The B&H Guide to Recording Vinyl Records into a Computer
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Guide to Recording Vinyl Records into a Computer

By Sam Mallery

The need to transfer vinyl records into a digital format has never been greater, thanks in part to the widespread proliferation of portable MP3 players. Music lovers need to digitize their record collections for their iPods, and DJ's need to transfer crates of records into their hard drives. When demand is this great, people often seek out a solution that's as simple as pushing a single red button to execute the task. Over the past few years great advances have been made to simplify the vinyl digitizing process, but so far it's not as easy as pressing a single button. However, 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.

The following are the three most common methods to capture vinyl into a computer:

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

2) Using a turntable with a digital output;

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

The first method is the easiest, but unfortunately it's also the most expensive. The all-in-one units feature a turntable with a built-in CD burner. You simply burn a CD of the vinyl record inside of the unit itself, and then load the burned CD into your computer. The TEAC GF-350 is a popular choice in this category.

The second method, using a turntable with a digital output, is less expensive and relatively easy to familiarize yourself with. The Numark TTUSB is an inexpensive option in this category. The digital output is handy as it keeps things simple in terms of connecting the record player to a computer:

Recording Vinyl Records into a Computer

The third method, using an audio interface to connect a turntable to a computer, requires the most technical know-how. The plus side is that audio interfaces like the Behringer UCA202 can be obtained very inexpensively. The real trick to the task is understanding the difference between a line level signal and a phono signal.

There are some modern turntables that feature "line level" outputs, but most record players only have a "phono level" output. To clarify the difference between these signals, whenever "line level" is mentioned, imagine a faucet with the water running at full blast. The strong blast of water represents a louder audio signal. When you record into your computer, you want to record the strong blast of water, so you need to record at "line level." Whenever "phono level" is mentioned, imagine 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.

Look at the back of your record player. If there is an output labeled "Line" then you can get away with using an inexpensive audio interface. Your setup will look something like this:

Recording Vinyl Records into a Computer

There are a few computer audio interfaces available that feature special "phono inputs" specifically for connecting record players that do not have "line level" outputs. The ART USBPhonoPlus v2 is by far the most affordable of these devices, and it connects to your computer via USB. For more professional features there is the Native Instruments Audio 8 DJ that connects via USB, and the M-Box 2 Pro from Digidesign that connects via FireWire. The graphic above illustrates how these devices connect to your computer.

ART USBPhonoPlus

If you are using a more traditional record player, it's very likely that the output is "phono level." This means that if you plugged the output of your record player directly into the line inputs on a computer audio interface (with the exception of the three interfaces mentioned above), 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. This setup will look something like this:

Recording Vinyl Records into a Computer

If you have a stereo system at your disposal you may not need a "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 these "phono" inputs. Most stereo receivers have outputs as well. In the past many people would make copies of recordings with cassette decks. Most stereo receivers were designed to route the audio coming in from the 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. This setup will look like this:

Recording Vinyl Records into a Computer

B&H has created a vinyl recording kit with everything you need to record your albums into a computer, including a record player. This is an excellent choice for someone who doesn't own a record player currently; perhaps you own a record player but you're unsure if it can be hooked up to an external device like a computer audio interface. We also included Bias SoundSoap 2, powerful vinyl restoration software that can remove some of the crackles and pops inherent in vinyl records, to sweeten the sound. This kit is Mac and Windows compatible. For more information on this kit simply click here.

We also created a kit that bundles the Bias SoundSoap 2 software with the handy and affordable ART USBPhonoPlus v2 computer interface. This is an ideal solution for someone who already owns a turntable and would like to capture their albums into a computer, and remove the crackles and pops in the process. This kit is also Mac and Windows compatible. For more information on this kit simply click here.

Finally, once you've finished recording your record collection into your computer, and you're ready to do something with the space your record collection had been taking up, 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 may cherish it?

If you have any more questions about recording vinyl into a computer, we encourage you to contact us on the phone, online, or in person at our SuperStore in New York City.1-800-947-9923

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