Converting Vinyl Records into Digital Format

Converting LPs into Digital Format

Forget the CD - a vinyl record has a better audio range. But repeated playing can wear down the record. If you really love your records and want to continue listening to them in their finest condition, you should convert the LP to digital.

Once you've digitized the music, there are several playing options - click here for more information.

There are basically two audio quality formats:

1. WAV - If you choose this format, the sound will be superior to that on a CD - as good as the vinyl recording. You'll want to save the wav file(s) on a USB memory drive (also known as a "memory stick") - or a hard drive. This will preserve the format and not chop off high or low end sounds.

We estimate that a regular 50 minute record will take up approximately 1/2 gigabyte. A 32 gigabyte memory drive will store about 60 albums.

A CD player chops off the audio. Please forget about saving a wav file on CD format.

Playing music on a USB drive is not too hard. There are options on smartphones, smart TV's, many receivers, and newer vehicles.

2. MP3 - This format is the defacto standard for playing on phones, or storing in the cloud. The format is denser than wav - meaning it takes up less space. But packing the sound into a smaller space loses some audio quality.

MP3 is good enough for music while exercising, or in the background. For serious listening, you'll want the wav format.

There is no rule saying you can't have it both ways. One can save mp3 formats up in the cloud - as the space requirement is much smaller. 1 gigabyte of mp3 format saves 12 hours of music.

Hardware: Converting the LP into Digital

At Custom Hi-Fi, we showcase several turntables that have USB connections. See more information on the Music Hall usb-1.

Rather than plugging RCA phono plugs into your preamp, you simply connect the USB port into a computer - a laptop is fine. The turntables' output goes directly into your computer/laptop. The software will pick up the digital signal.

The USB turntable may be placed next to your computer/laptop in the office. Everything can be "digitized" over there - and then you can play back on the stereo in the main listening area.

Many of our pre-amps and receivers come with a USB output port. This will allow you to have an A to D output - A to D means analog to digital.

One can then utilize any turntable+cartridge combination to digitize the output. The digital output would be connected to a computer's, or laptop's hard drive or USB port. You'll need to keep a computer/laptop next to the stereo to record in this fashion.

Hardware: Playing the Digitized LP

Some pre-amps and receivers come with D to A - Digital to Analog. The USB memory can be plugged into a laptop. From the laptop a USB connection goes to the receiver. (The laptop controls the music selections.)

Check out our DAC devices from Marantz and Parasound. They allow a USB memory drive to be plugged into them. They show the music playing on a front panel display - allowing music selection from the control knobs.

When a device is controlled by a phone app, you'll able to easily to play music from a USB memory drive without needing a computer/laptop.

  • The Yamaha Aventage receivers come with USB and a phone app. Several other receivers are also taking the phone app strategy. Please check with us to see which unit best fits your needs.
  • Many smart TV's and sound bars have a USB port, and a phone app to control it.
  • If you don't have one of the above, then you can always play it with a "dongle" through the mini USB port on your phone. The "dongle" will convert a regular USB device into the miniature USB format for a phone.

Cleaning Your Records

One other hardware issue: before you convert a record into digital - make sure it is clean. Use some type of tool or cleaning system to insure the LP is really, really clean. Otherwise you're going to ask software to remove imperfections that may impact the overall audio - and something that could be done more thoroughly before hand.

If you're going to always play LP's then Custom Home Hi-Fi has the Okki Nokki, a great cleaning machine. It employs a vacuum to suck dust out of the grooves. A few passes on a record, and one can obtain a record almost like new - assuming it has no scratches.

If the cleaning is a one time thing, there are lots of spray kits available online. (Be careful with the dish soap + warm water method as some water can leave a mineral residue that will actually hurt a vinyl recording.)

Many cleaning kits as well as "carbon fiber brush" can be found at Amazon.

Software for Recording

There are a few top notch programs available for LP recordings. We'll list them best to least costly. (The least costly is actually the most powerful.)

Pure Vinyl by Channel D is a great program written only for Apple users. It is not free - cost about $350. But this is money well spent if you're going to convert a few hundred records. Everything is done for you - all you have to do is simply play the record into the Apple, and run the software.

You'll have to enter the name for the record album. It then searches the Internet to see if the LP is in the database. If it is, you don't need to do anything else as each song and timing is defined. Otherwise you'll need to enter the information.

