I’ve been using a little program called VinylStudio for several years now. It makes the process of transferring vinyl records into my computer (and into my iTunes library) relatively easy. Since I have a new-ish Mac Mini that I use for my audio work, I updated my old version to version 8.8.2 and thought I’d post a review.
First disclosure, the software came to me courtesy of my wallet. It’s difficult (but not impossible) to write a truly unbiased review in exchange for a free thing-that-you’re reviewing. A pet peeve of mine is when reviewers don’t state up front who paid for the item, so I can take the review with one or two grains of salt.
The main screen of VinylStudio. Here I’m working on a transfer for a client in Nashville called “A Christmas Delight” by Winifred Smith, cut in 1967… not likely to show up on iTunes anytime soon.
VinylStudio was designed to be a standalone program for getting your vinyl records onto your computer. At $30, its a fairly inexpensive, yet still pretty capable program. You can use it to burn CDs of your records if you like, or save the files in a number of different formats besides MP3s, including WAV, AAC (Advanced Audio Coding), AIFF (Audio Interchange File Format), ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec), DFF, DSF, (there are different types of Direct Stream Digital formats) FLAC Free Lossless Audio Codec), and OGG (Ogg Vorbis open-source format).
The program has a capable noise reduction section, but I use other programs for this job. It’s not because Vinyl Studio can’t do the job, it’s just that I’ve been using other programs for editing and noise reduction for years and I’m more familiar with them. Besides, they cost a pile of money so I’d rather use them than let them sit. I mainly use Adobe Soundbooth CS5 for editing and noise reduction, but for really difficult situations, I’ll use Izotope RX Pro.
While you can use VinylStudio to record the file directly into your computer, I record onto a Somy PCM10 recorder. The biggest reason is that my turntable is downstairs in the basement, and my audio workstation is in the office upstairs. I always clean the surface of the vinyl with a water-alcohol solution. (three parts distilled water, one part pure isopropryl alcohol, and one or two drops of Dawn dish detergent to break the surface tension. I usually make a gallon at a time). One of these days I’ll build an utrasonic/ centrifugal record cleaning machine. A somewhat risky way to clean really dirty albums is with a thin layer of Elmer’s glue. Once dry, it peels away from the vinyl, taking specks of dust and dirt with it. I’ve only done this experimentally though. Once recorded, I bring the PCM10 upstairs and download the file into my computer.
First I usually apply a rumble filter which greatly cleans up the waveform, then scan for really obnoxious pops and fix these individually. I’ll then declick the guard bands in between songs. But it’s rare that I’ll do further noise reduction… a certain amount of minor clicks and crackle is a part of the vinyl experience, and too much cleanup destroys the character. I’ll manually optimize the file and balance the tracks if necessary.
With that done, I then bring the file into Vinyl Studio for final work. This is where the program is a huge time-saver… dividing the file into individual songs, and looking through databases on the internet for the track names. This way, you are saved the work of typing in each track name individually. Sometimes it doesn’t work, like when the database can’t find a record, or more rarely, when there were several different versions of a record on vinyl or CD and the order of the songs has been rearranged. But more often than not, it works well. Then it’s a matter of trimming the breaks between the tracks to make the start and stop more accurate.
Another great advantage of the program is bringing the album into my iTunes library, which is a simple one-button affair. VERY handy.
Overall there aren’t a number of big changes with the program over the previous version, which is a relief. It’s a must-have if you’re new to vinyl. For me, it’s a super way to preserve my collection, which includes a small number of fairly expensive and hard-to-replace classics. For casual listening, I just hit the spacebar on my computer. It isn’t the same as cleaning the record and dropping the needle, but it’s really close. Vinyl has a finite number of times it can be played before it gets worn out, and this keeps your collection in nearly unplayed shape. Besides, it’s fun… and records can be traded or sold, which can’t be done with Spotify or iTunes. Buy yourself a turntable, a preamp, some old records, and this program and give it a try… it’ll change the way you enjoy music!