Do- It Yourself Audio to Digital Part II

Read Part I of our discussion on how to digitize your LP collection here

There are three main ways to transfer your LP’s to CD.  Part II of our discussion defines these ways and gives the pros and cons of each:

1.  Using an LP to CD Recorder:

These machines are popping up everywhere, from catalogs to your local Target store. They promise and, in some cases, deliver the ability to not only transfer your vinyl records but also cassettes to CD. The up- front costs of buying one of these machines is steep (around $350.00), but the set-up and use of the machine is very user-friendly. You truly can transfer your records with a push of a button and a little babysitting (as you must play your record in real time as well as flip it over).

What you lose in a machine such as this is music quality and playing convenience. For many machines, your music on CD sounds exactly as it does when you stream it in. There is really few choices in digitally cleaning the audio to remove the hiss, pops and click inherent on most records. And, although many of these machines have track splitting functions, it may not reliably divide your records into their appropriate tracks. In essence, the trade-off for having the convenience of an all-in-one machine is that you will get an “okay” copy of your record on CD. This is our least favorite method at Off the Record (and one we do not use) as we believe you will be frustrated with the quality of the music you get on CD.

2.  Using a USB Turntable:

There are many ways of hooking up your existing turntable to your computer to digitize your vinyl. However, since most people are not that technically savvy or have a desire to become a regular customer at their neighborhood Radio Shack, this method of do-it-yourself involves purchasing a turntable that connects directly into the usb port on a computer. That way, you get (most) everything you need in the box, including software, to get the job done. And, the cost of one of these turntables is not too bad, around $100 for entry-level.

The quality of an entry- level turntable is very low- probably similar to using an LP to CD recorder.  They are clunky and have plastic components.  There are studio- quality usb turntables that start around $500 and you always have the option with these turntables to upgrade the cartridge and/or stylus –  and you will be pleasantly surprised with the quality of these turntables.  To put it in perspective, the replacement stylus on a studio- quality turntable costs more than the entire cost of buying an entry- level usb turntable.  That should be your first clue that these components are worthless.  For a side- by -side sound samples of an entry- leve vs. studio- quality usb turntable, contact Off The Record.

Although you do not need to have a degree in electrical engineering to hook one of these machines up, you also cannot be a novice to a computer. There is an element of frustration in learning how to stream your music in, electronically clean (but not overclean) the music, and divide up the tracks. However, this may be worth it if you want a good quality transfer and enjoy this type of work. Keep in mind, you need a pretty fast computer with a decent CD burner to make this process go smoothly. One typical record, in a .wav format, is around 450 MB of memory. To have a 50 LP collection on your computer, you will need ~23 Gigabytes available. To put it into perspective, an average semi-decent digital picture is around 2 Megabytes, so you would need the ability to save 1,200 digital pictures. These files can be compressed into .mp3 format to reduce your music to 2.3 Gigabytes, but this will require additional software and processing time (and be aware of a LAME converter that degrades quality further). Processing power of your computer is also something that you need to consider. Your computer needs to have sufficient RAM and processing speed available to efficiently work with files of this size. And, of course, you need to have a CD burner.

Once you have your turntable and computer ready to go, you need to install and learn the software that came with your machine. You can also go out and search for various freeware such as Audacity. Once you learn the in’s and out’s, you most likely will find that it has some really neat features. Once your music is streamed in, you should be able to digitally remove the pops, clicks and hisses, manually divide your record into tracks and label them, even fancy features like fading out your music or changing the tempo or pitch. What you need most of all to do it yourself is time, time, time and patience. Here’s an outline of the steps involved in transferring your records yourself with a pretty speedy computer:

  1. Stream your record into your computer in real time (about 45 min for a typical record)
  2. Digitally clean your audio to remove Hisses, Pops, & Clicks (about 5 minutes processing time)
  3. Normalize your music to make sure your music is at the proper sound level. (about 5 minutes processing time)
  4. Manually split your audio into tracks (10 min once you know what you’re looking for)
  5. Export your music into .wav files for proper play a CD Player (about 5 min)
  6. Burn the music onto a CD (5 min)

If this sounds attractive to you, then this is a solid option. But before you proceed with buying the equipment, please ask yourself if you really have the time. This is similar to every Do-It-Yourself project in that you can save money, but has the risk of never being completed. Will your collection be a project that is on your “list” for many years gathering dust?

3. Hire an Audio Conversion Service to do the work for you

  • *Recommended: Off The Record, LLC ($9.99 per record)Hiring a company like Off The Record to transfer your records is certainly the easiest method of transferring your records, but it is something that you need to weigh the cost as well as time saved. Not only do you get the better quality recording, with your music digitally cleaned as well as manually split into tracks, you get some additional bells and whistles for your cost (known as our Premium Transfer Package). Off the Record provides a typed- out playlist, as well as reproduction of the front and back jewel album cover, included on a standard jewel case. Your music is also burned on a CD that looks like a 45rpm record, with the album title printed directly onto the CD (meaning no labels that can peel off over time). Your music is also archived, so that if you damage or lose your CD, you can order a replacement, or a copy of your music in another format (such as .mp3) as your music needs change over time.Part III will take a closer looks at the cost and time of each method.
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