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AcidTest

Recommended gear for ripping vinyl?

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I have some old LPs from my youth that I'm looking to convert to digital. I've recently picked up a VPI Classic TT with Ortofon Bronze cartridge, but don't have any kind of ADC capability as of yet. I also don't have a phono stage really commensurate with the Classic - I'm using an Emotiva XPS-1 which I've had for a few years. So I'm pretty open on options in terms of a one or two piece solution. Right now my baseline pick is a PS Audio Nuwave Phono Converter. I've had their DirectStream DAC for a few years now and it's been fantastic. The NPC of course is discontinued but a few are still available at the closeout pricing or occasionally pop up on secondary markets. The other option I have earmarked as a baseline in a 2 piece setup is a high quality phono stage, plus the Korg DS-DAC-10R. Budget is under $2k.

 

Ultimately, my goal is to digitize some existing LPs, and probably acquire some select titles in the future (primarily where mastering is clearly better on the vinyl vs digital release, or perhaps a few personal favorites that have very nice physical packaging to enjoy), and listen to this music from my digital setup instead of directly from vinyl. (I have a Mac Mini front end with 3500 CDs ripped plus Tidal as my digital source, feeding the DSD.)

 

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I used the DS-DAC-10R and Vinyl Studio to rip my LP collection. I ripped to 88/24, zero compression FLAC and I'm pleased with the results.

 

The Korg connects to the record/play loop just like a tape deck. The music never passes through your computer. Vinyl Studio is very easy to use and the click filter is amazing. Even some terrible second-hand store records cleaned right up. 

 

I didn't use it, but Vinyl Studio provides an RIAA eq filter for recording, so you wouldn't necessarily need a phono stage.

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@The Computer Audiophile, thanks for the article links. The Ayre looks like a nice piece but is way over my budget to cover just the ADC part. 

 

@audiobomber, appreciate the feedback on the Korg. It also does 24/192 or DSD at 1x or 2X so it's pretty flexible in terms of format. And thanks for pointing out the RIAA via software option, I glossed over that in my initial quick scan of the "how to" articles above. That sounds like a great option which allows bypassing and possibly completely eliminating an expensive piece, if I just digitize the vinyl and never really play the LPs directly. 

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RME Babyface Pro for A/D conversion.

 

Phono preamp really needs to be able to handle your cartridge properly and can flavor so is something you should try a few options first.

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The RME is a good suggestion. 

The Focusrite Scarlett interfaces are affordable options also in the under $500 range.

 

 

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I’d start off just using your phonostage into the analogue in of your mac mini with free trial license of vinyl studio, then think about investing  once you’re comfortable with process.

 

I did just that into my PC and the results were really good even without external ADC.  I was using a v. good phono stage though.

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@bluesman, I like your thoughts a LOT, thanks for taking the time to write that. Very practical and realistic. I'm not a musician (aside from playing piano for 10 years as a kid and brief attempts at guitar later) but while I've always enjoyed gear to an extent I try to prioritize love of music over love of gear. I listen to a pretty wide range from a lot of acoustic jazz, big symphonies to prog and extreme metal. While I've long had an appreciation for better stereo/sound reproduction than most folks, I consider myself on the low end in the audiophile world - definitely not a golden ear, and at 54 I know my hearing has a gap on one side and rolls off quickly after 8-9k. Subtle changes from cables etc are likely lost on me. 

 

So having said that, I'm mulling over various options and not rushing this. It's been decades since I listened to most of the material that I've been wanting to archive, and you're 100% correct - most of those LPs are not in great shape. Even though as a teen I was a little more conscientious than most and used a better then cheapo turntable even then - I did have a LAST brush/solution set that I tried to regularly use - there's a limit on how good most of these will get. A few just aren't available in any way digitally (even from torrent etc) so I want to archive as well as I can. 

 

My own listening is almost all digital these days, but on special occasions it's nice to pull out vinyl and enjoy the physical format and artwork, as you mentioned. I also like to occasionally have some music loving friends over and having a good quality vinyl playback option is something I've been missing for that. I'm hoping we can include a vinyl/rip listening comparison later this year.

 

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5 hours ago, AcidTest said:

I did have a LAST brush/solution set that I tried to regularly use - there's a limit on how good most of these will get.

 

I'm glad you follow my logic.  Vinyl's a wonderful medium and a fun hobby, but it's not exactly the most user friendly offline storage system :)

 

I'd also strongly recommend buying a good, simple record cleaner like the Spin-Clean that I've used since it came out years ago. Use it exactly as directed - it's like a power conditioner for your vinyl!

 

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I did this a couple years ago and bought a simple portable Tascam digital recorder (don't remember the model but it cost about $120) which I then connected the phono pre-amplifier to. I recorded everything at 192khz/24bit and then ran them through vinyl studio and was very happy with the result. As recommended above depending on the state of your albums a good cleaning routine is critical. The nice thing about using the Tascam was that I would switch out the cards and be processing one album while recording the next one. I then sold the digital recorded for 80% of what I paid for it new. The whole process was easy once I got the routine down. The main challenge was setting levels on the recorder. After doing it a while I got very good at it and when I brought the albums into Vinyl Studio had very little clipping. As I knew most of the albums quite well I would do sample needle drops in loud portions of the album to get an idea of the peaks on the album. I did most of the recording quietly, that is I didn't have any of the music playing which meant I had to keep an eye on the turntable to see when it was done. I did about 150 albums over a couple months. 

