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Improving Ripped Vinyl Quality on a Budget


Hewie

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I'm setting up to rip my vinyl collection, but am not happy with the results, and could use some advice. There are no obvious "defects" in the results, but burned CDs are rather thin sounding with a very compressed sound stage. My goal is to burn my vinyl collection (~250 lps) to CD for both portability and simplicity sake, but maintaing a high level SQ is very important. If the results aren't at least similar SQ to a standard CD, I'm not going to spend the time doing this.

 

My system is a follows: Rega P3/Benz MC20E2H >Scott 299D line out>Gateway Core i3 with onboard sound. CDP is a Rotel RCC-1055. I have been ripping to line-in at 16/96 to FLAC. I've used both Audacity and VinylStudio. My test record and CD is Steely Dan Aja.

 

My thoughts, and this is where I could use some feedback, I think the thin sound is due to the poor quality on board sound chip, so I'm looking for a better SC or an external ADC. In the long run, my goal is to put all of my music on a dedicated PC music server, and use that for a majority of play back.

 

1) Is it likely that a better SC or an external ADC will significantly improve the SQ?

 

I'm debating between a new sound card such an ASUS Xonar DX and an external USB ADC such as Steinberg UR22 ($150) or a Behringer UMC204HD ($80). My budget

 

2) Any advice on the internal SC vs USB devices? Any feedback on these particular choices given a budget up to $150?

 

Thanks ahead,

Dave

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IMO the most exciting product in some time the Korg DS-DAC-10R which can be had for $599 at B&H and comes with the full version of Audiogate 4 s/w. The Korg can rip up to DSD128 or 24/96, has multiple EQ curves, and you can hear the ADC output in real-time. After talking about this with Darko he just picked up one on his trip to Japan so we will probably have a review on it at DigitalAudioReview in the future.

 

DS-DAC-10R 1BIT USB-DAC/ADC | Audio | KORG

A Digital Audio Converter connected to my Home Computer taking me into the Future

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This is a cheap external USB phono capture device that maybe a step up from what you are using. I used the same unit with satisfactory results for a few rips before upgrading to higher quality unit.

http://www.amazon.com/ART-USB-Phono-Plus/dp/B000BBGCCI

 

+1. I use this device and VinylStudio and get results indistinguishable from the LP. And it is well within the OP's budget.

For my system details, please see my profile. Thank you.

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My system is a follows: Rega P3/Benz MC20E2H >Scott 299D line out>Gateway Core i3 with onboard sound. CDP is a Rotel RCC-1055. I have been ripping to line-in at 16/96 to FLAC. I've used both Audacity and VinylStudio. My test record and CD is Steely Dan Aja.

 

You record in 24/96 and master in 16/44.1? What do you use to convert sample rates before burning to disk? That is probably the weak link in your workflow. You should fix this before committing to different hardware.

 

As to hardware: I used a low budget Cakewalk UA-25EX once or twice to rip vinyl records for friends and the results were actually quite pleasing. You could probably get very decent results from one of the entry level semi-pro audio interfaces, e.g. Focusrite Scarlett 2i2.

Primary ::= Nabla music server | Mutec MC-3+USB w/ Temex LPFRS-01 RB clock | WLM Gamma Reference DAC; Secondary ::= Nabla music server | WaveIO | PrismSound Lyra

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Your problem isn't your TT or the CD's, its everything in between. By the time the signal reaches the CD burner in your PC, its taken quite a bit of damage. The single most important thing you need to by is a good quality, stand alone phono pre amp. Having the signal go through the phono and line stage of a vintage receiver won't do if you want your burned CD's to sound as close as they can to the record. You need to bypass that thing altogether.

 

After that, you need to make a choice. While you can set your PC up to convert and record, its much easier and cheaper to just plug your phono pre directly into a component type CD burner. Leave the computer out of the recording process. Going that route should get your copy close enough to the source to make you happy. If you still want the music on a hard drive, then use your PC to rip the burned CD's you made. That's a task a computer is very good at. All you'll need is software like EAC or dbPoweramp, and that's it. You won't have to buy any additional hardware.

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You record in 24/96 and master in 16/44.1? What do you use to convert sample rates before burning to disk? That is probably the weak link in your workflow. You should fix this before committing to different hardware.

 

VinylStudio does the conversion when it burns the CD. I haven't listened to the recording on the PC, I'll grab my headphones and give it a try which might be insightful.

 

That is probably the weak link in your workflow. You should fix this before committing to different hardware.
Ok

 

As to hardware: I used a low budget Cakewalk UA-25EX once or twice to rip vinyl records for friends and the results were actually quite pleasing. You could probably get very decent results from one of the entry level semi-pro audio interfaces, e.g. Focusrite Scarlett 2i2
Yep, I think this is where I'm headed next.

