The B&H Guide to Digitizing Vinyl Records and Cassettes and Importing them into iTunes
 
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The B&H Guide to Digitizing Vinyl Records and Cassettes and Importing them into iTunes

By Sam Mallery

A great number of people have recently found themselves in the same predicament: they have this wonderful new iPod, but the majority of their personal music collection is trapped in the grooves of their vinyl records and on the magnetic tape of their cassettes, and not on the hard drive of their computers. Recently we featured an article that described the different methods and equipment used to capture vinyl onto a computer. In this article we're going to walk you through the entire process, step by step, from start to finish.

Digitizing your records onto your Ipod is now easy

First let's go over the equipment you'll be using:

1) A standard record player with "phono level outputs." If you're unfamiliar with the term "phono level outputs" you should read the article linked above first. If you plan on using a digital turntable with a USB output like the Numark TTUSB, you can skip ahead to step three. If you're using a turntable with "line level" outputs like the Vestax Handy Trax, or a cassette player, you can skip ahead to step two.

Bring that vinyl into the digital age

2) A stereo receiver with phono inputs and recording outputs or a phono preamp.

3) A computer audio interface. Pretty much any USB, FireWire, PCI, or PCMCIA/Expresscard audio interface will work in a similar fashion. Another handy option is the ART USBPhonoPlus v2. It's an inexpensive all-in-one phono preamp and USB computer interface.

4) A computer. Any current Apple or Windows computer should work fine. Just make sure the computer you're using fits the system requirements of the audio hardware and software you'll be using. When working with digital audio, it's a good idea to have an ample amount of RAM (512 or higher). Audio files tend to be large, so if you're planning on recording a lot of vinyl, you should have lots of free space on your hard drive. An external USB or FireWire hard drive can be really beneficial in this process.

5) Audio recording software. You cannot record vinyl directly into iTunes; you must first record the audio from the vinyl into an audio recording program. For this lesson we'll be using Audacity, which is included with the Numark TTUSB and is available as a free download.

Audacity

Note about audio software:

I conducted tests in the preparation of this article, and I had some trouble using a Digidesign audio interface with Audacity. It allowed me to record only one track at a time, not stereo tracks. This isn't really an issue because Digidesign hardware comes with Pro Tools LE software, which is a superior audio application. I suggest that if you already have audio software that you're familiar with, to use what you know. I was able to successfully record vinyl using an M-Audio interface with Audacity.

If you plan on digitizing cassettes, just follow the same instructions given for how to record a turntable with "line level" outputs which are designated with this icon:

 

Step One

You have to connect the left and right stereo output jacks of your record player to the "phono inputs" on the device you're using. The stereo outputs of a record player are RCA jacks, and they're often colored red and white. They need to plug into "phono inputs" because your record player's output isn't strong enough to be recorded on its own. "Phono inputs" boost the signal up to "line level" making it loud enough to be recorded. You also must connect the "ground" of the turntable to the device you are plugging into. The "ground" is simply a thin wire that runs out of the back of the record player. The end of the ground should be exposed (similar to a speaker wire). Connect the exposed end of the ground wire to the grounding terminal on the equipment you are plugging the turntable into. Grounding the turntable dramatically improves the sound quality of the record player.

If you're using a stereo receiver, connect the outputs of the turntable into the phono inputs on the receiver.


If you're using a phono preamp, connect the outputs of your record player to the phono inputs on the phono preamp.


If you're using the ART USBPhonoPlus v2, connect the outputs of your record player to the phono inputs on that device.

Step Two

In this step you're going to connect the outputs of your device into the inputs of a computer audio interface, or, another option is to connect the outputs of your device to the mini-plug "line input" on your computer. Not all computers feature a "line input." Unfortunately, if your computer only has a "microphone input," this will not work as a substitute for a "line input."

A line level output on an Apple Computer

If you're connecting the left and right RCA output jacks from a stereo receiver or from a phono preamp to the "line input" on your computer, the type of cable you need is an RCA to mini-plug stereo Y cable.

Stereo receiver – This process is very much the same as making a cassette recording of a vinyl record, except instead of sending the turntable's signal to a cassette recorder, you will be connecting it to your audio interface or your "line input" on the computer. The way this is accomplished varies from receiver to receiver.

You are going to have to locate the recording outputs of your receiver. Sometimes these outputs are labeled "Tape Out." They may also be labeled "Aux Out" or "Rec Out." Connect these outputs to the inputs on your audio interface, or to the "line input" on your computer. If you cannot locate the proper outputs on the back of your receiver, you can also try using the headphone output.


