Anyone use or know a LP Ripping Service?
March 12, 2005 3:47 AM   Subscribe

I've never had great results ripping vinyl. I still have my 1980 vintage Pioneer turntable, and a receiver that has phono inputs, but the files never sound that good, and noise filtering didn't do much. Also, I really only need to rip about 3-4 albums. While I'm sure the gods of karma will arrange for some to finally be released on CD or iTunes just after I go to the hassle of copying, I'm also sure 2 will never be "officially" released. Anyone have a vinyl ripping service they would recommend?
posted by Marky to Technology (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Recording is hard. ;)

I don't have any advice on ripping services. I do, however, have advice on recording. You're using phono level inputs, that's correct.

The biggest issue is levels. Basically, when you record, you have two places you cannot go. Place one is the noise floor. Anything recorded below the noise floor is lost. Place two is the clip level. This represent the maximum signal that can be input that still results in a linear change in output. With tubes and transistors, this is a "soft wall" -- you can cross it, but with distortion. (Digresson: Guitar players with tube amps routinely do this. With transistor amps, though, it sounds horrible.)

With digital, however, that clip level is a hard wall -- you cannot cross it. Digital clipping is bad.

Dynamic range represents the distance between the noise floor and the clip.

The idea, in recording, is to use as much dynamic range as possible, while not clipping or dropping to the noise floor.

Since you're recording from a fixed source, this means you get to try and try again. This makes things easier. The idea is simple, in the start -- record as loud as you can, without clipping. Since you'll be recording a digital file, you cannot clip without ugly distortion. The temptation is to record well off the clip level. The problem with that is simple -- you overcompensate, part of the signal falls below the noise floor, and it sounds like crap.

Worse: Noise on the Signal. This comes from various things, but is usually at a constant, low level. It's not the noise floor (that's a limitation of the electronics.) You want to push your signal as far above the ambient noise, while not clipping.

The one source of noise you can't fix -- noise on the LP itself. That's noise *in* the signal, not on the signal, and it'll get amplified with the signal. You need to reduce that at the source -- clean the LP, and a good, sharp needle are your best bets. If there's any tone controls on the amp or the turntable, set them to 0 -- don't add or subtract anything -- anything that changes the signal adds noise, your goal is to record as much signal, and as little noise, as possible.

Enough of the tech details. Procedure:

You clean the LP and record. Sounds muddy and noisy. Push the gain up, do it again. Keep doing that as long as it sounds better when you do. When you clip, you fall back to your last setting, and record, then convert to mp3.

With a good recording app, you can set a couple of things to help. One is a "hardwall limiter" that will automatically reduce the gain if it tries to cross the clip. Too much of that sucks, but it can be a big win if you just have a few peaks.

If the signal has a dynamic range wider than the recording media, you need to compress the signal. This basically changes the volume equation -- instead of a 1-1 ratio between gain and record level, it becomes (say), 2-1, thus reducing the dynamic range. Compression of only the strongest signals is *very* common to deal with things that have very strong peaks, but still have useful signals at lower levels. (Canonical example: the kick drum of a drum set- full compression turns it into a click. Compressing just the peaks reduces the power of the impact, but leaves the tone of the drums.)

You shouldn't have to worry about compression, though -- one advantages CDs have that LPs don't is dynamic range, esp. if the LP has been played a few times. (LPs can record a much wider frequency range and CDs, in case you were wondering why audiophiles love them so...)

Otherwise, if the meters on the recording amp are useful (many aren't), you can play the loudest spots several times, and adjust the gain until they almost hit the clip. Then, record the whole track and encode to mp3.

Provided the vinyl source isn't trashed, I think you'll be happy with the results. To sum up:

1) The cleaner the source, the better.

2) Put as little signal processing between the source and the recording as you possibly can. Ideally, this is none. (You process *after* you record.)

3) Record as loud as you can without clipping, but no louder.

And, if that sounds like too much work, I can understand.
posted by eriko at 5:52 AM on March 12, 2005 [1 favorite]

Sorry, nothing to add except to say Thanks, eriko! Nice answer! I've been wanting to rip some vinyl for a while. This is inspiring.
posted by evoo at 7:26 AM on March 12, 2005

Yeah, I was going to say what eriko said, but, well... no I wasn't. Great answer, eriko.
posted by goatdog at 8:11 AM on March 12, 2005

Call Dennis Hamilton. He's done a few dozen albums for me, and most (depending on condition of the record) sound incredible. He even scans the cover and prints a full-color insert for the jewel case. Highly recommended.
posted by cribcage at 9:23 AM on March 12, 2005

Eriko gives a great description of the recording process, but with most LPs you'll also have a lot of post-recording in front of you. There are several programs/plugins out there, (DART, for example) generally designed to reduce the pops and clicks that might show up. It's always best to start with the best possible source material beforehand: if it's only a couple of records, you might want to rent a pro turntable with good needles provided. The problem with click/pop software is that it usually clips the shit out of the treble, leading to flat, muddly spots. You have to find the happy medium between the distraction (or not) of record noise and the distraction of digital interference.

Oh, and make sure you have a balanced signal or you'll have an irritating 60hz. hum in your recordings. Use short, well-shielded cables, and ideally plug your turntable and computer into the same wall outlet/power strip.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:39 AM on March 12, 2005

Good old C_D is exactly right, except in assuming that you can use balanced cables. He's correct that they're the right answer, but home gear is almost never set up to use them.

Keep the wires short, use good ones, and plug into a common strip. Don't coil the wires around each other, and don't bundle signal cords with power cords -- if they must touch, have them cross at 90 degrees. AC hum is much more of a problem in large installations with many AC powered devices spread about, and almost never a problem if you just plug everything into the same strip and plug the strip into a properly grounded outlet.
posted by eriko at 1:22 PM on March 12, 2005

I find for ripping most things that if I grasp it firmly in my left and then pull towards me with my right hand... nevermind...
posted by raster at 5:46 PM on March 12, 2005

John Book
I've never used his service but he's a super cool cat, so I'd reccommend him. Also he's turntablist in his spare time.
posted by sublivious at 5:03 PM on March 15, 2005

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