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.

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