If you’ve poked around my website, you’ve probably figured out that I’ve been involved in pro audio for a long time… if you count when I started on my media degree in college, about thirty years. The way we listen to music has completely changed since then. Vinyl records have greatly declined, of course, and listening to music with MP3s is certainly more convenient. But vinyl still sounds good… in some cases better*… than many of the downloaded stuff that’s common now.
Since I’ve got the gear, I’m now offering vinyl to MP3 transfers. Pricing is as follows:
- Straight album transfer, no editing or track names $15 per album
- Additional Editing, noise reduction, and restoration work $25 per hour
Transferring vinyl to MP3 makes a lot of sense, especially if the music you love is not available on iTunes. Playing a record causes a tiny bit of wear to the disk. If you transfer to a high-resolution MP3 for everyday playing, your records can stay pristine virtually forever. I save all transfers at 320mbps, the highest-quality (least amount of compression) MP3 setting available.
The question often arises, “is this legal?” As long as you didn’t steal the vinyl copy you’re providing to me, and you use the resulting file for your personal use only, the answer is yes. It is perfectly legal for you to make a backup or archival copy of any record that you own, as long as you do not attempt to re-sell multiple copies. Please note that I only make transfers of records that you personally own. I require a signed Terms Of Service agreement that basically says you promise not to violate any copyright laws with the files I provide (i.e., posting them on a file-sharing site).
Please note that these prices do not include shipping or media. Albums shipped to me will require a prepaid & addressed return postage label. (Be sure to get the Media Mail rate at the post office. Many postal clerks don’t know what an LP is, and they automatically assume it has to go Priority. Media Mail is MUCH cheaper.) A flash drive is a good idea if you want a “hard copy” of the digital files, otherwise they’ll be uploaded to GoogleDrive. If you really want to ship your albums to me to transfer, or if you would like quantity pricing, contact me for a quote via phone, 423 315 0958, or email, email@example.com
- Technics turntable with Audio Technica 400 cartridge
- Little Bear tube phono preamp
- KRK Rockit 5 and Rockit 6 monitors
- Sony PCM-10 recorder
- Universal Audio Apollo Twin interface
- Izotope RX5 Pro, Adobe Soundbooth mastering software
EVALUATING AND CARING FOR YOUR RECORDS
Unfortunately, I see records that are not worth transferring. Here’s how to determine the condition of your collection.
The biggest problem is probably scratches and wear. Scratches can vary from light scuffs to deep scars and everything in between. Goldmine Magazine has a useful system for grading records that assigns one grade for the covers, and one for the vinyl. Naturally, I’m more interested in the condition of the vinyl, but you might as well preserve and protect the covers while you’re at it. Go get your records RIGHT NOW out of the attic. The heat will surely warp them. Store them on edge, NEVER FLAT, and keep them cool and dry. A good article on record care is here.
Records that are scratched, naturally, will not transfer well, even when the scratch can be made to play through adjustment. And while I do have noise reduction capability, I don’t generally like to use it as it alters the overall music playback somewhat. Slight EQ adjustments can be applied, but only when warranted. I clean all records before they are played. If the surface of your records appears heavily scratched, you may want to replace it with a better copy before you have it transferred.
Some people are realizing the benefits of vinyl… this article recently appeared in Time Magazine.
MAKING YOUR OWN VINYL to MP3 TRANSFERS
You don’t have to hire me to do vinyl to MP3 transfers… you can do it yourself. Let’s assume that all you have is a stack of records and a computer, and you need to buy the gear to do the job. (Note- I put this setup together in the dark ages, before MP3 enabled turntables were available. These make the process much easier.) Here’s what I’ve got:
Turntable- eBay is a good source, but these are commonly damaged in shipping. Your seller must be willing to pack it well and buy insurance. (New turntables are available nowadays, expect to drop at least $300 or more for a good quality unit. Turntables with built-in MP3 transfer capability are easy to find.) You can occasionally get lucky at a garage sale, but never when you need it… $75-100
- Stylus– since you’ve just bought a used turntable, you can expect the stylus to be shot. Replacements are expensive… so much so that it might be smarter to buy an entire cartridge. I use a good moving-magnet starter cartridge… high-quality cartridges are crazy expensive. $35-$85
- RIAA Preamp. Skip this if you have a good stereo with a phono input. These can also get nuts in terms of cost. They can be built if you have the skills and the parts, and can be a fun project. A minimum solid-state preamp can be had for about $50, tube preamps are about $250…TCC is a good example. $50
Monitor mixer. Not really necessary, but nice to have. Allows some gentle equalization, correction of levels, and control of monitors. While there are cheaper mixers that will work, I use my Sony MXP61VU, around $500 if you’re lucky. But let’s call it $150 for a small Mackie VLZ type.-$150
Speakers. Again, not absolutely necessary unless you are doing critical monitoring. But it is a lot more fun to hear what’s being transferred. I use a pair of KRK Rokit 5 studio monitors. $300.
