Recording Vinyl Records into a Computer

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Whether you grew up listening to records, or you recently discovered collecting and playing vinyl, the idea of recording your favorite vinyl records into your computer may have crossed your mind. Having a digitized version of your vinyl collection is useful for loading songs into portable devices and for having an archive of your favorite tunes in the digital realm. When captured properly, a digital recording of a vinyl record will sound vastly superior to a compressed MP3 file. Besides, the majority of albums that you find in thrift stores and garage sales aren’t even available to purchase as digital downloads.

Most people hope that the vinyl-capturing process is as simple as pushing a single red button. Advances have been made to simplify the process of digitizing vinyl, but so far it's not as easy as pressing a button. Just as the act of playing a vinyl record requires a bit of effort on your part (taking the record out of its sleeve, placing it on the platter, putting the needle in the groove, etc.), the act of digitizing vinyl records requires your attention and care as well. With a little bit of patience and some old-fashioned elbow grease, your entire vinyl collection can be shrunk down to fit into your shirt pocket to travel around with you anywhere you go.

Here are three ways you can capture vinyl into a computer:

1) Using an all-in-one turntable/CD burner;

2) Using a USB turntable;

3) Using an audio interface to connect a turntable to a computer.

The first method (using an all-in-one turntable/CD burner) is probably the easiest way to go. An all-in-one unit features both a turntable and a CD burner in a single device. You simply burn a CD of the vinyl in the unit itself, and then load the burned CD into your computer. Specific models worth checking out are the Ion LP2CD Turntable and the Crosley Radio CR2401 Memory Master Turntable. Be forewarned that you may not be able to mark individual tracks using this method.

USB turntables are less expensive than all-in-one units, but they require you to noodle around with a computer in order to digitize your records. The Sony PS-LX300USB Stereo Turntable is an inexpensive option in this category.

Of the three vinyl-capturing methods mentioned, using an audio interface to connect a turntable to a computer requires the most technical know-how. The plus side is that some audio interfaces can be obtained very inexpensively. If you go this route, you need to understand the difference between a “line-level” signal and a “phono-level” signal.

Some of the turntables available today feature line-level outputs, but many only have phono-level outputs. To clarify the difference between these two signals, think of line-level as a faucet with the water running at full blast. The strong blast of water represents a louder audio signal. Think of phono-level as a faucet with just a tiny trickle of water dripping out. The tiny trickle of water represents a weak audio signal. If you try to record a phono-level signal directly into a computer without boosting it up to line level, the signal will be too weak to record.

If you already have a record player that you plan on using to digitize your vinyl, try to figure out what kind of output it has. If it has an output labeled "Line" or a headphone jack, you can get away with using an inexpensive audio interface. Your setup will look something like this:

Some audio interfaces feature special phono inputs specifically for connecting record players. The ART USBPhonoPlus v2 is among the most affordable of these devices, and it connects to your computer via USB. The graphic above also illustrates how these devices connect to your computer.

If you’re using an older record player, it's likely that the output is phono level. This means that if you plugged the output of your record player directly into the line-level inputs on a computer audio interface, the signal would be too weak to record. One option is to buy a "phono preamp." This is a small box that boosts a phono-level signal up to line level. There are a number of phono preamps on the market, like the Rolls VP29. Such a setup will look something like this:

If you have a stereo system at your disposal, you may not need an external phono preamp. Look at the back of your stereo receiver. If it has designated inputs for phono, then you're halfway there. Plug your turntable into the phono input. Most stereo receivers have outputs as well. People used to make copies of recordings with external cassette decks. Most stereo receivers were designed to route the audio coming in from a record player and send it to the "tape out" to be recorded by the cassette deck. In this case, instead of recording to a cassette deck, you will be recording to a computer. The setup will look something like this:

No matter what method you use to connect a record player to a computer, you’re going to need audio software in order to record and edit the digital audio. B&H sells a full range of very capable audio production software, but if you’re on a tight budget, there’s a free audio recording program available for Mac, Windows and even GNU/Linux, called Audacity. I recently recorded some vinyl into my computer with a Audio Technica AT-LP60 USB turntable using Audacity. Below you will find a few pointers I can share from my experience.

Tips on Using Audacity Software

When you open Audacity for the first time, it can be a bit confusing, trying to figure out how the software operates. You’re essentially looking at a blank box with a few buttons and controls at the top. If you’re using a USB turntable and it’s plugged into the computer with a USB cable and powered on, the first thing you want to do is adjust the preferences in Audacity. On a Mac, this is accomplished by clicking on “Audacity” in the top menu bar and selecting Preferences from the dropdown menu.