The grounding terminals and recording outputs

Phono preamp - Your next step is to plug the outputs of the preamp into the audio inputs of your audio interface, or into the "line input" of your computer.


USBPhonoPlus - All you have to do is plug the USB output into the USB port on your computer.


Turntable with "line level" outputs - Plug the line outputs of your turntable into the audio inputs of your audio interface, or into the "line input" on your computer.

Step Three

In this step we're finally going to record audio into the software. The first thing you need to do is to connect your device to your computer. Once you're plugged in, launch Audacity. Once the software opens, your next task is to find the "Preferences" menu. Open Preferences. In Preferences, click on the Audio I/O tab.


The following only applies if you're using the "line input" on your computer with a stereo receiver, a phono preamp or a turntable with "line level" outputs. In the Preferences of Audacity, under the Audio I/O tab, make sure that under Channels you have selected 2 (Stereo). I had good results with the following settings:

Audacity Preferences

Click OK and close Preferences. Go ahead a play a record on your turntable. Click the record button in Audacity (the square with the red circle inside of it). You should see the audio waveforms being recorded in stereo tracks in Audacity.

If you're using an audio interface, a USB turntable, or the USBPhonoPlus, in Audacity, under the Audio I/O tab and under Recording, change the Device from Built-In Audio and select the audio interface you are using.

Note

If your audio interface or USB turntable doesn't show up as an option, you may need to download new drivers. If this is the case, visit the website of the manufacturer of your audio hardware. Look for a button on their website that says "Support" or "Downloads." Drivers are typically pretty easy to find. Download the latest drivers, install them, and restart your computer. Repeat step three.

More information about using a USB turntable with Audacity can be found on this website.

When using an audio interface (the specific model I used was an M-Audio Ozonic), I had the best results when I chose the following settings in the Audio I/O window of Preferences in Audacity:

Click OK and close Preferences. Go ahead and play a record on your turntable. Click the record button in Audacity (the square with the red circle inside of it). You should see the audio waveforms being recorded in stereo tracks in Audacity.

Step Four

Create a new folder on your computer that you intend on recording all of your vinyl and cassettes into. If you've never done this before, simply right click (on an Apple press CTRL and click), and select New Folder. Give your new folder a title, for example "Vinyl Archive." You can do this on the desktop if you like, but if you have an external hard drive at your disposal, it's a good idea to create the folder in that drive as opposed to the internal drive of your computer. The flow of data generally tends to operate a little more smoothly in this practice.

You have to decide how you want to go about organizing your digital files. There are two options:

1) At the end of each song you stop recording and save and name the file.

2) At the end of each side you stop recording, go into the waveform in the software and edit each song into a separate file and save. Directions for how to accomplish this can be found on this web page.

Unfortunately there is no automated software that can detect song breaks and do this work for you. Organization is crucial as you create an archive of your vinyl collection on your hard drive. It's strongly recommended to include the artist name, song name, and album title in the name of each file. This way when you get around to compressing the files to .MP3 in iTunes, everything will be neatly organized.

Step Five

Once you've recorded songs with Audacity, you will need to export the recorded files from Audacity in order to bring them into iTunes. Click on the File menu in Audacity. You have the option of exporting as a .WAV file or an .MP3 file. In order to export as an .MP3 from Audacity, you need to first download the .MP3 encoder from the Audacity website. On their site, click on the Download tab, and then click on the option for your operating system (Windows or Mac). In "Optional Downloads" click on the LAME MP3 encoder.

.WAV files sound better than .MP3, but they take up a lot more room on a hard drive because they are uncompressed files. You may want to export as .WAV and keep a saved archive of your uncompressed music.

If you don't want to download the LAME MP3 encoder, you can import a .WAV file into iTunes (by simply clicking on the File menu in iTunes and selecting Import). Then right click (in Mac press CTRL and click) on top of the song you would like to compress as an MP3. A menu will open with the option to Convert Selection to MP3:

In Conclusion

As you can see, there are lots of variables involved in this process. We did our best to describe each step as clearly as possible, but the nature of computers creates the possibility for confusion and error. Technical troubleshooting tends to go hand-in-hand with computer audio. If you encounter a problem, double-check all of your connections, make sure your software is up to date, and restart your computer.

If you or someone you know would like to digitize their vinyl but they don't have the equipment to do so, B&H sells complete vinyl recording kits with everything you need.

Thanks for reading this B&H guide. If you have any more questions about the vinyl digitizing process, or about the necessary equipment used to do so, don't hesitate to contact us at 1-800-416-5090

Please email feedback on this article, or suggestions for future topics, to audiofeedback@bhphotovideo.com