 

Thanks again,

Dave

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Honestly the best thing you can do is clean the vinyl itself because no amount of digital correction beats starting with a better signal in the first place. With that said I had very good results from the little usb creative Xfi unit when being fed a signal from my Rega Fono preamp. For some reason the result is significantly better than a much more expensive USB Phono Preamp. I also found it helpful to record in the best quality available and down grade after processing. So try recording/editing in 24/96 or better even if you ultimately expect to reduce the quality down to redbook or (gasp) mp3.

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Your problem isn't your TT or the CD's, its everything in between. By the time the signal reaches the CD burner in your PC, its taken quite a bit of damage. The single most important thing you need to by is a good quality, stand alone phono pre amp. Having the signal go through the phono and line stage of a vintage receiver won't do if you want your burned CD's to sound as close as they can to the record. You need to bypass that thing altogether.

I'll give it a try, but the phono section in the totally rebuilt Scott is pretty darn good. It walks all over the Music Hall PA I had originally.

 

... just plug your phono pre directly into a component type CD burner.
Time to do some poking around. Any recommended brands?

 

Thanks

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Using an external ADC is going to be a good improvement. You can skip the phono stage. Feed phono directly to a Mic preamp then do RIAA EQ digitally. The UR 22 is probably better.

 

Now this almost surely what the ART unit is doing. Since they have made it easy by taking care of matching impedance etc you probably won't get much better than that in your budget range. So that's the route I would take.

And always keep in mind: Cognitive biases, like seeing optical illusions are a sign of a normally functioning brain. We all have them, it’s nothing to be ashamed about, but it is something that affects our objective evaluation of reality. 

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I'll give it a try, but the phono section in the totally rebuilt Scott is pretty darn good. It walks all over the Music Hall PA I had originally.

 

Time to do some poking around. Any recommended brands?

 

Thanks

 

It's a different application. The phono pre and line stage in your vintage receiver have a very big impact on the signal. That becomes part of the recording. Then, when you play the recording back, it passes through the line stage a 2nd time. If you want to make a transparent recording, that's not the best way to do it. The goal is to get the record on the CD unaltered, or as close to it as possible.

 

Also, I see that you are considering recording in hi res. You most likely won't see too much added SQ, if any, going that route. Your current source isn't capable of that type of detail. If you had a high end TT and arm, low output MC and a very good, high end phono pre, then go for high res digital. I would put the money into whatever gives the biggest results, given your tight budget.

 

As to what's the best brand of burner, I've tried Pioneer, Marantz, JVC, Sony and Teac. To be honest, they were all about the same. No particular burner stood out as having better SQ. Buy whatever you can get a good deal on.

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Ok this very not a typical way of ripping? Most including me rip in 96kHz/24bit using Audition or a good recording suite set ADC to capture peaks at -6dbs. Then save the file by "Side" etc. Once you have all your sides recorded open them open in iZotope RX or something equivalent and declick whole sides and apply gain to each side usually 2-3 dbs then split up Sides into individual tracks. I then batch process resample and dither to 44kHz/16bit. Then use XLD or equivalent to burn to CD this process will yield transparent results to the recording IMO. You will need to experiment with resample cut-offs curves and amount of dithering to get what sounds transparent.

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I agree with CR250, your weakest link is that vintage receiver (But then again that is what you listen too???). You either need to upgrade it or better yet bypass it and feed directly into an ADC that can do it all, which is what I do with a M2tech Joplin. I get fantastic drops with this simple setup. TT via RCA to Joplin via USB to PC via RX4 (24/96). I don't dither down, keep it in HR after mastering. Really you should be over at the Steve Hoffman forum for information on Needledrops or anything doing with analog. Just a wealth of information on this subject.

http://forums.stevehoffman.tv/

I'm intrigued by the new Korg ADC/DAC which records in DSD. Only problem is all my software works with PCM, like Izotope RX4, not sure what supporting mastering software there is out there for DSD?

(JRiver) Jetway barebones NUC (mod 3 sCLK-EX, Cybershaft OP 14)  (PH SR7) => mini pcie adapter to PCIe 1X => tXUSBexp PCIe card (mod sCLK-EX) (PH SR7) => (USPCB) Chord DAVE => Omega Super 8XRS/REL t5i  (All powered thru Topaz Isolation Transformer)

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Thanks Elvia, good info on stevehoffman's forum. I did another test with a NAD phono pre ripped at 16/48 and then listened back on my PC. Virtually no improvement as compared to the Scott. I'm convinced it's the sound card, so hopefully the UR22 will be a worthwhile purchase.

