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How to transfer your old vinyl records into digital files

10 February 2022

Don’t leave your record collection gathering dust. Bring them back to life with our guide to digitising your old vinyl records with a turntable.

Pile of records
Make sure your old vinyl records are dust-free and devoid of fingerprints as any debris will affect the recording

Many of us have a collection of vinyl records stashed away in a cupboard or in the loft that we never listen to anymore because we no longer have a turntable or it’s too much hassle to set one up. Or perhaps the record player is in use, but you want to be able to enjoy your music in any room of the house, your car or on the go.

Digitising your music is also a good way to preserve rare records you don't want to risk damaging by overplaying.

Here’s how to convert vinyl albums to digital music files such as MP3 to transfer to any device. Bear in mind recording happens in real time so you will need to allow enough time to play your albums all the way through.

Equipment you need

• A turntable – look for one with an integrated pre-amp and USB output so it can connect directly to your computer. This means you won’t need to use a standalone phono preamp.

• A phono preamp – If your turntable doesn’t include one, you’ll need a standalone phone preamp to convert the analogue signal so that your computer’s sound card can use it. Look for a USB preamp so it can be plugged into your computer’s USB port. Otherwise, you’ll need a stereo RCA audio cable and a RCA to 3.5mm (mini-jack) adaptor to connect it to your PC.

• A computer – any will do, as long as it has a line-in port (if you’re not using USB equipment) and enough free hard drive space to store your recorded music.

• Recording software – there’s lots of premium software available but free tools, such as Audacity, will be fine for most users. Bespoke software is also available, such as Pure Vinyl, but comes at a cost.

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Prerecording checklist

Drivers 

You should have all the drivers required for your record player or preamp. These might install automatically when you plug it in, check the manufacturer's website if they don't.

Ports 

Check the microphone port on your computer. To do this on Windows, right click the speaker icon on the start bar, select Sounds and click the Recording tab. Microphone or Line in should be selected, depending on where your device is connected. Play your record and check that the bar goes green or that you can hear it through your computer's speakers or headphones. If the volume seems off click Properties and adjust Levels.

Familiarise yourself with the software

Take some time to get to know the software you'll be using with a few test runs. Check the audio is able to be picked up, that recording works and that you know how to save files in the format you want and can split them into individual tracks. You will know the software is picking up the music because the waveform should be clear. If it remains flat it shows it isn't picking up the audio.

Know your formats

When you digitise your music you'll have the option to convert to different formats. The most commonly used is MP3, and that's a good all-rounder for everyday listening, but you'll also have the option to convert to FLAC or AIFF. If you plan on transferring to a phone MP3 is the best format, but if you intend on burning to CD FLAC will give you better quality.

How to digitise your vinyl records

1. Make sure your old vinyl records are dust-free and devoid of fingerprints as any debris will affect the recording. Use a micro-fibre brush or a lint-free cloth plus cleaning solution if necessary, being very careful not to apply too much pressure. Check the needle on your record player is clean and free from lint or dust.

2. If using a USB turntable with a built-in preamp, simply plug the USB cable into the corresponding port on your computer.

If not, connect your turntable to the phono preamp. Then plug the stereo RCA audio cable into the preamp’s monitor output, and the other end into your computer’s line-in port using the RCA-to-3.5mm adaptor.

3. Open the recording software on your computer – in this example we’re using the free software Audacity. Check that sound will be captured from the correct input by clicking Edit > Preferences and selecting Line-In under the Recording section. Then go to View and select Show Clipping.

4. Click the red Record button and start playing your record on the turntable. It’s generally easier to record the whole record in one go and then split the recording into individual tracks afterwards.

5. Once the record has finished playing, you can use Audacity’s noise removal tools to clean up the recording. To split the recording into separate tracks, click and drag your cursor to highlight the duration of a track, then click Tracks > Add Label At Selection and name the track accordingly.

6. When you’re happy with the final recording, click File > Export Multiple and choose your desired file format – such as MP3 – and save location before clicking Export. You can now listen to your digitized record in the music player of your choice or burn it to a CD using a free program such as iTunes.

Disclaimer

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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