How to Digitize Vinyl Records| Recording with a Computer

Yes, that’s right. We are going to discuss recording records.

In my last post I discussed recommended DAWs to record vinyl on your computer and the benefits of capturing and archiving your favorite tunes. This post will guide you through the simple recording process to get audio from a turntable into a recording program, as well as…

  • Recording Basics
  • Basic Waveform Editing
  • Audio Export Settings

So, you have a recording program of some sort, and you’re ready to start ripping and archiving vinyl records. If you are completely blind to the world of recording and pro audio, this guide will make ripping vinyl less intimidating.

First and foremost, I suggest taking some time to get to know your DAW (digital audio workstation) by browsing over FAQs, forums, and tutorial vids online. Every program is a little different. Everything ahead will cover recording, editing, and processing on a universal level.

Preparing The Record and Stylus

Recording vinyl for digital conversion is a really rewarding experience. It requires a little bit of know-how, but it’s well worth it.

As audio engineers, we stress the importance of capturing a good, clean signal. In this case, the vinyl record needs to be prepared to get the best out of recording. Just like a guitarist needs to tune-up before recording, vinyl records needs similar prep work. All it needs is a thorough cleaning. Here are some record cleaning tips & tricks.

  • Clear the stylus of dust and debris
  • Clean the record, avoiding the label

A quick note: Be sure to check the recommended tracking weight for the stylus. Every turntable is different.

An appropriate stylus tracking weight and a crystal clean record will guarantee the best recording possible.

Recording Basics | The One Rule

Recording vinyl records is pretty simple, so I won’t go into recording heavily. However, there is one key rule to be aware of . Don’t record too “hot”.

Louder is better in the world of music, right? Well, contrary to this deep-rooted belief, louder is not better when recording.

digital-clipping-1516x853

As a general rule, make sure your recording levels stay green. If you see red, your audio is clipping. Clipping occurs when an audio signal reaches a particular point of no return; a threshold where the audio distorts. Picture a really tall man cramped in a tiny house. There’s no room. So, when recording vinyl, keep your levels “in the green”. For vinyl, I usually aim between -6db and -3db to allow for headroom. There is no solid number to aim for, and various engineers will tell you different ranges. Just don’t let the gain meter creep above 0dB, and you’ll be fine in this case.

Editing

When we refer to “editing” the audio from vinyl, it simply means dividing tracks and getting rid of silence between tracks or other unwanted noises.

Again, every DAW is different, but there is a general way to go about editing audio.

A waveform, the carrier pigeon of music, needs to be cut and trimmed. For example, you don’t want to listen to 7 seconds of awkward silence at the beginning of a song. Or, maybe you do. I find there is something charming about the wow and flutter of static before a song starts. How you edit the audio is entirely up to you.

Regardless of how you go about it, you need to understand a fancy word called “transients”.

audacity

Transients are the very short moments during the attack, or beginning, of an audio waveform.

When separating tracks out, make sure not to accidentally snip off the beginning transients. If you do, you’ll notice that the beginning of songs will come in awkwardly. It’s pretty self-explanatory.

To avoid this scenario, just be sure to allow some space before the transient. This ensures a clean attack to the song. No severed audio or abrupt beginnings.

Audio Export Settings

After all the tracks are segmented and clean, you’re ready to export the audio. There isn’t much to exporting. Personally, I stick to lossless compression formats. Lossless formats maintain all of the original data of a file. Lossy compression formats permanently rid the file of a certain portion of data. WAV files are lossless, and MP3 files are lossy. It really depends on how you plan on storing the files. Although WAV files are lossless, they take up quite a bit more space than MP3 files.

Sample rate is the number of samples per second in a piece of audio. Each sample is made up of bits, which hold data about the audio file.

CD standards are 44.1kHz / 16 bits. It’s best to stick to this standard for the purposes of recording vinyl for CD playback. If you plan on storing them digitally, 48 kHz / 24 bit works just fine.

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