Experience Report: Turning Audio
Cassettes & Vinyl LPs Into MP3 Files
In mid-2001 our family supplemented its meagre stereo set up with an MP3 Player; specifically, with a Turtle Beach AudioTron. As most people today are aware, an MP3 file is a digital song file—in simple terms, it is a highly compressed version of the digital music stored on an music CD. These MP3 files are commonly stored on PCs, and the AudioTron is a device which reads these files from the PC’s hard disk and plays the songs through one’s stereo.
CDs are digital media, and this means that it is trivial to transfer a CD’s songs into a PC (a process called “ripping”). Not so trivial is the process of transferring audio cassettes and vinyl LPs into one’s computer; however, the process isn't as difficult as I had anticipated and so I've written up my experience as an encouragement to other who might also attempt to pursue the digital quest.
Over the past 8 months I have recorded into the computer and converted 51 cassettes and 16 LPs into MP3 format. Putting these recordings into digital format has allowed us to reintroduce ourselves to music we haven't listened to in over a decade.
In order to transform the music contained on an audio cassette or vinyl LP, it is necessary for that cassette or LP to played and recorded into the PC. The recorded cassette must then be split into individual songs and finally converted into MP3 files to save space on your hard drive.
I am using relatively low-end hardware such as most consumers would have around the house:
When recording cassettes, I connect the tape deck directly into the sound card’s “line in” jack. When recording LPs I connect the turntable to the receiver and then connect the receiver’s tape out jacks to the sound card’s “line in” jack.
Early in July 2001, I was pointed to http://www.r3mix.net, a site containing lots of great MP3 related info, by Stephen Cochran. That site led me to home pages for two products:
Wave Repair is intended to be used for cleaning up vinyl record recordings and has many features. It is shareware (£20 UK), and runs in a limited demo mode that allows recording and splitting of tracks (all as WAV files).
CD Wave is intended to be used for recording and splitting of tracks (all as WAV files), and doesn't have all Wave Repair's fancy features. It is shareware ($15 US), and runs with all its features on even when not registered.
CD Wave excels in the area of splitting tracks; its user interface and ease of use far outclass Wave Repair in this one area. Wave Repair offers a better control over the actual recording process, but for my purposes the difference was negligible. I tried both products and the resulting music files (given my low-end equipment, see next section) were the same to my ear.
I have settled on using CD Wave, given that I don't need the extra features and that it is much easier to perform the splitting function in CD Wave. I have found that splitting the recording up into tracks is the most time consuming part of the process. I then use MusicMatch to convert the tracks to 256K MP3 files. When played back through the Audiotron and my very low end stereo (a Sanyo all-in-one affair) the sound isn't distinguishable from playing the actual cassette itself.
I am very satisfied with the results. Since recording a tape or LP can be done in the background while I'm doing other things, I am slowly record our tape collection while doing other things.
Finally, my first approach to solving the problem was to check out the local used-CD stores to attempt to purchase CD copies of the tapes. This failed as I was not able to find used-CD copies of this older material, and I was not willing to avail myself of Napster and its ilk in order to obtain the material.
As I have been recording cassettes and LPs into the computer, one minor problem is finding JPEG images of the album covers. In many instances I have been able to find them somewhere on the Internet; however, in a few cases I have not. Where no album art is downloadable, I have either scanned or photographed the cassette/LP and created my own JPEG images to use. The album covers I have digitized are available through this link: Christopher’s digitized album covers.