Friday, 21 September 2007

Burnin' Love

How to rip/burn vinyl on to your laptop.

One of the key messages of Alan Bennett play “the History Boys” was that knowledge/education should be “passed on” so having learnt how to transfer vinyl recently I thought someone else might like to know.

Most people with a modern pc/Mac can transfer music from cd to Mp3 to play on their computer or Ipod. Most machines do it unbidden when you insert an audio disc.

However there are people with loads of music on Vinyl or even compact audio cassette tape (to give its full name) who putting aside the poorer sound quality would like to listen to it on the train or share it with friends etc. Until recently I did this via my hi-fi by burning an audio cd on my Sony audio cd burner. This deck produces cd quality discs (nb not mp3 files or similar but audio files the same as shop bought cd’s). It’s fine and is great for producing audio cd’s for friends, copying discs etc. The one downside (apart from the blank audio cds being harder to find) is that if you want burn one side of vinyl 7 inch you have to burn an entire cd, which is a waste and a faff.

So I looked into burning directly onto my pc. Now if you have desktop computer this should be straightforward as the big box machines usually have a built in sound card.
Your soundcard allows you to output sound (to head phones, speakers or hifi systems) but also crucially input or record (via software) sound from microphones and hifi outputs such as tape decks and turntables. This post however is for people with Laptops.
To save space in laptop functions found on desktop machines are discarded, one common item not present in a lot of laptops is a sound card. Your laptop will have an ear phone socket and possibly a socket for a microphone but not much else. The microphone socket isn’t any use here as it’s normally mono and not designed to take input from hifi systems so don’t use it.

Now many of you will have seen USB turntables that will burn vinyl for you. I am sure these are great but I already have turntable, a rather fabulous Rega Planer 2. it’s lovely and black with a smoked glass lid, I bought it with my first proper pay check and it’s the only “thing “ in my flat I value outside family photos etc. so I don’t want another particularly a plastically looking one made by Amstrad! My rather sad hi-fi snobbery aside these USB turntable will be fine and if you have around £80-100 spare (and the space) may be worth a punt even if you have an existing deck.

You spin me round

A note on turntables: the music on vinyl is recorded in minute ridges on the vinyl which move the needle a tiny amount, this tiny movement produces an equally tiny amount of electricity in the stylus head, in order for you to hear anything this tiny amount of electricity needs to be made bigger (amplified many times). Even so most turntables don’t output sound at the same level as CD player or tape desk etc. So they have always needed an extra amplifier (pre amp) to get them up to the standard level.

To get music onto your laptop from an existing record player you will probably need an external (USB) sound card.
I looked into these, most are very expensive starting at £40 plus quid with most around £80 these devices are fine but are aimed at musicians or djs and are for imputing guitars, keyboards into your laptop. The device I plumped for was the Griffin I-mic around £20-30 online. This device styled to match ipods is a slim white lolly pop device with two inputs, one switch and number of cables. It will allow you to plug external speakers into your laptop via the USB and get good quality sound but also going the other way allow you to record music from vinyl etc.
Because I-mic works well and has good support info, I’m not doing a step by step guide more an encouragement to have a go.

The Imic runs with the Audacity software (on pc) on the cd provided (or you can get it online) it is freeware. So install the software. You will need another small programme to allow you to export mp3s which for legal reasons you must download separately (it sounds technical but is really straightforward just follow the option on the site you will only need to do it once.) So once installed you may need to set your sound preferences in "control panel" to recognise the I-mic, again all covered in the software help section.

Connecting up
I attached the 2 jack leads out of the back of my turntable into the white cable which came with the I-mic and plugged it all into the input socket and put the switch to the right position (input).

Next choose a record. Give it clean. Click record on audacity, start the track (drop the needle) on the record and record the song you want. Don’t worry about having a big gap at the front you can edit it out later. When the track stops pressthe pause button. You can let an entire side of an LP play and cut it down into individual tracks later if you prefer.

To export your track as an mp3, have a play of it first, find the start and the end and then much like when you highlight a section text in Word highlight the section of “sound waves/graph” you don’t want and delete it until only the track you want is left. Have a play around with the controls you won’t break anything.