- Recorder. You can get by without this and go straight into your computer, but then you’ll need a 2-channel interface. I use a separate recorder, a Sony PCM-10 (I formally had a Zoom H4N, but I HATE these machines… flimsy plastic construction and they eat batteries like candy) but there are less expensive options. About the cheapest would be a Cowon iAudio U2 player, which can record and comes with a line level input. I bought a 1mb model on ebay for $30, but the battery life on these old units is usually fairly short, so try to find one with the power adapter that shipped with the unit when new- $30-$350
- Software– Here there are more options that range from free to several hundred dollars. You can get by with Audacity, which costs nothing. Other free options include Ardour, which is open-source & works on Mac and Linux machines. I spent a little more on software, and I appreciate the more robust code that professional programs offer. I have Adobe Soundbooth, which I managed to get used on eBay for about $80 and has a number of tools that are great for vinyl work. I recently bought Vinyl Studio, and while it isn’t as refined as Soundbooth, it saves a LOT of time by automatically loading album artwork and song titles from the internet. It can scan for track breaks as well. It definitely saves time, and at $30, it’s a pretty good bargain. You should at least get something like this if you have over twenty albums to transfer- $30
If you total it all up, you’ve spent anywhere from $335 for an interface-straight-into-the-computer setup, or $840 for a system described above. And now there are simple turntables with a USB output, which would be an even cheaper option. They work, but their performance is pretty limited. It’s easy to do the math and figure out what sort of investment this activity warrants. If you’re a casual listener who just wants to hear your old tunes again, then it’s probably better to hire the work out (and don’t forget the time that you’ll spend transferring each album, around an hour each). But if you’re like me, and you have a history with music and it brings you a lot of pleasure, then you’ll probably enjoy the process. It isn’t that difficult or expensive if you buy equipment a little at a time. You can save a good bit by being flexible, watching eBay, and not getting esoteric with things like oxygen-free cable. (By the way, nearly all copper cable manufactured these days is oxygen-free, otherwise it would corrode and tarnish. That’s not to say that some cable isn’t better, but the difference is often negligible. A good shielded cable by Belden, Mogami, or Canare will work fine.)
Sharing Your Results
Once you’ve transferred your classic album into MP3, corrected the scratches, filtered out the rumble, added track codes, and done all this work, you’ll be tempted to share it with the rest of the world. DON’T! This is the main reason why the recording industry is a smoldering bus wreck right now, and so many of us are wondering where our next meal will be coming from. But there’s an exception to this rule… if someone owns a vinyl record, it’s perfectly legal for them to have an MP3 copy for their personal use. So if you have a friend who has a record that is also in your collection, it’s probably OK to share that file. I say “probably,” because there’s probably a lawyer somewhere who can claim the personal copies have to come from the record owned and not from another source. I’m no legal expert, so the standard disclaimer applies here… share at your own risk!
Here are some good vinyl/analog/tube hifi sites:
Discogs – Discogs has gotten much more useful as it’s matured. It’s primarily a crowdsourced database of vinyl records that includes sellers and sales info. For example, you can add the records in your collection, and then have access to that info via your phone while you’re crate digging and can’t remember if you already own a particular find. It will also give you a low, median, and high prices for the titles that you own- good for insurance purposes. You can also quickly get an idea of an average online price for a particular title, giving you the ability to comparison shop. (but you do have to consider shipping, Discogs has many sellers that are overseas based.)
Goldmine Magazine– Goldmine magazine was around when records were cool, when they weren’t cool, and now that everyone realizes they were cool all along. They have lots of great articles, and the physical magazine is still in print.
Bags Unlimited- These days it’s easy to get record protectors, liner sleeves, record mailers, etc on Amazon, but Bags Unlimited has been a long time supplier of these items. I’ve ordered from them on multiple occasions, they’ve always supplied quality products.
* There are lots of theories about various forms of recorded music. Most of these are centered around analog vs. digital arguments and which is better. Speaking for myself, I cannot tell much difference between the two, provided a high-quality sample rate or a good-quality recording. Rather, I find that I prefer listening to some music- especially that recorded before CDs became the preferred delivery format- on vinyl. Great pains were taken to optimize a master tape for the limitations of stereo vinyl. It was how the music was intended to be experienced. Songs were carefully ordered, and those nearer the edge of the disc had greater dynamic range than the inner songs, since the needle has a greater surface speed. Low frequency excursion was carefully considered, as out-of-phase bass information could cause the needle to skip. Other theories consider the effects of odd-numbered harmonic distortion (i.e., distorting the first, third, fifth, seventh harmonics et cetera) and how we tend to find this sort of distortion more pleasant than even-numbered harmonics. But my personal favorite theory is that of familiarity. I’ve listened to a lot of hours of music delivered via turntable, so I’ve come to associate the rumble, clicks and pops as a part of the experience. (within reason, of course) The noise that occurs between songs sort of belongs there. When it’s made pristine (via digital remastering) it just doesn’t sound the same. There are exceptions, of course… excessive sibilance, which is s splattering sound whenever the “s” consonant is heard is always unwelcome and a particular problem with vinyl. All my Jackson Browne records suffer from this problem, and it becomes worse as the record wears out. It’s sometimes caused by faulty mastering as well.