What Hi-Fi (UK)
How to digitize your vinyl collection
Turntables might not be cutting-edge tech, but for their look and feel – not to mention thrillingly articulate analogue sound – you can’t beat them. The only thing your record collection lacks is portability, but there is a way to take those LPS with you wherever you go...
What do you need?
The basic building blocks are: a turntable, a phono stage, an analogue-to- digital converter with USB output, and a computer with suitable recording software. There are turntables that come with a phono stage, analogue-to-digital converter and USB output built in. However, most are at the budget end and focus on getting the job done rather than doing it particularly well.
Your recordings won’t necessarily reflect the quality of sound possible from your records, though Audio Technica’s AT-LP5 and Sony PS-HX500 vinyl-ripping decks do their best to buck that trend. If you already have a turntable, the best option is to buy a decent USB phono stage. We like the £90 Rega Fono Mini A2D and Pro-ject also produce decent affordable alternatives.
Channel D’s Pure Vinyl offers a great deal of flexibility. It features built-in phono equalisation, so you can feed the turntable’s output straight into the computer without needing a phono stage in the signal path. There are also powerful editing functions that aid optimisation. The downside is a price of around £250 once the trial period is over.
A more affordable alternative is Vinylstudio. This includes many of the features of Pure Vinyl, and costs around £20. Another option is Audacity. It’s free and does a good enough job. While the interface looks complicated and some of the editing functions take a while to figure out, spend some time with it and it will become familiar enough.
Patience is a virtue
Before you start, make sure your deck is working optimally as that will aid a better recording. Is the cartridge tip free from fluff? Are the tracking force and bias adjusted correctly? Simple checks like these can help. Vinyl can be recorded only in real time. If a song lasts five minutes, that’s how long it will take. Make sure the player isn’t jostled during the recording, and keep the playback volume low to reduce any degradation of sound caused by feedback from the speakers. Make sure your records are spotless. Any hisses, clicks and pops will be recorded. You can buy software to edit such sounds but it’s time-consuming and processing could spoil the recording.
It’s all in the details
Storage is affordable, so we’d be tempted to go down the high-resolution route: 24-bit/96khz is the norm for many studios and seems a good compromise between quality and memory space. It doesn’t really matter whether it’s WAV, AIFF or FLAC files as long it’s compatible with what you normally use. Records don’t have metadata built in such as album art and track information, so that data has to be manually entered. The process is fairly tedious, but it makes it easy to locate tracks. Your computer won’t recognise individual tracks, so you’ll have to stop recording when you’ve finished ripping each one and mark tracks that flow into each other.