Like most couples of a certain age, my husband and I grew up spending our allowance, and then paychecks buying records (and eventually, cassettes). By the time we got married in the early 1980s our combined record collection totaled approximately 1,000 albums, taking up several bookcase shelves in our living room. CDs soon took the place of the LPs and cassettes as more bookcases were cluttered with another thousand (smaller and shinier) disks. Jewel cases seemed to proliferate in all the nooks and crannies of our home.
But our vinyl collection sat collecting dust as we, reluctant to fork out cash to replace our outdated and broken turntable, wondered how to once again enjoy our classic rock, folk, Broadway, classical and jazz recordings (many of which were long out of print) that never made the leap into the digital age. Library of Congress recordings of Woody Guthrie and Big Bill Broonzy; Introducing the Beatles; The Compleat Tom Paxton. Even favorites that had been digitally re-released: A Night at the Opera (Queen); my husband's Hendrix, Clapton, Johnny and Edgar Winter collection, my original Broadway cast recording of The Music Man ("borrowed" from my parents on a visit home years earlier) lay dormant as we refused to re-purchase CD versions of recordings already in our library on vinyl. We opted to spend our music dollars on new tracks, assuring ourselves that one day, our one-of-kind 1957 Tom Lehrer album—a priceless auction buy–would once again sing to us.
And then the iPod thing happened, and mp3 players of every breed propagated on retail shelves, removing us by yet one more technological generation from our beloved record albums. “If only,” we cried, “if only there was a way to stuff those glorious tracks into our iPods;” if only.
I searched the oracle of the Internet, invoking the appropriately syntaxed keywords into a Google search and I found there my answer. At least I thought I did. As I dove into dozens of “how-to” articles written in cryptic techno-ese that I, a non-audiophile, could not decipher, I lost hope. Until I stumbled upon a device called a USB Turntable. Hmmm. Seems easy enough, I mused, glancing through the instructions and descriptions I found online. Plug the turntable's USB cable into the computer's USB port. Place album on turntable, start recording software, start turntable. Recording made. (Well, of course you have to flip the record when it reaches the end of side one, but you knew that, right?) Cool. Of course, nothing is ever quite as easy as it seems when you are reading a product review or looking at a user guide without the product actually in hand.
However, I was convinced that this was, indeed, do-able. I went out and purchased a turntable. Several manufacturers make USB turntables, including ION and Numark, which can be had for about $150.00. We settled on the Numark TT-USB because it seemed very sturdy and easy to use. And the price was right.
The turntable is plugged directly into computer's USB port; using the computer’s speakers to hear and monitor the recording. And, after a few false starts (I have to learn to actually READ “quick start guides” before I start playing with my toys), we got the turntable up and working. And thus began a multi-year project (still ongoing) to convert every one of our 1,000 LPs to digital, and upload them into our iPods. That's approximately 20,000 tracks, making me awfully grateful for our 80 gigabyte iPods.
The turntables come packaged with basic recording software, but its worthwhile to buy an upgraded LP to digital transfer software package. There are several out there, including CFB Software’s “LP Recorder” and “LP Ripper.” Nero also includes an LP converter in several of its recording packages. Acoustica is another good package, but is slightly more complicated to use (in my opinion), although it has a lot of cool features. You can create .wav files or mp3 files. I suggest first creating a .wav file, the highest quality recording you can create. Unfortunately .wav files are huge and take up way too much hard drive space to keep forever; and they would obliterate your mp3 player's storage very, very quickly. Fortunately you will be able to delete the .wav file once you have completed the conversion process.
Most of our vinyl recordings (even the most well-cared for) are scratched and full of “pops” and “clicks.” Therefore, you should run your newly digitized recording through something called a de-clicker. You should perform this task on the .wav file and before you convert it to an mp3. The de-clicker we use finds typically finds upwards of 15,000 clicks, pops and other distortions in about 15 seconds, removing them instantaneously. Once processed through the de-clicker, you can save your clean recording as an mp3 file. Then, to save space, you can delete the .wav file. From that point on, you can do what you want with mp3: burn it onto CD, synch onto your mp3 player or iPod, or phone, keep it in a RealAudio or Window Media Player Library, etc.
The only problem is that in our fast-forward, high-speed CD-ripping age, you can’t hurry an analog recording like an LP. Recording an album onto the computer still takes 20 minutes per side. But it’s so worth it. I knew it the moment I was able to hop on the treadmill and listen to Jethro Tull on my iPod. Too cool.