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How to Digitize Your Records with Audacity

Introduction

Remember the days of sitting around listening to records growing up? The sound of the cracking hissing and even the occasional skip. If not that’s ok it is making a comeback even in this digital age we live in. Some of us have old records lying around and want to listen to those great songs that may not be available for digital download or use on our iPod or Android devices and would like to.

How You Do It

Well not to worry, it is easy to do with just a few pieces of hardware and some free software on Linux.

What you need:

  • Turntable, can be old style or one of the newer USB turntables
  • Phono Pre-Amp (not needed for USB Turntables)
  • Audacity

There are many USB models on the market, but many are not made to high standards, but there are a few models out there that are good. A few are

  • Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB $299.99
  • Numark PT-01-USB $99.99
  • Numark TT250usb $249.99

Turntables are still available for purchase as there is a sort of comeback that records are now enjoying, but you will need a Phono Pre-Amp for connecting a turntable to the computer and boost output to line level and it  RIAA equalization. Usually RCA outputs are on the Phono Pre-Amp. There are several models available of which I am using the Rolls VP29 Phono Pre-Amp which was purchased years ago, there are others available such as BBE FJB-200X and ART DJPre II Phono Preamp that are similar to the Rolls.

If you are using a turntable and phono pre-amp you will need to plug into the Line-In jack on your computer, as for USB turntables they connect via USB. In this post we will be using the Numark PT-01-USB turntable for the transfers. Now that we have our hardware lets install the software.

Audacity
Audacity can be used to perform all the operations needed to capture, carve up, clean  and export to mp3 or ogg format for consumption by your audio device, this is done by using ffmpeg. As of v 2.0 all these features have been included. Installation of Audacity is simple as it is available on most if not all Linux distributions as well as Windows and OS X. For Windows nd OS X just go over to the Audacity site and download the packages an install them.

$ sudo dnf install audacity

on Ubuntu

$ sudo apt-get install audacity

Clean your records as well as possible!! The safest method is to use distilled water, and spray it on with a perfectly clean spray bottle.  Let it sit for a few minutes and then wipe it off with clean, soft, pure cotton cloth. Don’t do this on the turntable itself, lay the record on a soft cloth on top of a firm flat surface.  Any lint from the that gets on the record from the cloth will come off easily with your regular record duster that you will apply while the record is on the turntable and spinning.

There is also the longtime favorite RCA Discwasher which is what I have been using for many years.

Now we are ready to capture the record using Audacity.

Setting Levels

It is very important to set the levels coming into Audacity, this is to insure that no redlining will occur and cause distortion to you transfer. We can always use filters to increase and normalize once in Audacity, but distortion is harder to remove.

Open Audacity and set the input to what your turntable is connected by to your system. Since I am using a USB turntable the choice is USB Audio Codec.

Audacity Bar

Next start up the turntable and lets set the levels. Click on the Click to Start Monitoring and using the OS’s settings or if your USB Turntable has a Gain you can make changes there. The goal is to keep the peaks out of the red. Once you are happy with the settings it is time to start recording.

Audacity_levels

Capture

Click on the record button and restart your record. At this point enjoy the music and patiently wait for the end of the first side. When you get there press the pause button and flip the record. Un-pause (click on the pause button) and start playing the second side until all is captured. When you are done press stop. Congratulations you record is now digital and ready to manipulate.

Audacity_capture1

To see it all in one window like above click View > Fit in Window.

Audacity_Save_Project

Lets save our capture as a project and set some metadata. Click File > Save Project As and give it a name. So now lets set some metadata with album name and year to have as a common when we export the data. Click File > Edit Metadata. Enter in Album and Year for now. The track name and artist info will be added at export from labels we are going to add.

Audacity_Edit_Metadata_Tags

Adding labels

Now lets add labels. The reason we are doing this is to mark where each of the songs start so when we export Audacity knows were and what to name each track. Move the cursor to where you want the break and click Track > Add Label at Selection. Type in a name and move to the next one. Once you are done it should look similar to this.

Audacity_labels

Save your project to not lose any changes you have made.

Exporting

All the hard work has been done and now it is time to export. Which brings many questions. What is the target? CD (WAV), MP3, FLAC? What bitrate? So many questions and so many option s we have at our disposal.

If we are wanting to make a playable CD we will need to export all as WAV format. Click Edit > Select > All or click in the left pane in a blank area. Click File > Export Multiple. Change Export Format to WAV and click Export.

Export_Multiple_WAV

You will receive popups for each of the songs for you to add more metadata, the data you entered earlier will be there. Just fill in the blanks and click OK.

Audacity_WAV_Metadata

Once the final one is done Audacity will start exporting.

audacity_export_wav_prgress

At this point you can use your favorite burning program to create a CD. But how about you want to listen on your phone, iPod or computer. For that you can export MP3, FLAC, OGG Vorbis format and many others. The process is exactly the same, just change the export format. You will also get options for bit rates and quality. Click on Options next to export format.

MP3 Options

Audacity_MP3_opt

FLAC File Options

Audacity_FLAC

Conclusion

So we have gone through the process on how to digitize your records using Audacity. Have fun bringing back those old memories and great music! Look for future posts on Cleaning up in Audacity as well as transferring other media using Audacity.

 

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