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Copying vinyl to CDs

By Chris Johnson. Published: 11th Feb 2006, 18:56:22 | Permalink | Printable

Play it again, Sam

Although vinyl threatens every other year to be the new hip in-thing with all the cool kids on the streets, there's still a wealth of age old audio joy locked away in collections of deteriorating records littering lofts and cupboards everywhere. Chris Johnson talks us through how he preserves his LPs onto CD using RISC OS.

Photo of a gramophoneRecording
Essentially all my experience has come from using a RiscPC fitted with an Irlam i16 audio digitiser podule card. This was a cut down version of their original video recorder, and contains only the audio recording and playback. The card has both analogue and digital inputs, although I only use the analogue input. The audio analogue input requires a signal level of the order of 250mV, so the source requires preamplification and frequency equalisation prior to being fed into the card.

The system I used consisted of a Garrard transcription turntable from many years ago. It was originally connected to a 'home' built preamp/amp based upon an original design by Bailey in Wireless World. However, that had been sent to the tip some years ago, so I purchased a small preamp/mixer unit from Maplin. This provided RIAA equalisation for magnetic cartridges and preamplification to line level. It also had independent level controls for each input, (phono, mic, and aux), and a master output level, allowing the signal level to be easily controlled. Having now looked in the latest Maplin catalogue, there does not seem to be anything similar now available.

The Irlam software provided with the card was basic but completely functional. It included level controls and balance, which I used for fine adjustment, and an oscilloscope type display, which sampled the input waveform to allow a check for signal level and clipping. The record was played and the level could be adjusted to give a good overall level but without clipping on loud peaks. Once satisfied that the level going to the digitiser was satisfactory, the recording could then be made, and it is as easy as clicking on the record button and restart the record playing. Keeping the oscilloscope display going while recording allowed adjustment of level if necessary, although if the level was obviously too high or too low on a particular track, I would abort the recording and start again, rather than have level changes within a recording.

There were reports at one time that the Irlam audio card had problems with long recordings, but I found I could always record a complete side of an LP in one go. Once the recording was finished, the Irlam software inclued some primitive editing capability which allowed the 200+ MB .wav file to be split up into tracks as appropriate. It would also play .wav files so the quality of the actual recording could be checked if necessary. I found that in general the Irlam card worked very well, certainly for my purposes.

Preservation
Since all my LPs had been well used, but also well cared for in handling, they were generally in good condition. However, they had been stored for some years without being used. I did try to clean them up before making an actual recording. This involved making up a solution which was half and half isopropyl alcohol and deionised water. To this was added about 1% of a wetting agent, a photographic chemical obtained from Jessops. Using a clean, lint free cloth soaked in this mixture, the surface of the record was gently wiped to remove any surface dirt. While the surface of the record was well wetted, it was 'played' using just a "Dustbug" type cleaner - a small plastic arm with a nylon brush and felt cleaning pad. This was sometimes repeated two or three times. The record was then played with the actual pickup at least once before any attempt to make a recording. I tended to set the pickup tracking weight to the upper end of the recommended cartridge operating range, rather than at the bottom of the range. After this treatment, most records sounded remarkably free of surface noise and dust.

In brief
You will need a pre-amplifier that's suited to LPs to bring the output from the pick-up needle up to the correct level and apply the RIAA equalisation. Feed the record output into the pre-amplifier unit, and then feed the output of this into the computer's audio input. Set up your audio digitiser to dump the incoming audio feed to disc as one long .wav sample.

Be prepared to shop around for a vinyl friendly pre-amp, they're inexpensive and can be found lurking in hi-fi shops and similar stores. The Irlam i16 is recommended but now hard to find. You could use a RiscTV card, which has an audio input, although it will save the recording in Replay format. The LP tracks can be split up with a suitable sample editor, then burned the CD with CD Burn.
CD burning
Originally I used a SCSI Yamaha 4416 CD writer on a PowerTec SCSI card with CDBurn. This was always a bit hit and miss, and after a while became very unreliable, so I binned it and bought a quite pricey Plextor SCSI CDwriter. This worked well for a couple of years, but once RISC OS Select came along with frequent upgrades (I was a beta tester for a while) it stopped writing reliably, although this is maybe a coincidence. However, having had an Iyonix from its first release, CD writing on this machine has been 100% reliable, so it became a matter of transferring the .wav files over ethernet from the RiscPC to the Iyonix for burning; rather time consuming but it worked.

Covers
When transferring an LP to CD, I usually tried to do proper inserts and so on. This involved scanning the cover of the LP. Since I only had an A4 scanner the cover had to be scanned in two halves, using David Pilling's Imagemaster as it then was known. Since the cover would just about fit the scanner in the vertical direction, I temporarily fitted an additional guide at the top of the scanning area so the cover could be carefully slid sideways on the scanner bed while keeping the vertical position and angle as constant as possible. This resulted in two images with some horizontal overlap, and possibly a little vertical misalignment. The two halves were loaded into Rob Davison's Compo, trimmed as necessary and joined together. With care the join was unnoticeable. If any touching up of the final 'cover' was required, this was done in Photodesk.

