archiving physical music

How Do I Archive and Preserve Rare Physical Media?

So, you’ve plunked down the money for a vinyl record. What should be your relationship with said object? Should it be like a worn-in T-shirt, played and replayed until the crackles and pops become one with the music? Or should it be treated gingerly, stowed away for safekeeping? There’s no all-encompassing answer; it depends on what each individual listener wants from the record.

These days, many LPs come with a high-quality download code, leading many vinyl lovers to procure the lossless files and shelf the physical artifact. But what if there’s a more sensitive piece of physical media — a rare LP, an open-reel tape, or any other line-level analog source — that you wish to enjoy with abandon? There’s accessible conversion technology out there, and the Austrian company Pro-Ject Audio Systems offers it.

If you simply want a digital version of a mass-market LP, these two phono preamplifiers they have on offer — the Pro-Ject Phono Box A/D S2 (which runs $249) and Phono Box DS2 USB (which runs about $699) — might not be explicitly necessary.

That said, if you have something irreplaceable on hand, it’s wise to preserve it before time and neglect — or the wear-and-tear associated with handling and playback — consume it. And whether you pick up the more affordable A/D S2 or you’d like to spring for the DS2, you don’t need an audio technology degree to use it. “It’s very basic,” Jeffery Coates, Pro-Ject’s National Sales and Marketing Director, explains to Discogs. “You’re only doing two channels at a time. We’re not trying to do any equalization or fixes, if you will, in post. These are just straight, hi-res grabs.”

I don’t have to be home. I don’t have to be sitting in front of the turntable. I can play this on a streaming speaker. I can play this on my computer. If I’m traveling and I’m back on a plane, I still have most of my collection with me.

How do the two devices differ? The A/D S2 is simply a high-quality analog-to-digital (A/D) converter. “That happens to have a really excellent phono preamp in it,” Coates says. “That will give you up to basically CD quality.”

As for its counterpart, which runs about three-and-a-half times the price? “It’s a better, more flexible phono preamp,” he explains. “If you’re using more esoteric cartridges, if you need a wider range of gain settings to match it to a particular phono cartridge, that’s its primary benefit.”

Both work with USB out of the box. “It’s a really nice option,” Coates adds. “You don’t have to feel like, ‘Oh, man. I’ve gotten this thing. I’m never using it. That was silly.’” The DS2 also contains two phono inputs and a line-level input, so you can connect a tape deck and two turntables.

The A/D S2 and DS2’s gain control can keep you from destroying your rip — or your loudspeakers. “You know, it’s not a bad idea to go a couple of DB hot if you’re running to analog tape,” he notes, which is not the case for analog-to-digital. “If we exceed the threshold, we get hard digital clipping and it sounds like garbage. Speakers don’t like square waves.”

What software works well with those two pieces of hardware? Coates recommends VinylStudio by AlpineSoft. “We don’t currently have a formal relationship with them,” he clarifies. “But I find that a lot of consumers, when they open up GarageBand or Audacity or whatever and they start looking at that audio signal, say, ‘Great. What do I do with it now?’”

Make sure the surface of the record is clean. Make sure your cartridge’s stylus is clean.

To that end, Coates calls VinylStudio “a really friendly, consumer-facing interface for virtually archiving analog” without having to navigate a baffling array of mysterious buttons. Instead of having to laboriously type in metadata, VinylStudio will grab it for you, much like iTunes does when you pop in a CD. Plus, “in the case of VinylStudio Pro, you can even sync it up with your Discogs library,” Coates adds. “Which is kind of fun!” Plus, VinylStudio has an automatic feature to detect the needle drop, so you won’t have to manually edit out that effect.

Aside from hardware and software, what are some general tips for archiving and preserving physical media? “Make sure the surface of the record is clean. Make sure your cartridge’s stylus is clean,” he stresses. “And you’re not going to get great results on a really, really inexpensive turntable. Don’t use the plastic tonearm turntable, the close-and-play with a plastic suitcase speaker connected to it. You’re not going to get much out of it.”

A couple of quick purchases, and you can listen to rare vinyl or tapes anytime without harming the original nor sacrificing quality. “Just take your time,” Coates encourages. “You’re going to make mistakes as you’re recording and you’re going to get a lot better at it with a little bit of practice.

Above all, the truest benefit of investing in such technology is that you can enjoy this music anywhere. “I think this is just a nice way to access your collection,” he says in closing. “I don’t have to be home. I don’t have to be sitting in front of the turntable. I can play this on a streaming speaker. I can play this on my computer. If I’m traveling and I’m back on a plane, I still have most of my collection with me.” Pick up a device, download an app, and you’ll be ready to fly.

Published in partnership with Pro-Ject Audio Systems.


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