Convert the wicked (good music)

    As recorded formats go, vinyl records are one of the longer lasting ideals. New albums are still released on the format and many “purists” still contend that records sound better than CDs. That point is open to debate, but what is inarguable is that records are inconvenient. The portable record player has not been and never will be invented, but most people who love music need it with them at all times. So what do you do? Buying both formats (vinyl and CD) is one option, but what about the music that is only available on vinyl? The rare LPs by unknown bands from bygone eras and B-movie soundtracks are still salvageable. All it takes is the right equipment and a little bit of time.

    The record player

    If you own records, then you should already have one of these. Newer turntables will have a preamp built into them and will make the life of an analog digitizer a lot easier. Older turntables require a separate preamp before even thinking about plugging it into your computer. Something to think about before starting is replacing the needle and cartridge in your player. This is especially vital if you have an older player that has seen a lot of use. Replacing the parts can reduce noise and crackles, and help to reproduce the sound in as high a quality as possible. Also available are turntables with USB (Universal Serial Bus) out, which makes the entire process of digitizing your collection easier.

    The preamp

    This portion is only of concern to people with turntables that require an external preamp, but since most record players out there do require a preamp, it is important to talk about. A preamp modifies the original signal coming from the player and equalizes it for play into a stereo. Without a preamp, plugging your turntable into the computer or stereo would be a useless proposition. Preamps are generally not expensive to buy (any electronics store will have them) but it’s important to get something of quality. Cheap preamps (those in the sub-$10 range) will oftentimes add noise to a previously clean signal, so don’t think that saving those extra couple bucks will be worth it.

    The converter (sound card)

    This part of the chain is extremely flexible and should change based on your needs and expectation of sound quality. If your computer has a sound card with a line-in port (microphone), then it is possible to plug the signal from the preamp into that port. The problem with this is that the line-in port on the average sound card isn’t designed for hi-fi sound and will take away from the quality of your recordings. A better (and more expensive) option is to get an external converter that plugs into the firewire or USB ports. This option will preserve the sound at a higher rate and for the serious vinyl digitizer it is the best option. If you have just a couple of records to convert, then the sound card quality should be fine.

    The computer

    Another obvious component to the system, the computer is what actually records the sound. It is also used to edit and convert the files once you have them recorded. Like any computing task, a machine with a fast processor and lots of RAM will serve best, but any reasonably equipped computer should be fine. The software used to record the sound file is of less importance. While some programs will offer tons of options and menus, all that is necessary is a basic program that allows for level editing and recording. Audacity is a good free program that has plenty of power to back it up.

    The process

    Now that all of the pieces are in place, it’s time to start recording! Put the record on the table and check all of your connections. Start up your audio recording and press record, start the music on the turntable. Once the file is recorded on the computer, use the program to cut it up into tracks. Save each track individually and convert to the format of your choice.