There is something faintly sacrilegious about transferring vinyl to a compressed music format. The concept is nothing new of course; people used to do it all the time with cassette, and both CD-R and MiniDisc still have their followers on this front. However, if it's ease of access you want, then hard disc storage really is an impressive option.

Getting vinyl onto a computer has always been surprisingly complicated. The traditional method has been to record the original to CD and then rip this to hard disk.

The USB turntable - by virtue of an onboard phono stage and analogue to USB converter - simplifies the process by sending the signal from a vinyl LP straight into a PC or Mac. You need software to record it with of course, but you can find excellent packages online, often for free. Pro-Ject recommends Audacity, a multi-track audio editor for Linux, Mac and PC.

The Debut III USB is based heavily on Pro-Ject's entry-level model, which in standard form sells for £160 and features the Ortofon OM-5E moving magnet cartridge and gimbal bearing tonearm, as well as an onboard phono stage found here.

The platter is pressed steel with a felt mat to reduce ringing, while the motor is suspended on rubber to stop it from causing the plinth to resonate. The latter is available in black or silver paint finishes and has a moulded plastic lid. Power is courtesy of a plug-top transformer and on/off switching hidden under the plinth, which keeps the top looking clean.

The arm cable is a separate interconnect and thus easily upgraded. In this instance, it comes with a phono to mini-jack adaptor, so that you can plug it into a wider range of components.

Inevitably, the Debut is not the most refined of turntables, yet manages to avoid sounding thin or abrasive by virtue of a rolled-off and soft balance that is easy to live with, if lacking in dynamics or genuine high frequencies.

Pro-Ject's Expression II at £250, which features the Ortofon OM-10 - the next needle up in the range - sounds a lot more dynamic and open when passed through the phono stage of a Pioneer A-A9 integrated amplifier. This leads one to suspect that the Debut's built-in phono stage is also a limiting factor.

The Debut can nonetheless deliver the essence of vinyl magic. It is relaxed and revealing enough to let you know that the format has plenty to offer and is more than worthy of digital competition at the price.

The Audacity software took a bit of mastering, but once the knack had been acquired, we were able to record LPs with relative ease. You can vary factors like oversampling and bit rate, although higher bit rates really eat into your hard disc space.

The end result inevitably depends on your computer's sound card, but with an Apple MacBook using the headphone output, the result was pretty close to the original when recording at 24-bit/48kHz.

The alternative to this approach is to use an outboard analogue to USB converter, or a soundcard with an analogue input after the phono stage. We did something similar with the Terratec iVinyl and got a better result using the Expression II source.

The Debut USB is a neat solution for those wanting a decent turntable to upload their vinyl. Plus, it's also an attractive option for vinyl virgins thanks to the onboard phono stage.