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I’ve been receiving emails lately about how I convert my records. In response to these queries, dear readers and listeners, here’s an email correspondence that I feel should give away most of my trade secrets. I’m always happy to answer any questions anyone may have about anything related to this site and it’s gearwork. I’ll also answer some personal queries if you don’t get too slutty about it.

The question email comes from Kevin at resound.wordpress.com, where you can also find some very interesting rips.

Hey there!

I’ve stumbled upon your blog and appreciate your passion for vinyl “finds” and the whole thought of making your treasure hunting so available.

I’ve been (admittedly slowly) attempting something similar with my mother-in-law’s collection of beat up (but still fantastic) vinyl jazz records from the 50′s and 60′s, and my father’s and co-worker’s records (see my blog at http://resound.wordpress.com if you’re interested).

I was wondering if I could pick your brain about Audacity a bit, as your work is very nice.

I lean towards leaving some of the fuzz of the vinyl in the recording, as there is a certain “ambiance” of the corroded grooves, but when I do decide to take out the pops and damaged audio, I was wondering what your favorite method would be.

I tend to isolate each skip or pop by zooming in, and then selecting and either “repairing” (repair tool), de-amplifying, or merely deleting the redlined section (although i tend to use this as a last resort).

After going through this, which can take forever with a poorly maintained platter, I will sometimes “compress” the audio using the default settings (i know this is another sketchy area, as the whole goal is to keep the recording uncompressed, but I find this to be the quickest way to fix the volume levels so that playing the resulting audio file in a mix with the rest of my collection isn’t so alarming in differing levels). I’ll then export to mp3′s after tagging at 256kbps.

Do you have any tips on getting through this process any quicker, finding the right levels, or tools that I may be overlooking? Or, does it remain a labor of love for you, and stay necessarily tedious?

I love what you’re doing and aspire to produce audio files that come closer to the quality you provide on your site.

Thanks for your passion, and hopefully this email isn’t seen as an annoyance.

Cheers,

Kevin

My response is as follows:

Hey Kevin,

Thanks for checking out my site and for the compliments. It’s good to hear that you’re getting into the conversion world as well. I can give you a quick rundown of what I do to record my records.

1. The first thing you always want to do with an old record is check and make sure it’s clean. This sounds obvious enough, but sometimes just using a carbon fiber or felt brush isn’t enough. Ideally you’d use a record cleaning machine, but if you’re like me they’re too damn expensive. I use my own process, which is pretty easy and something you may be doing yourself. You can check out this process here: /2010/06/17/environments-disc-4-the-psychologically-ultimate-thunderstorm-and-synthetic-silence-1974-vinyl-download/ I also use canned air for albums I’ve cleaned in the past and have become dusty. My record player is a static machine. Yes, I know the carbon brushes are static eliminators, but canned air is just so much more fun.

*Sometimes a record can sound ever worse after you clean it using that technique. I believe it’s the static buildup from drying the discs off, but I’m no scientist. However, you can fix this by letting the album play once, which will neutralize the charge on the album. Yes, this whole process is a very imperfect process but I’m getting there.

2. The program I use to collect sound is CD Wave Editor. It’s a free download, really easy to use, and it gives you a good visual interpretation of how much sound is coming into your computer. Every album’s recorded with different gain and as such every record is fed into your computer at a different volume, which is the reason for your lack of level sound on your converted MP3s.

On my first conversions I left the input sound on my sound driver at zero. However, many records ended up being too quiet and lacking punch even would I would adjust the replay volume. To remedy this I test every album I rip using CD Wave Editor’s visual sound wave output to determine how much I need to adjust my computer’s input volume. I always want the loudest part of the record’s sound wave signature to just barely exceed the upper and lower limits of CD Wave’s display window. In other words, you want the green sound wave to fill the window at the album’s loudest. Explaining this takes more time than it takes to actually do it. Just be careful that you don’t turn the input volume on your comp up too much or it will distort the feed.

I can’t tell you where you need to change the input level because each computer is different but usually just go into your sound settings or right click on your volume meter on the computer’s task bar and search around.

*This process is for if you’re using the TAPE/RECORD OUT from your amp to a Y-splitter and on into your audio input jack. If you’re using a USB turntable then this process might not work as I’ve never used one of those newfangled contraptions.

3. Once each side has been recorded as a WAV I split the sides into tracks using CD Wave. It’s a whole hell of a lot easier to split tracks on CD Wave at the exact spot you want than Audacity, and you can save the split file names which will carry over to Audacity.

*Side Note:  My recording settings for CD Wave are 44100 frequency, and 16-bit resolution (which is CD quality). I used to record at higher studio quality settings but it’s a real strain on the computer and sometimes it will freeze the whole operation, which ruins the rip. I’ve also found this setting to be perfect for conversion to 320kbps.

4. Open all of the files in Audacity. I used to mess around with “normalizing” each track before I began altering the input volume but it’s not necessary if you set the input volume correctly. The only other thing I do to clean up the sound is to use the automatic “click removal” tool under the effects tab. I, like yourself, like to leave some of the pops. Additionally, if you’re too heavy on the click removal it’ll remove a lot of the high-end frequencies, the “airiness” of the album. My ideal setting for every record I use click removal  is 30 on the low-end and 197 on the high-end. I don’t know what those numbers correlate to but they sound the best to me. I de-click the majority of my albums in their entirety to maintain a certain pop level and the settings I use ensure that the original “good sound” still stays intact. I never use click removal on new albums.

5. I always rip everything into 320kbps. There may not be much of a difference from 256 but my heart believes there is so I sacrifice the disc space for the perceived sound quality.

I would say stay away from the compression technique since MP3s are already compressing the pure WAV file.

The other thing is experiment with the equipment you’re using. I use a Technics SL-10 turntable, which was used by radio stations back in the 80′s for broadcast and is built like a tank. I used to use a Luxman L-100 amp in Cincinnati, which cost $1000 in 1976, but haven’t shipped that out to San Francisco yet. Right now I’m using a Pioneer SX-3700 that probably cost less than a quarter of the price of the Luxman. But I’ll be damned if it doesn’t sound almost or just as good in the recording aspect.

Pioneer SX-3700 Receiver

Always let your amp warm up really good and hot before you record anything.

I hope I’ve covered everything here but if I’ve left anything out or am unclear about a point don’t hesitate to shoot me an email. It took me a lot of practice to get my records to sound the way I want them and am actually going back through some of the earlier ones and re-ripping them because I’m a lot better now.

The main thing is to have fun and enjoy it. If you don’t then what’s the point?

Thanks for the email and have a good one,

Corbin

If anyone has any questions about this process or any tips for streamlining I’d love to hear from you in the comments section. Thanks for reading.