How I Digitize Records


1/10/2013
last updated 11/10/2019
D Vautier

Good Recording equipment

To get good results it's necessary to have a quality turntable, cartridge and sound card.  For a long time, I used a Sony turntable, a Technics and a few other turntables but finally I built my own turntable because I did not want to deal with all the levers and springs inside the other turntables and all the vibrations that these things could cause. My new machine was very satisfactory.

Most computers probably need sound cards that are good enough for digitizing like the Asus Xonar DG which is what I use.  Find a sound card that is way quieter than any of the other components which is easy to do.  A basic preamplifier like the DJ Pre II works well.  All of these items together can contribute to good sound capture.  The basic LP has been around a long time and will continue to be around.    

Software

I have had an interest in recorded music for quite a long time and have been collecting records since childhood.  Initially I used to copy them to cassette and 8-track.  When digital came along I immediately started doing it since it offered a vast improvement over cassettes and 8-track recording. About 15 years ago I began digitizing.  Now I have far better equipment and software and will probably have to do it again when the technology gets even better. Oh well!

Here's some basic software I like to use.  They can be matched and merged:  

1. A capture program that can slice and dice record sides and cassette tracks into files.  I use the DAK wave editor and MCH Wavepad.  I have been using these a long time and and they seem easy to use.  I capture one side of an LP and cut it up into separate wav files. Then I capture the other side.

2. An editor that does good basic work.  Wavepad does fine for me.

3. A pop and crackle remover is often needed.  Clickrepair is good.  I use the declick at 10 or 20 percent.  DC Millennium works for bad background noises but it's complicated and takes time to learn and can distort signal especially trumpets.

4.  Wave to MP3 converter.  Tons of these around.  I use Switch by MCH.

5.  File Documentation.  MP3tag is really good.

6.  Burner.  lots around.  I use Nero.       

Procedure

I use several different programs to capture and edit recorded music whether it is from CD, cassette or vinyl.  Vinyl requires RIAA adjustment. The pre-amp does that, but there doesn't seem to be just one product on the market that can do every function well.  Besides good software is not too expensive.

I capture in wav format at 48K/16 for music and 32K/16 for talk.  I compress to mp3 at 320, less for talk.  My listening devices are many: car radios, zunes, usb sticks, iphones. 

I think it is very important to use a good set of earphones when working with music capture.  If you try to monitor with speakers you will not always be able to hear the background noise which can be lost in speakers.  Try to listen for noise level.  You're not doing this to enjoy the music.  It must be considered a technical function. It is also good to have your three basic hardware devices operating properly free of hum and noise.

1.  Examine the record or cassette and see if it is worth recording.  You have to play sections because quality is not visible on records.  The cassettes after 1990 have much better signal and capture well. Cassettes have different attenuation and almost always require high and low end adjustment.  Some vinyl songs may be damaged so they require filters.  Some records may look fine but when they are sampled, they sound terrible.  Forget it,  Throw them away.  Listen for the labials, "s" sounds and background hiss.  Hiss is hard to remove without compromising signal.  Pops can be removed easily.  Records can appear damaged and show no evidence of it when played because the dirt may be only on the ridge.  When you have warped records you may only be able to capture the inner tracks.

2.  Clean the record if it looks dirty.  I don't spend a lot of time here because I think the whole thing is overrated.  If there are no fingerprints I get away with just dusting.  If you leave a record for just 1 minute on the TT before playing, it has to be re-dusted. Carbon fiber brushes are fine enough to get into the groves.  Your stylus, if in good shape, like edges .7 mil or so, only rides half way down the groove.  Groove bottoms contain more noise.  The stylus should not hit the groove bottom.

If I like a record I will go to some extra trouble to clean it, but in general I can't get too excited about cleaning.  When I do, I use a highly diluted mild detergent in a spray bottle and my fingers and then plenty of cool water rinse and air dry by shaking it around.  

