Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Converting Vinyl to MP3 - An Easy User Guide

My wife sent me a link to this blog that had a Radio Shack commercial on it covering this subject. I had discussed this issue earlier in the year, and wanted to share my experience for those of you who wanted to do the same. I just wish I could post this info somewhere the people who were really interested in doing this could get it. Feel free to link to this, if you can.

If you have a turntable and an amp, the only thing you need to convert your vinyl to mp3 is a computer with a soundcard and freeware called Audacity. There is also a LAME 3.97 file you will need to download. Put this somewhere so you can point to it when Audacity asks for it.
You will also need a mini (1/8” jack) to RCA (red & white) cable (You may already use one of these to connect your iPod to your stereo, or they are available from Radio Shack for around $6) and a soundcard in your computer. Now that you have all these things, you can do this very easily.

Before you start this project, understand that it's going to take a long time, because you have to play all of your records at least once. One thing that might help you is friends, relatives and your neighborhood library. Did you know that some libraries actually have a pretty extensive CD collection? Before you decide to transfer that copy of Def Leppard's "Pyromania," you may want to see if one of your friends has a copy, or check your local library. While my library has the latest KEANE CD, it does not have the above-mentioned Def Lep record. Or any Go-Go's. What a travesty.

Getting Organized
1. Hook up your turntable to your amp, like you normally would. Don't forget to use the ground.
2. Hook up the cable with the mini jack. You want to hook up the red and white jacks to your TAPE IN or RECORD. The mini jack needs to go into the audio input jack on your soundcard. That looks like this on my computer:

Note, plug the black cord into the blue jack. This is an early picture. The other cord is for speakers, which you will also need, but I hope you figured that one out.

You may have to dig out your sound card manual or go online to find which jack is the audio input of your soundcard. Plug the mini end of the cord into this.

At this point you have the hardware set up. I also recommend that you get a big bottle of record cleaning solution. You're going to need it, and a clean record is going to give you the best recording, because the noise reduction and pop removal functions of Audacity are just "okay" at best. More on this later.

Software Setup

1. When you download Audacity, you will have to go to preferences to set it up for stereo recording, and then change the values to get the best (read:highest) bit-rate available. So go to Edit, Preferences, and set your stuff up under the following tabs:

Audio I/O
Under the Channels pulldown, select 2(stereo)

Default Sample Rate should be put to the highest selection. There is an "other" button. I don't know what this means. I know that my mp3s that I get out of here are 128 mbps, which suits me fine.

There are other things you can change, and the Audacity Help website through the software can explain this to you. This is just the quick and dirty to get you set up.


Singles take more of your time to do, because you have to pause in between sides, but whole albums are better because you can actually wash the dishes or do other household chores while one side plays.

Put your record on. Hit the record button. This isn't like making a tape where you didn't want the scritch or the time before the first song. You will edit all that out later.

Between sides, press the PAUSE button. If you press stop, you’re done with that file.

Labeling Songs and Exporting to MP3

Once you’re done with both sides, go back to the beginning and mark the beginnings of each song. To do this, use the selection tool (it looks like an I, sort of) and click to where you want the beginning of the song to be. You can use the Zoom tool (magnifying glass) to zoom in (right click) or out (left click) on the song to be more precise in your location selection. Then go up to the menus, select Project, Add Label At Selection. A text box will appear. Sometimes, you can start typing, other times you have to use the selection tool to click on the text box. For some reason, on the computer I use in the basement, the lower case Z will not work.

Sometimes I forget that I had side 1 going, and get down to the basement about 5 minutes after its done. Just record the second side, then after it's all done, as you're labeling, you can select the dead air and hit the delete button. Make sure you delete the area before you add a label, or it screws up the labels where the dead air used to be. For example, I can label all the songs on side 1. Then, there's a huge space between the end of the last song on side 1 and the beginning of the first song on side 2. Select the area you want to delete (making sure you don't cut out the fade from the last song on side 1 - turn the volume up and listen), delete it, then continue labeling the songs on side 2.

Once you get done labeling all of the songs, go to File, Export Multiple, and the software will open up another menu. Select mp3 or wav as the format. It will then ask you for the Artist and Name of the Album. You can also put year of release and any other info you want to add to each file. When you hit "okay" it will place the files in a directory you specify. The software will divide your files up nicely.

It should take you about 2 hours to initially set things up and get your first recordings. I save all my files to a directory, by album name, then make a data disc using Nero. I can then transfer the files to my iTunes on my upstairs computer by importing each file. I then have all the vinyl saved neatly on CD-ROM.

Let me know if you have any questions.

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Anonymous helpmerhonda said...

Sorry. Posted on the wrong post...

I really would've thought you would've gotten a lot more comments on this. This is an excellent guide for conversion and if I were into this stuff, I would appreciate the extra help. Of course, I have a friend, who has a friend...

5:56 AM

Blogger Jez said...

You assume that tons of people read this blog. Even friends that I hang out with now just kind of look at me funny when I tell them I'm doing this. Trust me, there are probably more people going to dogfights in this country than there are people who still own records.

5:58 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for this informative article. I have a lot of records that I would like to digitize. The information you have provided is very helpful.

1:58 AM

Blogger Cool Hand Lex said...

Great write up! I've been using Sound Forge to do all of my digitizing, but the largest problem is all my records are singles and EPs! The "Export Multiple" is exactly what I need! I'll link this entry for sure. Thanks for turning my attention to Audacity and the write up on its capabilities.

4:59 PM

Anonymous Lena said...

Hi there,
So I wanted to add my thoughts to the conversation, if that's okay.

First Jez, there are a TON of people out there with records. I know first hand. I work for a small business in Seattle and we convert vinyl records and cassette tapes to CDs and MP3s. We've had over 15,000 people in 5 years convert their tapes and records with us. And we converted 16,000 records for radio station KCRW in Santa Monica. So while there are a ton of people out there with vinyl, I don't think there are a ton that want to take the time/invest the money to convert it themselves. And rightly so I think.

By our calculations, it takes 2 hours for every hour of audio to convert it at home. And to do it in-home, people would have to invest into costs you have outlined. We have invested in an automated speed-stable vibration-isolation turntable factory with high-end gear including Denon DL-203 moving-coil needles. We clean every record on $5,000 imported handmade record washers and once the vinyl is recorded into the computers, we employ our digital click and pop filtering software which removes the pops from scratches but leaves the music alone so you still get the rich warmth of vinyl without the pops, which I love and is why I listen to vinyl. I do not like the digital remastered sound of CD. So we keep the vinyl sound in digital format.

We do all the track splitting, data entry and CD labeling. We also have a digital camera rig automatically tied into our CD-printing and MP3-packing systems so that every LP we convert is tagged with a megapixel image of the LP sleeve itself.

All these things are super easy for us to do now. We use IP on an automated system created by Craig, the owner, who used to work for NASA. Cuz it's automated, it's cheap to do and you get incredibly high-quality results.

I take a picture, clean a record, drop a needle and walk away. I come back and pick up the MP3 disk. We can do 2,000 LPs and 2,500 tapes a week in our factory. We've taken years getting the kinks out of our system and upgrading our gear to radio station, Department of Justice, and library standards as we have gotten the projects and had to up our standards over all these years. People are shocked with how awesome the results are. It's clear why we're thriving as a business and a leader in digitization.

I just came across your blog and wanted to share my thoughts on the topic.

You can find more info on Reclaim Media at http://reclaimmedia.com/article-library.html.

8:00 PM


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