Sat
Jun 23 2018
11:06 am

I dug out my old turntable from the garage, where it has been boxed up for about 25 years, with the idea of converting some of my old vinyl albums that I haven't already replaced with CDs or downloads. I got a new cartridge and drive belt, but alas it had some mechanical problems I couldn't fix. But I was already in it this far, so I got a new turntable. I've converted a few albums, and it is easier than I thought and the results are pretty great. Here are some tips...

There are a lot of different options, but I decided to go with a USB turntable to simplify it. (Audiophiles will scoff, but whatever). I narrowed it down to these two:

Audio Technica AT-LP60: Fully automatic, belt drive, USB output. OK cartridge, but it isn't replaceable. The automatic feature is nice. This is probably all you need.

Audio Technica AT-LP120 USB: Manual, direct drive. Better build, nicer cartridge, replaceable cartridge. I got this one.

Then you will need some software. Most USB turntables seem to come with the open source Audacity software, or you can just download it here. It is the Swiss Army Knife of audio software, and it's free. But it would be tedious to work with for converting LPs to digital.

Instead, I recommend Vinyl Studio. It's only $30 and makes the whole process push-button simple.

You type in the artist and album name, drop the needle, and it starts recording. While it's recording, you can automatically look up the album in online databases to get the track listings, album art and other info to save with the files. When you're done recording both sides, it scans for track breaks (which you can manually adjust or just set yourself). Then you save the files to FLAC, WAV, or whatever, or even MP3 if you want.

(Tip: The software has an option to record each side to a separate file or both sides to one file. I recommend recording each side to a separate file. That way, when you miss the lead-in groove on side two you don't have to start over.)

I have converted a few albums to 16/44.1 FLAC and they sound excellent. Vinyl Studio has "cleanup" features to get rid of the snap, crackle and pop, but I have decided not to use it, at least for now. My albums appear to be surprisingly clean (the oldest one so far is 45 years old!), plus I kinda like the extra noise. It adds character, and it's what you'd hear anyway just playing the albums.

In my first pass, I've found about 75 or 80 albums to convert that I've never replaced with CDs or downloads, which would cost up to $700 or $800. And there are probably 300+ more to go through. So my new turntable will pay for itself in no time! At least that's what I'll tell the Mrs.

If you already have an old turntable, you can get a pre-amp that applies the RIAA curve and converts to USB, similar to what the above turntables have built-in. You could also hook up your turntable to an older receiver/amp/pre-amp that has phono input with a built-in pre-amp and use the tape or pre-outs to the USB converter, which will have a switch to bypass its phono pre-amp. This is what I was planning to do before I figured out I couldn't get my old turntable working. I was looking at these analog-to-digital pre-amp converters:

Behringer U-PHONO UFO202: Budget option, probably all you need.

ART USB Phono Plus: Nicer option, more controls, probably better quality.

(It's also possible to go from your receiver/amp tape or pre-out to your PC mic/line input if it has one, skipping the external analog-to-digital USB converter. Not sure you would get the same sound quality, but who knows? Might be worth a try.)

R. Neal's picture

Ran into my first less than

Ran into my first less than clean, a little crunchy in places album. Cactus, their first self-titled album.

In it's defense, it has a dodgy past. It was a cutout. It's 48 years old. It was handled and played in heavy rotation on a cheap turntable under, uh, less than optimal conditions.

It still sounds awesome.

R. Neal's picture

Still getting pretty great

Still getting pretty great results with the new turntable and software. Here's my new "vintage" setup, in progress in our previously unused bonus room:

IMG_20180626_171048143_b.jpg
(click for bigger)

Stuff so far: a 2004 Denon 2805 from the closet, a pair of original Advent Loudspeakers from the garage (currently getting woofers refoamed), the new AT LP120 turntable, and a previously retired Lenovo T430 laptop. The 1979 Technics SL-B3 that I couldn't fix is in the bottom of the cabinet.

xmd's picture

Love my Advents. Have 3 pairs

Love my Advents. Have 3 pairs of them. Refoamed all the woofers years ago. Two walnut and one utility style. Would not trade them for anything except maybe some original Infinity's and a certain JBL model that I can't remember.

michael kaplan's picture

Had three pairs of original

Had three pairs of original Advents: sold two, and gave one pair away. Great speakers, especially if you double them (by flipping the upper pair to bring the tweeters close together). I now have a pair of Advent 3's (the little ones) which also sound quite good. The real prize, though, is my Advent 300 receiver!

xmd's picture

I also had the silver face

I also had the silver face Advent 300. Almost forgot about it. Loved it until lighting struck it and killed it many years ago.

michael kaplan's picture

The 300 (yes, silver-face) is

The 300 (yes, silver-face) is powering the 'little' system in my bedroom. Vinyl only, thank you. Quite a joy.