 

 

PS. Yep, I use the "vintage receiver" everyday. It replaced a naim integrated amp 4 years ago, and I've never looked back. After re-tubing, re-capping, upgrading the power supply and regulation, I think it competes with modern amps well outside of my budget.

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Was the NAD plugged directly into the computer, or did it go through the Scott's line stage? Also, we're not saying that anything is wrong with your amp. I'm sure its a great piece. Just that if you are trying to make a good copy, it may not be the best tool for the job because vintage gear imposes more of its sound on the signal more than most current gear.

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Yep. P3>NAD Phono Pre>PC Line In. Understand regarding the Scott comments. Sorry if I sounded defensive. I also pulled on my schematic for my own edification; FWIW, the line out on the Scott is immediately after the RIAA stage, so the signal isn't passing through any further amplification or tone sections.

Dave

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+1. I use this device and VinylStudio and get results indistinguishable from the LP.

 

Do you rip at 24/96 or 24/192, or some other, and why?

 

Ok this very not a typical way of ripping? Most including me rip in 96kHz/24bit using Audition

 

Why the choice of 24/96 and not 24/192?

 

And.... for anyone else who would like to chime in, I'd like to understand the basis of choosing one or the other, and why?

 

Thx.

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Yep. P3>NAD Phono Pre>PC Line In. Understand regarding the Scott comments. Sorry if I sounded defensive. I also pulled on my schematic for my own edification; FWIW, the line out on the Scott is immediately after the RIAA stage, so the signal isn't passing through any further amplification or tone sections.

Dave

 

Well if the line out from phono isn't buffered that might be some of the problem. The input on the computer may be a poor impedance match for the phono signal in an older design.

 

When you get the Steinberg there are a few things to test out and see what gets your preferred result.

 

Some here are telling you the Scott has a signature (which it may) and you should record bypassing that for highest fidelity. That is true, but if you like the Scott signature you may wish to record that signature so you get the same result upon playback of your recorded files.

And always keep in mind: Cognitive biases, like seeing optical illusions are a sign of a normally functioning brain. We all have them, it’s nothing to be ashamed about, but it is something that affects our objective evaluation of reality. 

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Do you rip at 24/96 or 24/192, or some other, and why?

 

 

 

Why the choice of 24/96 and not 24/192?

 

And.... for anyone else who would like to chime in, I'd like to understand the basis of choosing one or the other, and why?

 

Thx.

 

24/96 has more than enough dynamic range to capture a vinyl record. If you are capable of 24/192 I would only reserve that for vinyl sources that you know to be AAA otherwise what's the point.

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24/96 has more than enough dynamic range to capture a vinyl record. If you are capable of 24/192 I would only reserve that for vinyl sources that you know to be AAA otherwise what's the point.

 

All sources are pristine/mint/AAA.

It's more a question about the fact that it takes 4X storage space for 24/192 vs 24/96.

And therefore... is it worth it for the difference in SQ?

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If the Op likes the sound of his vinyl now, through his Scott phono pre and amp, then changing that dynamic opens a whole new can of worms. As someone else mentioned, the relationship between the cartridge and the phono pre is sacred and changing either one will certainly change his vinyl sound in general.

 

To answer the Op's original question. I started out using a laptop to record to, most of this was to test software and develop my workflow. However, I was shocked at how poor it sounded when played back as a PCM file. This was immediately obvious in the horns but was also in the cymbals and the decay of any bells - and the bass sounded like I had speaker problems. This was while recording into the sound card of a laptop, I suspect lots of noise and who knows what MS Windows is up to while you are capturing your music - thus adding more noise.

 

Going to an external ADC made all the difference in the world. I can now capture the sound of my vinyl almost perfectly.

 

Others have provided good price conscience suggestions, follow their lead. Run your signal as phono > Scott phono input (using your Scott phono pre) and then Tape Out > ADC > Computer (usually the ADC to computer is a USB interface). I'm sure others will tell you that other flow paths will be theoretically better - but you won't hear it and reconfiguring your stereo every time you want to record is a PITA. Make it easy and you'll enjoy doing it :)

Analog: Koetsu Rosewood > VPI Aries 3 w/SDS > EAR 834P > EAR 834L: Audiodesk cleaner

Digital Fun: DAS > CAPS v3 w/LPS (JRMC) SOtM USB > Lynx Hilo > EAR 834L

Digital Serious: DAS > CAPS v3 w/LPS (HQPlayer) Ethernet > SMS-100 NAA > Lampi DSD L4 G5 > EAR 834L

Digital Disc: Oppo BDP 95 > EAR 834L

Output: EAR 834L > Xilica XP4080 DSP > Odessey Stratos Mono Extreme > Legacy Aeris

Phones: EAR 834L > Little Dot Mk ii > Senheiser HD 800

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