Does my laptop line in = mic?
July 20, 2005 8:32 PM   Subscribe

I want to transfer LP records to MP3s using a PC laptop. My research says I'll need a "line in" jack on my PC -- but all I have is a "mic." Can I use the mic as the line in, or is the solution more complicated than that?
posted by CMichaelCook to Technology (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
i am "pretty" sure that the MIC and line in are basically the same thing... i could be wrong... I'm wrong alot.... dont place any bets on this statement
posted by crewshell at 8:35 PM on July 20, 2005

For the purposes of this question, yeah, they're the same thing, essentially. Just feed the output from your turntable/preamp/reciever into the mic input, and you should be good to go.
posted by 40 Watt at 8:43 PM on July 20, 2005

Are you running the record player through an amplifier? If not, you'll want to because record players have a significantly lower output level than say a CD player or tape deck. But yeah - what is the difference between line in and mic?
posted by forallmankind at 8:44 PM on July 20, 2005

In high-grade audio equipment, a line in or aux port may differ from a microphone jack in a significant way. On your basic computer sound card, the line in is just there so you can plug in something while leaving your mic plugged in at the same time - less hassle. Many sound cards used to have a speaker jack and a line out jack, but I guess nobody needed two outs, because I don't see many anymore with both.

In Windows $anything, you have a separate level adjustment for mic and for line in - probably available even if you only happen to have one of the two. Futz and adjust accordingly. Ditto forallmankind on the amp for the turntable.
posted by attercoppe at 8:54 PM on July 20, 2005

Mic in usually has a high gain amp attached to it-- the line in signal is much stronger than most mics.

But there is another problem--you can't just hook up a turntable to just any input. Because of the way LP's were recorded, you need something called a phono preamp, or a receiver that has a phono input.

The problem you might see with this setup is either an overdriven input-- the line out will swamp the mic in input, or, if you lower the line out signal, you're adding extra noise.

Check your laptops manual--it may automatically switch between line and mic and you'll have no problem.
posted by Marky at 8:58 PM on July 20, 2005

Sometimes in recording, "line-in" versus "mic" inputs indicate inputs configured for different recording levels. But I think in this case the terms are probably being used interchangeably.

However - if you are planning to do a lot of this you may want to look into a peripheral that converts analog to digital and delivers it to your computer via a USB input. Its claimed that the mic input on your computer is electronically noiser and this type of device delivers a cleaner signal. I dunno. You can spend a lot of money on this sort of thing: I use the Griffin iMic and I do believe that it provides a superior signal to the mic input on my Mac. It costs about 40 bucks and should work just as well with a PC. I use it among other things for transferring vinyl to digital and I've been pleased with the results.

You may also want to look into getting an MP3 splitter program which will analyze your files for the silence between songs and facilitate cutting an album-side-length file into individual songs and (if its any good) make attaching metainformation (song/artist/album) to the files fast and easy. I use Audioslicer which is free and Mac only - maybe someone can suggest a good PC version of the same thing.
posted by nanojath at 9:12 PM on July 20, 2005 [1 favorite]

Problem one is that the standard mic/line input on almost any laptop (or for that matter,most standard sound cards on an average desktop) is cruddy for any purpose. It is likely, among other things, to be too near the power circuitry, and introduce a noticeable low-level buzz or hum on a low powered input signal. As several have said above, a turntable cartridge also needs to go through a special preamplification stage for adequate gain.

If you have more than a couple of records to do, and/or you care much about sound quality, you would be well served by spending ca. $100-150 on a basic USB external audio interface (like the M-Audio Audiophile, can be picked up used on E-Bay for less than $75 I'd bet). Then, take your turntable outputs through your stereo receiver -- whatever you now use to listen to the records -- and take the line (or tape) out from there into the audio interface (or line/mic in jack if you stick with plan A).

