3.0 & Pivot

 Added on February 28, 2017  Aaron Widmar[1]   , , , , , [2][3][4][5][6][7]

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The new ways to organize your car keys

Keyport Key Product Review Car Accessory Pivot Slide 3.0

5 out of 5 stars rating

Life can easily become filled with clutter. Before you know it, your purses and pockets are filled with cumbersome doohickeys and doodads that you feel like you’re the “fail example” in an infomercial. Luckily, there are ways to simplify. With smartphones[8] acting like digital multi-tools that combine phones, cameras, and computers into a single device, wouldn’t it be just as useful if you could do the same with your bulky, unwieldy key sets?

A couple years ago, Keyport had the idea to revolutionize key rings into multi-tools that compactly organize useful items into a single portable unit. After raising money on Kickstarter[9] in 2014 to upgrade its products, Keyport released its premium Slide 3.0 in 2016 to match its streamlined Pivot unit.

Spotlight on Keyport Slide 3.0 & Pivot: The Everyday Multi-Tools

Manufacturer: Keyport, Inc.
Slide 3.0: MSRP $39.00 (4-port). Approx 2.8″ long. Comes in black, blue, red, and silver
Pivot: MSRP $19.99. Approx 3″ long. Comes in black, blue, red, and silver
Website: https://mykeyport.com/[10]

Keyport Key Product Review Car Accessory Slide 3.0

Product Information

Keyport has created two clever ways to streamline your key ring and consolidate essential pocket items: the Pivot and the Slide.

  • The Pivot is the simple and entry-level key organization unit that allows owners to take their existing keys and attach them to a screw-together chassis.
  • The Slide (currently the Slide 3.0) is the premium unit that carries more possibilities for customization. Its specially-made key molds and other accessories retract into the metal case using sliding nodes.

Both can be equipped with a variety of add-on accessories sold by Keyport, including a USB stick[11], pen tip, LED light, knife, and Bluetooth locator.

Keyport Key Product Review Car Accessory Slide Box Package

Product Packaging

When purchasing Keyport products, buyers select which base unit and add-on items they want. Each item is individually pre-packaged with the entire order shipped together in one parcel.

The main Keyport units are fantastically packaged in highly attractive and professional-looking boxes. The product information is clearly printed, the unit itself is shown in the box through a clear plastic screen, and the unit comes in a foam or plastic insert. There are no surprises here when you open it; everything is as it’s advertised.

Supplementary items come in either plastic sealable mini-bags  or encased in bubble wrap in mall tuck boxes. These are much plainer and simpler than the base units, but the streamlined packaging still does the job.

Unless the parcel was severely harmed in transit, it’s highly unlikely that any of the contents will bear any hints of damage when received.

Keyport Key Product Review Car Accessory Slide Pivot Boxes instrucitons

Instructions to Use Product

Keyport provides users with multiple methods for learning how to configure the products. All the packages include QR codes that point to instructional videos on the company’s website. There are also product diagrams and tips on the boxes and/or on paper pamphlets inside. Each add-on piece includes either a business card-sized step-by-step guide to insert it into the Keyport Slide or a QR code to a video.

The Pivot is a cinch to figure out using the included instruction booklet. You likely won’t need video assistance unless you’re having problems. It’s made to be simple and easy to use, only taking a couple steps to assemble.

The Slide 3.0 is more complicated and will require you to watch a video to ensure you assemble it properly–especially since the unit I received looked like it was supposed to include an instruction pamphlet but didn’t.

Keyport Key Product Review Car Accessory Slide Assembly

Overall Assessment: Does It Do What It Claims?

Simply put, the idea behind Keyport products is brilliant, and the execution is terrific.

Judging by the streamlined design, quality components (a combination of heavy plastic, stainless steel, and aircraft-grade aluminum), and simple assembly, a lot of time and money was spent developing these products. These aren’t cheap, fragile items you’re investing in. Keyport base units are strong enough to last for years, though you will probably have to switch out certain accessories now and then (such as the pen tip, since it doesn’t hold a lot of ink).

