Final Vinyl

Like many refugees from the 60's and 70's, I had a large amount of shelf space devoted to vinyl records which I couldn't throw away, or replace, or use (in their inconvenient, obsolete, and increasingly decayed form).   Fortunately the price/performnce/technology curve has crossed over into a favorable realm.  I've taken all my albums and tapes for a final spin, and converted them all to MP3s.

Stacks of Wax
Archos Recorder

The device that makes this practical is the Archos Jukebox Recorder, which plugs into my stereo system where a tape deck would be, and can generate MP3s on the fly from everything that passes through.  Nice concept!  But what does it actually entail?
The Process

First two words for Audiofiles: Go Away.  This will just make you froth at the mouth.  We're talking about real records here, not the kind you have.  My records were played under less than ideal conditions, on less than perfect equipment, and so are in less than mint condition to start with.
  1. Record a batch of disks, one MP3 per disk is the most convenient.  Start 'em spinning and try to remember to flip 'em over in a half hour or so.   If your disk skips, improvse and scribble notes.  Give multiple disks in an album sequential names; aa ab ac.  Give sequential albums sequential names; aa bb cc.   Long before you get to zz you'll be impatient to start phase 2.
  2. Copy the newly recorded disks to your computer and immediately give them more meaningful names, working sequentially through the stack of albums you've processed.
  3. Use a tool like Mp3DirectCut to trim the needle drops and side flips, rejoin classical pieces that were split acoss disks, and so on. I also recommend equalizing the volume using a tool like mp3gain.  Output clean MP3s ready to be played.  Classical music is more time consuming because it seems necessary to restore individual pieces, no matter how they were packed or split among disks.
  4. Add track ID, performer, composer etc to the MP3s.  Depending on how anal you are, you can use MP3DirectCut for this too, or MusicMatch or any number of other tools.  Here again, classical can be a lot more time consuming than pop.
  • A quick rinse (just run water over the disk and dry it) really does help.   Some horribly scratchy disks become bearable after a 1 minute massage.
  • Preserve cover art, liner notes, etc, either physically or by scanning.  Lots more time!
  • This whole process works equally well for casette tapes - and unlike records, tapes do get worse just by sitting there.
Not Included!
  • Except for tests, don't bother copying stuff back to the recorder until you are really, really done.
  • I see no reason to burn CDs, at least for 95% of the stuff I still won't listen to very often. Playing things back directly from the recorder is pretty convenient, if not as simple a pulling Cds from shelves.
  • Except for the truely irreplacable recordings, elaborate repair is not called for.  If you can't bear the pops and surface noise, buy CDs (or downloadble MP3s)
  • Be selective; some of those old disks, no one will ever want to hear again anyway.
Final Notes
  • Watch your record level!  Archos recorder doesn't have enough "low end" on the record level control, so you have to crank it way down from the default to avoid peak limiting.  If your MP3's sound like they are being played through a cheap boom box, this is your problem.  Watch for peaks clipping off the top in  DirectCut, and listen for junky sound when the volume peaks.
  • Preserve your "raw" mp3s until you have listened to the final result.  You will make silly mistakes while bulk processing, and sometimes the best way to recover is to go back to the original recording..  It's much easier than re-spinning the disks to fix your editing errors.  Maintain a permanant copy of your perfect MP3s on hard drive and/or DVDs. Remember, when your music collection was physical, nothing short of a major fire could do much damage.  Now that it is electronic, any single copy could disappear instantly in any number of ways.
  • Sell your turntable and tape deck on Ebay.  If you had good equipment, you might even pay for your recorder.
  • Store your old albums in your garage until you've sold your turntable,  "just in case".
  • Reclaim a lot of prime shelf and storage space.  Fill with electronic gadgets and DVDs.
  • While 5 minutes per disk processing time may not sound too bad, (multiply by 400 disks and you get 33 hours) - but  recording time (400 times 40 minutes  is 260 hours) is.  Divide by the number of hours per day you will find it convenient to spin disks - even as a background task - and we have a long term project here.

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