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Friday, August 15, 2008

Vynyl LP's to MP3's

In the olden days, we used to listen to music on vinyl LP records. Nowadays, though, it is much more convenient to listen to music in a digital format. Accordingly, those of us of a certain age are faced with a problem: what to do about that record collection.

During the 1980's, I accumulated a pretty sizable record collection. When CD's were released in the late 80's, I started buying music in that format. I got CD duplicates of many of my most favorite albums. But a lot of others slipped through the cracks.

It is possible to buy turntables designed to connect directly to your computer in order record your music and save it in your desired format. But if you have enough LP's to make this worthwhile you probably already have a turntable. It seems like a waste to buy a new one. In fact it is.

I've had great success ripping my LP's using only: (1) My stereo, specifically a Techniques turntable and amplifier purchased sometime before 1988, (2) a MacBook Pro, and (3) the free application Audacity (If you want to create MP3's, you'll also need the LAME MP3 encoder, also free.) Oh, also (4) a "two RCA to mini-stereo" cable.

Once you've downloaded the software, connect the mini-stereo end of your cable to the "audio in" on your computer. Then connect the RCA ends to a spare audio out on your amplifier. (I used "VCR 2", but you could use the tape deck output if necessary.) From here it's like falling off a bike.

Once you get familiar with Audacity's controls, start playing your favorite record. Open a new Audacity project and click the record button. Adjust the input level until the meter just barely doesn't top out. You can also look at the wave form, the loudest portions should be not quite as tall as possible. Once everything is set, close the track you've been recording, and start a new one by hitting record, play your record and sit back. When the album side ends, click stop, and save the project.

You'll probably want to clean up the recording. I've found that using the "noise removal" and "click removal" to be pretty effective. For the noise removal, select a couple seconds of quiet between songs, or at the end of the record. Choose Effect > Noise Removal, then click "Get Noise Profile". Now select your whole recording. Again, choose Effect > Noise Removal. This time you want to click "Remove Noise". I find moving the slider two spots toward "less", i.e. the 5th of the 15 positions, to remove most of the noise without affecting the quality of the recording too much.

Next, while the whole recording is still selected, choose Effect > Click Removal. I just use the default. Together with the noise removal, this cleans things up very nicely. If your record has a real scratch, this probably won't get rid of it completely, but if your record is in good shape, you can get a very nice recording.

Now for the tedious part. Select each song separately, and choose File > Export Selection as MP3. Fill in all the information in the dialog boxes and save the file somewhere that you can find it easily. Once you've done that, drag all the mp3 files onto the iTunes icon, or do whatever else you do with your mp3's. You're good to go.

Audacity does a great job, but it is free, and there are a few bugs. For instance, if your screen goes to sleep while you record, there is a slight skip in the recording. If all your recording have a skip at about the 1 minute mark, this might be the reason. All in all, though, this seems to be pretty effective.

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