How to Convert LPs to MP3s

NOTE: The original post had a bunch of helpful photos.  But the hosting service died, and the photos with it.

I’ve been writing some about my recent project- converting some old, hard to find LPs into MP3 format, so I can put them on my music server and CD-Rs to listen to in the car.

Here’s how I do it.

First the equipment. Other than a computer, you need a turntable. I use the Ion USB turntable, but any turntable that you can hook up to your computer will work. I haven’t tried them, but here’s a device that allows you to connect a traditional turntable to your computer’s line-in jack and here’s one that works via USB.

You’ll also need some recording software. I use Audacity, which is free, for both my LP to MP3 conversions and for doing my podcasts.

First, hook up your turntable to your computer. This is an easy process with the Ion turntable. You just plug in the USB cable and, at least in Windows XP, the computer does the rest. The turntable comes with drivers on a CD if you need them.

Then take out the LP, place it on the turntable, blow it clean with canned air, and wipe it gently with a soft, lint-free towel. The quality of the LP is the biggest factor in how the converted MP3 will sound. If you have an old LP, expect some static and maybe a skip or two- just tell your friends that it adds to the vinyl experience.

Then open Audacity. Under Edit/Preferences, be sure you do 3 things (see Figure 1 below): select the USB turntable as the recording source (on my computer it shows up as ” USB Audio Codec,” set the channels as “2 Stereo,” and select software playthrough so you can hear the record while it’s being recorded. This will allow you to start over if the sound is especially bad.

Then press the Record button in the main Audacity window (no need to hurry- you can trim the beginning of each song after you record the LP), and then place the needle on the LP and record that side. After you’re done with Side A, trim the excess part at the beginning of the first song by selecting it with your curser (see Figure 2 below) and either selecting Edit/Cut or by simply hitting the Delete key on your keyboard.

Then do the same thing for Side B of the LP.

When you finish recording Side B, trim the excess part at the beginning of Side B, like you did above for Side A. Then align the beginning of Side B with the end of Side A by placing your cursor at the correct location and selecting Project/Align Tracks/Align with Cursor (see Figure 3 below). In Figure 3, Side A in on the top and Side B is on the bottom. Side B is longer than Side A. In this example, I have placed the cursor at the location in the Side B track that corresponds to the end of Side A. Selecting Project/Align Tracks/Align with Cursor will cause Side A and Side B to line up.

Place the cursor where you want Side B to begin and select Project/Align Tracks/Align with Cursor

Then make the entire LP viewable on your screen by clicking on the “Fit project in window” icon.

Then delete the extra silence between each track and place a label at the beginning of each track. The label is the name of the song. Sometimes it takes a little time to properly identify the beginning of each track- I keep the album cover handy so I can refer to the song lengths that are almost always printed thereon. After selecting the extra silence between each track and deleting it using the Delete key, you can immediately add a label by clicking the label icon.

Once you have everything labeled, you need to do two things. First, normalize the tracks by selecting Effect/Normalize (see Figure 6 below). Check both “Remove any DC offset” and “Normalize maximum amplitude to -3dB.” and click “OK.” Second, put your computer volume on a typical music listening level and play parts of a few songs see if the recording is loud enough. Almost all the time, they aren’t. If not, slide the slider at the beginning of each file (remember there are 2- one for Side A and one for Side B) to increase the loudness. Generally +3 dB or +6dB will do the trick.

WARNING: I don’t know if this is a problem specific to my system or not, but NEVER try to use the Backspace key when typing the song name labels. Audacity crashes every time I do that on any label other than the first one. If you need to fix a typo, place the cursor before the letters you want to delete and use the Delete key. It is a very good idea to save your project after every step.

Then select File/Export Multiple to split the recording into individual song files. You need to select the export format, and the location for the files. I use a particular folder on my music server (called “LP to MP3″), so I can easily import the finished MP3s into my music library. I simply tell my media player to search that folder, and it finds the new song files automatically. Then I edit the tag info and add album cover art (which you can almost always find either via a Google image search, at AllMusic.Com, at Amazon, or via an eBay search).

That’s it. The first couple of times, it takes a little time. But once you’ve done it a few times, it goes really fast.

It’s a great way to hear some good music that isn’t available on CD or iTunes.