3. Sample sections of the record to get the correct signal strength.  Don't overdrive.  It's probably better to under drive a little, but when you amplify later you may bring up some noise.  The DAK capture software I use for example shows if I am overdriving.  My preamp also tells me the signal strength and can be adjusted so that the red light flickers occasionally.  Some records have a very strong signal while others do not.  The stronger the signal (hopefully), probably the lower the background noise.  Look for the strongest song on a side and set your volume accordingly.  The volumes can change from side to side.  Volumes can change even on the same side especially in the case of collections or "greatest hits" stuff.  The left or right channel volume may have to be adjusted because sometimes they are not balanced on the record.  This occurs with records that were originally monophonic.  Songs are difficult to break out In concert albums and in talk shows.

4. Record the side.  Dust it before dropping the stylus.  Then go have a cup of coffeeSet a timer for 20 minutes and go do something else.  Now go back and look at the entire waveform before chopping it up.  You may have missed on the volume.  If the record gets stuck nudge it out and keep recording. You can edit it later. Record other side.  

5. Put markers between songs.  You may sometimes need to zoom in to do this.  If your capture software does not have markers I don't know what to tell you.  It can be real painful editing an entire side.  If it's a live piece you can often recognize the distinctive clapping signal.

If you are dealing with a concert piece, you need both the jacket and the record in hand as a guide to determine where to put markers based on the time of each selection.  Public concerts are hard to break apart but they can be recognized by the clapping.

6. Save the files to a folder.  Save in WAV format since it has a lot of granulation.  Use a file name that resembles the record, i.e., Dean Martin's Greatest Hits = DeanM-GH-1,2,3,4.  This information will all be added later on tags but it helps to do it this way in case.

7. Edit each song using good editing software like wavepad.  I do at minimum three operations for every song; clean up song ends, remove obvious pops, and adjust volume.  Some songs don't need much work but they always need to have the ends cleaned up.  I leave one second of zero sound at the beginning unless it's a fade-in.  At the end it's often just a 2 second fade-out. 

I fade-out the clapping on concert records.

CDs that are ripped to WAV often need volumes adjusted but no RIAA.  Also there is only a very short lead-in and often a long ten second tail on CDs songs.  Adjust the leadin to one second and reduce the tail.  You need the one second lead-in because many devices will truncate this later.

On LPs I just about always use clickrepair at a low 10 or 20 percent setting on the WAV file.  It does a fine job of preserving the signal and removing those small pesky pops generated by dust particles.  

I seldom use the DC Millennium software which has filters where you can sample background noise and apply it but it is dangerous and can distort signal.

I use Wavepad for cleaning up ends and bigger pops.  Real bad pops have to be removed manually.  If I try to remove big pops with clickrepair at a higher setting it can compromise signal.  But I often run clickrepair at no greater than 10 or 20 percent.

I edit the WAV file which is lossless (does not deteriorate with editing) so I am able to do editing operations many times without degredation.

8. Convert the WAV to MP3 or any other media that has Codec level III tags or other tag information.  This will allow the addition of documentation which is an absolute  must.  MP3 reduces file size by around 5 times even at 320 kbps.  There's lots of options.  Some people recommend VBA.  I don't notice a big difference.  I use a 320 for music and 156 for talking. 

9.Add Documentation; title, artist, album, genre.  Use the jacket and record information.  Don't forget about cover art which can be added with MP3TAG or other tools.  Some players distinguish between the "album artist" field and "contributing artist" field for indexing songs.  "album artist" is often indexed but the "contributing artist" field is used for display depending on your software.  I will also scan jackets if they have individual song information and put it in the comments field.

MP3TAG is very good at finding album information but I often try to capture comment information from the record jacket. I use Textbridge for that. 

10.  Once you do this you have everything needed to play songs anywhere that offer mp3 support, download to Iphone or android, transfer to Zune or a thumb drive or USB stick for your car or player.  The recordings can be better than youtube.