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HOW STUFF WORKS / REAL HI-FI

How To Convert Music Records To Digital

By Robert MacMillan and David Richards | Monday | 30/10/2006

How about that music collection in the attic. Those from the 60's & 70's that are doing nothing but collecting dust. Well now you can easily transfer them to your iPod or other MP3 player.

 Albums are easy to neglect. They are not digital like music files and compact discs, and they're about as portable as a box of rocks. They can be a pain to play at home, and don't even think of trying to play one on the bus.

What most music lovers don't know is that they can convert vinyl, cassettes, 8-tracks and reel-to-reel tapes to digital files that they can play on an iPod or a similar device.

There are drawbacks, but nothing insurmountable.

It's a time-consuming process because you cannot accelerate the transfer, and it will lighten your wallet. Fortunately, there are more ways than ever to do it, and most say they don't require a degree in computer science.

Some people have been digitizing records for years by connecting their turntables, stereos and computers, and transferring music using special wires and software.

But for Jo-Ann Hernandez, a 42-year-old songwriter who lives outside Philadelphia, an intricate setup would contain too many parts and require too high a level of computer skills to supervise.

She simply wanted to listen to mix tapes and 12-inch dance albums from her DJ days, but not while chained to a turntable.

That led her to INport, designed by Xitel, a company based in Canberra, Australia. INport comprises a cable and a converter box the size of a credit card that connects a computer to a stereo.

It also includes computer software to adjust sound levels and cut album sides into tracks once they are transferred.

"It was really easy to use," said Hernandez, who does not consider herself blessed with unusual techno-aptitude. "I did not even have to open up the book to be able to use it."

That is exactly what Xitel hoped for, said Ben Davis, the company's vice president of product development.

"We thought, 'let's strip it right back to first principles, and take them through it in a step-by-step fashion,"' said Davis, who has used INport to transfer his Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Scorpions albums.

Joe Litton, a 50-year-old computer programmer living near Tampa, Florida, used an Audio Technica record player connected to a computer to transfer favorite albums such as Jimmy Buffett's "A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean."

The player, which costs as little as $100 online, contains cables that hook up to a stereo, but also has a universal serial bus cable, which allows it to connect to his computer where he uses a program called Cakewalk to do the transfer.

Another turntable, the ION-iTTUSB, does the same thing, and costs about $130 on Amazon.com.

While the companies that make these products say they are easy to use, not everyone has had an easy time.

Pattie Anderson, a 41-year-old litigation support analyst who lives near Richmond, Virginia, ran into some trouble. She could not get INPort to work, so she returned it, and made slightly more headway with the ION.

"The turntable itself is very easy to use, but the software is less than straightforward," Anderson said. "I find that splitting the music into tracks is not intuitive."

Additionally, these devices are not for everyone. Serious audiophiles, like some reviewers on Amazon, may be disappointed by their failure to transfer every bass note in its original throbbing glory or every hi-hat's elegant fillip.

For those who don't feel like expending the effort, there's always the most expensive approach -- scrapping the albums and upgrading to CDs or digital music files for sale on the Internet. But even a bottomless bank account can't secure albums that were never released on compact disc.

So for people who love their long players, singles, EPs, flexidiscs and that peculiar vinyl sound -- not to mention albums like Neil Young's "Time Fades Away" that never made it to compact disc -- these devices beat consigning their records to mouldering away in the dark.

 

Part Copyright Reuters

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