Somebody's picture

I suppose the joy may be in

I suppose the joy may be in the journey rather than the destination, but...

For the cost of an album purchase or two a month, one of the audio streaming services will supply you with digitized versions of likely every one of the albums you already own. Unless you’re in a very high-end audiophile setting, you probably won’t hear the difference in sound quality except that the streaming services’ versions are probably cleaner and quite probably better than a digitized old LP. Mass-market vinyl from back in the day is not anywhere near the quality of modern, fancy 180-gram re-issues, and ironically, most of those reissue LPs have probably been remixed and/or remastered digitally prior to being converted back to analog for pressing onto a record.

I hesitated to join the streaming audio world at first, but the truth is that any music enthusiast is probably already spending more than the subscription fee on regular content acquisitions, so cost is not a barrier, and once you’re in, it’s like having access to an infinite lending library with no late fees and no limit to how much you can check out. The result is less time fiddling with gear or loading digitized files onto portable devices, and more time listing to old favorites, discovering new music, and digging deep into back catalogs for things previously missed.

And seriously, as for sound quality, they’re already not using low bitrates or crappy old mp3 codecs. With common availability of ever-increasing bandwidth, things like lossless streaming and surround mixes are in the near future, and for once won’t require repurchasing things you own in several formats already. So consumer-level quality is already way better than it’s ever been, and the high-end stuff is already coming down the pipeline soon, too.

But of course, that’s all meaningless if the joy for you is actually in the fiddling with LPs and hardware and digital files, and whatever. In that case, you know, never mind.

michael kaplan's picture

It's a hobby.

It's a hobby.

R. Neal's picture

Sure, streaming is the

Sure, streaming is the future. I've subscribed to Tidal and Spotify. Qobuz is coming to America soon, and I will try it. The sound quality is pretty great on Tidal, and on Spotify, too, if you set them up correctly. (Spotify works best on a Spotify Connect device or a Chromecast/Chromecast audio).

And yes, the catalogs are amazing. I picked out a bunch of old random, some obscure vinyl and looked on Tidal and Spotify to see if they had it. Don't think I ever stumped them.

One problem I had was that it was just too overwhelming. Like, if I'm browsing through my albums or my digital library, I'll see something I haven't heard in a while and want to listen to it. Trying to browse through 40 million tracks is too much, even with the filters, etc. Especially on Tidal unless all you listen to is hip-hop.

You do find a lot of interesting stuff, old and new, especially with Spotify and their custom and curated playlists. I mainly used Spotify for "discovery" for that reason. But I discovered that a lot (most?) of the new music isn't anything I'm interested in. But I did end up finding some cool stuff and buying my own copies.

I also like the flexibility of having my own digital library that I can play on any system/software of my choosing in any format I want or need without any DRM or having to use the vendor's app. Then there's data caps. If you're on a road trip listening to Spotify all day you can run through you data limit pretty quick and it ends up costing big bucks. I can load up hundreds of hours of my own music on my phone and not have to deal with that. Yes, I know you can download what you want for playing offline, but you are stuck with using their apps. For me it's easier to just sync my master "favorites" playlist every now and then.

CDs are on the way out, LPs are a niche and too expensive. Thankfully there are still digital downloads from places like 7Digital (and soon Qobuz), but who knows how long that will last.

Eventually, everybody will have to use streaming if they want to hear new music. And you will have to pay every month to rent it. Us old geezers will still have our digital libraries, though, as long as the equipment still works to play them.

But anyway, yes, it's more about the tinkering and nostalgia and the process than the unlimited access to massive libraries.

bizgrrl's picture

He failed to mention the

He failed to mention the cool stereo cabinet i purchased about 25-30 years ago. It came from a great store in Florida, Scan Design. They are still there. I lugged it into the house by myself as a surprise. I wish there was a Scandanavian store in Knoxville. But, there is one in Nashville, 2Danes.

Factchecker's picture

Mid Mod furniture options

Have you visited Mid Mod Collective on North Central? They have some nice Scandinavian furniture at various times. They also have been known to get a few old console music systems. A few months back they even had a couple very nice EV speakers, one being a cool, large corner unit, as I recall.

