The Compleat Guide to Digitizing Your LP Collection

For anyone over 40 (or maybe 30), having a music collection probably means that, in addition to racks of CDs and ridiculous piles of MP3s, you’re also sitting on bookshelves (or “borrowed” milk crates) full of vinyl LPs. Hundreds of pounds of space-consuming, damage-prone vinyl. LPs were music you could touch, with glorious full-color 12″ album art, meandering liner notes, and the practical involvement of lowering needle to plastic. Long-playing records represent an era when music was less disposable – we actually sat down to listen, rather than treating music as a backdrop to the rest of life. Dragging a rock through vinyl was not some kind of nostalgic love affair with the past – it was just the way things were. The cost of admission was pops and scratches, warped discs, having to get up in the middle of an album to flip the disc, cleaning the grooves from time to time, and getting hernias every time you moved to a new apartment.

We loved our vinyl despite and because of its warts, but we also didn’t hesitate to go digital when the time came – first with CDs, and then with MP3s and other file-based formats. We complained that CDs lacked the “warmth” of vinyl, but CD technology got better over time. We complained that the typical MP3 was encoded at bitrates too low to do justice to the music, but we learned to encode at higher resolutions, or to use uncompressed/lossless formats. Eventually, most of us gave in to temptation and started listening only (or mostly) to files stored on a computer somewhere in the house. Over time, many of us stopped listening to LPs altogether – but that doesn’t mean we got rid of them.

I personally held onto around 700 records made before the 90s, in addition to a few boxes of records my parents left in my care. Most of my CD purchases from the 90s and 00′s had been ripped long ago, but the LPs were locked in limbo – wasn’t listening to them, but couldn’t bear to let go, either. In 2011, I finally decided it was time to hunker down and digitize the stacks, to un-forget all those excellent records.

Digitizing LPs has almost nothing in common with ripping CDs. It’s a slow process, and a lot of work. But it can be incredibly rewarding, and going through the process puts you back in touch with music the way it used to be played (i.e. it’s a great nostalgia trip). In this guide, I’ll cover the process of prepping your gear, cleaning your records, and capturing as much of the essence of those old LPs as possible, so you can enjoy them in the context of your digital life.

Setting Up

So you want to digitize your LP collection? That’s awesome, but slow down, cowboy – this isn’t going to happen overnight. When you rip a CD, the whole process is pretty much automatic – stick it in, click Go, and you’re done in minutes (my iMac’s optical drive rips at around 16x). The metadata (album title, artist, track names, recording year, and album art) are often retrieved automatically, and you never give a thought to dealing with surface noise. But when you square off with a stack of LPs, you find out quick that you’ve got some hurdles to clear – I was totally unprepared for how involved all of this would become. I’ll say it again: This is going to be a process – a long one. It’s going to take a while to get your gear in order, you’ve got several decisions to make, and each LP you “rip” is going to take actual time. Fortunately, once you get a groove on, things flow pretty smoothly. You just have to forget that you’ve been spoiled by the ease of ripping CDs, change mental gears back to analog mode, and look forward to getting hands-on with your music again.

Here’s the general roadmap – I’ll go into each of these separately below:

  1. Tune your table
  2. Make the connection
  3. Clean your vinyl
  4. Pick the right software
  5. Decide what to rip and what to toss (and what to re-purchase)
  6. Pick an output format
  7. Establish a workflow
  8. Deal with noise
  9. Export tracks

Tune Your Table (and Cartridge)

Because of the time involved, you want to go through this process exactly once. If you’re going to do this thing, do it right. You need to think now about a listening picture bigger than your iPhone and earbuds, bigger than your desktop computer speakers. The “ultimate” goal is that you can play the final result through the best amp and speakers you can find, and it’ll be indistinguishable from the original (or as close to it as possible). In fact, it may even be better, if you filter out pops and scratches carefully. Who knows what kind of home stereo you’re going to have 10 or 30 years from now? Think long-term.

So if the process is so time-consuming, why not just re-purchase everything? If you’re sitting on a lot of LPs, buying a new digital copy of every album is going to be expensive (even though a lot of older LPs are available at emusic.com and mp3.amazon.com for $5-$7). Sure, your time may be worth more than what it takes to digitize everything yourself, but not everything needs to be an ROI/time-is-money calculation, right?

If you haven’t thought much about your turntable for two decades, take time out to make sure it’s in top condition before beginning. It makes no sense to spend dozens or hundreds of hours digitizing if the audio quality is going to be diminished for want of a new needle, or because your cartridge hums or your turntable transmits motor noise. Think of yourself as an archivist, creating a collection you’ll be proud to pass down to your children.

I was pretty happy with my old Pioneer PL-A35 – built solid and totally reliable – but I had forgotten how long it had been since I’d replaced the cartridge and needle. Contacted Jim at Needle Doctor and told him I wanted the best setup he could recommend for a Benjamin or less. He suggested the Ortofon M2 Red, and I went for it (to blow your own mind, surf around the Phono Cartridges section of that site to see what you can get for 15 large (yes, $15k!). To be sure I’d made a good decision, I digitized the same album both before and after installing the Ortofon, and the difference in tonal range and responsiveness was very audible – a new cartridge was a worthwhile investment.

If you’re not sure whether your turntable is up to snuff, take it to a qualified audio shop and ask their opinion. You might want to have them do an alignment and lubrication, or let them talk you into a new turntable.

Hooking Up – The turntable-computer connection

Traditional turntables output audio at a level lower than standard line-level. In other words, you can’t just plug a turntable’s RCA cables into your computer and expect it to work. You’ll need either a dedicated phono pre-amp or a turntable with a built-in line stage or USB jack.

There are a lot of turntables on the market with built-in USB connections, many of them specifically designed for digitizing old collections. But many of them are cheap pieces of lightweight junk, and just not worth it (especially the inexpensive models). In most cases, you’ll be better off with a well-designed traditional table and outboard analog-digital converter (ADC).

There are a dozen or so USB phono pre-amps available on Amazon, ranging from $50-$1200. My darling wife got me the NAD PP-3 for Christmas (around $200, but no longer available). Since it has both USB and RCA outputs, I’ll still be able to use it in the home stereo for standard LP playback once the digitization process is complete (though it’ll be connected to my computer for the foreseeable future :) Honestly, I can’t tell you what to look for in a USB ADC/pre-amp. In general, you get what you pay for. The cheapest one (of anything) is almost never the right decision, but the really high-end audio stuff works in a realm of sub-sonic quality differences that my ears simply can’t hear. If you’re at a loss, just go for something priced in the middle range, from a manufacturer with a decent reputation.

Once connected to my iMac, I went to the system’s Sound Preferences panel and selected the NAD as the input (I did have to reboot the machine before it was recognized, surprisingly). After that, output from the turntable was available to all the audio capture software I tested.

Make sure the turntable is resting on a solid desk and is not overly sensitive to footsteps in the room – you don’t want perceptible warbling in the audio when walking nearby (if you have kids, make sure they know to walk softly when daddy’s busy ripping :). You don’t want to find out that some of your recordings were marred by vibrations months later, after you’ve finished the process and ditched some of your LPs. If you’re in a room with a bouncy floor, consider setting up your digi-station in another room, maybe with a laptop dedicated to the process.

Cleaning Your Vinyl

Dust = Noise

The quality of my vinyl collection spans the gamut from old garage sale finds and hand-me-downs to impeccable 180-gram vinyl from Mosaic, and everything in between. Most records that have been in my personal care have been sleeved and played with the cover down all their lives, and so have fairly minimal dust. Nonetheless, virtually all of my records turned up some dust in the cleaning process. Since you’re shooting for archival quality here, you want that stuff out of the grooves before encoding. In addition, depending on your environment, your records probably have collected a static electrical charge that can affect the quality of the final output.

DAK has a great page full of electron microscope photographs showing LP surfaces before and after cleaning with their system. If you don’t think your records are dusty, or that dust and static can affect recording quality, give it a read.

Dust in record grooves, as seen with an electron microscope. Check the DAK page for more examples.

There are a number of vinyl cleaning systems out there, from simple brushes to carbon micro-fibers to full-on record vacuuming systems. I wanted to clean, but wasn’t going to get all mad scientist about it. Found my old Discwasher brush from the 70s, still in amazingly good shape after all this time, but the fluid bottle was dry. Using fluid is important not just for cleaning purposes, but also to dampen or remove residual static charge. A bit of searching turned up dozens of home-brew fluid recipes, and I settled on this one:

  • 3 parts distilled water (triple distilled, de-ionized)
  • 1 part Isopropyl alcohol, 91% lab grade
  • A few drops of photographic wetting agent €“ if possible Triton X-100, Triton X-110 or Triton X-115 or Monolan 2000, not Kodak Photoflo which is €˜reputed€™ to leave a residue (though used by some). Recommended is 12 drops per gallon or 2-3 drops per litre, though some use up to 8 drops per litre. If you add too much, the fluid gets sudsy on the record.

Not having easy access to Photoflo or its cousins, I substituted a few drops of windshield wiper fluid as recommended at another site. Sounds strange, but because the dilution is so great, figured a micro-amount of what is essentially Windex+soap couldn’t hurt. Because I had so many records to do, I made almost a quart of the stuff in advance, which I transfer to the little Discwasher squirt bottle as necessary.

Before recording each side, I squirt two lines of fluid onto the leading edge of the brush and do a slow, steady roll from wet side to dry side. Results have been great, and I’ve pulled visible amounts of dust out of virtually LP side I’ve cleaned.

Everything you can do to extract all the audio goodness possible out of your LPs is worth doing (within reason). Don’t skip the cleaning process!

