How to: convert your vinyl to digital

A reader asked about digitizing his phonograph collection

A reader asked about re-recording his phonograph collection in digital form

You can digitize your analog music collection in a number of ways, but however you do it, it's a hassle. And it always results in disappointing sound quality.

That's why I prefer to buy the music again in digital form, either as easy-to-rip CDs (a bargain if you can find them used) or as downloads. If you go the download route, I strongly recommend you buy from a site that sells unprotected .mp3s, such as Amazon and Napster. That way, there's never a question about your right to play what you bought.

About audio quality: Many people prefer the sound of LPs to digital, but that's irrelevant here. By the time you've digitized the audio, it's no longer an LP; it is digital. And an analog-to-digital transfer done from an LP in your home is almost certainly inferior to one done from the master tape in a studio.

If you have a large vinyl collection (Dr. Hutterer estimates that he owns more than 2500 discs), purchasing them all over again would be prohibitively expensive. On the other hand, transferring them all is prohibitively time-consuming. Not only do you have to set up and play each side, but you have to enter all the information (album title, artist, genre, song title, and so on) that's already there when you download music and automatically added when you rip a CD. So it becomes a matter of what's more valuable; your money or your time.

Of course, if you have any songs that are currently out of print, transferring them may be your only option.

The easiest way to transfer songs is with a USB turntable. You just set up the turntable, plug it into your computer, install the bundled software, and you're ready to rip.

With caveats, of course.

For this article, I looked at the Ion Profile LP Vinyl Conversion Turntable. It's simple, plays 33s and 45s (but not 78s), and at US$100 list, is reasonably priced. I had no trouble setting up the hardware.

The Profile LP comes with two programs on a CD, but Ion Audio recommends you download more up-to-date versions.

The simplest of the programs, by a long shot, is MixMeister's EZ Vinyl/Tape Converter. Once you've bought the turntable, you can download the current version from Ion Audio's Web site].

This program is as close to start-it-and-rip as any analog-recording software I've tried. But with that simplicity comes problems. For instance, it guesses where the tracks begin and end, but if it guesses wrong (which happened to me on one side out of five LPs), there's no way to fix it.

EZ digitizes your music, then uses iTunes to convert it to 160kbps .mp3s. That means if you don't already have iTunes, you have to install it--bad news if you're one of those people who really hates iTunes.

Another iTunes issue: EZ works better if you launch iTunes first.

The other program is the free, open-source Audacity. This is a much more versatile and powerful program. But it also comes with a very steep learning curve.

Add your comments to this article below. If you have other tech questions, email them to me at answer@pcworld.com, or post them to a community of helpful folks on the PCW Answer Line forum.

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