R. Neal's picture

Albums converted so

Albums converted so far:

Average White Band, Self-titled
Pointer Sisters, Break Out
Grinderswitch, Macon Tracks
Cyndi Lauper, She's So Unusual
Cactus, Self-titled
Molly Hatchett, Flirtin' with Disaster
Jack Mack and the Heart Attack, Cardiac Party
Billy Joel, The Stranger
The Edgar Winter Group with Rick Derringer, Self-titled
Zapp, Zapp II
Stuff, Self-titled
Rick James, Street Songs

We were listening to Molly Hatchet, and I said "they sound a little like Lynyrd Skynyrd." The Mrs. said "they sound like a bar band." I said, "OK, they sound like a bar band trying to sound like Lynyrd Skynyrd."

Next was Jack Mack and the Heart Attack. "I like that one a lot better," said the Mrs.

Listening to Zapp, and the Mrs. said "Do you ever wonder why you bought some of these records?" I said, "Yeah, sounds like house party music. But it brings the funk."

Listening to Rick James, the Mrs. said of Super Freak, "Yeah, I remember that. I wouldn't request it but you should put it on your playlist. It would be funny when it pops up."

We both agreed that The Stranger by Billy Joel is a pretty great album.

schull's picture

I'd argue

Molly Hatchet, Flirting With Disaster, is one of the greatest rock and roll songs ever recorded. The rest of the album is a solid MEH, but that song is just amazing.

R. Neal's picture

Yes, Flirtin' With Disaster

Yes, Flirtin' With Disaster is a pretty good song. Put it on my master playlist.

fischbobber's picture

My old stereo.

I like my old stereo. It goes to eleven.

R. Neal's picture

Today's picks:Loverboy, Get

Today's picks:

Loverboy, Get Lucky: It has the classic "Everybody's Working for the Weekend." The rest of it is sort of overproduced synth-pop with a misogynistic vibe. Weekend made the favorites playlist though.

Climax Blues Band, Lucky For Some: (A theme?) Some pretty good lite-rock stuff here. I have an earlier one (Real to Reel) that I'm hoping will be a little harder. Think I'll go look for some older stuff.

But, the gem of the day is Leon & Mary Russell, Wedding Album. This is a pretty great album. Every song is a keeper. Can't believe I didn't already have it in my digital library. Now I do. (The Mrs.: "You didn't already have this? I'm disappointed.")

bizgrrl's picture

Dilly, Dilly...

Dilly, Dilly...

R. Neal's picture

Three for three today. Wet

Three for three today.

Wet Willie, The Wetter the Better, 1976. Better than I expected. Seems I have a bunch of Capricorn label records.

Climax Blues Band, Real to Reel. An earlier release than the one from the other day. A little bit harder driving, may like this one a little better. Sound quality isn't quite as good though. Plus there was a big divot/blemish on one side. Not sure if it a pressing defect or something I did ages ago. Nevertheless, it played right through the damage with only a little crunch and pop.

Louisiana's LeRoux, self titled, 1978. This is my favorite of the day. Great songs, great playing, great vocals and harmony, great sound quality. Can't beat that. Bonus, I have another one by them. Looking forward to hearing it.

R. Neal's picture

Mixed results from today's

Mixed results from today's picks.

Leslie West, Mountain, 1969. Couple of OK tunes, including a Dylan cover. Otherwise, about the best thing this album has going for it is that the songs are short. Sound quality is sketchy, but it's a cutout. (I'm also confused. Is Mountain the name of the band or the album? Anyway, Mountain, Climbing, 1970 is a better album.)

Aerosmith, Get Your Wings, 1974. Didn't even remember they went back that far. Train Kept a Rollin' is a classic, along with a couple of other prety good tunes. Bonus: the Brecker Bros. make an appearance. Who knew?

Herbie Hancock, Future Shock, 1983. Pick of the day. Features the MTV megahit Rockit. Lots of other cool polyrythmic synth-funk. Not your usual Herbie Hancock, but overall pretty good. Bonus: cover of Curtis Mayfield's Future Shock.

Factchecker's picture

Mountain trivia

Leslie West may still be around, AFAIK, but I seem to recall Felix Pappalardi was murdered by his artist-wife, who had done their album covers. And, also without googling, I believe Pappalardi had been producer of Cream's album releases in the U.S. and occasional keyboard player with Cream. The six degrees of separation would also include Jim Gordon, co-writer of "Layla" and drummer/pianist with Derek and the Dominoes, who murdered his mother.

