Resurrect your records

Computers & Mobile Craft & Design Technology
Resurrect your records

PeteShellyVinyl.jpg

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,
Michael

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!

20 thoughts on “Resurrect your records

  1. Erik says:

    “NOTES: From my experience many computers will add a really annoying background chatter to your recording.”

    Hello? This guy’s never heard of a USB soundcard?

  2. Michael (same as in the blog post) says:

    I agree with the USB soundcard Erik, but the point of my approach is to take records (found at the dump) and convert them to digital using other ubiquitous free components (e.g old computer, turntable and cables).

  3. Erik says:

    Michael,

    OK, I missed the point. But with USB soundcards starting at $6 (yes, six dollars), it’s crazy to spend any time on a project like this without spending a couple of bucks to vastly improve the results.

    As for me, I’ve also been using the iMic.

  4. Chris Connors says:

    Erik
    How are you using the iMic? That sounds like a good way of doing it. What is your process?

    One of the great things about this is that we can take the things that have been gathering dust in basements, attics and guest rooms. Old records + old computers = new found music.

    In some cases, there is a lot of music on vinyl that has not been digitized by the corporations. Digitally rare music may be because there just isn’t much money to be made, or maybe because there were so few versions of the records pressed.

    Did you buy 45’s of local punk bands in the 80’s or 90’s? Did your grandmother or grandfather sing in the 40’s or 50’s in a local group? Did you do radio in college and make boxes of cassette tapes of your shows? No corporation is going to copy any of that for you.

    What if you don’t live in the states? How about if you live in a developing country, and hardware is scarce? There aren’t many places to buy nice computer equipment in lots of places in the world. How can you do it with the things you have on hand?

    I like the idea of making instead of buying. How can we use the things we have on hand to solve the problems we face?

  5. Ryan says:

    Before digitizing anything, accept that this, as noted, is a huge time sink. Then be logical: if the record you want to convert is available online somewhere in a digital format, download it. This will always be significantly easier and likely give you a better quality recording.

    Finally, if and only if that precious piece of vinyl is indeed only available in analog, proceed.

    While I appreciate that the goal is to do this on the cheap, you would do yourself a monumental disservice not to pick up a D/A converted that resides OUTSIDE of the electronically noisy environment of the PC. As Erik mentioned, a simple external sound card should do it. And if you can avoid 1/8″ plugs, do that too. Look for an external sound card with RCA jacks built in.

    Those very few bucks in equipment will make a world of difference. There is nothing thrifty about listening to crappy copies of good music.

    All done? Then make your work available. Someone else is looking for that record and you just saved them a load of work. Share it.

  6. TC says:

    Getting Vinyl into your Comp is a lot easier than what was stated .

    Sony RH1 , HiMD recorder , records in PCM format as well as Atrac . And none of the Noise issues , afterwards , Just import the File into the Comp (Mac OR PC )

    then into your editor , split tracks , a little Pop and Klik repair , your done . Label it Save it .
    MD’ers have been doing this for the Past 15 years since MD came out .

    I have well over 600 discs ( Stopped counting 5 years ago , so I have no idea how many it is now )

    Time Sink : ……. Hook up the MD , set record mode , Drop the Needle , go for a walk , do something else , accomplish something ?!? come back in side 1 Time ( Use of a Timer is good ) flip it , slip it get on with your day , come back and edit at your leisure instead of sitting in front of your Computer ……………

    Dat , MD , Flash Recorders of Multiple brands available Tascam , Zoom , Boss , Roland , Alesis ………

    Go record something

  7. Otis says:

    All the pre-amps, USB sound cards, whatever aren’t going to do you a bit of good if the records are dirty.

    Do yourself a favor and make sure the vinyl is as clean as possible. Especially if you picked them up at a garage sale, thrift store, that scary neighbor’s basement; the groves will be dirty.

    DAGS on cleaning vinyl and make that your very first step. Your digital recordings will thank you.

  8. Woody says:

    I understand digitizing a few rare or favorite LPs that aren’t available digitally (or things you want for the car, iPod, etc.). But digital archives also introduce problems of data management, adding metadata, file formats, scanning covers, etc.

    The easiest way to “resurrect” your vinyl is sink a little extra money into a good turntable. If it is too much trouble to place a stylus on a slab of vinyl and flip a side 18 minutes later, you’re probably not going to want to sit through digitizing every LP and the process above of editing, de-clicking, adding metadata….

  9. yetimade says:

    I have done this! I don’t have a USB record player, but I had this great Sinatra Record and an old Johnny Cash record I wanted to listen to when I was away from the player. So, I just plugged my male/male cord into my computer and then into the headphones jack on my stero system, and used GarageBand to record. Worked out nicely! I even left a little bit before the track to get a cool “record” sound.

    One thing though: I hear that using Audacity or Grageband or any application that uses your HD to record, greatly reduces the life of your HD. My friend makes music all of the time and she burned out her MacBook after nearly a year of recording music and editing and re-recording. Maybe this is superstition, and maybe someone can bear some light on this issue.

    – Cheers!
    – JC

  10. tvantennasperth says:

    It was a little buggy at first, but it’s good with updates.I went for cheap functionality and an easy system for a not-so-computer-literate baby boomer. But it’s worth a look.

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