Saving your old vinyl to mp3

22 Jun

June 22, 2006

By Geoff Meeker

In my last column, I made a passing reference to converting vinyl albums to mp3 format.

I received some feedback on that, from people who have a load of vinyl that they want to copy to their computers.

“Nobody – not Sony nor the Source – has the tech on the market to convert vinyl into CD,” wrote a reader named Dave. “Let me know how this miracle is performed.”

I know what Dave means. For the longest time, it seemed like those classic cuts on my vinyl collection would sink into the tar pits of history, made obsolete by their incompatibility with the digital world.

That has changed over the last couple of years, with the introduction of a new peripheral. Alas, it’s no miracle – it’s called an analog to digital converter, and it’s pretty widely available.

I have a unit called Instant Music (by ADS Tech), which I bought at Costco for about $50. There are other brands out there, and I have seen units at two other stores – Microtech and Future Shop. Prices for those ranged from $80 to $100. (I understand there are also CD burners available that can convert analog to digital, and record them to CD, but I have not looked into this option at all.)

The Instant Music product includes a small converter unit, a variety of cords to connect to your output devices, and software to load to your computer. You plug the RCA jacks into the ‘stereo out’ port on your amplifier and the other end into the converter, which then connects to the USB port on your computer. If, like me, you have a late model Apple iMac, you don’t even need to load the software. It works with the Garageband music editing software, which comes preloaded on the iMac.

There are a few steps to set things up, but in no time, you are converting old album tracks to mp3. (I glanced through the manual for PC users and it seems a little more complicated, though still a simple matter of following directions.)

Be sure to run the jacks from your amplifier (or receiver), not directly from the turntable, which doesn’t have a built-in pre-amp. This is actually an advantage. It means you can capture from tape, radio, VCR or any other component, with the flick of a switch (quite useful if there is a radio program or interview that you want to save for future listening).

The Garageband software is intended for musical composition, using its own synthesized instruments and your recorded input. The software does a reasonably good job of capturing the highs and lows from album tracks (bearing in mind that, because it is compressed, mp3 doesn’t have quite the fidelity of a CD, when played on a high quality audio system). It also picks up the crackles and pops, which, strangely enough, I like. Must be a nostalgia thing.

The downside is that you have to record, name and save one track at a time, and export it to iTunes before moving on to the next track. This is simpler than it sounds and no big deal if you grab two or three tracks from an album, but it’s a bother when you want the whole thing (what I occasionally do is record an entire side as one extended track and title it that way, knowing I will want to hear the whole thing anyway).

According to the owner’s manual, you can also save in other formats, such as WAV and WMA, or burn standard format CDs. Being focused exclusively on iTunes, I haven’t dabbled in this yet, so I can’t comment on how easy or difficult it is.

The Music Maker is one of the neatest little things I’ve bought in years. Suddenly, my collection of more than a thousand albums is new again, and full of surprises. I have about 70 local records, plus hundreds of obscure, interesting and rare releases, all of which likely will never be released on CD.  Now, they will become important new additions to my iPod.

In 1977, I moved back home from Toronto, carrying a suitcase full of record albums that was so heavy, the handle broke off. If someone had told me then that there was a device in my future capable of holding 6,000 albums, I don’t think I would have believed it.

It’s still sinking in, to be honest with you.



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