Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Ripping vinyl

***I have some more to add and a few links to backfill, until then this is a good start***

I've been asked a few times -- both here and in the real world -- how do I record my vinyl? Is it hard and is special equipment/software needed?

The short answer is not particularly hard, and you need nothing more than some sort of turntable and basic audio editing software. If you have a workable turntable and use freeware, it's possible to begin ripping without spending one cent. Or if you're some sort of psychotic audiophile you might decide to spend thousands of dollars. More reasonably, expect to spend $100-$200 to get going.

My primary goal is to listen to albums I haven't played in 10-15 years. Never having had the kickass stereo setup with the mondo speakers, replicating a sound I never had isn't what I'm after. All I want is a decent quality without a large expenditure of time, effort, and money. With that in mind, I'll continue with the following topics:
  • My setup
  • Turntable options
  • My process
  • Cleaning your records
  • A ClickRepair example
  • Links to people who know what they're talking about

My Setup
  1. Ion iTTUSB turnable. This looks like a newer version. Only difference I see is it now includes EZVC2 software. They have a another one that records directly to an iPod.
  2. Audacity software free with turntable or free download (Mac OS X, Microsoft Windows, GNU/Linux)
  3. Sound Studio 3 (Mac OS X)
  4. ClickRepair, (Windows, Mac, Linux, Unix)

I meant to start this about 5-6 years ago, but when I hooked up ye olde record player, it was dead. Back then, for editors, most people seemed to recommend Roxio Toast. Kinda let things slide until last spring when we saw an Ion USB turntable for about $100 at Costco. If you are without a record player, a USB turntable is an easy answer. Just plug it into the computer's USB port and you're good to go.

The Ion USB turntables come with Audacity, an open source sound editor. If you already have a turntable, you can download it for free -- comes in both Windows and Os X flavors, though the Windows is a more advanced version. I found the interfact a bit clunky and the response slow, but it's servicable. A number of editing options available for cleaning up the sound. I no longer use it, but have no problems recommending it; it's a good place to start. More recent versions might improve on the performance issues I had.

Bought Sound Studio 3. Loved the interface, very user friendly, many options, and a decent manual. Simplified basic recording and track splitting while expanding what I could do with any audio.

After reading a number of reviews, I added ClickRepair software. This does one thing and it does it very well: cleans the clicks, cracks, and pops from the records without distorting the sound. Comes with a few presets and also allows you to set your own parameters. I also like that its default is to save the track under a new name so if you're unhappy with the result you haven't overwritten the original recording. My recommendation is that no matter what sound editor you use, run the file through ClickRepair for the best result. One warning, this is fairly processor intensive, so if the file is cluttered it sometimes takes longer to "clean" than it did to record.

Just realized that I never thought to test recording through Garageband. I wonder if that works?

My process
On average, I'd estimate somewhere between 1 and 1.5 hours to rip, clean, separate tracks, and move the final copy to iTunes for a 40 minute album. Without ClickRepair, I'd probably be under an hour. Because ClickRepair can be slow, I prefer to rip a few albums at a time and run through them in assembly line form. For simplicity, here's how one album works.
  1. Clean record.
  2. Record side one with Sound Studio. I record in AIFF.
  3. Clean any "dead space" at the beginning and end of the file, then save.
  4. Open side one in ClickRepair, select your parameters and begin.
  5. Record side two with Sound Studio. Save.
  6. Repeat ClickRepair with side two.
  7. In Sound Studio, open the ClickRepair version of side one.
  8. Insert track names, deleting any extra "dead air" you want. Generally there's 5-10 seconds of dead air separating vinyl tracks that you don't need for electronic copies. I'll lead a track with about .5 second of silence and leave .5 to 1 second after fadeout.
  9. Separate tracks, saving as AAC. You can also add album name, artist, genre. For genre I save as "vinyl."
  10. Repeat with side two.
  11. Drag AAC files into iTunes fixing any file metadata as necessary. Add album art that I found by searching Amazon, eBay, other dark holes of the internet.

Turntable options
But if you don't want to use a USB turntable, that's not a problem. Whether you have a turntable you enjoy or would just like to purchase one, there's really only one concern. Does the turntable have a built-in amplifier? If it does, then you can connect it directly to the computer. Probably need one of these:
  • Cords
  • radio schaack cord

If it doesn't have an amplifier then you'll need to plug the turntable into the reciever and the reciever into the computer. Or if you no longer have a reciever, you can buy just an amplifier: radio schack example, $$.

That's it. New turntables are still easy to find. Like the USB turntable, they start at around $100. There's still a market for high-end stuff costing thousands of dollars. If you're interested in spending $10K-$15K, there's a laser turntable available.

Cleaning the records
Best way to achieve a good sound is with a clean record. Rather than buying the expensive cleaning solutions I found a recipe for a homebrew version: 50% isopropyl alcohol and 50% distilled water. Spray and wipe clean with a lint free cloth.

A can of compressed air is also handy for the really dirty records and it's excellent on records with a lot of static buildup. I also use a carbon fiber record brush as a final clean.

A ClickRepair example

Links to people who know what they're talking about

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