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HOW STUFF WORKS / REAL HI-FI

How To Convert Vinyl To MP3

By Smarthouse Team | Wednesday | 04/04/2007

So you want to convert your vinyl collection to mp3? We offer you four methods: a cheap-as-chips all-in-one solution; a low-cost method using your existing turntable; something for computer-phobes; plus the route for PC types.

Ripping your vinyl can be as simple as you choose to make it. Trawl the Internet and you can find pages of complex advice as to what's the best way to copy records to a computer. The trouble is much of this advice is a lot of technical waffle about maximising sound quality and restoring sound to recordings made from old vinyl.

This is great if you're the type with loads of time on their hands who loves getting into the real nitty-gritty of a technical topic (we're sure that applies to some readers), but it's not much use if you just want a simple and effective way to copy your records, which is what most of us are really after.

Well, we've got four great ways to rip your vinyl. First, we test a couple of cheap USB turntables, which are essentially the same product. They plug directly into a computer, and you can be on your way to making decent vinyl recordings in minutes.

The second method is nearly as simple, and makes even better copies. The iVinyl from Terratec is a box of tricks that allows you to plug any turntable directly into any computer. If you own a deck, check it out.

A third method will appeal to those who don't use computers at all, but still want to record their vinyl to CD.

Our final solution tells you how you can use either the kit you already have, to save money, or upgrade to produce recordings of the best quality.

Best way to keep it simple

Ion/Numark USB turntable  | RRP from $339 | | www.streetwise.com.au  
For: Cheap; easy to use; everything but the computer; laptop or desktop-friendly; you don't have to move kit.
Against: Sound quality isn't a match for even budget kit.
Verdict: Amazing value, and easy to use - though other simple solutions beat it for sound.


Click to enlarge
Ion and Numark are both selling very similar turntables that plug directly into any com¬puter via a USB socket. This means you don't need any kind of interface to make the deck and your com¬puter talk to each other. The inclusion of a CD-ROM containing recording software makes this a complete vinyl-recording package.

To get their turntables and your computer talking, Ion and Numark have built a phono stage and a soundcard into their decks.

Now, selling all this for just over $300 means compromises in quality are inevitable.

Both decks are lightweight, using the same plastic chassis, though the Numark has an aluminium platter instead of the Ion's plastic Frisbee-like article. The other non-cos¬metic difference is that the Numark comes with a DJ-style pitch control, which the Ion lacks. Both come with tonearm, cartridge and stylus, and suitable connecting cables, along with software for Mac or PC. Each has a line input for recording other sources.

Setup takes a minute, and both decks will work as a nor¬mal turntable through an amp. How¬ever, the decks come into their own plugged it into a computer. Each is recog¬nised immediately as a USB device, and your computer config¬ures itself to listen to what¬ever's spin¬ning on the turntable.

Install the Audacity recording software (available free from audacity.sourceforge.net), set the level using a rotary volume control (inconven¬iently located around the back of the deck), and you're ready. Press the record 'button' in the software, start the record on the platter, and your vinyl is ripped to your hard disk.

The poor quality of the turntable limits the quality of the files, but at this price it's still a good solution to what can be a tricky problem.

USB Turntable connects to Mac or PC laptop or desktop via USB link --> Software rips vinyl to WAV, then convert to MP3 in iTunes for your iPod.

Best if you want to use your own turntable

Terratec iVinyl USB  | RRP $TBA  |  www.majormusic.com.au
For: Cheap; easy to use; you can use your own turntable, so keeping sound quality good.
Against: Might need to move your deck or your computer.
Verdict: It's very good: a good phono stage and soundcard in one, just add a turntable to start ripping LPs.


Click to enlarge
Those all-in-one USB turntables from Ion and Numark are ultra-convenient. However, a major weakness to them is the sound quality of the resulting audio files: it's not awful, but you can certainly do much better.

One way is using this product from Terratec, a company highly regarded for its computer soundcards. Its iVinyl phono preamp retains the ease of use of the USB turntables, but improves sound quality significantly. This is a brand new product that is just about to hit stores in Australia, and it's a beauty.

This tiny box of tricks is an all-in-one interface that lets you plug any turntable into any com¬puter with a USB slot. Like the USB turntables, it also comes with recording software.

The iVinyl works with moving-coil and moving-magnet cartridges, making it suitable for any deck, and it also has a line-level input, making it suitable for cassettes or MiniDiscs.

Setup is easy. You need your computer and turntable within a few metres of each other, so you can cable them together. There's also a binding post on the unit to which you attach the earthing cable from your turntable.