Keyport Key Product Review Car Accessory PivotThe assembly of the Keyport items wasn’t difficult thanks to well-made instruction guides. It will require some extra effort if you’re adding keys to the Slide 3.0 unit; you will need to have copies of your personal keys cut into the templates. You’ll receive a card showing its personnel are members of the Associated Locksmiths of America and Society of Professional Locksmiths. The Pivot and Slide 3.0 don’t fit bulky keys with plastic heads like automotive keys[12], so you’ll have to get copies cut to fit. There is a handy D-ring on both base units to attach key fobs or reward card stubs.

The LED light doesn’t function as well as a full flashlight, but it does the trick for close-up visibility. It has replaceable batteries for when it dies. The pocket knife is solid and quite sharp–I cut myself on it when opening it! Altogether, the components assembly loosely without flopping or sliding around. Everything stays in place when you close it. Everything is precisely measured, without leaving any wiggle room.

I particularly appreciate the registration/tracking system encouraging the return of lost keys.

While Keyport products won’t completely replace the typical key rings that most people use, it’s an excellent alternative for those who need something more portable and prefer the sophistication of a streamlined key organization system. I highly recommend having a set of these for when you travel, such as on business trips, and you don’t want a bulky key ring to carry around.


Keyport items and accessories, including the Pivot and Slide 3.0, are available via the company’s website[13].

Product provided for review by manufacturer.

The News Wheel product review submission banner

References

  1. ^ Aaron Widmar (thenewswheel.com)
  2. ^ (thenewswheel.com)
  3. ^ (thenewswheel.com)
  4. ^ (thenewswheel.com)
  5. ^ (thenewswheel.com)
  6. ^ (thenewswheel.com)
  7. ^ (thenewswheel.com)
  8. ^ smartphones (thenewswheel.com)
  9. ^ Kickstarter (thenewswheel.com)
  10. ^ https://mykeyport.com/ (mykeyport.com)
  11. ^ USB stick (thenewswheel.com)
  12. ^ automotive keys (thenewswheel.com)
  13. ^ the company’s website (mykeyport.com)
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Lenovo Tab 4 10 review: Lenovo’s 10in tablet surfaces at MWC

Some say that tablets are a dying breed, but Lenovo has other ideas. At MWC 2017, the Chinese giant announced the Tab 4 series. There are several iterations of the tablet, with the Tab 4 8, Tab 4 8 Plus, Tab 4 10 and Tab 4 10 Plus. Four tablets, with different characteristics.

As the name suggests, the new Tab 4’s come in two separate sizes, 8in and 10in. There’s a standard and “Plus” version of each size, with the regular 8in model priced at $109 (~£88) and 10in at $149 (~£120). The Plus variants are $199 (~£160) and $249 (~£200) respectively.

Here are my first impressions and everything you need to know about the tablets.

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Lenovo Tab 4 review: Key specifications and release date

Starting off with the regular Tab 4, both the 8in and 10in variants have a quad-core 1.4GHz Cortex-A53 Qualcomm Snapdragon 425 processor with 2GB of RAM and either 16 or 32GB of storage. Both the standard 8 and 10in tablets have an 800 x 1,200-resolution IPS screen, resulting in an 189ppi and 149ppi respectively.

They also have front 2-megapixel and rear 5-megapixel cameras that are sufficient for basic video calls and snaps. The regular Tab 4s come with 2.4GHz 802.11bgn Wi-Fi.

These aren’t amazing specifications by any means, but bear in mind the price: these are budget tablets, rather than iPad competitors. And at this kind of price, they look pretty competitive.

The Plus variants are much more interesting, housing a 64-bit octa-core 2.0GHz Cortex-A53 Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor and have 3GB of RAM in the 16GB variant and 4GB of RAM in 64GB model. With a 1,200 x 1,920 resolution, the Plus’ IPS screen looks much better than the regular Tab 4.

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A further improvement on the Plus is the cameras, with front 5- and rear 8-megapixel shooters. They are also better connected through dual-band 2.4 and 5GHz 802.11abgn/ac Wi-Fi.

Both variants of the tablets have Dolby Atmos through their stereo speakers, have Bluetooth 4.2 and run on Android 7 Nougat.

All tablets are due for release in May 2017 and have US pricing, with UK pricing to follow. The regular 8 and 10in tablets will cost $109 (~£88) and $149 (~£120) respectively, while the Plus variants are set to hit stores at $199 (~£160) for the 8in Plus and $249 (~£200) for the 10 Plus.