Pick the Right Digitizing Software

Technically, you could use any audio software capable of digitizing two-track audio and outputting to MP3 or other formats. But there’s a heck of a lot more to the process than capturing audio. Digitizing LPs is an entire workflow, which involves:

  1. Capturing
  2. Finding track boundaries/splitting tracks
  3. Looking up metadata (album title, artist, year, genre, individual track titles, album art)
  4. Cleaning up clicks and scratches
  5. Cleaning up other noise (hum, etc.)
  6. Outputting to multiple formats

If your software can’t help with every part of that process, you’re going to waste a lot of time doing things manually that should be semi-automatic. You want software that’s built specifically for the LP/cassette digitization workflow. And that means that software such as Audacity, Garage Band, and even Pro Tools are out of the running. I can’t stress this enough – do not waste your time with general-purpose audio-editing software. Use software purpose-built for digitizing LPs.

Since LPs can’t be looked up automatically in a database like iTunes and other ripping software does with CDs, you need software that can make the track naming process easier. I tried a few apps before settling on AlpineSoft’s Vinyl Studio. A trial version came with the NAD pre-amp, and I was blown away by how much easier it made things than the Audacity-based workflow I had been working with previously. Available for both Windows and Mac, VinylStudio does everything listed above, and uses a tabbed interface to segment the workflow intuitively. It’s not gorgeous by modern Mac software standards, but it does exactly what it claims to do, and it does it really well. Two features alone make it completely worth the $30:

  1. Integration with external track databases. Tell VinylStudio the artist and album name and it’ll try to find that album in MusicBrainz, Discogs, and other open source/collaborative music databases. Select one its search results and VinylStudio will use that data to suggest track breaks. Which means you don’t have to find all the track breaks yourself, and you don’t have to type in all the track names by hand. If it can’t find a match, VinylStudio has a “Scan for track breaks” feature that will do its best to mark the quiet sections between tracks. You’ll still have to type in track names manually in that case, but it’s still a time saver over finding track breaks manually. More on this process later.
  2. Start/stop recording on needle up/down. One thing you don’t want is to have to sit there babysitting the turntable, waiting for one side to end so you can pause recording and start the other. VinylStudio listens for needle down and up thresholds, which means you can leave the room and trust that recording will have stopped when you return after dinner. When you have hundreds of LPs to import, this feature alone is worth the price of admission.

For albums that VinylStudio couldn’t find in third-party databases, I also got a bit of help getting everything tagged correctly with a $30 app called CoverScout, which examines your collection for missing artwork, then looks it up in Google Images, Amazon, and other services. A bit pricey, but I ended up with hundreds of albums without artwork, and CoverScout helped me get them all decorated – money well spent.

Of course I didn’t try everything on the market – I stopped looking when I found VinylStudio. Got others to recommend? Leave a note in the comments.

What to rip and what to toss (and what to re-purchase)

Because the process is so time-consuming, you’ll probably want to start by eliminating LPs that you simply don’t care about anymore. I personally made three piles:

  • Discard (sell)
  • Encode, then discard
  • Encode, then keep

I was able to put about a quarter of my records in the Discard pile, which reduced the workload quite a bit. Since I’m a romantic fool, my plans for much of the second category were thwarted by nostalgia. There are a lot of records I haven’t played for 20 years, and that I’m going to have nice clean digital versions of when done, but that I still can’t bring myself to discard (Oscar Brown’s 1972 “Fresh” ? Yeah, gotta keep that. No idea why – maybe because I love the cover. LPs have a weird effect on me). So the second pile didn’t end up as large as I had hoped, unfortunately. Hopefully you’ll have better luck being ruthless with yourself than I was.

In most cases, the decision about what to re-purchase was based on the condition of the LP. If, after digitization and cleaning, I still wasn’t happy with the sound, I’d delete what I’d just digitized and go find a pristine copy at emusic.com or mp3.amazon.com (or every so often at iTunes, though their prices are virtually always higher). iTunes sells music encoded at 256kbps AAC (equivalent to 320kbps MP3), while emusic and mp3.amazon sell music at a fairly high VBR (variable bit rate), which means the bitrate goes up for complex passages and down for simple passages. More on VBR vs. CBR later, but suffice to say the quality is very good and I’m happy with them.

One thing that surprised me was how often I’d find records that I decided needed to be re-purchased, only to find that I couldn’t. I understand when an LP or CD goes out of print in physical format, but in the digital world, what’s the point of anything being “out of print?” Isn’t that what the long tail is all about – selling small amounts of old things because it basically costs nothing to do so? For example one of my favorite Bill Evans records of all times, “Spring Leaves” on Fantasy/Milestone with Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian – you’ll find dozens of Evans records on eMusic, iTunes and mp3.amazon, but not this one. Same deal with Public Image’s “First Issue,” Funkadelic’s “Uncle Jam Wants You,” and the Ink Spot’s “Torch Time” – nowhere to be found at the online stores. You’d think the online catalogs would have everything, but licensing apparently gets in the way. For these and many others, I had no choice but to encode from LP and do my best to clean them up.

There were also records that presented interesting challenges, like The Fugs’ “It Crawled Into My Hand, Honest,” which includes many tracks that flow into one another, some as short as 10 seconds long. Deciding where to place track breaks with these was a challenge. The right thing to do is to let these “flow-together” tracks remain as a single uninterrupted file. But if you do that, you end up with fewer total tracks than are shown on the album’s track listing, so the encoded set doesn’t look complete. And what are you going to name the flow-together tracks? I encountered the same problem with a 1950s Smithsonian/Folkways box set passed down from my grandfather, “Leadbelly’s Last Recording,” which was originally recorded with Leadbelly talking in between the tracks, leaving no discernible break between songs. In cases like these, I decided maybe I didn’t really need to digitize everything, and to just be happy owning the LPs (nothing wrong with that, right?)

Fakes

In the 70s, I was a sucker for those K-TEL and Ronco hit collections, and I picked up quite a few more in the 80s for “camp” value. But digitizing these was going to be a lot of extra manual work, since I wasn’t having luck looking them up in the Musicbrainz or other databases, and all the artist names were different. It was also going to involve figuring out all the overlap – a lot of these records duplicate songs from each other. So I decided to just re-purchase a few of them and call it a day. Easier said than done. The original collections aren’t available at any of the services. So I decided to buy a few of the new collections. But I discovered something weird – most of the songs didn’t sound right. Either they were second or third takes from the original studio sessions, or they were crafty impersonations by copycat bands. It was really disconcerting. Yes, audio previews are available, but the fakes are actually good enough that unless you listen closely before buying, you kind of assume/think they’re the original tracks.

At first I thought it was just me, but do a search like this and look for the collections with 1-star ratings. Click on those and read the customer comments – something very weird is going on here, and I’m not sure what. I wrote to Amazon and complained and they cheerfully refunded the money. I was impressed by that, but still not sure how to proceed with the KTEL/Ronco collections. Will probably just bite the bullet and do them manually.

I have not experienced this problem with any other purchased downloads – just the 70s collections.

Picking an output format

3,000-year-old Egyptian papyrus is still readable today. But 1990s word processing documents written in WordStar? Images made on a 1978 Atari? Video created on an early version of Windows? Good luck finding a way to read any of those formats. You see where I’m going with this. LPs were entrenched in our culture for decades, and I expect it will be easy to find a turntable capable of playing any of the records made throughout the 20th century for many decades to come. But file formats are somewhat transient. As better ones come along, the old ones slide into obsolescence.

I had two criteria in selecting an output file format: I wanted the best quality possible while using a reasonable amount of disk space, and I wanted to not feel paranoid that the file format would be obscure in 20 or 30 years. I’m creating an archive here, and that means I want this stuff around for a very long time to come. I want to be able to pass this music on to my son someday.

WAV and AIFF are the two main uncompressed formats, and they’re so ubiquitous I’m sure they’ll be readable for decades to come. But I’ve got 500+ records to encode here, and I’m not willing to commit that much disk space. Yes, storage is cheap, but 500 records in an uncompressed format, on top of the 200GBs of music I’ve already stored, could mean having to move to multiple drives, which would be a pain to access as a single music library. Formats like Apple Lossless (ALAC) and FLAC (Free Lossless Codec) save around 50% of the disk space over WAV/AIFF, and sound great of course, but I’m a little skittish about them being around in 50 years. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t.

Another factor that tipped the scales against lossless for me was the fact that dynamic range has been so squashed out by modern recording techniques. I’ve written about this before; but the point is made well in in this cnet article:

The loudness wars of the 90s ruined all the quality gains digital music had made – listening to a recording as a FLAC or Apple Lossless file can’t undo dynamic range compression or overzealous equalization.

It’s true that most of my LPs were originally recorded before the 1990s, so this problem won’t affect most of my stuff — but I do have a number of more modern records for which it is a factor. Bottom line is that I just can’t perceive enough difference between FLAC/ALAC and high-bitrate MP3 to make the extra disk space and the prospect of obsolescence worth it.

Amongst lossy compressed formats, AAC is the default codec used with iTunes – it’s the audio layer of MPEG-4, and has pretty deep penetration. MP3, of course, is the grand-daddy of audio compression, and is simply everywhere. I have no doubt MP3s will be readable 50 years from now. With AAC and MP3, quality goes up as bitrate goes up as file size goes up. A 320kbps MP3 is, to my ears, completely indistinguishable from an ALAC or FLAC file, and uses about a third of the space. And using VBR level-zero compression gets you the same quality as 320kbps CBR (or better), using even less disk space. So, for me, VBR-zero provided the best balance between audio quality, file size, and promise of permanence. Your mileage may vary, and I respect you no matter what you decide (no format wars, please :).

