Saturday, February 23, 2008


It sure takes a lot of time

and computer power to convert LPs to MP3s. After playing around with Audacity, I ended up switching back to Cakewalk for recording. A lot of searching led me to finally figure out that USB Audio Codec does not have a volume control for recording [gee, thanks a lot for that, Microsoft.] It turns out, though, that the first two records I had selected from the top of my "pile" for trying out this whole system were recent garage sale finds that had been sadly abused by their previous owners. I wasted a lot of time last weekend trying to clean them up, but the finished product was so lousy, it was tough to listen to. I was pretty dang disappointed with the whole idea and almost gave up, regretting the waste of $.

But then, a few days later, I picked up several of my own records from the pile. I've always been rather careful with them, replacing my needle often, never leaving loose albums laying around, always storing them vertically in their cases, using a velvet-covered dust cleaner before playing, etc. They did appear to be in better shape.

Still, I decided that since this was for *keeps*, I should wash each LP before recording it. A search of the internet [wow, there are some real hard-core vinyl enthusiasts out there! *oops, that's probably going to draw some interesting google searches*] led to a homemade cleaning solution of 3 parts water, 1 part isopropyl alchohol, and a squirt of Simple Green soap concentrate. I used a soft paint brush to apply the solution and then rinsed the record clean with warm water - avoiding getting the center label too wet in the process. Finally, I patted it dry with a paper towel.

After this laborious process, I recorded a couple albums, and amazingly, the resulting MP3s came out really nice - as good as any I had on my computer already. The waveforms were clean, and Cakewalk easily removed the few slight background noises.

From start to finish it takes about an hour per record (not counting the actual recording time), which means I'll be lucky to record more than four or five albums a day. This is going to take a long time. Most of this is the final conversion to MP3s, which appears to take a lot of CPU capacity. I decided not to burn these files to CDs - who needs it? Most of the time I'm only able to listen to this kind of music when I'm in my car - which has an iPod connection (and a great sound system).

The nice part about having all these tracks as MP3s is that I can easily call up any song, album, or artist, and within a few clicks, it's playing. Also, while I'm converting the files, I can delete those tracks from the albums that I never liked.

Eventually, I'm probably going to start burning my CDs into MP3s as well.

Thinking of converting over 200 LPs and 2000 CDs to mp3s just boggles my mind.
I just converted about 375 CD albums to digital files, so I know your pain. Luckily, I've never owned an LP so I didn't even have to think about that. Knowing a lot about compression schemes, one suggestion that I might make (before you get too far into your collection) is to digitize your albums as lossless files rather than mp3s. FLAC is the format I used for my CDs. You may not notice the difference from mp3 on your iPod or car stereo, but if you ever listened to those files on a home theater system you would probably be disappointed. And if you encode to a lossless scheme (FLAC, Apple Lossless, WMA Lossless) you can always use a media player that re-encodes the files to mp3 on-the-fly as you transfer them to your iPod.

Since you're going through so much trouble to get the audio quality the best possible from your LPs to the computer, you might as well go the extra mile and use lossless, IMHO. If you're worried about storage space, worry not since storage is cheap these days. My whole collection takes up only 100 GB as FLAC files (ripped with Exact Audio Copy). I take comfort in knowing that those files are exact copies of each track in my collection, so I will never have to rip those CD albums again, despite what new technology comes along.
One thing I forgot to mention--you can't use FLAC with iTunes at the moment, so if that's your media player of choice go with Apple Lossless.
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