How to transfer your old vinyl records to digital files

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Many of us have a collection of vinyl records stashed in a closet or in the attic that we no longer listen to because we no longer have a turntable or it’s too complicated to install one. Or maybe the record player is in use, but you want to be able to enjoy your music in any room of the house, in your car or on the go.

Digitizing your music is also a good way to keep rare records that you don’t want to risk damaging by overplaying them.

Here’s how to convert vinyl albums to digital music files like MP3 for transfer to any device. Keep in mind that recording happens in real time, so you’ll need to allow plenty of time to play your albums throughout.

The equipment you need

• A turntable – look for one with a built-in preamp and USB output so it can connect directly to your computer. This means you won’t need to use a standalone phono preamp.

• A phono preamp – If your turntable doesn’t have one, you’ll need a stand-alone phone preamp to convert the analog signal so your computer’s sound card can use it. Look for a USB preamp so that it can be plugged into your computer’s USB port. Otherwise, you will need a stereo RCA audio cable and an RCA to 3.5mm (mini-jack) adapter to connect it to your PC.

• A computer – Any will do, as long as it has an input port (if you’re not using USB equipment) and enough free hard drive space to store your recorded music .

• Recording software – lots of premium software is available, but free tools, such as Audacity, will suit most users. Bespoke software is also available, such as Pure Vinyl, but comes at a cost.

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Pre-registration checklist

Drivers

You should have all the drivers required for your turntable or preamp. These may install automatically when you plug it in, check the manufacturer’s website if not.

Ports

Check the microphone port on your computer. To do this in Windows, right-click the speaker icon in the Start bar, select Sounds, and click the Recording tab. Either microphone or line-in should be selected, depending on where your device is connected. Play your disc and verify that the bar turns green or that you can hear it through your computer’s speakers or headphones. If the volume seems off, click Properties and adjust the levels.

Familiarize yourself with the software

Take the time to familiarize yourself with the software you will be using with some testing. Check that the audio can be picked up, the recording works, and that you know how to save the files in the desired format and can split them into individual tracks. You will know the software is picking up the music because the waveform should be clear. If it remains flat, it indicates that it is not picking up sound.

Know your formats

When you digitize your music, you will have the option of converting to different formats. The most commonly used is MP3, and it’s a good all-rounder for everyday listening, but you’ll also have the option of converting to FLAC or AIFF. If you plan to transfer to a phone, MP3 is the best format, but if you intend to burn to CD, FLAC will give you better quality.

How to digitize your vinyl records

1. Make sure your old vinyl records are free of dust and fingerprints, as any debris will affect the recording. Use a microfiber brush or lint-free cloth with cleaning solution if necessary, being very careful not to apply too much pressure. Check that the stylus of your record player is clean and free of lint or dust.

2. If you are using a USB turntable with a built-in preamp, simply plug the USB cable into the corresponding port on your computer.

Otherwise, connect your turntable to the phono preamp. Then plug the stereo RCA audio cable into the monitor output of the preamp and the other end into the line input port of your computer using the RCA to 3.5mm adapter.

3. Open the recording software on your computer – in this example we are using the freeware Audacity. Verify that audio will be captured from the correct input by clicking Edit > Preferences and selecting Stand in line under the Recording section. Then go to See and select Show clipping.

4. Click red Registration and start playing your disc on the turntable. It’s usually easier to record the entire recording at once and then split the recording into individual tracks afterwards.

5. Once the recording is complete, you can use Audacity’s noise removal tools to clean up the recording. To split the recording into separate tracks, click and drag your cursor to highlight the length of a track, then click Tracks > Add Tag to Selection and name the track accordingly.

6. When you are satisfied with the final recording, click File > Export Multiple and choose the desired file format – such as MP3 – and save the location before clicking Export. You can now listen to your digitized disc in the music player of your choice or burn it to a CD using a free program such as iTunes.

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