Rip Vinyl Records to Your PC




Most of us have a collection of old vinyl records lying around that we never listen to, perhaps because in this day of digital music and iPods, no one wants to hassle with a record player. If you've ever wanted to convert your vinyl to MP3 files or even burn them to a CD for ease of listening, then this instructable is for you!

I also added a short sound clip, so you can get an idea of the sound quality. I didn't run it through any filters, so that's what it sounds like directly off of the record.

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Step 1: Stuff You'll Need

Most of this is pretty straightforward, and you'll have most if not all of what you need lying around. You'll need:

1.) Records
2.) A Phonograph (a.k.a. a Record Player, I'm using a Beogram 8002)
3.) A Phono pre-amp (In my case a Rotel RA-8408X)*
4.) A Stereo RCA Audio Cable
5.) An RCA to Mini-Jack adapter
6.) A Computer with recording software

You can easily pick up records at places like DI and second hand stores, or the like.

If you don't have a Phonograph, you can find them online, in second hand stores, ect.

The RCA cables can be easily acquired at Radio Shack, other electronics stores, or online stores (Monoprice is my favorite)

Pre-amps can be found online, the cheapest one I've found is this one The pre-amp is necessary because of a special equalization curve, called the RIAA EQ curve, that was applied when the record was recorded (RIAA stands for the Record Industry Association of America). The curve limits the lower frequencies and boosts the higher ones. A pre-amp then limits the high frequencies and boosts the low ones, creating a good-sounding replication. If you didn't use a pre-amp, you'd end up with a poor quality recording.

Finally, on to the the computer and software. Basically any computer will do, you just need to have a line-in input, and sufficient hard drive space to store your recorded music. Having a more beefy computer helps with ease of editing and exporting the final product. The software I use is called Audacity, it's free, cross-platform, and open source. Plus, it comes with some handy plug-ins that you can use to clean up your final recording. I'm using the beta, if you're a beta kind of person then go ahead and use that, but for others I would recommend the stable release.

*Recent releases of Audacity include the RIAA EQ Curve (and many other EQ curves) with the Equalization effect by default, so a pre-amp is not necessary.

Step 2: Set It All Up

First of all, move your equipment to the place you're going to be doing your recording. Plug your record player into your pre-amp using your RCA cable. Depending on the type of pre-amp, the phonograph inputs may be labeled as "Phono", "MM", or "MC", or other variations. MM (Moving Magnet) and MC (Moving Coil) refer to different types of cartridges used to convert the vibrations of the phonograph stylus into an electrical signal. Make sure you know what type of cartridge your amp has when plugging things in, as MM cartridges produce 5 mV, and MC cartridges produce 0.2 mV. You could damage your pre-amp if the phonograph were plugged into the wrong input. Also, if your phonograph has a ground wire, be sure to connect that to you amp.

Next, find the output of your pre-amp. It may be labeled as "Tape (Rec Out)" or similar. In my case, it's label as "TMONITOR 1". Take your RCA to mini-jack adapter cable and run it from your amp to your computer. You should plug it into the "Line-In" input for your computer, because it will capture stereo signals, and the "Mic" input will only give you mono. Generally, the line-in will be colored blue. Some devices have a start up spike, so I would recommend that you connect it to your computer after you've turned everything on.

That's it, you're all set up to start recording, at least as far as hardware goes.

Step 3: Software and Configuration

If you haven't downloaded Audacity yet, do so now ( Of course, if you have any other preferred software, you can use that as well. However, I'll be assuming that you're using Audacity for this instructable. Go ahead and install Audacity, the default options will do fine. Once installed, go ahead and run it. You might have to configure which input your computer should capture sound from, do this by going to Edit > Preferences and selecting "Line-In" under the Recording section. Also, you should enable "Show Clipping" by going to View > Show Clipping.

