How To: Transfering LPs to Digital Audio

By Mike on 2:49 pm

Filed Under: ,

If you're over 30, chances are you have at least some dusty LPs, 45s, or even 78s lying around in your closet or basement. Perhaps you're a younger person like me who's simply curious in this supposedly obsolete medium. LPs are making a comeback in a big way even though CD sales continue to decline. While it's debatable, many audiophiles and even casual listeners feel records have a greater audio fidelity than CDs. This is especially the case if you're using cheaper CD or DVD players, since the Digital-Analogue Converters (DACs) are generally of poor quality. For DVD players, it's best to use optical out (aka fiber-optic) with a good quality amplifier.

One question that frequently pops up on internet forums is how one can transfer their old record collection to a digital medium such as CDs or MP3s. For basic transfers, the process is pretty strait forward provided your computer has at least a 3.5mm audio in jack. Most do. If you're an audiophile who wants to preserve your records, it's a little more complex.
For the strait forward, you need five things: your computer, an amplifier, an male RCA-3.5mm audio cable, your turn table, and some audio recording software. Both Windows and Mac include a basic audio recorder that can encode your LP into CD quality Wave audio. Another program you can use is Audacity, a freeware, open source audio suite. Audacity is pretty powerful and works with both Windows and Mac. Google it to find it.

First of all, setup your system. Plug the RCA end of the cable into your amplifier's audio out jacks and plug the 3.5mm end into your computer's audio in jack. You cannot plug your turn table in directly because it needs to be preamped and grounded by your amplifier. Most PC sound cards don't do that, which is why the amp is needed. Set your amp to "Phono" and play the record. If you set everything up correctly, you'll hear the record playing through your PC's speakers. If you don't hear anything, you're computer's line in port may be muted or your amp's audio out isn't activated. For audio out on my amp, I usually use the tape dubbing switch. If everything works, set your recording volumes to a comfortable level. You're now ready to record.

What format to use? Well, there are a lot but you'll want to record to a common lossless format. Microsoft's Wave is the best to use. Macs can also record to Wave. Why Wave? Well, it's probably the easiest format to transcode to other formats since it's a older, common codec and has excellent audio quality. A good place to start is CD quality, 44.1khz sampling at 16-bits per sample. Consult you're recording software's manual for how to change recording quality and format. Some modern third party sound cards can now record audio at 48khz, 96khz, or 192khz sampling at either 16-bits or 24-bits per sample. Unless you're transferring directly to CD, it's best to use these higher audio quality settings. The higher the setting, the closer to the vinyl experience you'll get.

Now to record. Once you've got all the other stuff setup, it's pretty easy. Position the needle, hit record on your computer, and drop the needle. Then all you've got to do is let the record play to then end, hit stop when its finished, and save the file. Flip to side B and repeat. You can also do it track by track if you want to. This part is actually the most time consuming one. It will take roughly 40min to record an entire album.

From there, you can use a program like Audacity to break tracks up, clean up noise, and convert the audio files to other formats. Personally, I like to keep a little bit of the crackle to preserve that vinyl experience. Then you can use Nero, Toast, or some other program to burn them onto CD, or you can hook your PC up to your amp and enjoy the music at DVD Audio quality. You can also convert them to to MP3, MP4, or Ogg Vorbis to enjoy on your digital music player. Unfortunately, one of the saddest things about record converting is that most common commercial CD/DVD burning software packages can't burn DVD Audio discs for high definition enjoyment through your home theater's DVD player. There are a few programs out there but I've never tried them.

Now what about hardware for doing this. If you're an audiophile, you'll want at least one of Creative's Soundblaster X-FI cards such as the XtremeMusic or XtremeGamer. I recommend the AuzenTech Prelude, which is the top X-FI based card, but expensive at $200. If you're really into quality and have that $200 to spend, the AuzenTech X-Meridian card is an excellent choice since it's digital-analogue converters can record analogue audio at 192khz sampling. The X-FI based cards are limited to 96khz recording which is still respectable but not tops.

0 comments for this post