The additional work required in the programs shown below is automatically performed. One just saves the LP in either an mp3 or wav format on a USB, hard drive, or up in the cloud.

The saved sound will absolutely amaze you for its clarity. And of course you can play it digitally forever.

Vinyl Studio costs about $30, so it's almost free. It has many of the fine features of Pure Vinyl, for example after you enter the album's name, it will search on the Internet to find the name for each track/song, and fill it in for you. (Of course, if you have some unique recordings, you'll have to manually fill it in.)

But you'll need to perform the click & pop removal, identifying tracks, etc. in separate steps before saving. It's a good program, but read about Audacity.

Audacity is free - although an online donation is available if you feel the software is that good. (I normally "donate" $15 when I encounter a good, useful, program.) Audacity runs on Windows and Apple devices.

Audacity is extremely powerful. BUT it was not designed just for transferring LP's into digital. Musicians use Audacity for converting their recordings into music.

This means Audacity' term for "tracks" means the layers of sound that a musician uses. For example a voice may be one track, a guitar on another, and drums on a third. The three are layered into one sound. "Labels" in Audacity means what we call tracks on records. There are many other confusing overlaps in Audacity that your brain needs to adapt to.

Many of the features built into Audacity are far beyond what one needs for converting an LP into digital. It's kind of similar to using Microsoft's Word or a graphics program: just focus on the tools needed to get the job done - ignore the other stuff.

Audacity gives one controls that are simply not available in the other tools. For example at "click removal" one can define what constitutes a "click" so that the sound's purity is preserved. One can experiment to get the best possible results without impacting what you hear.

Here's a partial snapshop of Audacity

Converting LPs into Digital Format

When using Audacity, a series of 7 steps must be performed:

1. In most cases the audio recording level will be fine. But you should initially double check the loudest section of each record and make sure it does not create "clipping". If you see the audio going into the red level, click on the microphone icon, and slide the audio recording level down

2. Record the disc. Once the loudest audio input has been defined, you're ready to record. Start the record, press the pink record button, when the record ends, side #1 has been recorded.. Press the Pause button (the left hand button with 2 vertical lines), turn the record over, make sure it is clean, press Pause again, and record side #2.

When side #2 is finished press the stop button - 3rd button from left. Save the results as a backup before proceeding. This will create one wav file with the entire LP in its "raw" format - the sound as recorded directly off the record.

3. Under Effects: use the Click Removal option. I defined the "Threshold" as 282 and the "Maximum Spike" as 15. This appears to work best, without affecting the sound. In about 15 seconds the entire LP sound has its clicks removed.

4. Under Effects: use the Noise Removal option

This is a powerful tool that beats all other software - including Pure Vinyl.

Every turntable has some background noise, some might be below your hearing range. This feature allows you to define the noise of the turntable - and even the LP record's background noise. You can then remove it from the entire recording.

Go to a quiet spot in your recording, highlight the noise - not the music. Normally this is the blank space between songs or movements. The initial recording, clearly shows some noise. Audacity makes the noisy section a "profile" of what should be removed.

Then click to remove the sound. Click here to see a YouTube Video. After you use this effect, these sections will be absolutely quiet, you'll see a flat line for the audio.

The background noise that your turntable creates - and even the most costly turntables + LP records have background noise, can be completely removed from the recording. This silence becomes similar to the absolute silence of the high end SACD recordings.

Again within 15 seconds, all the background noise has been removed. Your recording can be previewed to confirm the sound. It will be unbelievably better than before.

5. Delete the long silent pause at the beginning of each record side - and at the end. If you wait to press the Record button until the needle is almost on the record's music section, and press the Stop button as soon as the record is over, this option won't be needed.

6. Define the "labels", or what we call tracks. Then save each track separately using File/Export Multiple. This will create a separate .wav file for each track. (If you don't save each track separately, the entire side will be one track, and there will be no option to move forward to a specific song.)

7. Using Windows, create a folder for the album on the memory drive - I name the folder with the combination of the artist's name and the album's name. Then store the wav or mp3 file for each track within the folder

There are some excellent YouTube Videos showing you how to do all of this online. Do a Google search for "youtube how to use audacity lp" and you'll see a bunch of videos.

After you get proficient at this, Audacity may take 5 to 10 additional minutes to clean up and save each LP.

But you'll get an absolutely amazing sound! Your old records will actually sound vastly superior. You'll soon be humming Gershwin's tune "How Long Has This Been Going On?"