Convert your music to digital

Got a few tapes or vinyl LPs tucked away in a corner? Why not convert them to digital format.
 
Learn more
 
 
 
 
 
  • Updated:15 Jun 2006
 

01 .What you'll need

Please note: this information was current as of June 2006 but is still a useful guide to today's market.


Your computer will need a bit of equipment before it's audio capable.

  • Soundcard line inSoundcard with line-in (usually coloured blue). Your computer may already have this, but if not you can buy a dedicated internal soundcard for about $70-$200 or an external card for $150-$300.
  • A cassette player or turntable. As long as it has a line-out socket or a headphone jack, it will be suitable.
  • You'll also need a cable or cables. These are to connect the tape deck or turntable to the computer. The type of cables will depend on the way you connect. If you connect from the headphone socket of a cassette player or turntable, you'll need a cable that has an audio mini-jack at both ends. To connect from the line-out sockets, you'll need a cable with connectors for the line out port(s) at one end, and a mini-jack at the other to plug into your soundcard.
  • Software to record audio to the hard drive as digitally converted sound. We've used Audacity, because it's free and compatible with both Mac and PC. It’s available from http://audacity.sourceforge.net.

Do I need?

Pre ampTurntables produce very weak signals that usually need some kind of amplification before you can record them to digital format.

  • If your turntable is part of a hi-fi system that includes an amplifier, you may not need any other amplification.
  • A phono pre-amp is your best bet, otherwise. It costs $200 or more but some high-end soundcards and turntables include one.
Tip: Check the output levels before you shell out for extra equipment — see Make music.

Excess noise may mean your equipment may not be grounded effectively.

You can try to ground it by attaching everything to the same power socket. Alternatively, some turntables have a grounding wire that you can use to ground the turntable through either the pre-amp or computer case. If this doesn't solve the problem, a signal isolator may help – most pre-amps contain a signal isolator.

It's also worth noting that the inside of a computer is quite noisy when it comes to audio signals, and an external soundcard may also help reduce the noise.

 
 

Sign up to our free
e-Newsletter

Receive FREE email updates of our latest tests, consumer news and CHOICE marketing promotions.

 

Once you're connected, set up Audacity.

Audacity records in mono by default, so change the settings to stereo if you're recording from a stereo source:


In the dropdown box for input, select "Line in" or "Microphone" to match whichever socket you're using. Audacity then listens to that socket for the incoming music. Note that using the Microphone socket will result in a mono recording, so line-in is preferable.

  • From the Edit menu select Preferences
  • Under Audio I/O tick Record in Stereo.

If you plan to do any further editing after recording your audio, you should increase the sampling rate too. That way, any loss of data will be less noticeable in the final result:

  • From the Edit menu select Preferences
  • Under Quality, set the bit-depth to 32 bit.

Check that it works

Play your tape or vinyl record, and check the input levels (red bars) in Audacity. Make sure that sound is registered in both the left and right inputs (if you're recording in stereo).

The bars on the far left indicate that the sound is too loud, and that the audio is being clipped to bring the sound level down to reduce distortion.

If clipping occurs, reduce the volume on your tape player or turntable. If that doesn't help, reduce the input level volume using the slider bar in Audacity.

Record your audio to the hard drive

Press the record button in Audacity then start playing your cassette tape or vinyl record. Headphones or speakers should let you hear the sound levels and any noise, background hum or sound artefacts such as pops and crackles while you record. Press the stop button once the tape or vinyl record has played.

Now, save the file:

  • From the File menu, select Export as WAV.

WAV files can be burned to CD as audio tracks using CD-burning software such as Nero or iTunes.

Edit your tracks

Removing pops, hisses and crackles can be quite time-consuming, but Audacity has a couple of tools to help with the process.

First open your track (if it's not already open).

  • From the Project menu, select Import Audio.

Removing background noise is the first step, and it’s relatively straightforward. Audacity needs a sample of the background noise, so it knows what to remove, choose a portion of the track where there are no vocals or music:

  • Select the track lead-in using the mouse.
  • From the Effect menu, choose Noise Removal.
  • Select Get Noise Profile.

Now Audacity has a sample, remove that noise from the rest of the track.

  • From the Edit menu, choose Select then choose All.
  • From the Effect menu, choose Noise Removal.
  • Select Remove Noise.

The noise reduction process takes up to a minute for around three minutes of music.

There's a quick method for removing clicks in some versions of Audacity:

  • Effects
  • Click removal.

If your version doesn't have click removal, or it doesn't work effectively for your recording, you'll have to play the whole track to identify the pops and clicks in order to remove them one at a time. Remove the single point in the track that contains the spike to remove the pop. This leaves a silence, but it shouldn't be noticeable when you play the entire track.

  • Play the track and use the Zoom In tool to view the track in more detail.
  • Zoom in until you can see each individual note.
  • When you hear a click, press the spacebar. This stops the track.
  • Pops and clicks should be visible as spikes in the soundwave.
  • Drag the mouse over a spike and the notes before and after it
  • Zoom To Selection
  • Press play — this will play just the selected section, and you can confirm that there is a pop or click.
  • Highlight the spike, then select Delete
  • Zoom out and play the region of the track including the click you just removed.

Check that it sounds okay, and that the pop has been removed. If you're unhappy with the result, you can undo it:

From the Edit menu, select Undo.

Combining and equalising

If you record an entire LP, you may want to record each track separately and join them up later, or record the entire thing in one go. Audacity offers several tools to assist with cutting and combining tracks, so you can choose whichever method you prefer.

It may be useful to normalise tracks, to set them all to the same sound level — which is especially useful if you’re combining tracks from different albums or singles.

Old vinyl records often need equalisation, too — manufacturers at the time had difficulties recording both low and high frequency sound. Equalising manages this problem, but means that you also need to equalise on playback. This can take a fair bit of guesswork, but Audacity has several of preset equalisation settings for common record players. It's not exhaustive, so you’ll probably still need to tinker.

Tip: Save your recording, then edit copies, saving backups along each step of the way. If you're unhappy with the final result, you can edit one of the intermediate stages you're happy with, instead of having to record all your tracks again.