With Audacity’s Preferences window open, you’re presented with a list of tabs at the top; the first option being Audio I/O. Click on the Audio I/O tab and adjust the Device setting in the Recording area. You need to assign your USB turntable as the input source for the software in the dropdown menu next to Device. Click on the menu options and change this setting from Built-in Input to the USB Turntable setting. In my case, the Audio Technica AT-LP60 showed up on this menu under the somewhat strange name, “USB Audio CODEC.”

If you’re capturing albums that were recorded in stereo (as opposed to mono records), there’s another key setting that you need to adjust in Audacity’s Preferences. Under the Audio I/O tab, in the Recording area, you need to change the Channels setting to: 2 (Stereo). This way when you start recording a new album, Audacity will automatically create a stereo track and start recording the Left and Right stereo channels from the vinyl into the computer.

Below the Recording area of the Audio I/O tab in Audacity’s Preferences there are a number of boxes. For my needs (which involved recording a vinyl record in my cubicle at work with no other home-stereo equipment and just a laptop and a pair of headphones), I checked the boxes for Hardware Playthrough, Software Playthrough, and Do Not Modify Audio Device Settings. Changing these settings enabled me to listen to the vinyl through my computer as it was recording.

With these settings, when you click the Record button on Audacity’s main screen, the program should create a stereo track automatically and start recording the input directly into it. When you get to this stage, start recording in Audacity first, then start the record player and put the needle on the record. I found that I needed to turn up the input gain all the way in Audacity. The input gain is the little slider near the top of the GUI next to the little microphone icon. The volume level still sounded kind of weak while I was recording, but upon playback it sounded better. I also turned up the gain on the stereo track itself during playback. The stereo track’s gain is the little slider on the left side of the screen between the – and + signs. These adjustments really helped the overall volume of the recording and made it sound the way I hoped it would.

Finally, once you're finished recording your record collection into your computer, try to refrain from throwing your albums away in the trash. There are thrift shops and secondhand stores that would gladly accept your records as donations. Why send all of that vinyl to a landfill when someone else (like me) may cherish it?

Thanks for checking out this B&H InDepth article. If you have any more questions about digitizing vinyl records, please submit them in the Comments section below.

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I got the Sony PS-LX300USB Stereo Turntable and all i hear is a constant beeping sound when trying to record. Tried pretty much every tip ive found on different forums, but nothing works.

Hi -

Make sure the TT is grounded. Close other applications that may be running and could be causing a conflict.  Switch the phono EQ selector.  If none of these remedies work, please contact SONY support:

1-800-222-SONY.

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

Your first paragraph tells us how to do it on a Mac. How about a Windows system?
I havebeen trying to use Audacity for more than a yer now. Recording is no problem except that it is difficult to moniter what is being recorded.
I can't figure out how to determine what to do with the recorded music. How does one save it to a file format (MP3, WMA, etc) that can be burned to disc?
How do you 'save' to a progrmme that I can cut a disc from? Windows Media Player e.g.
Audacitys' instructions seem to be for professional people who understand professional recording. Where can I, an average Joe, get useful instructions?
I can't find anywhere to "SUBMIT" my comments. ?? Do I "SAVE" it?

Can i win the loudness war using this method of home recording?The new cds just do not sound good.Even with the volume turned down, they still sound loud. what kind of sound are you getting from your lp recording? I was more brought up with casset tapes and do not know much about lp sound.

I have a good 30-year+ stereo player that I use to listen to my 33-1/3 vinyl record collection. It has output jacks to its speakers. It seems like I should be able to simply connect my laptop to the player outputs through the mike input. Would this work or do I need special software or amplifier? Where can I find a cable that will interface between RCA stereo output jacks to laptop mike-in stereo plug?

I'm getting excellent-sounding .wav files exported from Audacity ver. 1.2.3, but they all are truncated, some to only a few seconds long. I find no troubleshooting for this on the Audacity site. Any idea what the cause might be?

You mentioned Garageband as an adequate program for processing conversions from audio cassettes to digital. You do not mention it when talking about conversion of vinyl LPs to dig. Does Garageband not also work for LP conversion?

I am having trouble with my sony usb turntable. It will not record all the songs on my vinyl records or sometimes it will record them wrong. What am I doing wrong?

I wonder if you will bother to anwer a slightly diffent question.

