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Copying Vinyl Recordings to CD

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Artists like David Gray and Daniel Bedingfield are famed for making much of their hit music in their own homes. But what if you've made music and cut it onto vinyl? Or maybe your parents made recordings on vinyl and want to pass them on to the next generation? How do you 'upgrade' the vinyl copy to CD?

This entry will guide you through the steps of taking your old vinyl records and recording them with your computer to make a CD-R. This process can actually produce good quality sound, if the steps are followed carefully.

Why Do It?

As you know, copying material that you don't own the rights to, or haven't got permission to copy from the copyright holder, is illegal. But there are still many legitimate reasons why making a CD copy from a vinyl record is a good idea. Some are:

  • Protecting vinyl - Vinyl records have a tendency to wear out the more they are played. Dull needles, improper handling, and other mishaps could give a record irreparable pops and scratches. With a CD copy, on the other hand, the vinyl could remain safe in its case, while the more durable CD could be played.

  • Preserving the vinyl sound - Some folks believe that records have a better quality of sound than CDs. They say that records have a certain 'sharpness' of high-frequencies, and that the sound is 'warmer'. Surprisingly, much of this 'vinyl sound' is preserved on the CD copy1.

  • Saving the music - Often, music is never heard simply because it is on vinyl. The format is too large, too unwieldy, and too analogue for this digital age. But if a CD copy is made, music can be resurrected thanks to the ease of copying CDs and MP3s.

How To Do It

This is one method that works from a Researcher's personal experience. If some of the tools are unavailable, or the methods undoable, experimentation may lead to a better way.

Required Tools

  • A computer - PC or compatible running Windows 95/98/NT/20002.

  • A sound card - Any 16-bit 44.1MHz soundcard will do so long as it has a 'Line In' jack.

  • Sound software - There are a number of sound recording and editing programs that work well.

  • Functional turntable - Preferably one with a new needle. Dull needles can damage records.

  • Stereo amplifier - Connecting the turntable directly to the PC is a bad idea.

  • Cable to connect the amplifier to the PC - You may need an RCA to 3.5mm Phono adapter for this. Most electronics stores carry this.

What To Do

  1. Connect the stereo amplifier to your computer - Plug the RCA jacks into an output of the amplifier (either the Auxilliary Output, Tape/MD Output, or any other RCA output that works for you). Connect the Phono plug into the Line In of the soundcard.

  2. Verify the connection - Boot up the computer and run a sound editing program. The idea is to get some response from the stereo, so put on a record and let it play. See if you can hear the record from your computer speakers, or can record it using the program (many programs have a feature called 'Monitor' which will give you a readout on what's coming into your soundcard at the moment).

  3. Set the volume - This is one of the trickiest and most frustrating steps. The idea is to set the volume high enough that the recording is crisp, hiss-free, and of adequate volume on the CD. However, if the volume is too loud, the sound will 'peak' and become distorted. This can't actually be heard unless the sound is recorded and played back. (Or, if the monitor is functioning, peaking will be displayed there, but not heard.) In order to set the volume to a decent level, open the Windows volume controls (double click the speaker in the system tray) and go to Options/Properties. Select Recording and push OK. Now you can control the volume for recording. Mute all other recording tracks (CD, Microphone, etc.) and then use the slider to set the Line-In volume.

  4. Recording - Make a new sound in your sound editor program. You will need a sound that is approximately 25 minutes long3. The sound should have a quality of 44100 Hz and be stereo. Now, start recording the sound on your PC, and put the record needle to the beginning of the record. Let the record play through to the end, then stop the recording on the PC. You now have half the vinyl recorded to the computer.

1If a vinyl recording and a CD 'rip' are compared, a difference is seen in the sound waveform, which may account for the different sound.2Macs can do audio recording just as well, but this tutorial is based on PC computers.3A single side of a record is usually 22 minutes long, but some are longer.

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