The Iyonix
I have never used the Iyonix in anger for digitising audio using it's mic-in socket. I have tried using the analogue output from a DAB radio, and the result sounded ok, but the source was not particularly high-fi. DAB is a bit of a let down, and I only have one 'cos it was a Christmas present from my wife. I still have some LPs to do, but since my 'computer room' is a small box room, there isn't room for everything, and after converting a few LPs, the audio setup goes back into storage. I hope to set up the record deck again at some point, and will give the Iyonix a whirl to see how it performs, since it would be more convenient than getting the RiscPC set up again.

Links



Compo, Photodesk, Dave Pilling's scanning software and CD Burn Irlam i16 cards are no longer available as new, so be prepared to do some digging around on ebay, usenet and user groups

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Discussion

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It'd be much easier if there was such a thing as a USB enabled Turntable ;) Wait... there is!

[link]

An enjoyable article. Indeed the Irlam i16 is a fine card, probably the best sampler for the RiscPC, although my own one does not support SP/DIF (digital) recording, alas. There is also a combined Audio / MIDI podule called DMI50. Supposedly it has the best analog recording quality, although I cannot be sure of that. Still, like the i16, it will not be easy to get hold of one, but it has the added benefit of having 2 MIDI ports built in.

 is a RISC OS UserhEgelia on 11/2/06 11:27PM
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The Iyonixes audio inputs are shockingly bad, just take a look on the Iyonix Support Forum (I'm not the only one that's noticed) , the problem appears to be related to timing on the PCI bus, but a fix is in the works (or so I'm told ;-) ) the outputs not very good either. Just wait for a driver for the SoundBlaster range of cards before you use the Iyonix to convert LP's to WAV files.

 is a RISC OS Userleeshep on 12/2/06 4:41PM
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Audio input is one of my few disappointments with the Iyonix. I have both vinyl albums and various cassettes etc that could usefully be collected-up.

There has been much discussion on the issues but, AIUI, the major issue is getting a sufficiently high signal level. So my interest perked up with the mention above of a Maplin pre-amp ... then waned again when I saw that it is no longer available.

Just keep waiting, I guess. The vinyl's been in the loft for years now so it can't be urgent :-)

 is a RISC OS UserTonyStill on 12/2/06 5:31PM
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Nice one Adam...never seen that before...

Try also: [link]

Good article by the way.

 is a RISC OS UserEddie on 12/2/06 5:46PM
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We should get round to porting the i16 software to 32bit so you can use the card in the Iyonix (as long as its the original case with podule backplane). I've beening wanting to do that with my 24i16 for 3 years, maybe in another 3 I'll get chance :(

 is a RISC OS Userdruck on 13/2/06 9:31AM
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Interesting article, but I can't help feeling that using a computer for this is unnecessarily complicated. I've been doing the same thing using a hi-fi CD recorder bought from my local Richer Sounds. They're not particularly expensive and slot neatly into a hi-fi system. You can also use it as a CD player if you haven't got space for both.

The only advantage I can see in using a computer is if you have software that eliminates surface noise from the record, but I'm not aware of any such software for RISC OS.

 is a RISC OS Usercables on 13/2/06 1:04PM
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TonyStill: "There has been much discussion on the issues but, AIUI, the major issue is getting a sufficiently high signal level. So my interest perked up with the mention above of a Maplin pre-amp ... then waned again when I saw that it is no longer available."

A turntable must be properly amplified to get a recordable, line-level signal. The mentioned Maplin pre-amp is one example of a suitable solution, though not a very good one at that. You can find a similar device at most good hi-fi stores.

The mic input on an Iyonix (or other) PC does amplify the signal going in, but to a different level, so any turntable output directly recorded via the mic-in socket will sound distorted and generally not so pleasant.

cables: I think it's about using RO for these sort of things, but you're certainly right in that it's probably easier and cheaper to use a stand alone CD recorder for it.

Ofcourse, you could use the computer to convert the music to mp3, for example. Or producing a re-mix using Tracker software if you're so inclined :) The best RO audio editing / processing software atm is SampleEd. It supports LADSPA plugins, which are a common format for Linux systems. There's a fair chance that you'll find a plug-in which attempts to eliminate surface noise or pops / crackles.

 is a RISC OS UserhEgelia on 13/2/06 1:29PM
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hEgelia: it is sensible to use a high quality A/D for sampling any kind of audio signal, and it is very likely that the A/D inside the CD recorder is a lot better than any old AC97 chipset (remember the 48kHz/44.1kHz resampling problem?). After you've got in in CD format, you can still rip it on your computer and do anything you like.

 is a RISC OS Userhubersn on 13/2/06 3:48PM
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In reply to hEglia:

"Of course you could use the computer to convert the music to mp3"

As indeed I do when I've put it on CD, using MusicMan - a wonderful product.

 is a RISC OS Usercables on 13/2/06 8:34PM
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I have digitised vinyl LP's on a PC using a hi-fi amplifier with a phono pre-amp. I simply took the tape out on the amp to line in on the computer. The signal to the computer seems to come straight off the stylus as changing the volume on the amp has no effect on the recording. Perhaps that would work on a RiscPC too. The other advantage of this approach is that it has enabled me record *anything*, such as radio that will play through the amplifier.

 is a RISC OS UserHeathcliffe on 15/2/06 9:49AM
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