Lenovo Tab 4 specs at a glance

Lenovo Tab 4 8 / 10

Lenovo Tab 4 8 / 10 Plus

8in / 10in 800 x 1280 IPS display

8in / 10in 1,200 x 1,920 IPS display

Quad-core 1.4GHz Cortex-A53 Qualcomm Snapdragon 425 processor

Octa-core 2GHz Cortex-A53 Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor

2GB of RAM

3GB of RAM (16GB version) / 4GB of RAM (64 GB version)

16/32GB

16/64GB

8in: 310g / 10in: 500g

8in: 300g / 10in: 475g

Android 7 Nougat

Android 7 Nougat

$109 (~£88) and $149 (~£120)

$199 (~£160) and $249 (~£200)

Expected May 2017

Expected May 2017

Lenovo Tab 4 review: Design, key features and first impressions

With its slim 7.15-8.4mm profile, the Tab 4 is beautiful to hold. The slimness makes the tablets as thin as a modern-day smartphone, which is impressive.

The Plus goes a step further by including a dual-glass design, with both front and back made from glass. On the downside, it attracts a lot of fingerprints.

I was particularly impressed by the use of the fingerprint scanners on both the 8 Plus and 10 Plus. Due to having a smaller form factor, the Tab 4 8 Plus has it integrated on a button on the side, while the 10 Plus has a capacitive scanner at the front of the tablet.

The charging ports of the standard and Plus variants are different, with the regular versions charged through a normal micro-USB port, and the Plus’ through USB Type-C with Quick Charge 3 enabled. Although we haven’t yet had the opportunity to test it, the combination of Type-C and Quick Charge should mean significantly faster charging.

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Lenovo also showcased its optional Kid’s and Productivity Packs. As you might expect, the Kid’s Pack comes with a shock-resistant bumper, a blue-light filter to reduce eye strain at night, and colourful 3M stickers to protect it from scratches.

The Productivity Pack (pictured) transforms the tablet into a 2-in-1 device. Connected through Bluetooth, the keyboard doubles as a sleeve to protect the laptop from small drops and spills. My impressions of the keyboard were positive – I was able to comfortably type on it, without making too many unwanted errors.

Lenovo Tab 4 review: Early verdict

This tablet will heat up the competition for budget tablets, giving Amazon a run for its money. The Tab 4 has good build quality and connectivity options and yet is still affordable. Starting at $109 for the regular 8in tablet, which you can expect to translate into around £99 in the UK, going up to $249 (~£200) for the 10in Plus, Lenovo has hit the sweet spot of price and performance.

Tablets are far from dead. In fact, this might just be the start of something beautiful for consumers like myself: affordable, well-built tablets that are fit for purpose.

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Lenovo Yoga 720 review: Hands on with the 4K, GTX-powered 2-in-1 laptop

Lenovo’s Yoga lineup has always been about versatility. These 2-in-1 laptop/tablet hybrids are seriously portable, but they’ve typically been a little underperforming compared to their clamshell counterparts. This year’s Yoga 720 defies those ingrained preconceptions, packing Kaby Lake i7s, 4K displays and dedicated graphics.

Designed as a premium Windows 10 laptop, 2017’s Yoga 720 comes in two distinct flavours. The 13in model is markedly cheaper – with prices starting at $860 (around £692) – but you’ll have to fork out at least $1,100 (around £885) for its 15in counterpart. Obviously, there’s that screen-size difference, but what else differentiates the two? And are they decent enough to make a dent in the already-oversaturated hybrid market?

Lenovo Yoga 720 review: Key specifications and release date

Lenovo Yoga 720 (13in)

Lenovo Yoga 720 (15in)

Up to 7th-gen Intel Core i7

Up to 7th-gen Intel Core i7

Up to 16GB RAM

Up to 16GB RAM

Up to 1TB PCIe SSD

Up to 1TB PCIe SSD

Intel HD Graphics 620

Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050M

13.3″ 4K UHD (3,840 x 2,160)

13.3″ FHD (1,920 x 1,080)

15.6″ 4K UHD (3,840 x 2,160)

15.6″ FHD (1,920 x 1,080)

1.3kg

2kg

Starting at $860

Starting at $1,100

April 2017

April 2017

Lenovo Yoga 720 review: Design, key features and first impressions

Both Yoga 720s are noticeably more impressive than their hybrid counterparts, at least at face value. With the 13in measuring just 13.9mm and the 15in 19mm, both are slim enough to be slipped into your rucksack and weigh just 1.3kg and 2kg respectively.