For more on MP3 compression, see CBR vs VBR, below.

If you’re willing to invest in a giant hard drive (and have a way to keep it backed up off-site), you have another option: Save the original uncompressed version in a digital storage vault, and put the compressed version in your regular library for daily use. In VinylStudio, you start with “Recordings” which should be in a high-quality uncompressed format. You then output your cleaned up audio at the end of the process. So, in essence, this two-format process is baked into the VinylStudio workflow, if you want it to be. But I didn’t go that far – I just kept the high-bitrate MP3s and ditched the uncompressed originals. Living dangerous, right?

Here are notes from my listening tests as I was deciding on an output format:

Bought a copy of Steely Dan’s “Aja” from the iTunes store (256kbps AAC) for “reference”, then digitized versions of the same album from LP with:

  • Old Shure cartridge, uncorrected VBR0 MP3 (pretty good but had slight hum)
  • New Ortofon cartridge, uncorrected VBR0 MP3 (more range, less hum – good purchase!)
  • New Ortofon cartridge, corrected VBR0 MP3

By “corrected” I mean “with pops and scratches removed” – a process that cleans up the signal quite a bit, but with a very (very) slight impact on dynamic range. Of course the purchased AAC version sounded the cleanest, being completely free of surface noise, but the LP versions felt, richer, and more alive.

This test verified my decision that I wasn’t losing anything noticeable by going with MP3, and gave me the opportunity to listen really closely to differences between the corrected and uncorrected versions. This was a tough one. There is a very slight (and I mean very slight) difference in tonal range post-correction. But at the same time, the click reduction is dramatic, and definitely did enhance the quality of the listening experience. However, every correction you make has a slight impact on overall audio quality. Since every record is in different condition, you may decide that the quality hit isn’t worth it. This one is going to be a judgement call on a per-record basis, not something I apply automatically to every record.

In a second experiment, the guinea pig was a 180-gram audiophile recording of Sonny Rollins’ “Way Out West” (a true treasure of jazz). For this one I did four encodings with the new Ortofon cartridge:

- ALAC corrected
- ALAC uncorrected
- MP3 VBR0 corrected
- MP3 VBR0 uncorrected

I then de-waxed my ears, plunked down in the sweet spot in the living room, cranked it up, and did my closest listening, trying to decide whether I wanted to go corrected or uncorrected from here on out. Same conclusions – I like the click-corrected audio better for most LPs. Even when dealing with a really high quality LP in good physical condition, click-reduction removes enough surface noise to enhance the overall experience.

Then I listened to the corrected ALAC and MP3 versions side by side, queuing them up to the same passages for reference. I could tell a difference, but it was incredibly subtle. The ALAC version was just the tiniest bit fuller, very slightly more resonant. But the difference was so subtle that it felt like splitting hairs. If you’re doing any of the things most people do while listening to music – dancing, working, studying, doing dishes, having a dinner party – there simply is no practical difference (this is the opinion of my ears, and is not a recommendation – do your own tests!)

Since the ALAC versions are more than twice as large filesize-wise, and because of my hesitancy about the future/compatibility of ALAC, I made my final decision: I’d be saving VBR0 MP3, click-corrected audio from here on out.

Note: VinylStudio can also do a wide array of rumble, hum, and other noise corrections. Since I was already very happy with the sound, and not wanting to mess with things further, decided not to tweak those. I just do a quick click-scan pass at the end of each recording and move on to the next.

CBR vs VBR

LAME is the MP3 encoder used by VinylStudio and most other MP3 creation software these days, and it rocks.

Today, LAME is considered the best MP3 encoder at mid-high bitrates and at VBR, mostly thanks to the dedicated work of its developers and the open source licensing model that allowed the project to tap into engineering resources from all around the world. Both quality and speed improvements are still happening, probably making LAME the only MP3 encoder still being actively developed.

MP3 files can be generated either at a Constant Bit Rate (CBR), which means that every second of audio has exactly the same number of bits, or at Variable Bit Rate (VBR), which means more data is allocated to complex passages of audio, and fewer bits to simpler passages. Rather than shooting for a consistent bit rate, VBR encoding shoots for a consistent level of quality, which is what we really care about. Ten years ago, when I was writing MP3: The Definitive Guide for O’Reilly, 320kbps CBR was considered the “pinnacle” of MP3 encoding techniques. But VBR technology has improved steadily in the past decade, and LAME’s handling of VBR is the best. It’s been tweaked and tested endlessly by audiophile engineers on equipment that costs more than your car :)

VBR encoding lets you select a quality level set not in kilobits per second, but with a target quality ranging from 0 to 9, where 0 is the best and 9 is the worst. Level Zero VBR with the LAME encoder really is the best quality you’re going to get with MP3 today, and it is truly excellent at very reasonable file sizes (roughly 2MBs per minute). There actually is one level of quality beyond zero, which LAME calls “insane”, but as this chart illustrates, the quality increase at the insane setting is negligible, while the file size spikes upwards. It is simply not the case that more bits necessarily means more quality.

File size increases as quality increases, but at a certain point you hit the wall of diminishing returns.

Establish a workflow

With your gear dialed in and all the big decisions made, you’re ready to dive in. It’s going to take a bit of practice before things start to feel smooth – the first few records you rip are going to involve some trial and error, but pretty soon you’ll have a satisfying workflow happening. Of course, you’ll need to capture your records in real-time (unlike CD ripping, which can happen at up to 16x). Add in the time to clean, split and massage track breaks, look up metadata and find album art, and you can expect the process to take about an hour per album. But you don’t need to be present for most of that time of course – the actual manual involvement will be around 5-15 minutes per album, depending on how much can be looked up in databases.

VinylStudio includes excellently detailed documentation on every step of the process, and you should definitely read up, but here’s my overview:

  1. Create an “Album”
  2. Record
  3. Look up metadata
  4. Find track boundaries/split tracks
  5. Clean up pops and scratches
  6. Export (can be done in batch mode)

When you first set up VinylStudio (I’ll call it VS from here on), it’ll ask you to set a recording format. This is not the same as the output format – you can output to any format later in the game. It’s asking in which format you want to store the recordings internally. These are the versions you’ll be splitting up into tracks, de-clicking, burning to CD (if you swing that way) and possibly storing in your long-term high-fidelity storage vault. I chose AIFF 44KHz, 16 bit.

If you’re going to export to MP3 later, you’ll need to install the LAME encoder and tell VS where to find it – the program does not come with its own MP3 encoder for copyright reasons. Follow the directions carefully and make sure you get the recommended version – other builds of LAME come with libraries in formats that VS can’t use.

The VS interface is arranged in tabs that mirror the general workflow. Start with the Record tab and enter the Artist and Album, recording year and genre of the LP you want to start with. This is needed for file and folder name creation, your own reference, and to give hints to the “Lookup” feature so it can find track names and lengths for you later on.

If you have an analog hookup, you’ll need to pay attention to your recording levels. Most digital interfaces don’t allow altering the recording volume, so just click the big ol’ Record button. VS won’t start recording immediately – it’ll wait for the burst of noise generated by a needle drop, so you can now spin up the turntable and clean your record. When you physically lower the needle, actual recording will begin. About 10 seconds after the end of Side 1, recording will pause automatically. Flip the record, clean, and click Continue. Recording will resume when you drop the needle. Again, this Needle Down feature is a huge boon, since it allows for completely unattended recording (I’ll often record one side as I go to bed and another before heading off to work). The gaps in the play-out groove will be taken care of pretty much automatically, and you’ll be able to adjust everything later.

When recording is complete, switch to the Split Tracks tab and click Lookup Track Listing. Use the “Database” drop-down to tell VS where to look for metadata – I have the best luck with MusicBrainz and Discogs, but there are other options. Keep in mind that all of the data in these databases is submitted by end users like you. That means the album covers will all be shot differently, and the track lengths and placements will be slightly different. Since there are often many different pressings of the same album, and because people start/stop recording at different times, expect to see quite a bit of variation in these. The nice thing is you can mix and match – use the album art from one listing, and the track list from another, for example. And you’ll be able to override any of the discovered information later if necessary.

Click Import Album Art when you find the best cover shot, and Use Selected Listing when you find the track list that best matches the record you’re actually working with. Then click Close.

If you’re lucky, all of the suggested track breaks will pretty much line up on the waveform with your actual record. In some cases, however, the breaks (the red lines) will match at first, then drift pretty badly. If this happens, you have three choices. You can 1) Return to Lookup and try to find another listing that fits your actual tracks better, or 2) Keep the listing and adjust it manually (not difficult), or 3) Click the Scan for Trackbreaks button and let VS auto-detect the breaks. The cool thing is, if you try approach #3, the actual track titles you got from the lookup will be retained – only the track lengths will be altered. VS does everything it can to keep your workflow as pain-free as possible.

Track breaks were found from a Discogs lookup for this double LP, but they’re way off. Manual track alignment is needed with virtually every album – some more than others.

If your record couldn’t be found in any of the lookup services, things get a bit more manual. Click “Scan for Trackbreaks” and let VS do its thing – about 10 seconds later, you’ll see breaks placed at the best-guess locations, which are usually pretty good (but you’ll still need to massage them). Make sure VS shows as many tracks are on the actual album – if not, you’ll need to study the waveform even more closely to find the ones it missed. Place the cursor where you want a break and hit Cmd-B to insert a new break. When the number of tracks match, double-click the track names in the list to type in the actual titles.

Even though you’ve gotten a big leg up by pulling in metadata from Discogs and Musicbrainz, you’ll quickly realize that the timestamps for the track breaks retrieved are from other people’s recordings – because people hit Record at different times, they’re going to be off by anywhere from 2-20 seconds, which means you still need to manually massage every single track break to get it right.

