Ottawa PC Users' Group, Inc.
 Product Review 


Copying vinyl to CD for less than five bucks
by Alan German

Do you know what a tone arm is? Do you think that a stylus is only used with a tablet PC? If you have a stylus, mounted in a cartridge, installed on a tone arm, and connected to a hi-fi system, you probably also have lots of vinyl long-playing records. Maybe you have been wondering about how to transfer some of these “oldies but goodies” to CD-ROM. Well, here’s how, and all for less than $5.00! Perhaps you also have cassette tapes or even reel-to-reel recordings. The same basic techniques described below can be used to transfer these to CD-ROM also.

First, a little disclaimer. I considered entitling this piece “Digital Recording for Dummies by
A. Dummy”. By no means would I claim to be an expert in the process. The following is based on my experiences and successes with my equipment. While, in general terms, the method should be similar for most standard audio and computer systems, it may well require tweaking for specific circumstances. Some excellent reference materials for the whole process are noted at the end of this article.

Can you really make sound recordings for less than $5.00? Well, of course, this price assumes that you already own a few computer basics, such as a sound card, and a CD-burner, but who doesn’t these days? All you need in addition is a Y-adapter cable to connect the RCA output jacks on your stereo system to the input coaxial jack of your sound card, and some software to make things happen.

The cable we need (assuming your sound system is like mine) will provide two RCA jacks on one end and one stereo mini co-axial jack at the other end. The best buy that I found on the required cable was at Canadian Tire - an RCA 3.5mm Plug "Y" Adapter - at just over $4, tax included.

It’s a cast iron certainty that if we can get music to run down this cable from an LP record to a computer file we can transfer the resulting file onto a CD-ROM. While, for most people, proprietary sound recording and CD burning software may be the most efficient means of capturing and storing an entire LP’s worth of music, before we take a look at which such program we might actually use, let’s first try out some freeware just to make sure that the basic transfer process works.

My program of choice for this task was Wave Repair (
http://www.delback.co.uk/wavrep/) developed by Clive Backham in the U.K. This program is primarily a sound file editor, and to use all of its features on a regular basis requires purchasing the program (US$30). A 30-day fully functional trial period is provided so that you can evaluate the editing capabilities and decide if the program meets all of your needs. Better yet, if you don’t need the editing function, the basic recording and track splitting functions are always available with Wave Repair operating in freeware mode. Thanks Clive!

Making a recording from an LP is straightforward. Firstly, connect the Y-adapter cable between the amplifier output of your sound system and an input on your sound card. The latter may take the form of “Line-in” or “Microphone”. Different sound cards seem to have a variety of different inputs. Anyway, be brave and plug the co-axial jack into one of the available input sockets.

Run Wave Repair and select Play/Record – Input (Record) New WAV File. A dialog box lets you select the directory and file name for your soon-to-be-recorded masterpiece. Wave Repair’s display now pops up a master control window. Choose an input from the drop-down list, either Line-in or Microphone depending on which of these you plugged the adapter into, and press the Monitor button.

Now, fire up the LP record on your turntable, and watch with glee as the input levels glow green, moving to the right and left as the track’s volume gets louder and softer respectively. Yellow bar fragments at the right end of the display indicate volume levels are approaching maximum levels. Red bars indicate that the volume peaks are likely going to be clipped (and some of loudest of the recorded sounds may be distorted).

Slider controls let you modify the levels of the left and right channels of the stereo recording. Normally moving in concert, the two levels can be adjusted individually by checking the “enable pan” box. Set the recording levels so that they stay mainly in the green, perhaps with the occasional burst of yellow, but with no red bars showing during the loudest parts of the music.
If you don’t have sufficient control over the volume levels, in that either you don’t have enough volume or you can’t keep the recording level out of the red, check out the side bar at right “Sound Problems?” for some possible fixes.

Press the Record button and let Wave Repair record one track from the record or perhaps just a minute or so of music. You want to check that you have a piece of a recording in the bag before you go ahead and spend the time to record the entire contents of an LP. So, press Stop and then Close. A status line will indicate progress as the partial recording is stored to disk.

The display will now show a waveform representation of the music. Also available on the command bar are some normal music-player controls. Press “Play” (the right facing triangle) and listen to the recorded sound. If you don’t hear any sound at this point, check out the “Not enough sound on play back” item in the side bar at right. Adjust Windows’ volume controls and try again to record a single track and then play it back to ensure success.

Now, you are ready to record your LP. Start playing the record, press Wave Repair’s Record button, sit back and enjoy the music. Once the first side of the record has been recorded, press the Pause button. Flip the record to the second side, start it playing, and press Wave Repair’s Resume button. At the end of the second side, press Stop and then Close. Voilą, you have made a digital recording using your very own computer-based recording studio!

Next time we’ll take a look at how to process the resulting WAV file in order to burn a CD that we can subsequently play on any CD player.

References

Wave Repair, Version 4.8.2
http://www.delback.co.uk/wavrep/

Transferring LPs to CDR: Some Advice
http://www.delback.co.uk/lp-cdr.htm

Clive's FAQ About Audio on a PC
http://www.delback.co.uk/pcaudiofaq.htm

Sound Problems?

Not enough/too much sound on record:

If you can’t control the volume levels when recording, either because there isn’t enough volume, or the input volume level is so high that you can’t avoid clipping, check the volume levels on the sound inputs.

Right-click on the loudspeaker icon on the task bar and select Open Volume Controls. At this point, you probably only see the controls for the output devices. To change the display, select Options – Properties – Recording and make sure that at least Line-In and Microphone are checked. The Recording Control will now let you select the input levels for these latter two devices. Ensure that neither is muted and set the levels close to their upper or lower range depending on whether you need more or less volume.

If you are using the Microphone setting and the volume is still too low or too high, select Options – Properties – Recording – Options - Advanced Controls - Microphone – Advanced. If you need more volume check the box marked “1 +20db Gain”. If you need less volume, make sure that this check box is not selected.

Not enough sound on play back:

If no sound is evident when you try to play back your recording, check the Windows’ volume controls. Right-click on the loudspeaker icon on the task bar and select Open Volume Controls. Make sure that both the master output “Volume Control” and the volume control for “Wave” are not muted, and that their slider bars are close to the top of their range. You can always adjust these levels later.


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Ottawa Personal Computer Users Group (OPCUG), Inc.
3 Thatcher Street, Ottawa, ON  K2G 1S6

The opinions expressed in these reviews may not necessarily
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