Once that's done, it's a case of connecting the iVinyl, which is automatically recognised - your com¬puter switch¬ing itself to listen to what¬ever's being played into it the iVinyl's input.

You also need to install the supplied software from the CD-ROM (PC or Mac), and then set the input level using a button on the front of the box. There's no rotary level control, which is a shame as you might lose some level of the dynamics from the recordings having to switch between a basic high or low setting, but it's a small complaint.

This is an excellent solution, which is as easy to use as the USB turntables, but lets you use your own deck for much-improved quality.

Connect turntable to iVinyl using a pair of stereo interconnects --> iVinyl connects to laptop or desktop via USB connection --> Software rips vinyl to WAV; convert to MP3 in iTunes for your iPod.

Best if you don't like computers

Yamaha CDR-HD1500  | RRP $1399  | www.yamaha.com.au 
For: Good quality analogue-to-digital converters; don't need a computer or new software.
Against: Expensive; only archives to CD.
Verdict: Makes quality copies, so if you already have CD recorder or can pick one up cheaply it's a great option.

CD recorders aren't very fashionable these days, virtually killed off by the prevalence of CD burners in computers. However, they can make excellent recordings to CD of your vinyl collection.


Click to enlarge
CD recorders are expensive, so we're not exactly recommending you rush out and buy one when you could pick up the latest computer for the same money. However, there are plenty already in circulation, so if you can get hold of one, you can use it to great effect.

Yamaha's recent CD recorders have always used excellent analogue-to-digital converters, ensuring that if you put a high-quality signal in, you'll get a high-quality recording out. You'd have to spend several hundred dollars on a soundcard such as the LynxONE to improve on the Yamaha's performance.

It's also worth noting that if you are a total computer-phobe, this is the only method that doesn't require you to use a computer. If installing software, and using it to set the recording level is too tricky, this could be the method for you.

In this instance, you simply connect you turntable (via either your phono stage or amplifier's line outputs) directly to the CD recorders, and use a rotary control to set the recording level. Recordings can be burned straight to CD or, more usefully, you can record them to the unit's hard disk so you can chop recordings into tracks or remove silences from the beginning or end. When you're happy with your files, you burn the finished article to CD-R, ready to play on any CD player.

If you want to convert your discs to MP3, then you need a computer. It's simply a case of ripping the CD using iTunes, from where it's easy enough to transfer it to an MP3 player. It's a useful means to getting quality audio files.

Turntable connects to phono stage or amp with integrated phono stage via stereo interconnects --> Line-level output from phono stage or amp connects to CD recorder via stereo interconnects

Best way to max sound quality

Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi Elite Pro  | RRP $759 |  www.au.creative.com
Lynx LynxONE |  RRP $849  | www.audiochocolate.com.au

For: You might get away with using what you have, potential for great sound quality.
Against: Soundcards can be tricky to install, and the best doesn't come cheap.
Verdict: More of an option for techies.

Recording vinyl via a computer's line-level input is simple enough, and has the advantage that most people won't have to buy more kit. If you already have a hi-fi and a computer, that's all you should need. However, if you want to make the good-quality recordings, there are some important things to consider.

You should establish whether your computer has a decent soundcard. If your computer is a laptop, there's a good chance it won't make good recordings. In this instance, consider the iVinyl USB solution above, or one of the cheaper USB soundcards from Creative.


Click to enlarge

If you have a desktop, make sure it has a separate soundcard - not one incorporated on the motherboard. Offboard soundcards should all be able to record 16-bit 44.1kHz audio, but check the specifications to be sure.

If you want to record your vinyl at the best quality, then you'll need a computer (Mac or PC) that has a spare PCI slot. In this instance, you should look at upgrading the audio system to something like Creative's X-Fi Elite Pro card or - if you're serious about your audio - Lynx's LynxONE. The former will do a very fine job, and has a phono stage built-in, while the latter is one of the best soundcards there is outside of the high-end professional market. You can either fit these yourself, or get your local computer store to do it for you.

An important point, whatever the quality of your soundcard, is not to skimp on cables. Use good-quality stereo interconnects (not freebies) and phono-minijack cables. These will make a difference to quality.

Finally, you need recording software, too. Audacity is free for Mac or PC from audacity.sourceforge.net, though check out the extra features in GarageBand or Sony's Sound¬Forge Audio Studio if you want extra editing and audio facilities. Happy ripping!

Turntable connects to phono stage or amp with integrated phono stage -->  Line-level out from phono stage or amp connects to computer line-level input --> Software rips vinyl to WAV, then convert to MP3 in iTunes for your iPod

 

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