Some LPs are really difficult to split up. For example, my 1953 Folkways recording “Leadbelly’s Last Sessions.” The bands (tracks) on the LP are divided into Band 1, Band 2, Band 3, etc. But within each of those bands are multiple songs. Band 1 actually consists of three different songs, with no clear separator between them. Should I split it across bands or try to find the song breaks, which are tough to listen for and aren’t visible in the waveform – he’s talking in the background between the actual songs. I’d like to have tracks named for songs of course, but it’s ambiguous and going to be an even more manual/time-consuming job than usual. To make matters worse, this is one of the few LPs I have that can’t be looked up in any of the metadata listing services. The easy way out would be to just split it on album sides (sides 1-4). That would leave me with no metadata at all, but would be far easier. Fortunately this kind of situation doesn’t come up too often, but when it does, you just have to make judgement calls. In this particular case, I decided to discard the encoding and just keep the LP.

Now to finesse the breaks – the most manual part of the process. Start by zooming in close – you can use either the +/- icons, or the scroll wheel on your mouse. Note that each track break has a double-ended arrow at the top – green for start, red for end. You can turn the breaks into “gaps” by holding down the Shift key and dragging the break line. This creates a shaded area that will be excluded from the final output. The general process is:

  1. Zoom in, drag the playhead (the black line) to the area you want to study, and use the Spacebar to start/stop playback. Move the playhead to a position close to the end of a track, hit Spacebar, and listen until the track fades to absolute silence, then hit Spacebar again to stop playback.
  2. Drag the track break line to the to the black playhead line.
  3. If you want to cut out some of the space (so there aren’t long silences at the start and end of your output tracks), hold down Shift while dragging the break line. As you drag, a shaded gap will become visible.
  4. Hit Spacebar again and playback will resume from the end of the gap. Adjust the in- and 0ut-points for the gap until there’s about a second of silence before/after detectable audio of the previous/next track.

Pictured: The auto-discovered track break was off by about 15 seconds. Fixing this was a four-step process: Listen/view for the correct end of the previous track and put the playhead there; Move the break line to the cursor line; Shift-drag the break line to create a gap; Dial in the position for the end of the gap.

When your track splitting work is done, the waveform should look something like this, with some tracks being separated by gaps (especially between album sides), others not.

With splitting done, it’s time to determine whether the recording will sound better with the audio cleaned up or not. Since there’s a small impact on audio quality with every correction you make, you want to keep these to a minimum, and only apply them on an as-needed basis. In truth, I found that most of my records had enough pops and crackles to make it worth applying click correction to most records. Use your ears, and use your judgement.

Go to the Cleanup tab and find the icon on the bottom toolbar that looks like a double-ended checkmark (circled in red here), which is the Scan for Clicks option. VS will show a dialog with a bunch of sensitivity options. These are well-documented, and all I can say is “read and experiment.” I just took the defaults with most recordings.

Red circle: The click removal tool. Red square: Toggle click protection on or off.

The process will take a minute or two, depending on the speed of your computer.

It’s pretty amazing how many clicks VS will find and remove – don’t be surprised to see the final count measured in thousands.

Once the process is complete, it’s time to put on your ear goggles and listen carefully with click removal on and off. Use the gamma symbol icon (outlined with red square above) to toggle. Check both dense and sparse passages, listening carefully for the impact of click removal on tonality and range. The difference will be fairly subtle if you used VS’s default settings, but it is noticeable. Again, you’ll want to make this judgement on a per-record basis. If a record is in great shape, you’ll be better off not using click protection.

Now you’re ready to export. Select the Save Tracks tab and you’ll see a list of all the albums you’ve recorded. You can either export your albums to MP3 one at a time, or do them in batches (I’m doing them in batches of around a dozen). Dig around and you’ll find options to select the output format, bit rate, and whether to have albums added to iTunes. Since the MP3 encoding process can take a while when batch processing, this is something you might want to do once a week, before going to bed.

When export is complete, switch over to iTunes and select the Recently Added playlist. Make sure all of the recently added tracks have solid metadata (they should at this point) and album art. If you weren’t able to find album art in the Lookup stage, now is the time to search for the album title in Google Images and save the highest quality album cover you can find to your desktop. Select all the tracks in that album, hit Cmd-I, and drag the image from the Finder to the Artwork square in the iTunes info panel. Alternatively, you can try the Pollux shareware app to retrieve missing metadata and cover art, but I found I didn’t need it much.

Keeping Archival Copies

Maybe you want to save MP3s to your collection or to an iPod, but also want to keep high-def AIFF or FLAC files around for posterity. VinylStudio makes this two-phase workflow natural by baking it into the process. Initially, you set up your recording preferences, which refer to the native/internal recording format. Go ahead and set this to some high-resolution format. These will become the “Albums” you record into VinylStudio, while creating MP3s out of them comes as part of the export process (“Save Tracks”). If all you want out of the deal are MP3s, you can always delete the internal “Albums” later. Personally, I worked it like this:

  1. Set internal Album recording format to AIFF
  2. Process a dozen or so albums, skipping the Save Tracks (export) step
  3. Before going to bed one night, go to Save Tracks, select all, and output to MP3 VBR0 (and import to iTunes)
  4. Delete all the saved Albums from the Save Tracks tab.

If I wanted to keep the high-resolution AIFF originals in an archive, I would simply skip step #4, and manually copy those AIFF files from the Finder to a long-term storage drive or service.

That’s it! You’re digitalized, baby. Keep at it – you should be able to complete 2-3 albums a day during the work week and more on the weekends. I expect I’ll be at it for the better part of 2011… before pillaging my friends’ collections for more :)

Update, end of 2011: There were around 500 LPs altogether, but many I had since also acquired on CD or MP3, so didn’t need to do those. Also skipped quite a few that were just too surface noisy. That left around 300. Here’s a little screencast of the ones that actually needed digitizing. I also got really anal about finding good cover art. What I couldn’t find on the net, I photographed myself.

Once you finish digitizing your collection, see also:
How To Listen to Your Home iTunes Collection from Work

94 thoughts on “The Compleat Guide to Digitizing Your LP Collection

  1. Thijs

    Wow…that’s some amazing piece of work Scot! Reminds me of a similar project I started on, to write a complete guide to photo printing. Never managed to finish that…

    Hope I’ll find the time for try this with some of my 12″s some day!

  2. shacker Post author

    Thanks Thijs! Good luck finishing the project some day. How many 12″s do you have to encode? (I might be persuaded to take them on for you :)

  3. Sean Graham

    I only have a small handful of LPs, all of which are readily available digitally, but I still found this article interesting.

    Recently I digitized a bunch of old cassettes both Corinna and I had lying about, and the process was somewhat similar to what you did…

    Back in 2003 or so I ripped all 4-500 of my CDs to MP3, but at the time I chose to rip them at 192k, which I regret now. It is this experience which has caused me to prefer a lossless format, I went with ALAC..

    I understand your concern, but there are several open source codebases which can deal with ALAC, so worst case I have to write some code myself to convert it to another format if necessary. It is fast to convert between lossless formats; If a web store gives me the option to buy a lossless file, it is usually FLAC, and I use the open-source XLD to convert from FLAC->ALAC. It can convert a whole album in 20-30 seconds and preserves all the metadata.

    One of the nice things is that iTunes 10 includes an option to transcode ‘large’ files on the fly to lower bitrates when copying them to an iPod/iPhone. This was basically the last barrier to me using ALAC exclusively moving forward. Prior to that I had to keep lossless files as well as compressed files around (or else my iPhone would quickly fill up with lossless files).

    One day I’m going to haul my CDs back up from the basement and slowly re-rip them all lossless.. Right now my music collection is ~200GB, I have no idea what that would balloon to were I to re-rip everything, but storage is getting bigger and cheaper, so I’m not too worried.

  4. Howard Martin

    Awesome job breaking it down Scot! Love the nostalgic reminiscing of what it was like going over to a friends house to listen to a new record. I really feel sorry for the current generation not getting to enjoy that experience. Down to around 200 or so LPs in my own collection that are OOP and unavailable from any source. Good luck with your digitizing!

  5. shacker Post author

    @grahams I’m curious – have you tested VBR0 against FLAC/ALAC, and are you able to hear a difference? If so, kudos to your golden ears! Though I have to say, that’s cool to know about XLD. Is ALAC openly documented, or is this reverse engineered?

    I had kind of poo-poo’d the downsampling option when converting to iPhone/iPod, but in this case, it really makes sense.

  6. shacker Post author

    Howard – I’m having this memory of listening to “M” and early Elvis Costello at Brand’s house with you. Though if I remember, you were more of a Kansas fan at the time. Oh, and Klaatuu :) “Calling occupants…. of interplanetary craft.”

    What are you using for your digitizing?

  7. Sean Graham

    @scot – I didn’t really bother testing non-lossless formats; Having been bitten by “seemed high enough at the time” bitrates in the past, and being that disk space is so, so cheap these days, it didn’t seem worth it.

    Furthermore, back in the early days of MP3 I had trouble with VBR files. They usually played fine, but often there were problems with the player reporting the time/length of the file which diminished my confidence. I’m sure these ‘issues’ have been corrected by now, and rational mind can accept new information and set things like this aside, but the irrational mind has more trouble. :)

    ALAC is reverse engineered, which is a touch concerning, but whichever format I use has to work transparently in iTunes, so I went with it. The format seems pretty straightforward, and the guys who did the reverse engineering seem credible, so I have confidence in it.

    http://craz.net/programs/itunes/alac.html

  8. shacker Post author

    There were definitely timing issues with early players not handling the time/length estimates correctly, but I haven’t seen that happen for years.

