Ion - Not Really USB, but still Pretty Good!

May 31, 2010
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Good analog (R/L line-level output) functionality.

Cons:No USB capability, despite the presence of a USB cable.

The Bottom Line: Buy it IF you only plan to use the analog outputs or don't mind endless troubleshooting to get the USB working, if that's even possible.

So here I am with this pretty, shiny, black, cheap little record player, hoping against hope that its sound quality will be reasonably close to that of the good old Technics direct-drive with old-school Shure moving-coil cartridge that it has replaced.

In that regard, I was not disappointed. In fact, the sound quality is far beyond what one would expect of a turntable that appears to be made from recycled cottage cheese cartons. The thin, injection-molded platter with fake strobe notches and generic modular-stereo cartridge on a fixed-counterweighted plastic X-pivot seem to produce no more rumble or extraneous noise than my old machine, and my not-so-young ears cannot discern any meaningful difference in the signal from this low-end but apparently well-engineered cartridge.

But wait! There's another thing that's likely to be the kiss of death for most people who would buy the Ion because of its USB capability. Bad news here, folks. The USB cable is purely ornamental, like the fake strobe notches. At least that's the case with respect to my computer, a perfectly well-mannered AMD Phenom / MSI box with 4 gb of DDR3 memory, running Windows 7 that was freshly re-installed not very long ago.

After following the bundled instructions, I plugged in the turntable, at which point Windows gave the usual message that a new device was being installed. It seemed to have no trouble with that, but when I started the turntable recording program, a message immediately popped up to inform me that iTunes was required to be installed on my system. This is where things got ugly. I think there are probably more than a few people who feel that being required to use iTunes to operate a PC-based device is like being told you have to join the Church of Scientology to obtain a subscription to Scientific American magazine. It simply sucks on too many levels to go into here.

So after acquiescing to the horrible software requirement, the slap across the other side of the face immediately ensued. The software could not detect the turntable, even though Windows apparently had. That was enough for me. I hate iTunes enough so that it took very little further instigation to uninstall the crappy software and toss the USB cable into the junk drawer. My recording circumstances are perhaps a little more fortunate than those of other folks; I only bought this thing because my newer receiver has no phono input. Since the evidently misnamed Ion USB player also has a built-in preamp, (apparently properly RIAA equalization curve-compensated) it turned out to be plenty good enough for my purposes.

By the way - - important note here - - the high-level output also works perfectly with the plain old line-in on your computer's sound card, in case you don't have an external hi-fi system hooked up to it like mine does. However, monitoring during recording may be tricky, perhaps requiring some RCA-style phono y-adapters to split the signal for monitor speakers or headphones.

As regards the software which actually works with this machine: I use the venerable Cdex for direct-to-MP3 ripping and Audacity to convert 78s recorded at 45 rpm to their original speed and pitch. Both programs are freeware and work beautifully for these purposes, although the recording functions in Cdex are in a menu pulldown (Tools / "Record from analog input") rather than being directly invoked from the tool bar, so your first use may involve a bit of poking around. MP3 bitrates may also be diddled to your preference; I find 256 kbps to be a very happy compromise between quality and file size.

Other details:

Acoustic isolation seems very good, especially for a machine that does all its isolating with simple squishy rubber feet and has a fixed stylus force that appears to be at least two grams. However, if you have a subwoofer anywhere nearby, you will be inclined to turn it off for recording unless you like helicopter noises added to the mix.

The hinged lid is pleasantly designed. Cheap but slick and stays up when you raise it, like the hood of an old American-made car.

The 45 rpm spindle adapter is tightly attached to a split post in a recess, and requires a pair of needle-nose pliers to extract from its storage spot. This turntable could be dropped from a very high altitude, attaining terminal velocity and shattering into a thousand pieces on a concrete highway, and the adapter would still be tenaciously attached to its little thingie.

Despite its cheapness, the styling is nice, and it looks kind of cool in a retro modular stereo sort of way, perched atop the standard black-faced surround receiver - in my case, a Harman/Kardon AVR125. In fact, I would even go so far as to say it manages to have more compatible feng shui than its predecessor, the beloved but antiquated Technics which now languishes in the garage.

There is no provision for confirming speed accuracy. It's probably good enough for most applications, but you will have to get your mitts on an old-style strobe disk to be totally positive. Ion shouldn't have included those stupid fake strobe notches; the platter would look a lot less tacky without them.

The cuing lever is another thing that works reasonably well despite being ultra-cheap. It doesn't have the elegant, hydraulically-damped feel of your daddy's old Thorens or Dual, but it's way better than what's usually included with turntables at this end of the cheapness spectrum.

In summation: lots of bang for the buck as long you don't need the USB function, nice-looking, rather fragile and sounds great in analog configuration. The alternative is to buy a $25 - $40 phono preamp for your old record player, but it may not sound as good unless it's a really good one, and it definitely won't look as cool.


Recommend this product?

Share this product review with your friends   
Share This!