Step 4: Cleaning Your Records

To ensure that you get a good quality recording, you should clean off your records before playing them. I use a padded piece of fabric, shown below, with a few drops of cleaning fluid brushed in to clean off my records. If your records are getting pretty dirty or beat up, you can also go to a professional for cleaning. Set your record player to "Turn", so that the stylus doesn't come out and interfere with anything. Then lightly touch the cleaning pad to the record, making sure that in the end you come into contact with the whole record (you can touch a small portion of the pad to the inside of the record, and slowly move the pad outwards, that way there's less friction on the surface of the record). Once they're cleaned, you're ready for the final step - recording!

Step 5: Recording - at Last!

First of all, fire up Audacity, and then open your sound monitor (right-click on the speaker icon on the taskbar and select Recording Devices). Make sure the sound levels don't go over the top of the bar, as that causes "clipping", and will make your recording sound crappy. If you are clipping, you can adjust the volume of your inputs using the software bundled with your sound card. Most generic cards are Realtek cards, so I'll demonstrate with the Realtek HD Audio Manager. This is generally accessible by double clicking an orange colored speaker icon on the taskbar. A window will appear, go to the tab labeled "Line In". Set the recording volume to a level that won't clip (I've got mine set at 15), and adjust the playback volume to something that sounds good.

Now that you've got that out of the way, put on a record, clean it off, and hit play. In Audacity, make sure you're recording. Let it play all the way though the section you want; you may find it easier to record the whole album at once, and split up the individual tracks afterward while trimming off any excess.

After you're recorded what you want, you can use several tools to clean up your recording. The most useful tools are under Effects > Noise Removal. Use them at your discretion to clean up your recording. In order to apply the effect, make sure your whole recording is selected, this is easily done by pressing Control + A.

Compression can help you get your recording as hot as possible before you export it.  Use discretion as too much compression takes all of the dynamics out of your recording and generally makes it sound crappy.  In most cases modern recordings make heavy use of compression, which is why the latest Cage the Elephant album will sound much louder than, say, Led Zeppelin IV.

Once you've got your recording the way you want it, you'll obviously want to export it. Go to File > Export, and a new window will appear. Select the formant you want with the drop-down menu, give it a name, and hit "Save". A new window will appear, this will allow you to edit the details of the file. Fill in what you want and hit OK, and you're done!

If you want to go even further, you can burn your newly ripped songs to a CD using your preferred CD/DVD burning software, or Windows Media Player, iTunes, etc. I like to use InfraRecorder, it's free and does a good job, plus it has a cool smoke animation when it burns a disk :).

So that's it! Thanks for reading my instructable, if you have any questions or things that I might have left out, feel free to point them out, I'm always open to constructive criticism. Have fun ripping your records!

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    28 Discussions


    6 years ago on Step 5

    Well this Canuck guy will play at this, cover your ears. :o)


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    "Cause We've Ended As Lovers" by Jeff Beck, off of Blow by Blow. He did a pretty killer version of it at Crossroads 2007 as well.


    8 years ago on Step 5

    I started doing this a couple years ago. Basically the same except I have an old
    SX 15000TD Pioneer tuner amp with preamp out terminals to feed into the computer sound card. With some audio switch boxes from DI (Radio Shack brand) I run in and out audio to/from the old Pentium and Pioneer. Lots of sound with 5.1 plus two sets of old tower speakers pumping the theme from "Peter Gunn". I picked up a dual cassette player at the thrift store. Lots of cool tapes for 25 cents. Being cheap I use Audacity. More commercial software does automatic stop and start recording and other trinkets, you have to babysit audacity. I use an old Dual turntable in the system. I record from the turntable and cassette deck with good results. It's interesting the different audio production techniques noticeable at the time of recording, ie, today it is all about bass. With my system I have to boost the volume with Audacity (short of clipping) and I usually kick the bass a little in the 200-400 range for the results I like. Some pop and click editing. I have a scan and stitch program to copy the covers front and back to print CD case liners so it looks like a smaller version of the old album. Sometimes I photo the old disk and with printable CD's I print to original label and vinyl off center to give a look and feel.

    2 replies

    Reply 8 years ago on Step 5

    Sounds like you have quite the setup! Definitely more complex than mine.