    I think you should try the test, just so you’ve experienced it once. Working transparently with iTunes was a criteria I should have mentioned in the article. If not for that, FLAC would have been a lot more attractive.

    I hear you on that irrational mind thing – bites me all the time :)

  9. Dan Tanner

    Great job! Before we retired and moved to Dominica I digitized (to CD) all my vinyl, cassettes, even 8-tracks. Now I want to put them all onto a new 2TB hard drive.

    But I can’t figure out a way to get the metadata! Can you advise me of any site that looks up metadata by title/artist/ect?

    Thanks.

    Dan Tanner

  10. shacker Post author

    Dan, do you mean you didn’t get all the metadata in there while you were digitizing? That’s unfortunate. Are you looking for an iTunes plugin to find and insert metadata, or for something that works outside of iTunes? Mac or Windows?

  11. Hamildad

    This is a great article, I’ve been dubbing vinyl for years but still found much to learn from this.

  12. bgrebler

    Very nice article, and thanks! I’m surprised that you didn’t mention LPs where you only want to listen to & keep half the tracks.

    Do you delete after recording, to preserve your workflow? How would VS feel about the needle going up & down? Would the metadata look- up be too much work, if you skipped tracks?

  13. shacker Post author

    Thanks bgrebler – Glad you found it useful.

    While I personally delete tracks only rarely, I think it would be a ton more work to try and do it while digitizing – much faster to treat the whole thing as an album so all the metadata fits, then just delete the tracks you don’t want to keep later once they’re in your iTunes or other music management software.

  14. Markus Unread

    I’m about to undertake ripping in a large number of LP’s, a process I’ve been putting off for years. Getting the Lame encoder working with VinylStudio on the Mac is frustrating so I’m going to do it on a PC instead.

    Changing the subject to CD’s, do you know of any software out there that detects “compression failure” when saving music out to MP3 format? I’ve had to go back and re-rip certain songs as WAV’s because any compression buggered them up. A couple of examples would be “Renegades of Funk” – Rage Against The Machine and “Gold, Guns, Girls” – Metric. It seems like the extremes of frequency and dynamic range causes high levels of distortion.
    It would be great if there was a way to detect compression failures while bulk ripping CD’s.

    Thanks again for your great blog!

  15. shacker Post author

    Markus – I didn’t have any trouble getting LAME working with VinylStudio. What were your issues with that? I hate to see anyone use Windows for anything…

    As for “compression failure,” what bitrate are you outputting at? That just shouldn’t be an issue.

  16. Markus Unread

    Re: LAME – Sorry. I was using a lib that was too new a revision for use with VS. Used the older one that the VS website pointed to and it’s fine now.

    Re: Compression – 320kbps/High – the top end of what’s available in iTunes on the Mac. If I weren’t afraid of compression formats fading from view in the future, I’d use a lossless version but I’m a bit paranoid.

  17. shacker Post author

    Markus – The 320kbps max isn’t an iTunes limitation – it’s the max available in the MP3 spec (unless you count VBR level 0, which is essentially identical).

  18. Michael Scott

    Hi, Scot.
    Thanks a bunch for putting this info into a complete, linear, easy-to-follow format. I have only about 300-500 albums (depending on ‘save rate’)……but my brother-in-law has a couple of thousand…so the project HAS to happen…..especially if/when the inevitable residential downsizing happens.
    My Scotish/Irish heritage forces me to ask this question: for those of us who DON’T have an old Discwasher sitting around, I couldn’t help but notice how remarkably similar the texture of the one in your photo resembles any number of “modern” microfibre cloths. Do you suppose it’s sensible to jerry-rig a home-made model by wrapping some of this “miracle” around a small sponge?
    Thanks for any thoughts……..and, again for the wonderful “seminar”.

  19. shacker Post author

    Hi Michael – I’m not familiar with this miracle fiber you’re referring to, but I’d be reluctant to use anything that isn’t specifically made for record cleaning. If you’re undertaking a project like this for life/posterity, I don’t think you should hesitate to spend the $15 or whatever for a proper cleaner. I’d hate to see you pushing dirt deeper into the groove, or creating invisible wear and tear unneccessarily.

    Best of luck with the project!

  20. Michael Scott

    Hi, Scot,
    Thanks for getting back.
    Not to sound facetious, but just as the dishrag has been all but replaced by the J Cloth (www.jcloth.com), microfibre cloths/towels/towelettes have made astounding inroads into not only the record cleaning category, but the car detailing business, where scratch-proof cleaning and polishing of luxury automobiles (we’re talking 1/4 and 1/2 million dollar Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Rolls, Bentleys etc) is a multi-million dollar business itself. (You wouldn’t want to scratch the paint on your Benz any more than you’d risk irreversible scratching on your Beatles vinyl collection.) See http://www.autopia-carcare.com/towels—chamois.html for just one example of the vast assortment of cleaning/polishing aids in this category.

    Also, please have a look at http://www.lencoheaven.net/forum/index.php?topic=5234.0, and audiophile forum (for owners of Lenco turntables) where the subject of microfiber towel cleaning of vinyl is in VERY active discussion. (Googling will turn up countless other conversations about this “revolutionary” technology.

    One last comment….then I’ll stop bugging you: wouldn’t running RCA audio out (from your receiver) to 3.5mm mini-stereo in (to your computer’s sound card) eliminate the cost of a (relatively) expensive phono pre-amp? Even if you had to pick up a “spare” receiver to facilitate this method of input, used receivers of good quality are a dime-a-dozen if you keep your eyes open……and you don’t need a BIG one! :-)

  21. Scot Hacker

    Thanks for filling me in on these developments Michael – interesting stuff. A few comments in the threads pointed to what would be one of my main concerns: Is it just washing the surface, or adequately getting down into the grooves? That’s what the Discwasher brush has – “bristles” of exactly the right length, angled in exactly the right direction.

    As for your connection suggestion, yes you could eliminate the phono stage that way, but if you get an ADC like the one I mentioned above, which already includes phono-level inputs, it’s a non-issue. And by using an outboard ADC with USB outs, you eliminate one more analog connection (you always want to eliminate as many of those as possible).

  22. J M BOWER

    This essay is exactly what I’ve been trying to find. I dig’d a bunch of albums from the late 60′s using Polderbits with my old stereo system, which still works great, and had to learn how the hard way but didn’t go nearly as far into it as you have here. Still, the re-recordings are as good or better than the originals. I, for one, really appreciate your experience and the guidance you’ve shared. I’m about 500% more informed.

    The only things I would add concern the old sleeves and cleaning the old lps. Some of my albums were without sleeves, in others the sleeves were coming apart. I bought replacements in a plastic which has been holding up well for at least 6 years. Replacing the sleeve is necessary. Regarding cleaning, I tried the special liquid and brush and everything else but didn’t like the results. Finally, I decided to chance cleaning the tracks by washing them with warm water with the pressure hose in the kitchen sink. I let them drip dry at first, but then thought to try and pat them dry them with paper towels. It worked great and was fast and they looked practically new. That’s the way I’ll do that from now on.

    In any case, your recommendations are priceless. I going to get back into it. Maybe one a day for a year.

  23. Michael Scott

    In response to J M Bower’s proposed method of “washing with warm water in the kitchen sink”…..I don’t have too big a problem with that, but……as for drying them with “paper towels”…..YIKES.
    This is exactly where I would enlist the new MICROFIBRE cloths I was speaking of in my earlier comments. (Especially if he’s only going to do ONE per day; plenty of time for the cloth to dry out between albums.)
    From what I hear/read about paper towels, they are amongst the scratchiest substances known to mascarade as a cleaning or polishing cloth. Not recommended for cleaning eyeglasses, nor plexiglass motorcycle windshields……so, probably a big NO NO for vinyl records also. (Not only are they notoriously rough….they tend to leave lots of lint….neither of which are characteristic of microfiber.
    Just my 2 cents.

  24. Bill

    Scot -

    Thanks for taking the time to painstakingly outline this process. As I have been a “turntablist” for more than 35 years, I was already familiar with some of your tips. But the mere mention of VinylStudio made this worth the read as I have been unable to find a decent remastering application for the Mac. (Diamond Cut – after all these many years – is still only available for the PC.)

    By the way, I am a huge fan of Bill Evans, too. The “Spring Fever” double-LP set you mention is, in fact, a reissue of two earlier seminal Evans works – “Portrait in Jazz” and “Explorations” – both of which have been continuously in print in various formats since these were released in 1960-61 including CD and MP3. This would explain why you could not find a reissue under that title: It was reissued under its original titles as two separate discs. “Portrait” even received a nice remastering treatment from the original engineer around 2010 and was reissued under the “Orrin Keepnews Collection.” These may sound better than your vinyl rip and are readily available.

    - Bill

  25. shacker Post author

    Michael Scott – Totally agreed about paper towels – wouldn’t let those near my records with a ten foot pole.

    Bill – Glad you enjoyed the piece, thanks. Did Vinyl Studio end up working out for you? Thanks for the explainer on Spring Fever. Love love love that period of his.

  26. RCS

    Great article as I was just experimenting or should I say getting fustrated with audacity and garageband. My knowledge on this is rather low but he article helped a lot. my main question is on the, lame, seemed like a fly in the ointment. I only say that becasue the licensing/patent issues mentioned on the site and related sites is kind of vague. May be a bit paranoid but is this totally legit? and how difficult is it to use. also could you export using the ALAC than convert to mp3 in itunes. hope that makes sense and I apologize in advance for my ignorance on this topic.
    thanks,

    RCS

  27. shacker Post author

    RCS – lame is not only legit, but it’s the preferred encoder of audiophile digitizers. TONS of work has gone into its development and perfection, and into keeping it legal and free. It’s no more difficult to use than any other encoder – other tools (like Vinyl Studio) simply wrap around it.

