One of the benefits of vinyl records is the superior sound quality compared to streaming. However, there’s a downside; portability. Let’s admit it, bringing records to a beach, though possible, is cumbersome. There are many other reasons you might want to convert vinyl to digital as well. Posterity is a significant one. No one wants to lose their beloved collection due to an unforeseen disaster. It’s undeniable that digital formats are easier to replicate and share. For DJ’s and producers that use digital studios, ripping samples off of vinyl records is sometimes necessary. Luckily, there is a way to transfer the warm sound of vinyl records to MP3’s and other (better!) digital formats, without losing sound quality.
Steps to converting vinyl records to MP3s and other digital formats
- Clean the vinyl record.
- Find a turntable that can convert vinyl into digital or use a pre-amp.
- Link necessary recording devices.
- Open a compatible audio-recording software.
- Record by playing the vinyl.
- Split the tracks in the recording software.
- Export individual tracks using a lossless audio file format.
Clean vinyl records
There are quick ways and more involved ones to cleaning vinyl records, but with the sound interference caused by dust and grime on records, you’ll want to commit to doing this properly. If you’re in a time crunch, you can run through just a few steps to get vinyl in good enough shape. First, remove dust and static from the record by using a static-removing record brush. If there are fingerprints or other visible blemishes on a vinyl record, use a solution and a clean, dry rag to remove them. Make sure the surface of the record is dry before starting recording. For a detailed description with cleaning solution suggestions and more detailed steps, check out our how to clean vinyl records guide.
Find a record player that can convert vinyl into digital using a USB, or use a pre-amp.
Gathering the gear can be the most difficult step, especially if you don’t have a turntable with a USB feature. There are two choices here:
- Use a record player with a built-in USB drive. You will need no additional gear, move on to the next step.
- Work around one that doesn’t by using an additional audio interface.
Options for turntables without a USB drive
You’ll first need to identify the output, either line or phono, of the record player.
- If the turntable has an output labeled Line or a headphone jack, then you can record with an inexpensive Audio Interface. An audio interface is a device that allows turntables, instruments and more to be connected to computers and can also improve the sound recorded through it. If you’re looking to record more than just vinyl records and deeply care about sound quality, consider investing in a powerful audio interface. Of note, many DJ mixer booths and some amps have built-in audio interfaces, which will allow you to circumvent buying a separate one.
- If the turntable only has a Phono output, which is most common in older record players, you’ll need two devices to rip vinyl to digital formats without losing quality. In addition to the audio interface noted above for Line outputs, you may need a Phono Preamp. This will help decode the audio, matching it to the Line-level recording of the computer. There’s an exception here – if you have a Stereo Receiver, then you may be able to forgo the Phono Preamp. You can wire the turntable into the Phono input of the Stereo Receiver, wire it out of the Tape Out and into the Audio Interface, and then connect it to the computer.
Note: Though convenient, USB turntables can get a bad rap from audiophiles. They’ll get the job done, but if you are serious about maintaining the best quality, look into upgrading your specs with an audio interface.
Prepare the turntable and connect the necessary devices
This step is easy enough if you have a USB turntable – just connect the two.
For Line output turntables, connect the audio interface to the computer and the turntable.
For Phono outputs, connect the turntable through a Stereo Receiver (input Phono, output Tape) or a Phono Preamp.
Tip: Replace the turntable stylus if you haven’t done so recently, it will only help the playback quality.
Open a compatible audio-recording software
You’ve got options here, especially if you’ve got some money to part with. Whether you’re using a MAC a PC or a Linux, if you’re looking for a free recording software without the baggage of the built-in standard operating system options, download Audacity. It’s free, open-source, and can export audio losslessly.
Record by playing the vinyl with the audio software ready
Drop the stylus and let computers do the work. This should go without being said but do not hit stop between tracks. Instead, play the entire portion of each side and split the tracks in the next step.
Split each track
This is software specific, but look for the flatlines in the waveform and make a judgment on what the best cut is there. For all my ambient friends out there, make sure you’re cutting at the right point as flatlines don’t mean the song is over! Checking track lengths on Discogs is never a bad idea for those types of situations.
Export all tracks using a lossless file format
There’s a lot of debate about which file is best for preserving audio quality. I’ll leave the bulk of that discussion for a different blog post. You should avoid lossy files, such as mp3’s, because they will lose quality when saving them. If you’re using Audacity, export the tracks as .wav files, which are losslessly saved. Your best bet is to do some research on which file types are lossessly compressed before exporting your tracks. Save your tracks and albums with naming conventions that make sense to you. Organization, considered up front and often, will save you much frustration in the future.
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