    I too have noticed that production techniques have changed greatly, most noticeably in the amount of compression employed. Seems like albums these days are just a homogenous mass of over-compressed tracks (to the point of clipping, even) with no dynamics. It's quite depressing. I also tend to steer away from newly "remastered" albums, which just means they ran it through a compressor a couple more times and deemed it "acceptable" by today's standards. Much preferable to rip the album yourself off of the record, that way you don't have to deal with someone else's idea of what sounds good. It's a bit of a pet peeve of mine if you can't tell :P.

    I hadn't actually tried any EQ-ing, but that would probably help modernize them in a good way. Also very cool that you've taken the extra step of making physical copies. Keep up the good work!


    Reply 8 years ago on Step 5

    Thanks for the compliment. It's all home brew, not a lot of technical thought put into it, just what I have and find and make it work. Love the thrift stores. The wife is getting on me for collecting the albums, but it's a cool hobby. I feel sorry for the MP3 generation. They don't get it, that their sound is faked so much. Even the concerts. I can't bring myself to get a MP3 player because my wife has one and the sound sucks. I record my albums to wav files for the best replay.


    10 years ago on Step 5

    What program are you using to add the metadata? I always drag my transferred songs into Itunes, and then add the metadata there. But I'm curious about other options. I rip a lot of my records to computer. I transfer one full side at a time, and then use Audacity to chop the side into tracks. If anyone's interested in doing that: highlight an individual song, and then go to File > Export Selection As..." (in Preferences, you can adjust the quality of your saved files). Repeat for each song.

    4 replies

    Reply 10 years ago on Step 5

    When exporting out of Audacity, it will automatically pop up with a window that allows you to edit the metadata. I'm not sure if this is a feature only available in the 1.3.6 Beta or not. I use a similar method when ripping my records. I record a whole side at once, then I highlight an individual song and copy it into a new instance of Audacity. That way I can edit global settings for that specific song without effecting the rest of the album. Also, I use the Sound Activated Recording feature so I don't have to be at my computer the whole time I'm ripping the record. Enable this by going to Edit > Preferences > Smart Recording.


    Reply 10 years ago on Step 5

    Thank you. Yeah, the metadata pop-up is/must be a Beta feature (I've been using the same stable version for years - I should check into the Beta!). I have an mp3 blog, on which I share records (out of print punk records), and the final step - of adding to itunes then adding metadata, then zipping the folder that's now in the itunes directory - has always felt like a wasteful process. I don't do any noise removal on my transfers - I hadn't been happy with that Effect when I first tried it. It seemed to introduce digital noise. I'll check out Smart Recording, too. Thanks.


    9 years ago on Step 5

    Thank you for this! Now I know what cable to get! Then I just have to get my albums down from the shelves and find the cables that belong to the turntable that I have been saving forever! Thank you!

    1 reply

    Reply 9 years ago on Step 5

    No problem! FYI, newer versions of Audacity include RIAA equalization under Effects by default, so you don't have to use a pre-amp; you can just run the RCA output of the phonograph directly into your computer's 3.5 mm Line-In. Also, I've noticed that recordings from LP's are much quieter than modern recordings, this can be compensated for by using Audacity's "compressor" effect.  This shortens the dynamic range, which effectively makes the recording louder without clipping.  Best of luck ripping your records!


    9 years ago on Introduction

    I wouldn't use MP3, I'd first convert it to a lossless format so if you want other lossy formats other than MP3 or would like to burn a normal audio CD, there would be no further loss.


    9 years ago on Step 1

    The Beta version of Audacity has an equalization setting that allows you to adjust the curve to RIAA. Because of this you don't need the preamp. I tried this and I ended up with a recording that sounded exactly like the original.

    1 reply

    Reply 9 years ago on Step 1

    Wow, that's nice!  I didn't know that. I'm guessing it's a new feature that was added since the time of writing this Instructable.  I'll have to check it out and update my Instructable.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    if it's possible, I suggest using an external sound card. USB (50euro on ebay) or firewire (m-audio's stuff is really a good choice but expensive). internal Analog to Digital converters of chipset or pci/pci-express sound cards can pick up eletrical interferences in your PC chase. External sound card don't ;D