Music of the Week — March 11, 2007
Sunday Night Journal — April 1, 2007

LP to CD

Robert Gotcher asks how I convert lps to cds, and I thought I would answer in a post rather than a comment, so it can be found again more easily, as it's going to include some links that are worth remembering.

First: Erik supplies this link, which is extremely thorough (thanks, Erik).

Second: here's a brief overview. I'll assume you have the equipment to play lps--a turntable and an amp. In addition, you need

  • a computer with a cd burner and an audio card that has a line-in input jack
  • a cable that will take a pair of stereo outputs from your amp to your computer. This will almost certainly be RCA-type jacks on the amp and probably a 1/8" stereo headphone jack on the computer, unless you have a fairly high-end audio card. You can get this cable for $5-20 at Radio Shack.
  • audio recording and editing software (more about that in a minute)
  • cd burning software

Short version of procedure:

  • connect stereo to computer
  • open audio software and hit "record"
  • play the lp
  • after recording, use the editing functions of the audio software to (at a minimum) split the resultant sound file into separate files for each track
  • burn the track files to an audio cd

Sounds fairly simple but in reality it can be quite time-consuming. In particular, you can get bogged down for quite a long time at the editing stage if you decide you want to clean the recording up at all, which you probably do unless it's a brand new lp with no scratches, dirt, etc. I almost drove myself crazy on the first few albums I did when I discovered that I could see, and then manually delete, clicks and pops. That's fine if there are only a few, but if you've got multiples per second it's like that scene in Rain Man where he tries to count all the toothpicks (or whatever it was) that have fallen on the floor.

In fact one might question whether it's worth doing in many cases. If the album has ever been re-issued on cd, the chances are fairly good that if you're patient you can eventually find a used copy on Second Spin or eBay or somewhere for under $10 including shipping. Whereas I can easily spend two to five hours getting one lp onto cd. Is it worth it? Sure, if you really like it and it's not on cd, or you can't or won't pay for a cd. But if it's, say, Close to the Edge, unless $8 or $10 will break your budget, it may make more sense to buy it (chances are good that the commercial release will sound better, too, unless it's one of those digital remastering disasters).

I use the CoolEdit software which the guy at Erik's link uses. I recently found a $20 plug-in for it which does click/pop reduction automatically. It seems to work very well and will make it more feasible to do this more often.

There are some other free or inexpensive audio editing packages. I tried an evaluation version of something called WavePad recently and it looked pretty good but I didn't really get to use it much before the eval period expired. I will track down the link for that and some others and update this post with them later.

Also, I've seen mention of an all-in-one gizmo which includes a turntable and cd burner and attempts to make the whole process straightforward. Sounds questionable to me, because of the editing, but intriguing. I think the cost I saw mentioned was in the $300-400 range.

Oh, and one more step that I always include: the raw audio (.wav) files are so big that you probably won't want to keep them around, but I convert them to mp3, so I can play them on my mp3 player and also have an archive copy if I ever want to burn the music to cd again (albeit with some slight loss of quality).

Update: Here is where you can download Wavepad. There's a free version and a Master's Edition that costs $50 as of right now, although I think it was higher a few weeks ago--they say this is a March special.

Also, the same company has a program specifically tailored for vinyl-to-cd conversions. Looks promising. Sometime after Easter I will probably download the trial version and give it a whirl.



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