Digitizing vinyl records: how do I do it?

I’ve had a couple of people ask me about digitizing old vinyl LPs, and so I thought I’d put my experiences down in writing here for your edification and enjoyment.

So you have a stack of old LPs, and you want to get them into iTunes so you can listen to them more conveniently?  There are a couple of things you should know before you run out and buy hardware and software, and spend hours doing this.

First, in case you were kidding yourself, this whole process is a royal pain.  It’s fiddly, time-consuming, and frustrating.  So, you should go through your albums and eliminate as many from the stack as you can.  How do you do this?  First, if you have a CD copy, then obviously don’t bother with the LP.  Next, look on-line to see if anybody else has a digitized MP3 version of this album.  Don’t worry about copyright or legality issues; you already own the LP (and the music on it), so getting it in another form for free is perfectly acceptable.

The easiest way I have found to look for such things is using bit-torrent.  Go to www.vuze.com and download their free client.  It’s really quite good and easy to use.  Put in the album name in question, and it will search 4 or 5 torrent sites for this.  You’ll get a bunch of results, some of which are not applicable.  You can use the filter on the right hand side to select just “Music” entries.  Browse through the results and pick one.  Important: LOOK AT THE COMMENTS!  People post comments on the torrent sites, and if you see comments like “fake: don’t download”, then skip that one.  It’s probably a virus or some scam to make money.  When you find something that looks decent (really not that hard once you do it a couple of times), download it.  This could take a short or a very long time depending on how many sources for this album are out on the net.  Be patient!

Of course, you could use this same procedure to download albums you don’t already own, or movies you don’t already own, but that would be illegal, so don’t do that.

You can’t find your album on the net anywhere?  Well, then put it in the “digitizing” pile, and continue your process of culling through your albums.

Once you have a smaller pile of albums to digitize, here’s how you do it!  There are several companies who sell “USB turntables” these days.  These may or may not be a good deal for you.  If you already own a decent turntable, then it’s better to invest in an interface box than to buy a cheezy turntable with an interface box built in.  Trust me, these USB turntables are inexpensive, and you get what you pay for – no audiophile turntable here!

I already owned a good turntable, so I bought Artcessories “USB Phono Plus”.  This box hooks up to your turntable, and has a USB plug for your computer.  The software that came with it was pretty horrible, so I ended up purchasing VinylStudio from AlpineSoft.  One thing this software does is to break up the tracks for you.  So, you put the needle down at the beginning of the record, digitize that entire side, and then the software takes care of it for you.  This is a HUGE timesaver.  If you had to do it track by track, it would take much longer, and I’d have even less hair.  The other neat thing is for a lot of the records I tried, the software will pull the track names from the internet.  This reduces your typing chore, though I do recommend proof-reading, as I did find errors sometimes.

If you don’t already own a turntable, then one of the USB turntables out there is probably a good bet for you.  Frequently there is software bundled, but try out the freebie version of VinylStudio as it may be worth the investment over the included software.


2 comments on “Digitizing vinyl records: how do I do it?

  1. Great tips.  I'm not sure you are correct about being able to legally have a digital copy just because you have the vinyl.  The DMCA (see below) is pretty restrictive.  At a minimum you might be accused and have to raise that as a defense at trial.
    What it DID convince me is that I should never do this. Sounds like too much trouble, unless really the only option to get those albums.  Expect a box of my LP's to arrive on your door step in the near future.


  2. It seems to me that if the DMCA indeed restricted this, then iPods would have to be outlawed.  Their very existence relys in large part on "ripping" CDs you own and converting the music into digital format.  Which is not to say, of course, that DMCA does not in fact restrict this very action!
    You are right though, it is a lot of trouble, and I would only do it for albums which are not available in digital form already.  I look forward to the box of LPs – but I think my mailman will hate you.  I'll give him your address, of course.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s