BOOT CAMP 450 (14/11/06)

Vinyl and Tape to CD and MP3, part 1


In the past few weeks, and for no apparent reason that I can see, there has been an increase in the number of requests for information on how to convert vinyl LPs (and 45s and 78s) and cassette tapes into MP3 files or transfer album tracks onto CD. In fact this has always been a popular topic and I usually refer readers to Boot Camps 276 and 277, which outline the process of making audio CDs from tapes and discs.


However, these articles were written more than three years ago and whilst the general principles haven't changed there has been a number of developments, notably the shift towards music downloading music from the Internet, the phenomenal growth in the personal digital music player market and new software that makes the job a lot easier so it is about time for an update. See also this week's Top Tip. 


Creating an audio CD or MP3 files from a record or tape isn't especially difficult and you won't need any special (or expensive) equipment or software but it does involve several separate steps so be warned, there's no quick-and easy way to process a collection of several dozen albums.


Almost any PC made in the last five years will do the job, though, and it doesn't matter what operating system it uses, as long as it's Windows 98 or later, Mac OS 9 or later or Linux. The only stipulations are that it should have a CD writer drive and a couple of gigabytes or more of free hard disc space.


We'll round off this week with an overview of what is involved and make a start on hooking up the various pieces of equipment we'll be using.


Stage one is connecting the record player or cassette deck to the PC. Stage two involves converting the analogue sounds coming from the disc or tape into digital data and storing it on the computer's hard drive. In Stage 3 the data is edited and processed, i.e. splitting a continuous recording of one side of an LP or tape into separate tracks and filtering out the inevitable hiss, clicks and pops. In Stage 4 the finished recordings are converted into either MP3 files, for copying to a digital music player, or audio CD (CDA) files, which brings us to Stage 5, compiling the tracks and recording or 'burning ' them onto a blank CD.


Connecting a cassette player to a PC isn't difficult. Most hi-fis with built-in tape decks and standalone cassette players have a headphone socket and many hi-fis also have a stereo line output socket and either of them can be used. Virtually all PCs and laptops have a 3.5mm minijack stereo line input socket, so to connect your hi-fi or tape player to your PC you will need a stereo phono to 3.5mm stereo minijack or stereo minijack to stereo minijack cable. These are very widely available from electrical and electronic retailers, usually for less than five pounds. By the way, there's no point spending more on super hi-tech cables with gold plated plugs, it won't make an iota of difference in this particular application (or most others for that matter, but that's another story...).


Unfortunately you cannot connect a turntable directly to a PC. Some sources suggest using the computer's microphone socket and sometimes it works but usually the results are quite poor due to a mis-match between the output signal from the turntable and the PC's microphone amplifier. There's no way around it and the only practical solution is to connect the turntable to the 'phono' sockets on your hi-fi system and connect its line output or headphone socket to the PC, like a cassette deck. However, not all audio systems have phono inputs these days -- they are rarer than hen's teeth on budget models -- in which case you will have to use a stereo 'phono' pre-amplifier, which connects between the turntable and PC. They're a little harder to come by but Maplin Electronics has a number of suitable models costing from 25.


Next Week -- Vinyl and Tape to CD and MP3, pt 2






Motion Picture Experts Group audio layer 3 -- digital audio compression system commonly used to send files containing audio and music over the Internet and for storing musical files in personal audio players



Amplifier designed to boost the level of a weak signal to higher level (line-level) and to match its electrical characteristics (impedance) with the equipment it will be connected to



Line 'level' is a set of agreed standards for audio signals passing between various pieces of consumer electronic equipment, allowing, for example, CD and DVD players, VCRs etc to connect to amplifiers and hi-fi systems using their 'Line' input and output sockets




You may have seen advertisements for a 'USB Turntable', designed specifically for transferring vinyl recordings to CDs via a PC. I haven't tried it and I have no reason to suppose that it doesn't do a good job, however, at more than 100 it is a somewhat expensive solution to this problem.


The method we will be using needn't cost you a bean. You or a friend almost certainly has a serviceable turntable sitting around somewhere gathering dust. It doesn't matter if it's a few years old, most turntables were sturdily built and apart from a worn stylus or drive belt there's really not much that can go wrong with most of them. (Styli and drive belts for most models are still available). If you haven't got one to hand you can find turntables selling on ebay for a few pounds and I've seen models that once sold for 100 or more going for a fiver at a local car boot sale. It's worth noting that the USB turntable uses one of the best audio recording and editing programs available -- more about that in part 2. It's an excellent choice and it also happens to be the one we will be using because it's freeware and available to anyone for the price of a one minute download (or however long it takes your PC to download a 2Mb file). 




(c) R. Maybury 2006, 0911

Part 2 3 4 5


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