    Yes, you could convert ALAC to MP3 in iTunes but then you wouldn’t be able to use the lame encoder, and you would be creating a lot more work for yourself.

  28. RCS

    Awesome thanks that sounds good and I’ll give that a try. one other question if you don’t mind. I purchased an alesis i02 to play my guitar and bass through on the computer. this has a line/mic in option which i’m guessing I could use in place of buying a usb phono preamp, correct? Thanks for your response and again for the article/blog it self. Hope you are doing well.

    Thanks,

    RCS

  29. Scot Hacker

    RCS I’m not familiar with that unit but unless it has a phono input, it won’t work (phono level is much lower than line level).

  30. RCS

    Doh! oh well just tying to save some coin. this unit is designed as a guitar/bass and mic interface. Thanks again!

    RCS

  31. Alexandra Pérez

    Hi. I want to thank you for taking the time to explain so thoroughly all this long process. I just bought a second turntable with a USB connection to begin digitalizing my 200 lps but was quickly disappointed with Audacity (not knowing anything about sound) and thought there must be something better out there for doing this. I have learnt a lot from you post and will buy the recommended software and follow your general advice. Best regards from Costa Rica.

  32. shacker Post author

    Alexandra – It’s a serious tragedy that Audacity is bundled with so much hardware – it just isn’t suited for the purpose! Glad to help – good luck with your project.

  33. Gordon

    Inspirational, thanks. Been wondering how to do this the best way, and have been fretting about all manner of things. Seems like we’ve been on the same musical journey, I’m just a year or two behind in digitising! Deep breath, here we go, 400 + lps to nail…
    Thanks!

    G

  34. shacker Post author

    Right on Gordon – glad you found it useful. It’s time consuming, but a lot of fun. And you’ll enjoy your collection in whole new ways once you’re done.

  35. pw

    Been converting LP’s for years. I had trouble in the early days so I’ve been using OLD programs with great results.
    “Soundforge 4.0″ (from 1995, believe it or not!!) for recording. I adjust rec. levels with my P.C. sound recorder.

    “CDwav” to split tracks. someone emailed it to me. is about 150K big in size. doesn’t even have to be installed. just deposit onto desktop and open from there.

    Have a stereo system with 2 phono outs into 3.5mm input in back of every P.C. I’ve ever owned.

    I just bought VinylStudio though as it seems to clean up pops and ticks really well. I’ll see how it will work with compatibility to iTunes with artwork and auto naming tracks.
    If it does work as well as I think it will I’ll have a laugh because I’ve done about 500 LP’s the hard way. Recording, splitting manually, and typing and listing every track to every album.
    I think I probably spent about 3 solid months completing that project!!
    Also used to delete pops and ticks MANUALLY!!
    1 at a time. LOL LOL !!!!!!!!!
    Now that is dedication if I must say so myself.
    Anybody else have similar stories??

  36. Scot Hacker

    pw, that’s some dedication! Removing pops and clicks one at a time? You’ve got the patience of a saint. But for me, it’s all about the metadata – having artwork and track names figured out automatically was the difference between this project being doable and… not.

    Let us know how it goes with VS!

  37. Jeffrey Coulter

    Just a reminder that not only do you need a turntable preamp for proper level matching – it’s also needed to correct for the RIAA EQ curve that’s been applied to pretty much every record since the mid 50s. It was used to allow a wider frequency range during mastering without the cutter jumping off the lathe, and without correcting for it your recordings will sound really harsh and bright.
    Mention should also [probably] be made that if you are only listening over cheapo earbuds you will likely never notice any of the subtle [or even drastic] audio quality differences between codecs/bit rates.
    [but folks that are serious about music would never do that, right?]

  38. Phil Haynes

    Great stuff. Thanks so much for sharing this. Manufacturers should get you to write their owner manuals.

  39. iamimdoc

    I want to continue to play vinyl but woul like to have the album DATA incorporated into my media player software, j. River.

    Outside of manually retyping artist and song titles on 1500 albums, have you any suggestions as to how to accomplish?

    I just want the “data about the music” not the actual music incorporated into my software so I have a global library of data on ALL OF my music

    Thanks

  40. shacker Post author

    iamimdoc I’m not clear what you’re asking here. Are you saying you want to play the vinyl itself, not MP3s of the vinyl… but you still want metadata to appear? Are you saying that you play actual vinyl *through* your computer, *through* River? Why not just rip the tracks to your River library?

  41. pw

    Hey guys. Have started using VinylStudio and I love it. Wow does it save a lot of time and effort.
    I’m expecting some negative response here in saying this, but I have a regular stereo system
    hooked up, I have a 2 phono cable out from my amp which converts to a 3.5mm stereo input into my PC. These cables are about $5.
    It’s basically the same set up as when we used to record vinyl onto cassette to play in our cars.
    Vinyl Studio records in AIFF which is lossless (WAV doesn’t allow embedding of artwork into the files).
    Then I transfer the completed folder to iTunes and I convert it to AAC plus (256kb stereo).
    This seems to sound just fine for playing back in the living room and definitely good enough for the car (where wind noise,etc. makes any attempt at true high fidelity pointless).

    What I don’t understand is the need to buy a USB/pre-amp.
    If your stereo system has a built in pre-amp (which it HAS to have in order to play vinyl) you are good to go.
    You can either look for a good older amp or I’ve noted that some newer amps are starting to put phono capability back into them.

    I’m 51 and I’m sure that I have some hearing loss (actually I KNOW that I do) but except for using the old shitty MP3′s is the type of file REALLY that important???
    Not being sarcastic, just wondering!!

    P.S.
    jeffrey.coulter
    I thought your post seemed far more technical than was necessary. Hope this helps!

    iamimdoc
    hope my post helps!

  42. Scot Hacker

    Jeff, you can’t embed artwork in AIFF either. AIFF and WAV are functionally equivalent, and neither support metadata. iTunes may make it *look* like it does, but it’s really storing the artwork separately, linked only through the iTunes database. If you move those files to another system, you’ll find that the artwork is lost. You should probably go for Apple Lossless.

    If your amp has a phone pre-amp stage, and you want to go analog into your computer, power to you. By using a USB pre-amp, you solve the fact that so many modern amps *don’t* have a phono stage, and you improve quality by going to digital earlier in the process, with fewer signal-affecting connection points.

  43. Jamie Bollinger

    Great article Scot. Thank you for posting it. I have a USB turntable connected directly to my laptop computer via the USB port. I’m using Vinyl Studio to record, split tracks, cleanup audio etc. The only problem I’ve encountered is the low volume level of the final product. Have you encountered this. If so, how did you boost the volume? Normalization, preamp? Or did you just leave it be? Thanks again for the great article.

  44. shacker Post author

    Thanks Jamie. I actually did not encounter that problem with my NAD ADC over USB. With all-digital chains like this, you usually don’t have level control, so your only option would be to set those track volumes up a bit in iTunes.

    Any other commenters have theories on this?

  45. Camron

    Thank you for this detailed writeup! My vinyl collection is quite small, but I do have several exclusive DJ remixes on 12″ that were never released on CD. I hope to losslessly rip my 12″s, and recently purchased a nice upper-end Yamaha A/V receiver that actually has a phono input, and I plan to use its S/PDIF digital audio output to record to my PC.

    My background is visual imaging more than it is working with audio, and one strategy employed with digitizing analog elements (say, scanning photographic slides or negatives) is called multipass scanning. Basically, the film scanner will scan a single film frame two, four, eight times, etc (or however many passes you can wait around for) and combine the multiple passes back into one single image with increased image data and reduced noise. In this way, the consistent image data is reinforced and retained, while the analog noise normally introduced by the scanning equipment is rejected. (This is not dirt and dust removal or “film grain removal”, but merely a way to get the truer image from analog to digital).

    So my thought is, does anyone (or any software) employ multipass recording of vinyl to combine the multiple waveforms of a single album or single track? My thought is that each static-induced click or crackle would be different with each playing of the vinyl, and that by re-ripping the vinyl two or three times you could effectively combine the data from all these passes for a single file with superior signal-to-noise ratio than any one pass on its own. Software could automatically sync the multiple waveforms and remove any particular pop from one pass and replace it with music from another pass where there was no pop at that spot. Seems to me this would work for random pops and clicks, but obviously not on records with scratches or dirt causing the same noise regardless of the number of passes. Another very obvious drawback is that each record must be played and recorded 2 or more times, making a very time-consuming project take even longer.

    But it seems to me that for very special records, or ones with particularly bad noise, this may be a useful strategy that would maximize the audio fidelity wherever possible, instead of diminishing it by covering up the flaws. I hope this has made some sort of sense :)

  46. shacker Post author

    Interesting thought Camron. I’ve never heard of this being done, though that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been done. I would think that dual-pass scanning of analog records would come with difficulties that don’t crop up for image scanning, e.g. flutter and wow in the turntable results in slight speedups and slowdowns which would be different on each pass. Also, the start point of the signal is different each time you play the record, so you’d have to manually align the start point precisely, which would be quite difficult.

  47. Camron

    I agree that the flutter, wow, and minute playback speed inconsistencies would likely be the greatest challenge to using this sort of multiple-pass technique. I think, though, that the synchronization of the start of waveforms would be very easy for software to handle by analyzing the waveform patterns and aligning them… they just may not stay in sync after that first sync point unless the software is smart enough to continuously synchronize through all of that wow and flutter.