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With apologies to bluesman, I completely disagree with his very much unproven theory that LPs wear out!  And I especially disagree with the notion that because they supposedly do then there’s not much point using anything but the most basic hardware to record the albums.  If you want to have poor results that’s how you’re going to get it.

Obviously records can wear out but they don't if properly taken care of, cleaned if needed and played on a turntable that is properly setup.  This isn’t theory, this is fact with a lot of corroborating evidence. 

Whether an LP sounds good is dependent of course on a number of factors - not the least on whether it was a good recording in the first place. If we can take that as a given then the goal with transcribing any LP is to have it sound exactly the same in the digital domain.  

 

And to do that you need a couple of things that will have a huge effect on the final quality of your recording – the turntable/cartridge used to play the records and the ADC that gives you that digital format.

 

I’ve recorded over 2,000 LPs from my collection, almost all are done now.  The turntable and cartridge have been upgraded a few times but I think at the worst it was a VPI Classic I with a Dynavector 20X2H, a Rega P9 with a Dynavector XX2 MKII or now with a Clearaudio Innovation Compact and a Dynavector Te Kaitora Rua cartridge.

 

Everything has been recorded using a Korg MR-2000S digital unit.  It’s still one of the best ever made and you can still find them used for around $1K.  I upgraded mine from the original hard drive of 80 GB to a 320 GB so that I can have a longer recording time.  The Korg is in the stereo rack connected to a tape loop output on the preamp.  When playing records all I have to do is hit record.  That’s done at the highest possible resolution – 1 bit at 5.66 MHz, double the SACD standard. 

 

I use the maximum bit depth only because of the file size limitation of other formats such as WAV which is limited to 2 GB.  When recording at high resolution each LP comes in at a bit over 1 GB.  Because I eventually convert the 1 bit files to FLAC, there is a limitation with that format as well at a maximum of 4 GB for each file.  What that really means is I can record up to 3 LPs with one file before starting another recording.  With something like opera sets at 5 or more LPs they become two or more files. 

With a number of LPs recorded I transfer them by USB to a laptop.  There I run the Korg Audio Gate software to convert from 1/5.66 MHz to 24/96 FLAC files.  I don’t use dithering because I’m not reducing the bit depth.  I also don’t use any other filters or processing, it’s unchanged from the original recording.

 

Once converted to 24/96 I bring the music file into VinylStudio, one of the best bargains for LP mastering.  I know a lot of people use Audacity because it’s free, but that’s what it’s worth.  With VinylStudio at around $50 you get a program that will do an Internet lookup for the track titles and cover art, and that allows you to insert the track breaks where you want them.  For long runouts on album sides it’s a simple matter to edit out that unwanted playing time.  The program also has filters to remove turntable rumble (should that be an issue), tape hiss if the recording was from a tape and a crackle filter for your average LP.  I do use the crackle filter, generally at the default settings but try to keep any processing to a minimum. 

 

The mastering is where the work and experience is needed – the actual recording doesn’t take any effort. The final result is a very high quality digital recording where I can’t tell the difference from the original LP.  I did testing at 24/192 but couldn’t hear any difference when compared to 24/96 other than a larger file size.

 

I’ve done a lot of testing between the original LP track, the 1 bit recorded track and playback from the final FLAC format.  With a high resolution recording you really shouldn’t lose anything – it should sound the same as the LP.

 

Why bother?  For me it was with the realization years ago that if I could record my LPs then I could have them in a much more portable and flexible format where I could play them anywhere.  The investment in the recording side more than made up for not having to buy digital files of the LPs I already had – if they were even available. 

 

In summary, for anyone contemplating transcribing LPs the first thing I would say is it’s a lot of work.  If you’re not a patient person this might not be for you.  And, of course the first question should always be “How many LPs do you want to record?”  If you only have a few that are already available then just buy the CD.  The second question should be “What kind of quality do I want for the recording?” and that leading directly to “How much do I want to spend?”  Once you consider those three points then you can look at suitable options. 

 

 

 

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I have been digitizing vinyl for many years, and I agree with much of what SJK has posted. I use a Metric Halo ULN8, and I have been very happy with it.

 

My key difference with what other posters have said is my opinion of VinylStudio. I tried it several years ago and, for my purposes, it fell far short. It did not stay on my computer for very long. Instead I use iZotope RX? Advanced, and I find the results stellar. Of course this software is much more expensive than VinylStudio, and if your LPs are all in excellent condition, you won't need the iZotope product. I have a lot of 'golden era' LPs, and the iZotope software really does a great job with them.

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30 minutes ago, ronfint said:

My key difference with what other posters have said is my opinion of VinylStudio. I tried it several years ago and, for my purposes, it fell far short. It did not stay on my computer for very long.