Have you settled on recording software yet? There are several inexpensive packages that will give you noise reduction and equalization optimized for LP transfers with simple settings (I'm not up on the PC side of things, but on the Mac, Roxio's Toast has these features). But I promise you the external audio interface will be worth it, and you'll find other uses for it once you have it.
posted by realcountrymusic at 9:17 PM on July 20, 2005

Something else potentially important that hasn't yet been mentioned;

Often, "Mic" inputs on computers are mono, while "Line/Aux", in addition to lacking an amplifier, are in stereo. This is particularly the case with cheap OEM soundcards and one would presume laptop soundcards.
posted by Jimbob at 10:15 PM on July 20, 2005

Line level and mic level inputs are different. While i have no idea if some laptop ins are somehow both, on my old laptop (a viao)the "mic" in was definitely NOT a line in. What would happen if you plugged a line level into it was the input levels would be pegged to the red, and there was only the tiniest bit of play between fully turned down (no level) and a tick up (already almost clipping). Plus the sound quality sucks even worse than if the impedences or whatever is mached. Add this in addition to how crappy the actual wiring was even when you had a good signal..

The next step up is you can get a usb audio box. the Creative ones are cheap and barely but possibly serviceable for your purposes. They really suck but I used on for a long time, and it was better than nothing. The best thing to do if you can is invest in a decent quality I/O box, otherwise do the best you can with what you got.

Test it out with a low level signal with something open that you can monitor the levels. If you can get the levels in a good place (remember that a little clipping in an analog recording is okay but in digital you dont want to clip - ie full max signal - ever) see what your recording sounds like. Even if you get the levels right you might get noise from the computer itself, due to crappy wiring.
posted by 31d1 at 11:10 PM on July 20, 2005

on many sound cards, the "mic" input has automatic gain. definitely not recommended.

and yes, you should be sure to use a preamp.

hasn't this topic been covered several times before on askme?
posted by neckro23 at 12:01 AM on July 21, 2005

You want to buy a Griffin iMic.
posted by ascullion at 1:17 AM on July 21, 2005

You want to buy a Griffin iMic.

Unless they've changed it, that only works with Macs, I think. And for what it's worth, the iMic has barely tolerable audio quality for anything beyond recroding voice memos.
posted by realcountrymusic at 4:10 AM on July 21, 2005

Unless they've changed it, that only works with Macs,

I stand corrected. They have changed it and the iMic now claims PC compatibility. For ca. $40, it's not a bad poor man's solution. But you can really do so much better for not much more by buying a serious audio interface.

A decent overview of audio interface technologies is here.

Just bear in mind that you get what you pay for with audio gear. Only you know your own ears and how much you care about sound quality and what these recordings are worth to you to preserve. Whatever interface you use, record at 16/44 (WAV, AIFF, PCM) or better, and then convert to .mp3 (if you must) afterwards so you can hear how much you lose at various levels of compression. (For some reason, in my experience, .mp3 is particularly unkind to the artifacts that tend to crop up in transfers from vinyl LPs, though I am not sure why.)
posted by realcountrymusic at 5:02 AM on July 21, 2005

I think realcountrymusic has the right idea. It would be almost exactly how I would do it.

stereo > audio interface (i have m-audio quattro) > pc > Cubase SX

You can substitue for the free multitrack software Kristal if you do not have any software to record with. Not a steep learning curve and it's pretty cut and dry for what you are doing anyway.
posted by freudianslipper at 5:15 AM on July 21, 2005

Note, that while there is a difference between Line and Mic levels -- about 20db difference, but neither is what you need.

The signal coming off the cartridge is very different. Mic levels are low voltage (~2mV) and low impeadance (about 3K ohms.) Line levels are much higher voltage (~150mV) and have a higher impedance (~30K Ohm.)

Phonograph signals, however, are low voltage (3mV), but very high impeadance (~60K Ohm). This means that running LP into a line level means you have almost no signal, but into mic inputs, you're dealing with a nasty impedance mismatch.

Worse -- phono signals aren't linear. There's a curve you need to deal with, that relates to how LPs record signals. The levels recorded aren't equal by octave, the high frequencies are boosted. If you don't adjust that, you have problems.

There is, however, an answer. Google up "RIAA preamp." Yes, that RIAA -- after all, they are a technical group, as well as a legal one. Get a RIAA preamp, and you'll get a flat signal at line level, which will be trivial to record into a computer.