They’re gorgeous to look at, too. Considering you’re paying top-tier prices, you should expect lavish build quality, with both Yoga 720s seriously looking the part. That all-metal chassis is a welcome change of pace and isn’t too heavy either.

Take a look on the right side and you’ll spot a solitary USB 3.1 port, while the left houses both regular USB 3s and a USB Type-C port for charging. Both models ship with a fingerprint reader for Windows Hello login, too.

The biggest difference between the two lies in the graphics card options. While you’re stuck with the bog-standard integrated Intel HD Graphics 620 chip for the 13 (perfect for Minecraft but not much else), there’s the option to upgrade to a proper Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050. Should you go down this route, expect a big hit to both your battery life and your wallet. Pair that with the Kaby Lake processor and 16GB of RAM, though, and you’ll be all set for on-the-go gaming.

Let’s talk 4K. Both Yoga 720s come with 4K resolution options (Full HD is on the cards should you want to save your pennies), something first seen in 2016’s disappointing Dell XPS 12 hybrid. Hopefully, the screen doesn’t hog battery life as much here, but expect to run out of juice far quicker than its Full HD counterparts.

Lenovo Yoga 720 review: Early verdict

Let’s get down to pricing. Both Yoga 720s ship with a hefty premium, with Lenovo remaining tight-lipped about higher configurations’ prices, but expect to see the 15in model with all the bells and whistles to retail around £1,500. That’s not cheap, but remember, no other hybrid offers this choice when choosing specs. Yet.

Dell’s XPS 13 2-in-1 is on the way, also offering Kaby Lake i7s, shipping with Quad HD+ displays. It’s a pricier competitor, sure, but it’s already garnered plenty of attention since its CES 2017 unveiling. Of course, only time will tell if Lenovo’s Yoga 720 makes a lasting impression, and from what I’ve seen on the show floor, the 720 has plenty of potential.

Stay tuned for my full Lenovo Yoga 720 review in the not-so-distant future.

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Best USB Turntables: Cutting-edge record players from £100

Vinyl is back and it’s back in a big way. For the first time, record sales overtook digital downloads in December 2016, with physical record sales hitting £2.4m in the run up to Christmas. Despite nearly going the way of the dinosaurs a decade ago, vinyl has staged a remarkable comeback: sales have seen an increase for the past eight consecutive years now, and that rise is only set to continue into 2017.  

What was once the domain of avid collectors, DJs and try-hard hipsters is now well and truly back in the mainstream. So whether you grew up spinning albums and have an extensive collection, or you’re just discovering the joy that records can provide, you’re going to want a decent turntable. And if you want to get to enjoy those records while you’re on the move, then it’s about time you splashed out on one of the new breed of USB turntables, which let you record your vinyl to digital files which you can enjoy anywhere.

In this list you’ll find our pick of the best USB turntables you can buy, and we’ll run you through the key questions you need to answer before splashing out. If you’re not sure where to start, then read on, and if you just want the best budget and mid–range options, you’ll find our favourites below.

Best USB turntables: Editor’s Picks

Whether you’re new to vinyl or have been buying records for decades, Audio-Technica’s LP5 has something for everyone. Blending great build quality, ease-of-use and a superb-sounding AT95Ex cartridge, it’s an all-rounder that’s worthy of any record collection.

If your budget doesn’t quite stretch that far, for under £150 you’ll be able to get your hands on Sony’s PS-LX300USB and the LP-60 from Audio-Technica. Both are great gateways into the world of turntables that won’t break the bank.

How to buy the best turntable for you

What is a USB turntable?

USB turntables take a standard record player and bolt on an integrated soundcard (and phono stage, which we’ll explain a little later) which connects to your PC via USB. This allows you to convert your physical record collections into digital ones without resorting to a spaghetti heap of audio cables on your desk. Simply connect the USB cable, hit record in the supplied software, then drop the needle on the record. Voila! Your fusty old vinyl records are transformed into digital audio files which you can download onto all your devices. So you get to listen to the crackly charm of a physical record wherever you are, but also save yourself from carrying a large, heavy pile of vinyl everywhere you go – you’ll be pleased to find that digital files are substantially lighter than vinyl records.

