Avoiding Pitfalls of Vinyl Records to Digital Transfer

Click here to skip the Conclusion.

Welcome, so you want to convert your Vinyl to digital and preserve as much quality as possible huh? Great! Let me share some of what I’ve learned here while trying to do the same.

So your first thought might be to adjust the capture device on your PC to 96Khz and 24 Bits or above because the more samples per second the better the audio fidelity right? I mean that’s what the record stores tell us:

BEGIN Record Store Jargon: (Skip to “END Record Store Jargon for the rest of my point”)

Source: http://recordarchive.com/faq/

CD VERSUS VINYL?

Audio purists  have long claimed that the sound of a good turntable and cartridge combination is superior to the sound of CD. Here’s what’s going on:

The way that CDs work is that they take a “sample” of one or many sounds every so often (in this case its 44,000 times per second). Each of the 44,000 events per second is called a sample. The data in the CD records the volume (loudness) of the sound or  sounds that the recorder is recording. If a recording lasts exactly 10 seconds, then the recorder stores data for the 440,000 samples. If the recording is for exactly  one minute, then there are (440,000) X 6 or 2,640,000 samples. When the sound is replayed, the samples are played back and we hear roughly the same sound that we  heard when it was recorded. The advantage of CD is that the data does not contain  much background noise (the first CD Players had the noise floor about 90 dB below the loudest signal while vinyl has a signal to noise ratio of about 60 dB when things  are perfect, but when CD was introduced 50dB was considered about normal). What the  CD engineers did not for see is that the details in the music (the artsy crowd refers  to nuances) are generally caused by sounds that last less than 1/44,000 of a second.  Its likely that a detail that is that short will not be recorded at all, or perhaps  worse, recorded as “instant on” which sounds highly unlike the original sound,  because musical sounds almost always quickly change volume when they begin or end!  The CD recording makes it all there or all not there, because the size of the sample is too long!!!

Like the guys at Sony when they designed CD as a format, you are  probably thinking “I can’t hear anything that short!” Check out this experiment: Blindfold yourself and have a friend drop a quarter on a large hard surface that you are close to. As soon as you possibly can, point to the quarter. If you have two fully  functional ears, this was no problem for you. You actually heard the quarter twice!  Once was in the left ear and the other time was in the right ear. The reason that you could point to the correct location is that the sound traveled from the hard surface to  one of your ears quicker than it did to the other ear. Its a matter of distance and the speed of sound. The speed of sound does not change (significantly). We hear the  difference in arrival times and, because of experience, can properly place where  the quarter fell. I know you are wondering where I’m going with all of this! Here’s  the kicker: The amount of time between the two sounds you heard is smaller than  1/44,000 of a second. You can hear sounds that short and do on a regular basis.

Try this: Get a copy of an album that you already have on CD. Listen for details,  plucks of strings, etc. An acoustic guitar and a good close microphone move faster  than the CD sampling rate will allow in order to get a correct recording!

END Record Store Jargon

The rest of my point/Conclusion:

Well as you may have guessed 96Khz (the maximum sample rate allowed by laptop’s line-in) was where I started but as I dug into this hobby and tried learning good capture levels (-6dB) and why my recordings didn’t sound as good as I heard them played on the same turntable (don’t plug analog Turntable/Phono output directly to PC Line-In without AMP/Equalizer). I found some more science behind the sound and discovered that I was ruining my transfers by selecting high sample rates.

I won’t re-write the science here but I will lead you to the water (Well written & informational Links). Whether you drink is up to you:

http://people.xiph.org/~xiphmont/demo/neil-young.html

http://www.trustmeimascientist.com/2013/02/04/the-science-of-sample-rates-when-higher-is-better-and-when-it-isnt/

http://manual.audacityteam.org/index.php?title=Sample_workflow_for_LP_digitization

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