Vinyl Resting Place
Q: Not to be immodest, but I've pulled together quite the record collection over the years. Now I'm starting to think I should digitize all that great vinyl so I can tote it around town on my MP3 player. Is there a cheap, easy way to make the transfer?
As you might imagine, you're scarcely the only vinyl lover with this quandary. Mr. Roboto was once among the troubled, forever dreaming of ambling through Central Park while listening to his Rare Essence albums, until he learned just how easy it was to make the switch. You'll need ample hard-drive space and some specialized software, but the process is otherwise amateur-friendly.
The no-fuss solution is to invest in an all-in-one kit. Mr. Roboto and his fellow tech columnists adore Sony's EZ Audio Transfer & Restoration Kit, which comes with a stereo-to-computer cable and all the relevant software. The kit's big drawback is that it'll turn your tracks into Windows Media files, rather than MP3s; upgrading the package tacks on an additional $10 to the $49.99 list price. Still, ease-of-use makes it a winnerprovided you can dredge one up. Finding a kit for sale, online or in a store, is harder than catching a greased frog while wearing mittens.
Rather than growing old waiting for the next shipment, sharpen your DIY ethic. Firstly, get thee down to an electronics store and purchase a standard Y cable, which can be recognized by the telltale red-and-white plugs on one end. You'll also need to download a recording program. If you favor bare-bones software, Mr. Roboto suggests you check out LP Recorder 4.1, available from the British site 5Star-Shareware.com. for $29.99. A geekier option is Wave Repair (Waverepair.com), another $30 piece of shareware, which does a better job of allowing you to control input levels. Media Jukebox 8.0 (Musicex.com) also impressed, and Mac users should delight in Peak 3.1 (bias-inc.com.).
Whatever software you settle on, the process is pretty straightforward. Plug the double-pronged end of the cable into your stereo's auxiliary ports, most likely located in the back. The other, single-pronged end goes in your computer's line-in port, often marked by the icon of a microphone. Cue up your turntable, hit "record" on your software, and you're off to the races, turning your album into one humongous WAV file. A minute's worth of vinyl gobbles up some 10 megabytes of hard-disk space, so make sure you've got at least 500 megabytes free before you begin.
Once the recording's complete, you'll need to divvy the file into tracks, then compress those into MP3 format. Most of the programs mentioned above automate this process, as does LP Recorder's twin, LP Ripper (also available at 5Star). Depending on your degree of audiophilia, you may be disappointed with the sound quality on your first few go-arounds. The more egregious problems can be gotten rid of by fiddling with the software's equalizer when recording, but the source material is the real problemdigitizing the copy of Quadrophenia that sat in your parents' attic for 20 years tends to highlight its sonic blemishes.
If the pops and ticks really get on your nerves, filter them out with a sound editor. Wave Repair, among others, comes stocked with nifty editing features, as does the Sony kit. Curious readers are urged to visit the remarkable FAQ written by Wave Repair's Clive Backham, at delback.co.uk. Not only will Mr. Backham's handiwork dazzle you to no end, his mastery of such topics as "wet playing" (i.e., spritzing your vinyl with alcohol) makes him worthy of Mensa membership.
There is one more conversion route. An Israeli student named Ofer Springer recently figured out how to turn the vinyl-to-MP3 trick using a flatbed scanner. He scanned a copy of Vivaldi's Four Seasons, then wrote a piece of code that could "read" the tiny grooves and turn them into sound. His "virtual gramophone" is an impressive feat, but, boy, do the resulting MP3s sound scratchysort of like the copy of Ike and Tina's Nutbush City Limits I left on my windowsill one summer's day. Much respect to Springer, but stick with the bland ol' shareware and Y cables. Your antique Schoolly D archives deserve the best.
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