Low volume
If the track is to low in volume at the top of the audacity screen is a recording level control, play the loudest part of the track and adjust the recording volume slider so the indicator just touches the highest level, too high and it will distort.

All you need to do now is export you file to mp3 and put it on your player or send it to friends or even post it to a file sharing site and let people listen.

Other things you can do
You can using audacity clean up the pops and squeaks on old records

You can also mix 2 tracks together to make a seamless playlist if you wish etc

So have play around it seems really straight forward software, the help online is relatively helpful and not too techy

A note on the ethics of posting Vinyl
The people who write and perform the music we love generally don’t get the biggest share of the money it generates; they deserve to be paid for their songs. None of us would work for free, musicians shouldn’t have to either. So how does this sit with posting songs on line? Well, I generally never post current popular songs, not that I have any keane records but what would be the point of talking about a record everyone has heard. If a record is by a smaller artist my argument is that as a fan I am promoting their work by sharing a track. I always encourage people to buy music, point of fact the majority of tracks I have found on line I have later gone out and bought, generally on cd.

My main reason for posting mp3s is to share the joy of forgotten or hard to find music. In some cases I see this as archiving songs that would lost and deserve better than only been heard late at night in my flat, other times it’s to encourage people to track down an artist themselves.
If anyone associated with track wants it taking down they can just ask and it will be done ASAP.

In conclusion if you burn a vinyl track as mp3 file you are changing it’s format and in the eyes of record industry are breaking the law, that being said if you have the only copy of 1980’s synth pop classic sat in a shoe box and only you and your mates can hear it maybe, just maybe this would be a bigger crime.

So what are you waiting for get burnin' (or rippin' and burnin' predantic Ed)
sat update Al_uk added

"Tubebite is a useful piece of software free download of the trial version and cheap up grade especially as the $ is so weak. Use it to turn your vinylinto CD's if you are still using that technology. It will also convert between most of the popular audio formats and will get round the digital rights issue of i-tunes aac files. "


John said...

I put it to you that you are using the word "burn" when you mean "rip".

Rip = extracting content from a medium
Burn = writing content to a medium

So you might rip vinyl in order to burn it onto a CD.

BLTP said...

well like I say we are all learning some everyday but yes I am being imprescise, thnaks for pointing it out.

Anonymous said...

I put it to you that this was a very useful post. Many thanks. What isn't clear is whether your turntable has a built in pre-amp? Or does the Griffin thingy act as a pre-amp as well? If not then from what I've read, don't you have to plug your turntable into the phono socket of an amp (as you normally would in a separates system), and then have another lead from the tape out socket of the amp into your Griffin thingy (or straight into your sound card if you have a PC).
Yours as ever... Mr G.

BLTP said...

I put it to you, that that is a good point.
Some turntables did use to have a built in pre-amp and you could toggle the output from phono to normal audio output, I use to have panasonic that did this. My rega doesn't and usually has to go through the phone stage (preamp) on my amp to be loud emough to hear.
However playing around with the Imic I just plugged the 3.5 mm jack plugs out of the turntable into the (2 into 1) audio adapter cable which came with the imic and then plugged this into the mic socket on the imic selected "mic" on the switch. So no pre amp needed.
I did this because when I tried using the Tape loop (audio out) on my amp I got weird digital feed back. I supopose I could also try using the head phone socket which griffin also suggest. I hope this is clear.

BLTP said...

Big G
Ps the last picture on the post shows the connector from turn table to imic to usb.
you can get preamps quite cheap but by the time you've bought a preamp and imic it might be worth getting a usb turntable. esxcept the imic let's output sound from you comp to speakers etc.
If you've got a built in sound card a cheap preamp may be all you need that and free audacity. see maplins for phono preamps.

Anonymous said...

Cheers BLTP. A work colleague is going to lend me a pre-amp so I can have a play before committing, boldly and irreversibly, to a purchase.
Mr. (Big) G.

BLTP said...

Mr G, Big G, or whatever ,
here's some links for pre-amps fro around cost of imic coud also try freebay or whatever you just need an old amp possible, try cash converters and check it's got a phone stage.

Anonymous said...

Ya, I saw some of those in this great little shop in Costa Rica...