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How to digitize LPs.

Introduction

This tutorial explains step by step how to convert your record albums into digital audio. We’ll go through what equipment you need, how to set up your computer and turntable to record, and how to split up tracks and add metadata.

Here's what you need:
  • Mac computer with built-in microphone and speakers and line-in input
  • Amplified turntable and the proper cables to connect to your computer
  • Collection of LPs that you want to digitize
  • Sound Studio 4 application (we use version 4.2 in this tutorial)

Step 1: Making sure you have the proper equipment.

Depending on how many albums you want to digitize, make sure you have a fair amount of disk space on your computer to edit and save recordings. If you’re planning on archiving your music and you have a lot of albums to digitize, consider using an external hard drive.

Traditional turntables are unamplified, which means that they’re below line level and need an extra stage of amplification to boost them up to the volume of current audio sources. You’ll need a phono pre-amplifier to amplify your audio output and to correct the RIAA curve (more information about the RIAA curve is below). You’ll probably need an RCA to ⅛-inch stereo cable to connect your amplifier to your computer, but check what cables come with your amplifier first and check your connections to be sure.

If you have a USB turntable, RIAA adjustment and amplification are likely built into the turntable, so you don’t need to worry about getting an amplifier.

Make sure you have clean LPs free of dust and static electrical charge, which could create unwanted noise and affect the sound of your audio output.

About the RIAA curve and how it affects audio output. Most records were created with low frequencies reduced and high frequencies boosted so that when they’re played back on turntables the opposite would happen, enhancing the sound. Records cut after 1954 for the most part use this standard RIAA curve. The RIAA curve is important because when you’re importing audio directly from a turntable, you’ll need to make sure the RIAA curve is corrected. More modern, amplified turntables (USB turntables, for example) likely have built-in RIAA adjustment. Older, unamplified turntables will need a phono pre-amplifier to automatically adjust RIAA and to boost the line level to the correct volume.

Recording LPs

Step 2: Setting up and recording your LPs.

With the right setup, you can achieve a clean, high quality audio recording. If you have an older turntable, make sure it’s in good shape before you start recording. Check the condition of your cartridge and needle and consider whether your turntable might also need lubrication or alignment adjustments. If your turntable is in good condition, you’ll avoid adding unwanted noise or distortion from a bad needle or misalignment.

Setting up your computer and turntable.

Now connect your turntable to your computer. If you have a phono pre-amp, you’ll be connecting your turntable to the pre-amp and then connecting the pre-amp to your computer, probably with an RCA cable.

Launch Sound Studio, go to Sound Studio > Preferences. For Input, you should select either Built-in Input (for an amplified turntable connected to your line-in input) or the name of your USB turntable. For Output, choose Built-in Output. Then, check “Playthrough in to out” so that you can hear the audio from your input through your speakers.

Sound Studio preferences screenshot

Start playing the record until sound comes out of your speakers. If you don’t hear anything, check your connections. Adjust the input levels in the bottom left-hand corner of the window so that level meters go occasionally into yellow, but not into the red. Going into the red will result in distortion in the recording.

Input level meters screenshot

Building a logical workflow.

Before you start recording, think about what tasks you need to do to build a logical and efficient workflow. If you’re planning to digitize several LPs, a good workflow will make the process go quicker and help ensure that you have consistent results. Draft a list of tasks and then try it out on an LP and take notes. Adjust your workflow so that it makes sense with what you’re doing.

Here is a general list of the steps you’ll take in your workflow:
  1. Record/capture audio.
  2. Split up tracks and add metadata.
  3. Save in the appropriate file format(s).

Capturing audio in Sound Studio.

When you’re ready to record, hit the record button in Sound Studio and then start playing your LP. You should see the waveform filling up your Sound Studio window. Sit back and enjoy the music until you’re done recording, or set up a timer that will alert you to come back and check on the recording.

For more advanced users, you can also set up Sound Studio to automatically start and stop recording at certain points using the Auto Start/ Stop Recording feature under the Audio menu.

Splitting up tracks

Step 3: Splitting up tracks and adding metadata.

Sound Studio allows you to put placeholders called “markers” between each song or section of the recording that you want to make into a separate track. To mark where you want to split up tracks, click where the first track starts and then go to Insert > Marker. Continue to insert markers at the beginning of each new track.

There’s also a keyboard shortcut for inserting markers. Click where you want to place the marker and hit the “M” key. When you’re done, you can edit the marker labels (i.e., “Marker 1”) by double-clicking on them directly in the editing window or by going to the marker sidebar under View > Show Sidebar and double-clicking on each marker label.

Markers screenshot

When you’re done inserting the markers, go to Edit > Split by Markers... to add your album metadata. Your marker labels will automatically be imported as the name of each track.

The Split by Markers command brings up a window where you can also choose what file format to save your audio files and where to save your files. Click on “Change Folder...” and choose where you want to save your album tracks.

Split by Markers screenshot

Saving Files

Step 4: Choosing a file format for saving your files.

If you want archival quality audio files, consider saving in the AIFF, Apple Lossless, or FLAC file formats. If you only want to listen to it in iTunes or on one of your audio devices, then saving to AAC (MP4) or MP3 would be fine. You may also consider keeping archival quality AIFF files as originals on an external drive and converting them to AAC or MP3 for when you’re just listening to music on your computer or audio device.

About audio quality and lossy versus lossless. There are a couple of things you should know about the differences between an archival file format like AIFF and a compressed format like MP3. AIFF is lossless and uncompressed, which means that the audio is an exact copy of the original data. Lossy compression file formats such as AAC or MP3 compress audio data by discarding some of the least significant data in the file and for the most part with an imperceptible loss of quality. These types of files are much smaller compressed files than AIFF files. However, every time you re-save an MP3 file, you’ll experience generation loss, which is where each time you compress and decompress the data you’re degrading the quality of the file. This is why lossy compression file formats are not ideal for archiving or preserving original data. Because of their smaller compressed file size though, lossy compression file formats are better for most audio devices.

Congratulations! You've digitized and saved the tracks of your first LP using Sound Studio. As you continue to digitize LPs, be patient if you have a lot of albums to go through and enjoy the process. For more information on the different tools and commands in Sound Studio, check out our Sound Studio 4 User Manual.

Checklist

Summary checklist for digitizing your LPs

  1. Have the proper equipment: Sound Studio 4. Your LPs. Mac computer with built-in mic, speakers, and line-in input. Amplified turntables with the proper cables.
  2. Connect turntables to your computer and configure preferences in Sound Studio. Set up a logical workflow before recording.
  3. After recording, insert Markers and name each marker the title of the track. Use Edit > Split by Markers to enter album metadata.
  4. Save your files in AIFF if you're archiving originals, and save in a compressed format like MP3 or AAC if you're planning to listen to the files on an audio device.