Vinyl records might be enjoying something of a comeback, but listening to them when you’re out and about is pretty inconvenient. The answer is to convert them to a digital format which you can put on your phone, USB stick or even on your car stereo. This also provides you with a backup of the albums, should disaster occur and the disc gets scratched.
What equipment do I need to rip vinyl?
There are four elements you’ll need to turn your 33s, 45s, or 78s into MP3s. They are as follows;
- A record player
- Connecting cables
- A PC or laptop
- Recording software
- Analogue to digital converter*
*If you’ve bought a turntable recently then it might have a USB port, which means the unit already contains a D2A converter and can be connected directly to your PC.
Also, if your record player has a built-in pre-amp, you can connect an RCA-to-minijack cable to the audio or microphone input on your PC.
Otherwise you’ll need to route the record player's output through an analogue to digital converter (with a built-in pre-amp) and then to your PC.
See our roundup of the best turntables if you want to buy a new one.
If you’re using a laptop, then it’s advisable to use a D2A converter even if your turntable has a pre-amp, as the mic input on computers are often mono, and won’t give sparkling results.
You can find convertors such as the VTOP USB audio capture card on Amazon for around £15/US$15, but audiophiles might want to opt for a more premium model if they want the highest possible audio quality.
The software options are varied. Audacity is free, reliable, and can get the job done. It does require you to be quite hands-on in regards to editing though, manually breaking up the recording of the album into separate tracks for each song.
If you’re happy to invest a little, then VinylStudio is a dedicated app that automates most of the process and splits tracks by itself, saving you the hassle. Its costs $29.95 in the US and around £24 in the UK.
For this tutorial we’ll be using Audacity, as it’s available to everyone.
Converting vinyl to digital using Audacity
Connect your turntable to your PC, using whatever cables are relevant to your particular setup.
You’ll then need to adjust the settings on your PC so that it knows to use the newly attached device. This is done by opening the Start Menu and typing in Control Panel. Select the option that appears at the top, then navigate to Hardware & Sound>Sound.
Select the Recording tab in the window that appears, and choose the option that matches your turntable.
Open Audacity then go to the menu bar at the top of the screen and select Edit>Preferences>Devices, then look in the Interface section for an option called MME. Select that, then check the Recording section to ensure that your turntable is the chosen option and 2 (Stereo) is selected in the Channels field.
One last tweak is found by clicking on the Recording section in the left-hand column, then enabling the Software Playthrough option. With all this done, click OK.
Now you’re ready to record the audio. Before beginning, you’ll want to test levels to make sure the signal isn’t too loud, as this will cause distortion. Start playing the album on your turntable, then pay attention to the Input signals in the top right of the screen.
These should stay green for the vast majority of the playthrough, but if they hit red then you’ll want to use the input slider (the one with a microphone icon) to bring the signal down a bit.
Once you’re happy with this, put the album back to the first track, hit the Record button on Audacity, and start playing. You’ll need to pause the recording when you get to the end of side one, flip the album over, put the needle on the record, then unpause the recording once more.
Once the full album has finished, stop the recording and save the file.
You’ll now need to break the long, uninterrupted track into separate songs. This is achieved by placing the Audacity playhead back at the start of the album, then selecting Tracks from the menu at the top of the page.
From the drop-down menu, select Add Label At Selection, then enter the name of the first song. Move through the whole track, repeating this process where you see the gaps that indicate the beginning of a new song.
Finally, go to File>Export Multiple, select the format you want, then click Export. That’s it, you should now have a collection of tracks within an album that can be used in any music player you choose.
Recording your old tapes is a similar process which we detail in How to convert cassettes to digital.