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Unless you’re an enthusiast or you’re an expert in time travel, you shouldn’t have purchased a new music release on LP or cassette tape since the last two U.S. presidencies. It’s been almost 15 years since the compact cassette was more or less replaced by the CD—and the vinyl LP? That was dead about 10 years before that. You’ve had years to transfer these to CDs or to MP3, but now you finally have the time, so how do you do it?
Innovations in digital storage will let you store your entire collection on one iPod (up to 40,000 songs). The challenge you’re going to have is getting your collection over the bridge from the analog world to the digital world. In layman’s terms: you have to record the music into your computer.
Rest assured, this is going to be a pretty painless operation, involving three simple steps: TRANSFERRING – EDITING – SAVING. Simply, you’ll play your LP or cassette into a computer, separate the tracks and clean the audio, and finally burn them to CD or send them to iTunes.
(If computers scare you and you're transferring vinyl, read no further and check out the ION LP2CD. It’s an instant-transfer turntable, from vinyl directly to CD.)
Play the music into your computer
Do you still have a cassette deck or turntable lying around that works great? That means you made a smart purchase years ago on quality equipment that is still paying off. It will have normal RCA connections for stereo systems, but will lack a digital output that a computer can communicate with at good quality. A Numark Stereo iO can act as a great go-between interface to your computer. Plug your RCA jacks and grounding cable if applicable right into there and you’re off to the races. No software installation necessary. A complete B&H kit, featuring an ART interface, cables and software (which we’ll discuss below) is also available to add to your player as a one purchase solution.
Do you need a new tape deck or turntable? If so, you can get a new model with a built-in digital converter so it can talk to your computer right out of the box. For the cassette tapes, there is a modern, yet cost effective, deck called the ION Tape 2 PC dual deck player. It works like any other tape deck, but will also have a USB connection, as well as any normal stereo setup with RCA jacks. Unlike good ‘ole tape-to-tape decks, digitizing to your computer with a consumer product will be in real time, so no high-speed dubbing.
If you’re coming from vinyl we have two great models from Audio-Technica. While this company is not normally thought of when talking about turntables, they make two fantastic products that have built-in preamps that output to USB. The basic-model LP60USB is a small footprint, but reliable turntable with a metal platter, button speed adjustments and a replaceable stylus.
If you want a more standard size and built turntable, the LP120USB is made with aluminum, has a balanced arm, and can also play 78 RPM records. Its design is much closer to the standard Technics SL1200 MK2 standard, but at a lesser price, and it's fantastic for just playing records and not scratching them.
Capture and edit your music
Now you have your hardware established, you’ll have to get software so the computer can accept your audio and work with it. While Audacity is a free tool to download online and is sometimes included with USB devices, it’s not the greatest tool set for the job. On the most basic level, Sound Saver from Bias (see VIDEO) is especially designed for your task. It’s super easy with step-by-step menus: you select your input, set your level, record, remove any hiss or crackle, name and select the tracks and export to iTunes or other .WAV files for burning to CD. It handles everything except our final step.
Format and save your music
Download iTunes—it’s free and it’s hard to compete with for your basic home uses. If you’re making a playlist for your iPod or burning a CD, you can just drag the music that you completed working with from Sound Saver directly into it, and voilá!
If you’re trying to archive important recordings, you may require better software tools than Sound Saver. Steinberg’s new Wavelab 7 Essentials will both capture and format, all in one shot, at a reasonable price. It has noise-reduction tools, FTP access and CD burning all under one roof.
One rewarding part of the experience, after you archive your music to digital format, is all the real estate that you will have back after you clear out the boxes of records and tapes that have been laying around all these years. If that isn’t cool enough, you can just drag the folders of music from your computer to a second hard drive for easy backup, insuring all your precious transfer work.