    I see that AlpineSoft has a user forum, I’ll make an inquiry on their boards and see if this has been feasible for anyone else. Thanks for the input!

  48. Kathy roberson

    Interesting to find your article as I just started my digitizing project. it was very informative and I’m glad I kept reading…somewhat because you pictured Headhunters (which is one I had to buy because my vinyl was wore out) and It’s A Beautuful Day (which I had all but forgotten about until I started this project). I am using a mixer I purchased from DAK about 5 ago…it works okay but now I’m wondering if I should upgrade to VS? My problem with the DAK is that I have to manually label the tracks; haven’t found anything that works very well because the recording times are a bit different. Sounds like your experience was similar. Are you familiar with the DAK product? Would it be just as fast to type track names since I can get the other info automatically?

  49. Kathy roberson

    It appears Pollux is no longer in business – they said it was due to financial reasons.

  50. shacker Post author

    Hi Kathy – I’m not sure I understand the relationship between a DAK mixer (a piece of hardware) and VS (software used for encoding and gathering metadata). The two don’t do anything similar, so how would it be an upgrade? But anything that requires manually labeling tracks is NOT something you want to be using for your project!

  51. shacker Post author

    Thanks for the tip re: Pollux Kathy. I actually switched later to CoverScout for that purpose (much better!), and have updated the text to reflect that.

  52. Kathy roberson

    Sorry I didn’t make that clearer…the DAK mixer comes with its own software called the DAK Wave Editor…it makes recording easy and splitting tracks sounds very similar to VS but it doesn’t have a search feature for labeling tracks. I’m assuming I could use the mixer with different software but now that I am writing this, I’m not positive.

  53. A Babba

    Great stuff Scot! its been a long time since we have talked/written. I started the process of digitizing an extensive 1000+ Big Band Jazz album collection. I have a T.92 USB’ed to the MBP, and workflow is Audacity capture/save/edit/export to .WAV. DeClicked/DeNoised with same named products. Finally the songs are normalized/fade-in/out/split with Fission. Like you, I can’t see continuing this project without some meta data attached automatically with online sources so I don’t spend the enormous time and introduce errors. Suggestions of your current efforts/tools are welcomed.

  54. shacker Post author

    Hi A Babba – Sounds like a fantastic project! My advice is simple – ditch Audacity and start using Vinyl Studio. You’ll be amazed how much more do-able the project will be :)

  55. Bob

    Getting ready to do this and almost dread it. The new formats just don’t sound right thru vintage equipment. Ipods and XM radio sounds like crap coming thru 30 year old LaScala’s

  56. Perry

    Great Tutorial! I’m totally with you on the time saving aspects of Vinyl Studio.
    I’m a little confused about LAME.

    You stated, “If you’re going to export to MP3 later, you’ll need to install the LAME encoder and tell VS where to find it – the program does not come with its own MP3 encoder for copyright reasons.

    Since VS converts the AIFF “albums” to MP3 or (whatever) “tracks”, doesn’t it “contain” a LAME encoder?

    Thanks to anyone who can clarify this for me.

    Perry

  57. shacker Post author

    Perry – Back when I wrote this article, you had to install LAME as a separate download. Looking around at their site now, I don’t see any reference to it. If they’re now distributing LAME along with the download, and it’s working for you, then I’d say there’s no reason to go through that step!

  58. Tim Cutting

    Thanks for this – just checked out Vinyl Studio as trial version – worked really well on my first Album – so much better than Audacity – and so have purchased a copy.

  59. Gary

    Great information! A couple of months ago I started to use Roxio’s Easy LP to MP3, which I purchased 2 years ago. I thought it was all-in-one, but I’ve learned it isn’t. I’m going to give VS a try, but based on threads from various forums I don’t think it is an all-in-one either. It seems a lot of people use separate products for click, hum, and noise repair. There is a $40 product called ClickRepair that a lot of people use, and one person’s comparison showed it to be far better than VS at cleaning up an LP. Have you investigated ClickRepair?

  60. shacker Post author

    I was perfectly happy with the click repair tools in VS, but maybe my standards weren’t high enough? If you try both products for click repair, definitely let us know which one you prefer. There’s definitely a big advantage to using a single tool for the whole workflow.

  61. Rosemarie Hodges

    We have an bunch of LPs still in fairly good shape and have tried both Roxio and Audacity to digitize them. The editing section of both Roxio and especially Audacity does not show how to split tracks, name them and then save them. A wonderful and easy software was Nero’s Cakewalk which we used for years, but is no longer available. Can you recommend a similar software which is not so complicated and would be explicit explaining the workflow??

    Rosebud

  62. shacker Post author

    Rosebud, I’m confused – this entire post is one long answer to your question. It kind of seems like you left a question without reading the post.

  63. Craig

    Hi Scot, and thank you for your excellent article.
    So much to comment and expound on, but no disagreements in your technical, nor musical, content. So I’ll just share the highlights and the, huh, moments:
    - Started with new cartridge and focused on the rarer vinyl (I dislike using that term) first (yes, I am still going).
    - FYI using Felt Tip’s Sound Studio and am happy with it; v4 release really stepped up the meta-data input
    - Using AIFF format, and off-load the raw files onto separate tera-byte USB drive(s) once an album is done; always watching for back-up storage deals (back-to-school sales are again appearing now that it is August 2013)
    - Found that using image search in Google, instead of simple text search, yields wider range of results; i.e. images of back covers, inner liners, alternate pressings, etc. One can add more than one image to the meta-data.
    - Started with a PowerPC iMac G4(?) that had an audio 3.5mm input jack and internal (!) A/D; it had MUCH better control and resolution than the new i5 core iMac that needed an external USB device (Griffin iMic)

  64. Rob

    I was digitizing albums using PhonoPlus preamp which came with Soundsaver Express software, which sound similar to the VinylStudio. I had a slightly different purpose as I wanted to import the audio into Cubase digital audio sortware where I can mark parts of tracks and loop to practice along with. After doing a lot of albums, I discovered when I opened the wave file in Cubase that it was a single track. I checked and saw that the Soundsaver shows 2 tracks recording but perhaps only exports as a single wave file. So I went to the Bias company web site who makes Soundsaver. After rummaging around and finding no solution, I called the number and it was disconnected. Then further web searching indicated that the company ceased operation. So now I can’t even find out where the problem lies, if it is a limitation of the Express version software, or if something is set wrongly. I see that when I did the same type of thing years before with Clean! sofware ( which ceased to exist) those tracks are stereo.
    I wonder if anyone knows what the problem might be. I am thinking of getting the Vinylstudio before doing any more.

  65. David

    Hi Scott,
    I recognised many of the questions and decisions you made as I read through your article. Mostly I made the same decisions. I would like to point up “Wave Corrector” software as a pretty good and cheap digitisation and click/pop removal software as an alternative to Vinyl Studio. (I am not connected with the aforementioned product or marketing in any way).
    I gave up thinking of myself as an archivist. I am 60 and am not going to be here in 50 years time, so as far as I am concerned my archival horizon for format readability is around 20 years, by which time I will likely be in my dotage with relatively poor hearing, and will probably have to have sold up and downsized into care. I have learned over the years that no-one elses musical taste is as good as one’s own, and that that applies to everybody. The result is I can be pretty sure my musical “archive” will find its way into charity shops and even the tip pretty soon after I am gone. I don’t have kids so I don’t have to imagine that one day they will discover that their Dad has actually pretty cool musical taste and that the stuff they listen to is rubbish. So, face it, it is OK to be “selfish” and to make all your plans and decisions about your music collection to suit only one person – you!
    My current strategy is archival lossless backup: one big flac (8) with homemade cuefile plus scans of artwork in jpg in one big rar file. Saved to portable USB2 hard disks. Uploaded to free/cheap cloud storage as off-site safeguard. I can’t see the point of paying somebody else money to lose my files. I realise USB interfaces are a limiting factor so I am resigned to copying over onto newer hard disks in the future. If I was rich I would have a huge media server with RAID capability. Let’s face it, whatever the carrier there are always risks of data corruption and loss. These days with the “loudness wars” the corruption and loss of content is deliberate!
    For streaming and portable audio players I use lame encoder for vbr at minimum 320kbps (effectively cbr but has some advantages) to make mp3 which I tag and embed with a thumbnail of the front cover artwork. This sounds pretty good to me, but my hearing is probably already age degraded.
    As I live in a flat I mostly use good headphones. I would like to use heavyweight audio equipment but my neighbours are strangers to me and I’d like to keep it that way. I use an audiophile 2496 card to feed a digital signal into a Cambridge Audio DAC Magic which has a headphone amplifier. The audiophile 2496 will be upgraded next time I build a new desktop PC.
    I wish I could have Neil Young’s capability of playing back “Harvest” to Graham Nash while in a row boat in the middle of his own lake, using his barn for one channel and his house for the other. That would be a trip! Mind you, quite hard to adjust the balance and stop the ducks quacking. The point of audiophilia is that it is always better to travel in expectation rather than to arrive at what you seek!

  66. shacker Post author

    David, I’m glad you brought up the topic of backup, which I didn’t cover in the article. SO important. My personal solution is to back up locally to Time Machine *and* to the cloud via BackBlaze. I feel very confident about the security of the collection.

    I’m not sure I understand the part about “one big FLAC file with cues” – you mean you’re not splitting LP sides into individual tracks? How do you search iTunes (or your player) for a particular track?