Can I just buy any old record player and use that instead?

If you’ve never bought a turntable before, then it’s worth mentioning that you can’t dust off a standard turntable and connect it directly to a hi-fi or PC. Standard hi-fi turntables require a separate phono stage, or pre-amp, which amplifies the incredibly quiet audio signals transmitted through the record player’s needle. Many hi-fi and home cinema amplifiers have phono stages built-in, providing dedicated inputs for record players which are usually marked ‘Phono’, but you can also pick up standalone phono stages for as little as £20.

USB turntables have an internal phono preamplifier as standard, however. This means that you can plug them into your computer via USB and create digital recordings of your vinyl collection with a minimum of hassle. That’s not all, however. If you want to play your record collection without needing a hefty stack of hi-fi separates, you can usually connect a USB turntable’s audio outputs to any speaker which has a suitable analogue input. That means you can buy a compact USB turntable and partner it with any portable Bluetooth speaker or PC speakers for a compact, convenient little vinyl rig.

So how do you record your records?

Once the USB cable is attached to your laptop or desktop, you can just hit the record button in the supplied recording software to capture the audio, set the needle on the record, and wait until the record has finished playing. Then you can use the software to trim off the silence at the beginning and end of each side, and split the recordings into individual tracks. The Audio-Technica turntables on this list come with the freely available Audacity audio recording software, while the Sony comes with its own audio editing software, Sony Sound Forge, but even if the turntable you buy doesn’t come bundled with any recording software you can download Audacity instead – it’s a powerful, if slightly fiddly recording package.

Do I need an automatic tonearm?

Other features that may sway your decision are whether the turntable has a manual or automatic tonearm. An automatic tonearm moves the arm and places the needle on the record for you. If you’re wary of scratching your records, or have particularly shaky hands, then automatic may be best – the needles on record player cartridges are delicate things, so it’s easy to damage them by dropping them on the platter, or too roughly. In truth, though, automatic tonearms are just as prone to the occasional mistake, as all records are slightly different in size and shape – and if you regularly play 7in singles you’ll probably want to stick to manually dropping the needle onto the record.

Can I play my grandparents’ old 78rpm records?

Probably not. Firstly, you need a special needle for 78rpm records, and secondly you need a record player which will spin its platter at that speed. Not many do these days. Most record players allow you to play both 33rpm and 45rpm records, and if you have a lot of both types in your collection it’s worth making sure that the turntable has a button to change the speed. Some turntables, and often quite expensive models, require you to remove the platter and move the rubber belt onto a different pulley, which is a hassle.

The best USB turntables to buy

Audio-Technica LP-5: The best overall USB turntables

Price when reviewed: £329

Audio-Technica have been around since the early 1960s and have earned a reputation for building some legendary cartridges and needles – not to mention a few classic turntables. The LP5 is our favourite USB compatible turntable, and it’s easy to see why. The manual J-shape tonearm offers plenty of adjustability, and while the bundled AT95Ex cartridge sounds good, it’s easy to upgrade by slotting in a needle from Audio Technica’s pricier cartridges. A button on the body let’s you easily switch between 33 ⅓ and 45 RPM speeds, whilst the heavy rubber mat and anti-vibration base does a great job of ensuring that only the music comes through loud and clear. One nice feature is that you can toggle the built-in phono stage on and off, so you can upgrade to a better-sounding external phono stage in the future. Factor in the easy set up process, upgradability and great sound straight out of the box, and the Audio Technica LP5 is perfect for both first-time and veteran turntable users.

Key Specs – Size (WxDxH): 45cm x 35.2 cm x 15cm; Weight: 10.5kg; Speeds: 33.3, 45RPM; Drive Type: Direct; Tone Arm Type: Manual; Software Included: Yes (Audacity) 

Sony PS-LX300USB Turntable: The best USB turntable for under £150

Price when reviewed: £115

If the idea of manually placing the needle on your records is a bit too daunting, then you should try this fully automatic model from Sony. Just place your record on the mat, and one press of the start button will see the tonearm do all the work. You can’t upgrade the diamond stylus, but sound quality is good and the supplied software makes it possible to remove noise and crackle from the most elderly of records. Complete novices may struggle to get their head around the supplied audio recording software, Sony’s Sound Forge, but with a little perseverance it’s possible to get brilliant sounding results. If you’re looking for a no-frills record player at a keen price, this is a solid option.