Tags: , ,

0 responses to “How to Convert LPs to MP3s

  1. I haven’t heard that “turn table” expression used in ages!

  2. What a great idea!! Our how-to is up as well if you’d like to check it out!!

  3. Congratulation on being a winner.

  4. Didn’t even know this could be done! Nice list, clear instructions, GREAT!

  5. Very interesting. I have used Audacity to record LP’s, but I learned a couple things in your article — such as the Multiple File Export. Wow, will that save a lot of time. Thanks.

  6. You may want to look at Acoustica Spin Again to “Convert LPs to Mp3s

  7. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I had the hardware, including an ADS Instant Music box, but the included software kept crashing. Audacity's help files leave a bit to be desired, but your instructions helped me import an old cassette I have of beach music – hard to replace! I hope my 2nd attempt will go a little faster but the results are worth it! One tip you might want to insert – when you say to make the whole project fit the window, and then talk about deleting the spaces between tracks – it's much easier to find the spaces if it's zoomed in a lot, and also to add the labels. Then click on Fit to window.

  8. Hey, Kent, I just got through the first reading of your tips page for using a USB turntable to convert your old lp's to cd. About a year ago I bought a Memorex USB turntable; Thinking that was a good brand name. I should tell you right now I'm a newbie on the net to begin with. All my friends and relatives finally dragged me into the twenty first century. Anyhow, I have a friend that's pretty savvy on computers and he came over to my place to help me figure it out. We managed to pretty much get it to the point of recording and then he had to go. I tried the rest of the afternoon to get something with enough quality that I could burn to cd, but I'm either technologically challenged, or dumber than a box of rocks, take your pick, and ended up putting the turntable back in the box it came in and transported it into the never-never land of my junk closet. There's things in there that have been there since three days before dirt was invented :). I have about three hundred and fifty old albums; Mostly rock from the early seventies to the late eighties, and there is some really great music there. I'd love to rip them into my Windows Media Player file so I can burn them to cd's. Most of them have only been played three or four times because I used to take an album and tape it on a ten inch reel to reel I had at the time. Then, I'd either listen to the ten inch or record a cassette off the ten to play in my cassette deck in the house or the one in my car. The albums seldom got played ever again. Like I said; Some really good quality vinyl. My desire is to convert them to cd and put the albums away again with low density plastic jackets and heavy duty album covers. I have a dream of making up a bunch of plexiglas frames to put on the walls of my music room and display the album art of some of the really prime, and valuable albums. Anyhooooo, like I said, I read through your tips and I'm re-energized enough that I'm going to pull out the turntable again and try hard to figure it out. The only other option I have is to kidnap a recording engineer, or maybe a six year old kid. Either one could handle it I'm sure :). Just wanted to thank you for getting me fired up again. This time I'm really going to try super hard to get the thing figured out. Happy Trails.

  9. I'm glad you're trying again. The reason I bought the turntable was to give new life to some good old LPs that were never released on CD or downloadable format. I'm actually not that good at the post-transfer, technical (noise reduction, etc.) part of the process, but I have some friends who have created MP3s from old out of print records that sound perfect.I hope it works out for you. Let me know how it goes!

  10. Hi all, there is a website baktrack.com that will convert LPs and cassettes to MP3 completely online. You can add all sorts of data like artist, album etc. Basically, you play your records through your stereo headphone into your computer's mic in. Baktrack tries to separate each song. When your done recording you can download your tracks. You can also cut and combine tracks.

  11. Hi all, there is a website baktrack.com that will convert LPs and cassettes to MP3 completely online. You can add all sorts of data like artist, album etc. Basically, you play your records through your stereo headphone into your computer's mic in. Baktrack tries to separate each song. When your done recording you can download your tracks. You can also cut and combine tracks.

  12. Pingback: ProBlogger Winners Announced | 33Rockers

  13. I can recommend a great software program from australia called click repair. It will process sound files and get rid of the pops and clicks. Best 40 bucks I’ve spent. I normally don’t buy much software but this is worth it. Downside is it will process only wav format so I rip to a wav file, declick it then convert to mp3. It’s an extra step but gets the job done. If the record is perfect, don’t bother, but if it needs help you can fix it.

  14. Pingback: How to posts - loads of them