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.
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:
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 http://www.monoprice.com/home/index.asp is my favorite)
Pre-amps can be found online, the cheapest one I've found is this one http://www.mcmelectronics.com/product/40-630. 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 http://audacity.sourceforge.net/, 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 (http://audacity.sourceforge.net/). 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 http://infrarecorder.org/, 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!