Key Specs – Size (WxDxH): 42cm x 36cm x 9.5cm; Weight: 3.3kg; Speeds: 33.3, 45RPM; Drive Type: Belt; Tone Arm Type: Automatic; Software Included: Yes (Sony Sound Forge)

Pro-Ject Audio Systems Elemental Phono USB Hi-Fi Turntable: The best for under £250

Price when reviewed: £229

Back in 2015 we gave this turntable the full five stars, and two years on, our love for it hasn’t changed. Pro-Ject may not have the same history as the other big names on this list, but amongst audiophiles they certainly have the same reputation. For beginners, this Elemental USB Turntable is perfect. There’s no tricky tasks like adjusting counterweights and attaching cartridges – just remove it from the box, attach the belt, detach the lock on the tonearm and you’re good to go. Sound quality is top notch, and it’s possible to improve it even further by upgrading the Ortofon OM 5E cartridge with a superior stylus (you can upgrade to any of the OM styli in the range), or by replacing the cartridge completely. The stripped back design means there’s no dust cover, so be sure to keep on top of cleaning, and there’s no software included, so you’ll need to download Audacity if you want to digitise any of your records. If you want a turntable that’s easy to set up and looks great though, this Elemental model is perfect.

Read our full review here[1]

Key Specs – Size (WxDxH): 52.8cm x 38.4cm x 17.2cm; Weight: 2.8kg; Speeds: 33.3, 45RPM; Drive Type: Belt; Tone Arm Type: Manual; Software Included: No

Audio-Technica LP-60: The best for under £100

Price when reviewed: £99

This is another fantastic model from Audio-Technica, and although doesn’t feature quite as many extras as the LP-5 above, it more than holds its own considering the price. For under £100 you get an easy-to-set-up machine that sounds superb. Once it’s unboxed you just have to manually fit the platter for the records to sit on, and that’s it. The tonearm is automatic to reduce the chance of stylus damage caused by inexperienced users, and the switch on the front of the base makes it easy to flick between 33 ⅓ and 45 RPM records. The diamond stylus is replaceable too, although you can’t upgrade to a better quality cartridge or stylus as you can on Audio Technica’s LP5. The LP60 comes bundled with Audacity which makes light work of digitising your record collection. The only downside? The LP60’s construction isn’t up to the standards of the more expensive turntables here, but for this kind of money that’s to be expected.

Key Specs – Size (WxDxH): 36cm x 35cm x 9cm; Weight: 3kg; Speeds: 33.3, 45RPM; Drive Type: Belt; Tone Arm Type: Automatic; Software Included: Yes (Audacity) 

Pro-Ject Debut Carbon USB Turntable: The best for under £400

Price when reviewed: £399

If you’ve got slightly more wiggle room in your budget, and you don’t mind paying a premium for improved sound quality, then the Debut Carbon from Pro-Ject is one slick, stylish turntable. You even get to choose from seven different high-gloss colours. The Carbon refers to the tonearm which is made from super-stiff carbon, and purpose-built to eke every subtlety from your vinyl records. This partners with Ortofon’s very respectable 2M Red cartridge, which is a cut above the OM-series cartridges on Pro-Ject’s cheaper decks. The result is increased detail, and the ability to squeeze out punch and dynamics in everything from classical works to dense electronica. You can upgrade to the 2M Blue (£135), 2M Bronze (£295) or 2M Black (£375) styli, too.  The looks and build quality are a cut above most of the other turntables here, but there’s one minor niggle: you’ll have to manually take off the platter and move the belt by hand if you want to switch between 33rpm and 45rpm records.

Key Specs – Size (WxDxH): 41.5cm x 32cm x 11.8cm; Weight: 6kg; Speeds: 33.3, 45RPM; Drive Type: Belt; Tone Arm Type: Manual; Software Included: No

References

  1. ^ Read our full review here (www.expertreviews.co.uk)