Can you convert FireWire to USB? CD vs. LP sound quality

Week of October 1, 2006

Q: Is there an adapter that will convert FireWire connections to USB? I recently acquired an older iPod and it is FireWire-only. My Dell laptop only has USB connections, so I need to convert the signal somehow.

-Steven Lee, Shadyside, PA

A: No such adapter exists- USB and FireWire are totally different data streams. However, a quick and easy solution exists.

Your laptop has a slot for a PCMCIA card. In your case, simply buy a FireWire PCMCIA card, stick it in the slot, and you now have FireWire ports! A check online shows FireWire PCMCIA cards selling for as little as $15. Spending more will get you a deluxe card which will add USB 2.0 as well as FireWire. This is very useful if your laptop does not have high-speed USB.

One of my favorite accessories of all time is the PCMCIA memory card reader. They are faster than USB 2.0 or FireWire card readers and can be left in the laptop’s card slot when not in use, making it easy to carry it around.

Q: In one of your columns you mentioned that LPs that are cleaned properly and played on a quality turntable would sound better than the same music on a compact disc. Is the frequency response of a CD recording better than that of a LP?

-Don Lehman, Northfield, MN

A: From a technical standpoint, CD is superior in terms of even frequency response as well as wow and flutter. When the music hits your ears, though, it often does not sound as good. As for why this is so, there is much specualtion among those who prefer LP sound. Some believe the small amount of distortion sounds good to our ears. This is called “euphonic” distortion. Some think the act of converting the music to digital leaves the music sounding cold or brittle, or leaves out information.

Remember grade school geometry? There are an infinite number of points between two points on a number line. That is analog. A digital system, however, has a finite number of points. The trick is getting analog to play back well. It is relatively easy and inexpensive to make a digital system. A good analog system, however, is much more demanding and will not be as repeatable. Whether using a master tape recorded in a studio or a vinyl LP, if you play it thousands of times it is probably going to audibly degrade.

Most people have never experienced how good vinyl can sound because they never had a proper setup. The circuitry in the receiver (called a phono preamp) is very important, as is the cartridge, arm and turntable. Mass-market goods are generally poor in all respects, and when the CD came along it did sound better than these cheap setups, especially comparing price points.

Case in point- I just bought the Fiddler on the Roof DVD, all digitally remastered. My home theater is MUCH more expensive than the system I have in my home office, which is LP based. The thirty year-old LP of the movie’s soundtrack sounds more natural and enjoyable than the DVD played back on the pricey home theater system.

All of my music purchases now are vinyl. I can’t remember the last CD I bought, but I probably get 30 LPs a week, often paying less for a dollar for them. Pretty much without exception, they all sound great after I run them through my record cleaner and play them on my turntable.

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