A few of years back a young industrial ingeniera (that's a lady engineer) from Peru brought a few music CDs she had converted from tapes for my spouse and asked if I could copy them. It was no problem until I got to one that was not a music CD but a bunch of MP3 files. "How can we play this? We'd have to run it out of the PC sound." "No, no, you just put it in the DVD player." "Oh." This was before the iPod made MP3 so well known.
So I moved the TV audio output that was already connected to our stereo to the DVD out, put the MP3 CD in the DVD player and viola! we had music.
From there I found this inexpensive program, RIP Vinyl by Wieser Software Limited,
28 Green End, Fen Ditton, Cambridge, CB5 8SX England.
Update 2010: while I still believe that RIP Vinyl is a good program for recording from records, I suggest that you also look into Audacity, a free audio recorder and processor. This is especially good because it displays the entire waveform of the recording, allowing you to see areas of distortion, glitches, record scratches, and dropouts. In addition Audacity has a full set of waveform processing tools. These are much too complex to detail in this brief article, but there are how-tos without end on You-Tube.
I also had an audio mixer that I could use to do some noise filtering from records and to handle line out level setting. This can be handled with a simple attenuator to lower overdriven signals, but would not handle tapes recorded at low levels. So the best choice is a low-cost stereo amp of some sort. You can buy a component-type preamp for ~$150 and up. But once you digitize everything you'll never use it again. Borrow one from a friend or try e-bay.
There are many sites on line that have schematics for building your own
preamp, but this assumes a knowledge of building kits, requires external power
supplies, etc. Great for a hands-on, electronics hacker such as I am, but I don't recommend it as a step in
converting your vinyl to digital. BTW the title "hacker" is a
compliment to the insiders of the electronics world, it simply became notorious when some
sharp tekkies turned criminal and began to use their smarts to break into
databases and the like.
Beat-up, homemade Attenuator
The main thing to do is to be sure that you run the Line Out of your stereo amp to the computer input, and never the audio out. Have the RIP Vinyl program running, and watch the input level on the right side. If it is solid blue, try pulling down the control bar until the level is in the green. An alternative is to select another input in the Source window. Sometimes the Stereo Mix source will be at a lower level than the Line In.
As all computers are not alike, you'll find some conditions that simply won't work. While my Intel 865-based system has Source options of Wave Out Mix, CD Player, Mic, Aux, Line In and Phone, my Dell laptop has only Stereo Mix and Microphone choices, you have to crank the volume up to get a decent record level, this is the speaker drive input, and mute shuts it all off, so it's a real bummer. Both are P4 CPUs, but Intel motherboard included a great integral sound system and the expensive Dell Inspiron 9100 went on the cheap. My home-assembled Intel P4 was under $800, the Inspiron was $1400 - go figure.
Since completing my setup I have digitized or converted 45 classical LPs, 30 classical CDs, 200 cassette tapes and some 70 popular, Latin and country LPs. When we have parties I can select from a variety of pre-selected music, and play them in random mode for variety. In the early AM I listen to my classical music from one of four 8-hour CDs, without interruption. No commercials, no changing records or CDs, no concern for something wearing out. Now my 3 Bs are at my fingertips: Bach, Beethoven and Bluegrass!
The next step is to feed the stereo out of a PC directly to the stereo system input. From there I can use Win Amp to make play lists to run out of the PC. Such a far cry from the days when your guests, after a drink or two, would stop your phonograph and pull off a record to see who it was by, filling the grooves with the grease from the hors d'oeuvres you have stuffed them with.
More on RIP Vinyl
As a real tekkie, I truly appreciate the ability of the control panel in RIP Vinyl to set both the amount of silence between tracks on records and cassettes, and the level of background noise to detect these gaps. This is especially valuable when you are trying to digitize older records with a lot of scratches.
Oh, if you have a turntable with only 33 and 45 and want to play back 78s? Not a problem: click on Options and enable the 78 @ 45 rpm box and you're in business. But don't forget to reset it! RIP Vinyl does not know what you're feeding it and will go right along converting the output to 1.733 times the source.
You can also use RIP Vinyl to reconnect the movements of classical pieces if you have ripped them from a CD. If you decide to hit the Random button on your DVD player they will lose their intended continuity. To solve this, drag the various movements in their .wav or .mp3 versions, into Win Amp, or a similar program. Next you start RIP Vinyl and start the player, set the input levels, set the "New track after..." to cover the inter track gap of the movements (max is 20 seconds), name the file, start RIP Vinyl and then restart the player, leaving as much lead-in silence as you'd like.
An alternative to this is sound file joining programs. Check your favorite freeware site and give them a try. They are faster and much less error prone than the method I describe above.
A Lot of Work
All of the pluses now declared, I must caution you that this process is fraught with "Oh no!"s and "Holy shit!"s and like that, because there is both the learning process and the limitations of your home equipment to make you stop and say, "Why did I ever start this???" But, as mentioned above, the result of being able to freely mix all kinds of your own music into the order you want - and even set a variety of silent periods - has been well worth it to me.
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Last update: June, 2011 . Comments or questions?