A work by J.S. Bach  (six cello suites) originally appeared on a set of three LPs fom Phillips in Holland. Now a copy is for sale from Japan, but on two LPs only with two suites on each side instead of just one.

How has this been done, and how much will it affect the sound quality on the two-record set ??

Hi Sven -

We do not have access to the recording or the manufacturing techniques or processes that Philips may be employing with this re-issue.  Philips may be able to help you with this query.

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

All of the USB turntables that I have seen say that they are for LPs. Do they also work for 7''? 

If not, then how could I do it for 7''?

If so, then do all record players etc. work for both 12'' and 7''?

Hi Jacob Lee -

The tone-arm may need to be set-down manually,  but they should still play and transfer the music via USB as long as the  playback speed is compatible with both the record and the turntable.

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

Thanks for posting this! This is really helpful, esp considering I have the same setup as you. Hoping to tackle some recording this weekend. Any thoughts on producing a youtube video to go along with this how-to?

Thanks!

Julie

i have a good sony record player10 yers above  old cllection lp records thoes songs whant to play back on my computer please  help me so on thank you  

Hi Ismail -

You can use the ART USB Phono Plus, a flexible phono (turntable) preamp with a USB interface and digital connections. The USB Phono Plus is an ideal solution for quality recordings while digitizing old vinyl collections, connecting a turntable to a line input, or as a simple audio interface for your Windows or Mac OS computer. There are optical digital inputs and outputs, S/PDIF input and analog preamp outputs. Also featured is a headphone output, gain control and monitor level adjustment controls. A line / phono input switch allows for line or turntable signals to pass, and a low-cut filter switch eliminates hum, rumble and other low frequency artifacts associated with vinyl recordings.

USB connectivity to desktop and laptop computers
RIAA accurate low noise phono preamp
Up to 45dB of clean gain
Latency free monitoring
S/PDIF or optical to USB and USB to optical interfaces included
Preamp line out allows use as a stand-alone phono preamp
Includes recording & production software
Compact, stackable all aluminum chassis
Flexible power from USB or external power supply (not included)

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

Not sure I follow the difference between an audio preamp and an audio interface.  You show both on one of the photos above (at http://www.bhphotovideo.com/explora/audio/tips-and-solution/recording-vi...).  My phono is old (plays 78 RPM) and has a slot for 8-track tapes!  Yet it has a headphones output for a 1/4" jack.  That is my only output aside from the built-in speakers. I have a preamp (Rolls MP13), but have to convert from 1/4" to 1/8" (twice) with it being between the phono and my computer.  Even using the MP13, I get no detectable input signal from the line-in jack on my Mac using Garageband.  What do I need? -- Mark

Hi Mark -

One of the issues is that you are sending a headphone output into the Rolls Microphone pre-amp.  The audio signal is totally incompatible. I suggest using a USB interface:

The U-CONTROL UFO202 from Behringer is a low cost solution for transferring vinyl records and tapes to and from a computer. The USB 1.1 interface is USB bus powered and features 2 analog RCA phono inputs that can be switched between a line source and the phono preamp, and 2 analog RCA phono outputs for connecting active speakers or studio monitors.

A turntable grounding lug is included and headphone monitoring is via a stereo mini jack with a dedicated volume control. No special setup or additional drivers are required and wide computer operating system compatibility is available for both the Mac and Windows platforms.

USB 1.1 audio interface for connecting turntables and tape cassette players with a computer for recording and playback
Phono input with turntable ground lug makes connecting turntables a breeze
The phono input can be switched to allow the interface to accept a line level source
Stereo headphone output with dedicated level control allows for monitoring both input and output
Includes energyXT2.5 Behringer Edition music production software, an audio/MIDI sequencer that loads almost instantaneously on all computer platforms
Audacity audio editor for both Mac and Windows available for download
No additional drivers required
Powered via USB - no external power supply needed

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

I would like to be able to record my record albums (vinyl) to my computer. The only problem I have is that I would like to find some software that automatically labels the songs and artists while the recordings are put into the computer. This will save me having to do a lot of typing/labelling of the tunes. I have at least 500 albums and thats a lot of typing. Sort of like when I use itunes to record my cd collection. All songs are then labelled as they are recorded into my computer. Is there such a device available today?

I am using a Stanton usb turntable to do my transfers/recordings. All recordings eventually end up as mp3/4 recordings and are used via my ipod for listening. Any help appreciated.

Thanks,

Todd Preston

There is a software Plug In for iTunes that may work for this. It is called Tune Up. It goes through and correctly labels tracks. So it the quality of the capture is good enough I believe this could work.