Dave’s quick guide to converting LP to CD

A number of comments

  • First comment – allow LOTS of time to convert.
  • I won’t speak of legal issues… (It should be noted that this is not legal in Australia without the explicit permission of the copyright holder. This is something that damn FTA should be made to fix… but probably won’t. — Daniel)
  • The end result will never be as good as a properly mastered commercial CD, but that said, the end results are still very acceptable.
  • If the LP is of Val Doonican or the Bay City Rollers, then… just don’t bother. 🙂

Now a few more specifics

Hardware

  • You need a turntable (doh!) near the PC. Audio people would recommend the very best you can afford for final sound quality. I purchased a $250 new turntable, since my old one’s drive belt was perished and I wasn’t really sure about the quality of the stylus. This cheapish new turntable has given good results.
  • Record/LP cleaning/antistatic gear. Use it. There is no point recording any more pops and crackles than absolutely necessary. Whilst software can do a good job at removing this extra unwanted noise, it is always best not to have to deal with it in the first place – your aim is to obtain the cleanest and purest source signal as possible.
  • Turntables traditionally do not deliver the same power on their output leads as other sound components such as CD players and Cassette decks. Additionally, the sound was manipulated within older amplifier to deal with limitations of the media (“RIAA equalisation”). It is for this reason that older amplifiers always had a special input marked “Phono”. You therefore need something to convert the turntable’s output to normal “line-level” signals – so it is suitable jacking into your soundcard’s line-in plug. You require either an old amplifier with a dedicated phono stage, a specialised phono preamp, or a turntable (like recently available from Disk Smiths) that includes the specialised phono amplifier circuits already built into the turntable.
  • Appropriate Stereo RCA to 1/8 jacks – to connect the Line outs from your amplifier to the line in of your soundcard.
  • A PC which has a couple of GIG spare – one LP (both sides = one CD = up to 650 meg plus edit elbow room).
  • A good quality soundcard. In this context that means a high “signal to noise” ratio – meaning the card delivers the most signal to background noise possible. I have obtained reasonably good results using a older Soundblaster PCI128 (hardly top of the line at anything, but it was cheap and it was what I had) but I am now using an Audigy with excellent results. Some purists would suggest external soundcards are better for this purpose since they are remote from the electrical interference within the PC case – but I’ve never experienced problems with this issue.

Software

  • CD Burning software (Ahead’s Nero is fine, as is anything which’ll take Wave files and burn audio CDs)
  • Sound recording/editing software. I have used Cool Edit – which was available as shareware, but that has recently been purchased by Adobe, been revamped and re-badged “Audition” and now is priced beyond the means for home “hobby users”. You may be able to get an older copy of Cool Edit from cover CDs from back copies of PC magazines. It has been reported that freeware software called “Audacity” may be useful for this work. Additionally you might have received sound editing software bundled with your soundcard which might perform all the record and edit functions you require. If you own the Nero suite, check out its wave editing software. Basically you require the means to record the source sound, to be able to filter out pops and crackles, to be able to cut one large file into smaller files and to be able to adjust record/volume levels.

Method

  • Test that you can record from the line in on your PC and save to a “Wave” file. Until you have this resolved you can go no further. (Look for soundcard settings for BOTH record and playback). Find out within your settings how to select the LINE-IN ONLY for recording, and how to disable unwanted sources – such as your microphone – you don’t want other sounds being recorded over your LP source.
  • Have your soundcard’s RECORD level meters showing. You’ll need to adjust ’em for each different LP, and frequently the levels will differ between sides of an LP.
  • Clean both sides of the LP. Then do a sample record from the LP into your sound recording package. Look for and watch the record level meters within the sound recording package whilst test recording the loud parts of your source LP. The peak levels cannot go over 0db (unlike cassette recording, this record level is in the digital realm and cannot handle over-recording) – adjust the soundcard’s record level meter/sliders to get near but NOT over 0db in the recording software’s meters. I normally aim for somewhere around 3 to 6 db down from maximum.
  • Once you are happy the levels are right clean both sides of the LP thoroughly again. Then record each LP side completely through and save the result as a WAVE file. (CD audio = 44.1 htz, 16 bit, stereo).
  • In your sound editing software, look for pop and crackle filters and apply them to the files (Cool Edit’s LP pop & crackle remover worked really well)
  • At this point you can go wild remastering with re equalising and such, but I never bother – let your ears be your guide.
  • I’d NORMALISE the whole file – that is, find the tool/setting to take the whole file up to max (or near max – like 95%) volume which’ll proportionally adjust the whole file’s volume.
  • Within the sound editing software you’ll be able to see each track within the whole wave file. Copy and paste each seperate track into a NEW wave file. I’d suggest a naming convention allowing you to keep track of things.. something like
    s1t01.wav   (meaning side1track01)
    Which causes Nero’s editor to sort your source files in the “right order” – assuming you don’t want to rearrange things.
  • At this point you’ll have lots of wave files saved to your hard drive one for each track from the original LP… Fire up your CD Burning software, request a new Audio CD, and drop these files onto the compilation and burn to a CDRW…
  • Take the finalised CDRW disc out to your lounge room player and test your results…. erase the CDRW, fix what you were not happy with and redo… rinse and spin !

Hope this helps.

Dave

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