Computers & Mobile Craft & Design Technology
Resurrect your records


Justin and Michael come from vinyl listening parents. At some point in the last decade or so, they were pressed into dragging their folks’ record collection into the digital age. Between them, they have translated hundreds of records into computer friendly formats. Here are their tips on converting music.

Justin is a great guitar player, and his father Dan has the largest record collection of any person I know. I met Dan a long time ago at a party just after he returned from a trip to Africa where he had a hand in creating a documentary recording of Radio Freedom, the communications arm of the Anti Aparthied movement.

At that time I worked at the local college radio station, which was then using the call letters WUSM, we then have an outlet for world music, so I passed it on to the reggae guys at the Roots Radical Connection. The station has since changed its call letters twice and frequency once, but still has an enormous collection of vinyl. Reggae is still on Saturdays. Dan now spins at WRIU in Rhode Island.

Anyway, enough about Justin’s Father. Justin is an accomplished musician, and student at Hampshire College. They have many neat media resources and projects. He has been particularly involved with the Hampedia (Hampshire-Wikipedia) project.

A few years ago while visiting, Justin was making digital copies of records in the collection. After making a recording, he was using a database to find the name of the album, titles of the songs and all kinds of stuff that would take a lot of time to enter by hand.

Justin says:

The most important part is the interface part. The one my dad uses is a cheap, puck-sized 1/8inch -> USB interface called an iMic (Griffin Tech.) which acts as a bare-bones digital preamp, boosting and translating the signal so that the computer can hear and read it. While it still functions, it’s pretty archaic, and I’m sure there are some better, still cheap options out there, as well as much more expensive and complex ones.

Software wise, my dad uses Analog Ripper, which is a pretty solid Mac editor with a Track Hunter (for automatically dicing tracks by looking for spaces of silence) and decent iTunes integration. It was a little buggy at first, but it’s good with updates. $20 shareware. Again, not a lot of thought went into the purchase, I went for cheap functionality and an easy system for a not-so-computer-literate baby boomer. But it’s worth a look.

You can get pretty crazy with vinyl rips. Many audiophiles rip at 24 bit / 96 kHz, above the capabilities of most motherboards / sound cards, to make sure everything is captured. There’s also ClickRepair software, which I believe is Windows-only. I haven’t delved too deeply, as the 320kbps MP3s my dad rips sound good enough (at half CD quality) and fit on my iPod.

The database system I was using to automatically fill in track info is an Applescript (Mac only) which can grab CDDB info from a Safari page and translate it into iTunes. CDDB is a good resource for most albums although they don’t have many rare or obscure LPs, so I do have to enter some info on most of my dad’s rarities. Many scripts on that site are very cool, although they are Mac-only.

And the word from Michael:

Ok, here are the requirements:

1) You have to really really really want the digitized copy of that vinyl, because by doing this you are about to open a black hole that will consume hours upon hours and spit out an mp3 or two.

2) Get a turntable and attach that to the best (hopefully tube) amplifier that you can find.
3) Using a 3.5mm stereo (headphone connector) to RCA (red and white) cable, connect the tape output (or whatever the output is on the amplifier) to the line in jack of your computer (usually labeled blue).

If you have to, you can use the mic in line, but that will give you grosser results, because it is usually pre-amplified.

4) Download Audacity
5) Start recording.
6) You will probably want to save to mp3 (download the LAME Mp3 codec package for audacity)
8) Add fade in’s and fade out’s to the beginning and end of the track.
7) At this point you have already dropped a chunk of time recording the tracks, but you will want to dump in some more time, cleaning up the pops and ticks imparted by the vinyl.

NOTES: From my experience many computers will add a really annoying background chatter to your recording.
Noise Abatement:
Grounding the heck out of everything usually helps
Find the computer with the best sound card possible
Sometimes older computers will have much nicer background noise properties (I do all of my recording on a PII HP pavilion, circa 1998) Just record on the old computer, and do the editing stuff on your super fast computer. This will allow you to multi task, with out the risk of destroying the song you are actively recording.

The time thing is the biggest problem, but definitely figure out how to do everything. The challenge of setting up a decent recording setup and dealing with noise is a really fun issue, and you will learn a lot in the process. Then when you know how to do everything move on to the next project.

P.S. If you buy the cable you are a pansy!! Make the cable yourself from dump-score components. (and shield the heck out of it while you are at it. I.e. wrap it in conductive material, and ground that to everything else)

I hope this helps,

So, have you got a bunch of black gold sitting in custom built cabinets in your parents house like I do? Are they getting eager to have your old record collection moved along so they can change their address to a place with fewer stairs and simpler upkeep? Did you work in college radio during the good old days of punk, new wave, techno or grunge when we could put a needle down on the record at the last second and still have it sound like we weren’t winging it? Want to hear your old 45’s or bootlegs? Digitize up your stuff and tell of your techniques in the comments!


Making things is the best way to learn about our world.

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