I'll bet other KVers could fill in more details or provide other interesting related trivia.

R. Neal's picture

That's interesting. While

That's interesting. While listening to this album, I kept thinking it sounded a little bit like Cream. This explains it.

Also re. Jim Gordon, the story goes that he ripped off the Layla piano coda from Rita Coolidge, if I recall correctly.

Factchecker's picture

That's interesting too. I'd

That's interesting too. I'd not heard that, but am also not familiar with Rita Coolidge's stuff.

I do remember seeing Mountain play at the Coliseum. Not bad, as best I can recall, but not great enough to be very memorable. I think I enjoyed Cactus more, and I certainly did Beck, Bogart, and Appice.

michael kaplan's picture

Mountain Climbing is a great

Mountain Climbing is a great sounding album, particularly on an early vinyl pressing ...

R. Neal's picture

Today's picks were pretty

Today's picks were pretty good.

Rossington Collins Band, Anytime Anyplace Anywhere, 1980. Not bad. A couple of keepers.

The Knack, Get the Knack, 1979. My Sharona! Need I say more? Actually, the rest of the album is better than I remember. Good recording, too.

Jackson Browne, For Everyman, 1973. This is a really good album. Bonus: These Days, a truly great song. The recording isn't that good, and for some reason my copy is crackly all the way through. This is the first time I've used the cleanup features of the software and it did a remarkable job. I wonder if it filtered away a little of the "something" though. The sound quality of the recording wasn't great to start with, but I might output the files again without the corrections to see if it's any better. The software does "non-destructive" changes so you can experiment with different corrections, filters, eq, etc., so that's pretty cool.

R. Neal's picture

I got an early start today,

I got an early start today, but wasted time trying to get some old Radio Shack Minimus 77s from the garage hooked up while waiting for my Advent woofers to get refoamed. The Minimus 77s were pretty anemic. The woofer foam surrounds were intact but they felt fragile with rot. Playing them today probably disintegrated them. I haven't looked to see. Back to cheap headphones for this project for now.

Anyway, I finally got around to recording a couple of albums.

The Pretenders, Learning to Crawl, 1982/1983. A pretty great classic album, with some big hits and a couple of oddities. The sound quality is excellent.

Andre Cymone, Livin' in the New Wave, 1982. Remember getting this because he was Prince's bass player for a while, and he wrote, recorded, produced, and played all the instruments on this album. It's all over the place from synth-funk to synth-doo-wop, and it's all good. There is some certified serious Minneapolis funk. Also, this is probably the best sounding LP so far, in terms of sound quality. Bonus: they packed a lot of tight funky bass into the grooves.

R. Neal's picture

Today's conversions: Kim

Today's conversions:

Kim Carnes, Voyeur, 1982. Apparently I bought the wrong album. It doesn't have Betty Davis Eyes. Oh well. Sound quality is good. Otherwise, meh.

Bonnie Raitt, The Glow, 1979. A workmanlike product, not quite up to the level of Luck of the Draw or other later albums. A couple of good covers and originals made my playlist.

Footnote. We're listening, and the Mrs. said that's pretty good. Didn't you already have some Bonnie Raitt albums in your library? I said sure (checking) yeah, looks like six other ones. Well how come I don't remember hearing any of them? I said, well it's a huge master playlist (which is what we usually play), maybe she hasn't come up lately? So we looked, and no Bonnie Raitt in the master playlist. Huh? How did that happen? I promised to rectify it. There's a whole bunch of Bonnie Raitt on there now.

R. Neal's picture

Three for three today.Sea

Three for three today.

Sea Level, Long Walk on a Short Pier, 1979. More southern fried fusion. Great album, great sound quality. Bonus: Randall Bramlett and Lamar Williams.

Louisiana's LeRoux, Keep the Fire Burnin', 1979. Follow up to their first self-titled album with more Cajun-spiced R&B, pop and funk. A little more polished (maybe too much so on a couple of songs) but still pretty good overall. Sound quality is great, just like the first one.

Robert Plant, Pictures at Eleven, 1982. A couple of obligatory Zeppelin-esque rockers plus you can sense he is breaking away and starting to explore his own style. I'd forgotten how good this album is. Great sound quality, too.

michael kaplan's picture

turntable upgrade

Randy, if you're not happy with your USB turntable, you might consider the Clearaudio Statement. Made in Germany, it retails for about $220,000.

clearaudio.jpg

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