There are even homebrew plans and kits, if you can cope with soldering.
posted by eriko at 7:03 AM on July 21, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks for the input and feedback. Sounds like a USB audio I/O is the way to go. (All puns intended.)
posted by CMichaelCook at 7:06 AM on July 21, 2005

I use an input chord I made myself and the ripvinyl freeware program, it works fairly well.
posted by Pollomacho at 7:14 AM on July 21, 2005

I use an input chord I made myself

G minor? Seriously, the cord is not the issue (though you should use quality cables). An outboard interface is basically an external sound card, not just a cable, but even the least expensive outboard is going to be way better than any standard laptop audio input, unless you have a quality PCMCIA audio card in that puppy (and those are getting harder to find and expensive). The outboard interface will give you other choices as well (phantom power for mics, switchable input impedances and hardware gain controls, a headphone amp, and in many case an SPDIF digital in/out as well).

Eriko is right about the phono input preamp issues. But as long as you have a decent amp/receiver with phono inputs (assuming you do if you have a turntable!), you already have an RIAA phono preamp. You just need to run the phono into the amp, set the amp to tape monitor, and take the normal line level output (usually labeled "tape out" though you may have other line outs, including video channels, on a modern AV receiver).

As for software, if you're just digitizing stereo audio signals, you don't need multitrack recording/editing software like CuBase or Kristal. Stereo editors abound -- the PC champs are Soundforge and Soundedit, but there are dozens of freeware and shareware editors. One that a lot of my students use and like is the open source Audacity package ( available here ), which is blessedly cross-platform, rock solid, and sounds good to me. There are several off-the-shelf kits out there for newbies that aggregate the editor/recorder functions with various equalization and noise-reduction functions optimized for cassette or LP transfers, and that make it easy to chop the incoming audio into tracks by marking silences between songs (otherwise it's just cut, paste, save in a standard editor). I just had a look, and Sony now makes a consumer version of SoundForge (SF "Audio Studio") for $60 that seems to have a lot of features and be designed for your sort of application.

One other option that a lot of people overlook is buying a stand-alone CD recorder and hooking it into your audio system. There used to be many consumer level options for this, but they've gotten rarer, and the choices tend to start at around $300 these days. The plus side is that these are generally very good CD *players* as well (my preference is the HHB Burnit, which is industrial strength for about $800, but, for example, Sony makes a 5-CD changer+separate CD recorder unit called the RCD-W500C for around $270 ), so if you were thinking about upgrading your CD unit, look into this as an option. You record direct to CD via your stereo receiver, but then you can rip the CD into your computer for compression, titling, backup, sharing (ahem), etc. You also end up with a nice backup of the master for when you realize that 128Kbs mp3s sound like someone talking on the phone underwater and do a disservice to almost any music worth listening to. As lossless compression codecs become more common, you can dig out those CDs and recompress them. For people daunted by the need to use recording and editing software and connect devices to their computer, or limited by hard drive space or a lowball sound card, this is a reasonable solution, especially if you have a lot to transfer, or need to do this on a semi-regular basis.
posted by realcountrymusic at 8:45 AM on July 21, 2005

I've been using the mic-in/RIAA preamp combo for months now, and gotten some clear signals from it (check out the Brides of Funkenstein post or the Bill Nelson's Red Noise post on my site if you're curious how it sounds). That said, I am not an audiophile and couldn't tell you which instrument in an orchestra was out of tune. Also, I did recently bugger the soundcard somehow so that on the mic input one channel is dropped and the other duped, which is a problem when there are stereo effects.

As others have said, it's very very important not to leave the mic settings as is. In windows, it's an option under "microphone balance" that says [ ] mic boost (+20dB). You do not want that box checked.

Good luck with the project; I'd love to see/hear what comes of it.
posted by Tuwa at 8:54 AM on July 21, 2005

But as long as you have a decent amp/receiver with phono inputs (assuming you do if you have a turntable!), you already have an RIAA phono preamp.

I don't that's why I made my cord myself. My turntable is a record player from circa 1950. I had to make a two channel, hot/cold combo speaker wire - to - mic jack cable.

If you are just looking to listen to your records on your Ipod, this should do just fine (and even keeps that warm crackly tone of vinyl). If you want to make studio quality recordings, forget I was even here.
posted by Pollomacho at 10:42 AM on July 21, 2005

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