I'm not sure the version you tried is comparable. I've owned VinylStudio for less than two years and even during that time there have been several updates. At any rate, the good news is that it's available for a free trial.

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I'm certainly not trying to sell RX Advanced, and if VinylStudio works for you, you should stick with it. I bought it several years ago, and I was disappointed with it. At the time I thought ClickRepair and DeNoise were much better.

 

The difference between RX Advanced and VinylStudio was so great then, that I doubt that the gap could possibly have been significantly closed.

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I remember looking at iZotope way back when I was looking at options.  I had gone through ripping close to 1,000 CDs in MP3 format at 320 kpbs, the highest format available at the time.  A lot of us did that because storage was expensive and the large discs we see today just weren't available.  I ended up ripping them all over again a few years later at 16/14.4.  

 

Long story short, with recording the LP's I only wanted to do it once.  I think there was something about the file format that iZotope used that wasn't compatible with what I had decided on - FLAC files with level 5 compression and embedded metadata.  

 

I think you just have to find something that works well for you in the long term.

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On 2/8/2019 at 1:09 PM, SJK said:

With apologies to bluesman, I completely disagree with his very much unproven theory that LPs wear out!

 

There's no need to apologize - it's a discussion, and your opinion is as valid as mine.  But there is science behind what I describe and there are data to support it.  I didn't make it up.  As I haven't been an AES member for several years now, I can't get into their library to download the relevant articles without paying $33 per article.  With no disrespect intended, it's not worth a few hundred dollars to me to provide you with documentation.  But I remember enough of them to look up some of the references and (where openly available) provide the abstracts here for you. And I'm only sourcing the Journal of the Audio Engineering Society here - there are other equally supportive sources. 

 

Keep in mind that the "vinyl" in records is PVC and is subject to plastic deformation, embrittlement from strain and vibration, changes from aging, etc. The crosslinking in PVC increases over time, which changes its mechanical properties.  And the interaction between the stylus and the groove (e.g. bouncing, tracking, wearing etc) changes because of this.

 

Start with Groove Deformation and Distortion in Recordings, by Barlow and Garside in JAES 26: 498-510, August 1978.   Here's the abstract: "The elastic and plastic deformation of vinyl record compound [bolded by me] under indenters of various profiles has been studied in large-scale tests. Curves of total depth of penetration versus load have been used to calculate the net distortion on record playback. In general, in the lower treble, net distortion is less, and in the upper treble, net distortion is greater than tracing distortion alone. This is important for attempts to reduce tracing distortion by inverse predistortion of the recorded signal. Nylon was also studied as a material with contrasting mechanical properties to vinyl. Further light has been shed on the nature of translation loss."

 

Frederick Hunt, who was a researcher in Harvard's acoustics research lab, published this in JAES 3:2-18, 1955: "A theory of rubbing wear found useful in other fields predicts that the volume of stylus or record material worn away is proportional to the area of real contact between the stylus and the groove wall. In order to evaluate the influence of system parameters on the real-contact area, the elastic-plastic regime prevailing under the stylus [bolded by me] is first analyzed in detail. The enhancement of the effective yield strength of record materials [bolded by me] by the so-called size effect is found to have a dominant influence on the stylus-groove contact. Application of these results to the wear problem leads to the prediction that stylus life could be extended by as much as one or two orders of magnitude if the conventional dynamic loading of the stylus contact were lowered enough to insure that no plastic yielding [bolded by me] could ever occur".

 

The concept of elastic vs plastic deformation of record grooves is critical to understanding how and why record wear occurs.  It does, and it's well documented, despite the prevailing but innocent opinion that it does not.  Even a perfect stylus that's kept in perfect alignment and adjustment will degrade the fidelity of the groove to the source signal and will embed the particulate debris on everything in our environment in the surface, further affecting both sound quality and microscopic stylus wear. A 30 year old record that's been played 500 times is simply not the same record it was when new.  If you want maximum SQ, rip a brand new record or find a digital file.

 

Here are only a few more of the many investigations in JAES alone into record wear and its effects on fidelity:

  • Shure's Roger Anderson published Some Aspects of Wear and Calibration of Test Records in JAES 9: 111-114, 1961.
  • Loescher and Hirsch published Long Term Durability of Pickup Diamonds and Records JAES 22: 800-806, 1974.  

And here's a simple, relevant explanation from Polymer Solutions:  "The polymer aging processes can be...separated into physical aging, chemical aging, thermal aging, etc. We have to remember that most polymers are amorphous and undergo physical relaxation and other structural changes with time.Generally speaking, the softer a polymer is, the more flexible its polymer chains will be, and the more prone it will be to time-related changes". Records are relatively soft polymers that age and wear over time. 

 

Of course they're still playable - but if you analyze and compare the signal from a new, unplayed pressing with that from an old and well played one, they're just not the same.

 

PS:  The oil shortage in the '70s and '80s severely affected the availability of quality vinyl. Almost all records were pressed on inferior material, some of it frankly adulterated. Records from that period are even more likely to have suffered the ravages of time and wear than those from the '60s and earlier.

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