Who doesn’t enjoy listening to vinyl records? Everyone over a certain age appears to have a stash of them hidden away somewhere, and everyone under that age appears to be trying to get their hands on that stash. Vinyl LPs have excellent sound quality, are extremely durable, and are simply cool. They do, however, have some drawbacks: they’re not very portable—you probably don’t want to lug 100 pounds of records to a party, for example, and you can’t play them in the car—and many are difficult to replace. Fortunately, you can avoid these issues by burning your vinyl to CDs. It can be a time-consuming process, but once completed, you will have a high-quality backup of your irreplaceable rarities. You’ll also be able to listen to your Cat Stevens collection on the way to work.
1. Install software for recording and editing on your computer. You will not be able to record an LP to your hard drive using the standard sound recorder application that comes with most PCs. There are, however, a variety of audio recording programmes available, ranging from freeware to highly expensive professional editing software. Some of these obviously work better than others, and some have more features, but in general, you want a programme that writes files directly to the hard drive and allows you to make minor changes to the recorded files. Visit the external links listed in the citations, particularly Clive Backham’s page, for a more in-depth discussion of recording and editing software, including reviews.
2. Determine whether or not you require a preamp. To record the sound from your turntable onto your computer, you’ll need to amplify and equalise it. If your turntable has a built-in preamp, you should be able to connect it to your computer’s sound card directly. If you don’t have a built-in preamp, you can either connect the turntable to a stereo receiver and then connect the receiver to your computer sound card, or you can buy a preamp (available at most computer, audio, or electronics stores) and connect your turntable to that. Make sure to purchase a preamp with “RIAA Equalization” – cheaper models may not have this, and it is required for LPs manufactured after about 1950.
3. Assemble the cables and converters required to connect the turntable, stereo, or preamp to the sound card. To connect all of the components, you may need to purchase cables—most likely standard RCA cables. Depending on the type of input and output jacks on your sound card, turntable, preamp, and receiver, converters may be required to connect each component to the next. Most electronics and audio stores sell cables and converters, and if you don’t know what you need, simply bring in the equipment you already have. If you already have a turntable connected to a stereo system, the only additional cable you should need is a cheap 3.5mm Stereo to RCA Cable to connect the receiver to the computer, which can also be used to play sound from your computer through your stereo system.
4. Connect all of the parts. If you aren’t using a preamp, connect the turntable or stereo’s headphone or “audio out” jack to the input or “line in” jack on your computer’s sound card. If you have a preamp, connect the cable from the turntable to the “line in” jack on the preamp, and then connect another cable from the preamp’s “audio out” jack to the computer sound card’s “line in” jack.
5. Clear out the LP. A clean record obviously plays much better than a dirty one, and if you’re making a recording, you want the vinyl to sound its best. The best option is to use a professional LP-cleaning machine, but these can be costly and difficult to find (you can get similar results, however, if you have a wet-dry vacuum cleaner and some cleaning solution). To remove surface dust, you can also wash records in the kitchen sink or use specially designed brushes. Cleaning your records should be done with extreme caution, and there are more tips and warnings than can be listed here, so click on the external links for more information.
6. Set the level of your recording input. The input level can be adjusted on the stereo receiver or in the recording software, but “line” outputs on stereos are generally fixed volume. As a result, it’s usually a good idea to adjust the recording volume on your computer. Make sure the input is loud enough so that the resulting CD isn’t noticeably quieter than your other CDs. More importantly, you must ensure that the input volume is not excessively loud. The sound quality will be distorted if your recording level rises above 0 dB at any point, so it’s critical to keep it below this level. Attempt to locate the peak volume (the loudest part) of the LP you want to record. When you play the record through, some software programmes will find the peak for you; otherwise, you’ll have to do some guesswork. To avoid distortion, set the peak volume of the input level (from the LP) to around -3 dB.
7. Perform a test run. Check that your programme is running and that your turntable, receiver, or preamp are turned on. Start the recording and then press the “record” button in your audio software. Record only a small amount of audio to ensure that everything is working properly, then fine-tune the settings in the programme and on the player accordingly. You should also listen to the entire LP to ensure there are no skips.
8. Make the LP. Before starting the LP, press the “record” button in your software. Play the album all the way through while transferring the music to electronic format, and stop recording only when the LP is finished (you can cut out the silence at the beginning and end of the recording later). Your software programme may automatically split tracks for you, but if it does not, don’t worry about splitting them now.
9. Make changes to your recording. If the LP you recorded is in excellent condition and your recording equipment is of high quality and properly configured, you might not need to do much editing at all. However, you should probably remove any long silences at the start and end of the recording, and you should also split the tracks so that you can skip from song to song on your CD. You should also be able to remove or minimise most background noise and imperfections, as well as normalise the volume, depending on your editing software. Because the procedures for this type of editing differ from programme to programme, it’s best to consult your software’s manual or help files.
10. Organize the tracks and burn them to a CD-R. The procedures for burning a CD, like those for editing, vary depending on your software. Consult your manual or help files for more information.
11. Pop the CD in the stereo and enjoy the music!
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