    I had to search for the Neil Young story – here it is – pretty funny!
    http://www.wisebrother.com/tcs/story/65719

  67. Gerry

    Very glad I discovered your blog, Scot, while I’m still brand new at digitizing my LPs. To start, here’s the e-mail I sent my daughter just this last Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013:

    It was great talking with you on Thanksgiving. My love to everyone in your household.
    Good news for a change:
    Friday I connected my turntable to the new preamp I got on Wednesday. Had to run cables and drill some holes to get started. Was able to play albums through Garage Band, but could tell it would be cumbersome to try recording and transferring via Garage Band, from vinyl to iTunes, in any way that made sense.
    VinylStudio sounded good, had good reviews, you can try it free for up to 5 albums, and it’s only $30 if you decide you want it. So I got the trial version, spent all day Saturday and Sunday working with it, and I just now finished buying the permanent version. Holy crap! I couldn’t ask for anything better.
    I have always resisted buying duplicate CDs of albums I already had, so I only have maybe four or five duplicates, one of which is the Eagles Greatest Hits. I did that one first for comparison purposes, and it turned out really well. That took all day Saturday.
    Sunday I did Huey Lewis “Sports” album; It’s A Beautiful Day; Crosby, Stills & Nash; and Elderlock “Not Just Folking Around” album (which needs work on fixing pops and crackles). Still learning, but this thing is going to be great. Half my best stuff is on vinyl, and now I’ll be able to add it all to my iTunes library, effectively doubling what is already in there. Needless to say, I’m very jazzed over this. Love, Dad

    Now it is Thursday evening. Haven’t tried cleaning up anything yet, mostly trying to find albums that look almost new. Even those have a lot of hidden dust. Today I tried washing a couple with a wet sponge and dish liquid, rinse, and dry with Kleenex. Wow! That made all the difference, and I think that process also gets rid of static, somehow. Did Creedence Clearwater and Boston, and both albums sound great to me, all the way through.

    This is the first blog that has ever interested me; found it by chance less than two hours ago. Will definitely check in from time to time, now that I’m obsessed with this whole process.
    And thank you, Scot.

  68. Gerry

    I just now found out that iTunes burns music CDs in AIFF format, which I believe is ubiquitous and as good as it gets. So, I am assuming that if I make CDs to back up the LPs I save to iTunes by way of VinylStudio, they will all be as good quality as whatever format I save them in. I think this is very good news, since I recently made music CD backups of all the iTunes I have downloaded over the years. This format stuff is new to me, I’m still learning what I can about it, so please correct me if I’m wrong about any of this. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

  69. Craig

    Gerry,
    AIFF does have its advantages (it is my default) and disadvantages, one being that additional information, (especially artwork) is not inherently supported. iTunes does offer other format options, i.e. MP3, though. Have fun. IIRC one of the most enlightening articles I found on audio formats was on MakeUseOf. Then there’s always WikiPedia to start with . . .

  70. Scot Hacker

    Gerry, audio quality will be equivalent in any lossless format (AIFF, WAV, FLAC, ALAC). But with Apple Lossless (ALAC) you’ll be able to preserve all of the metadata, cover art, etc. That would certainly be my choice, but I’m fully embedded in the Apple universe.

  71. Steve Chamberlin

    Does the purchased version of Final Vinyl include the LAME compiler? If not, which version should I download for Mac OS and where is it placed after download?
    I am new to digitizing LPs and have just begun the process. I have found your article very helpful. Thanks

  72. Scott

    I started digitizing my 70′s record collection in 2013, only to find out that embedded dust kept distorting the sound. You seemed to gloss over the cleaning process. I have Disc Washer and I’m considering other options; however, cost is a concern for the 100 LPs I have. How do you combat static? What is your system to clean your records prior to recording? Otherwise, thought the article was insightful.

  73. shacker Post author

    Scott, the section on record cleaning above is quite detailed. Not sure what you mean by “glossed over” – I provided the exact recipe I use!

  74. Gary

    Scott,
    If you want additional information about record cleaning go to the Forum at http://www.vinylengine.com. They have a forum topic dedicated to record cleaning and storage. Anti-static techniques are also discussed.

  75. Scott

    Glossed over was probably not the right term Scot. What I meant was that even after using Discwasher, I still haven’t gotten rid of enough of the dust in the record grooves to prevent distortion. Sometimes I wash them in the sink before using Discwasher and have run a cotton ball soaked in alcohol on the spinning record along with applying the Audioquest carbon fiber brush prior to recording. If Discwasher doesn’t work for my collection do you recommend a vinyl cleaning solution? Sorry for all the questions.

  76. Craig

    Also for Scott:
    I’ve been researching getting rid of clicks and crackles from my vinyl digitization process. Audacity actually has a good section on preparing vinyl records that I recommend reading.
    c-squared

  77. Scott

    Thanks Craig. I looked around for it but couldn’t find the section in the Audacity User Manual. Can you give the section to look in? I’m a novice at this and need a lot of help.

  78. Scot Hacker

    Vinyl Studio has very sophisticated tools built in for crackle/pop removal. For reasons noted above, I really would not want to use Audacity for a project like this.

  79. Gary

    Scot,
    I used Vinyl Studio on 10-20 LPs then had to put everything into storage over a year ago, so I don’t have a lot of experience with Vinyl Studio. I felt the Vinyl Studio click/pop removal was very good, but it depends on the listening environment. If I was going to listen to my music only in the car, I wouldn’t use anything else. I hope to get back to my project in a month or two and at that time want to compare the Vinyl Studio click removal to a product that some Vinyl Studio and Audacity users use; ClickRepair. I’ve seen where some people spend hundreds on audio repair software and manually repair every click/pop. I guess it depends on how passionate you want to be about removing them.

    Gary

  80. Vic

    This is basically a very long version of throwing your records away. If you want to throw your records away, please let me know where your trash can is.

    Remember all those dumb clucks to converted their vinyl to CDs back around the turn of the century? This is basically the same big waste of time.

    I’ve never converted vinyl to CD, or to digital, and yet I have all the digital music I want to listen to. Meanwhile, my vinyl collection (not a big one) has suddenly began impressing people and becoming a topic of conversation.

  81. Marya

    Wow – this is great, thank you! I have a question: a handful of my records are extremely old and fragile and well-worn though have homemade recordings done by my grandparents and I’d really like to digitize these! My record player’s the wrong kind… I don’t even know where to begin. Do you have suggestions for me? I’m absolutely terrified about the thought of sending them in the mail to someone. I don’t know what to do. It’s hard to imagine but so far I’m not finding a company that will do this for me here in Portland, Oregon. I know they’ve got to be here somewhere (not sure why I’m having such a hard time)! As for digitizing the rest of my records, I have a phono preamp and a Zoom H4n so I suppose I could and will attempt to (nervous about all the steps, ugh) – but am afraid they’ll get damaged over time and some are so rare that if not rescued by me (digitized), it may become too late!
    Thanks so much,
    Marya

  82. shacker Post author

    Marya – I’ve tried to supply as much detail about what you need as possible, not sure what else I can say. I definitely would not send those precious records to anyone in the mail. The Zoom H4n isn’t going to help you here – you just need a good ADC connect your turntable to your computer, and a copy of Vinyl Studio, then you’re off to the races. Best of luck!

  83. Mike Kramer

    Scot — This is a TERRIFIC resource which I’ve printed and dog-eared as I’ve begun digitizing my collection of mostly worthless (yet priceless to me) vinyl from the 60s and 70s. I’d be interested in your thoughts / experience with respect to recording levels, especially any thoughts you have about clipping. I purchased a Rega Fono Mini A2D phono pre-amp which has a rather crude output level dial which seems to be the mechanism for setting the recording level when running digital output from the pre-amp to the computer. My first test resulted in MP3 files which were markedly lower in volume than tracks ripped from CDs or downloaded from iTunes. I’ve subsequently turned up the input level by trial and error so that, as VinylStudio instructs, the level indicators ‘just get into the red.’ The resulting MP3 tracks are closer to my other tracks in iTunes, although overall they still seem to be softer. Meanwhile, I’m getting a small amount of clipping during the transfer process. I haven’t listened enough to determine whether the recordings are impaired by that. I’m curious as to how much clipping you think is okay. In terms of perspective, I’m hardly an audiophile and am recording mostly for the pleasure of being able to listen again to the lame and dated music I listened to 30 years ago, but still, I’d like it to sound decent. Again, many, many thanks for the effort you put into this blog.

  84. shacker Post author

    Mike -

    Thanks, glad you’re finding this a useful resources.

    Do NOT allow any clipping whatsoever into your recordings. The audio difference you’re hearing is due to the loudness wars that have consistently raised recording levels over the decades. You’re better off using a reasonable recording level with NO clipping and then letting iTunes adjust the playback volume to compenesate for level differences between tracks.

  85. Ian

    HI Scott – thanks for this article that I just stumbled upon. I was just about to start ripping my vinyl (some urgent because I cannot find digital versions online, except for some dodgy YouTube rips) and was just about to go with using Audio Hijack Pro and Fission, but I think Vinyl Studio just may be the way to go. On the LAME DAC converter, do you know if there is a way to make this the default DAC converter in ones own iTunes set-up as I believe that Apple’s version in iTunes is not that highly regarded. Thanks for a great how-to.

  86. shacker Post author

    Hey Tommy – Glad you found the piece useful. Yeah, VinylStudio is amazing; really simplified the process. I have not looked into forcing iTunes to use a different DAC, but I do believe it is possible. You’ll have to Google for that one.

  87. MikeB

    Does anyone know of device/software which can scan/photo a vinyl record label and recognise/convert/extract most or all of the text/”meta-data”?
    I have a collection of singles and LPs I am cataloguing and I don’t want to have to type in label, catalogue number, artist, song, composer, date, etc. for every one.
    I’m aware of and have used ACR scanning of documents, but I suspect that would be sub-optimal for record labels and wonder whether there is something similar out there optimised for record labels.

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