Vinyl Guide: OverviewOverview of record technology
Records are recorded by cutting a small groove into a vinyl or acetate disk. The groove is modulated with the audio signal so that its depth and shape records the sound signal itself. During playback, the disk sits on the platter, which is the motor-driven spinning component and spins at a constant rate. Several rates were used, with the most common being 33-1/3 RPM (for 12" LP records) and 45 RPM (for 7" singles). While the disk spins, the stylus (or needle) which is housed in the cartridge rests in the groove. Holding the cartridge and stylus against the record is the tonearm that swings from a pivot as the stylus moves across the record, and has a counterweight to balance the force of the stylus on the record. As the stylus vibrates due to the groove's contours, coils in the cartridge convert the movement to an electrical signal. The electrical signal is of a very low strength, and must be amplified before it's sent to an amplifier or recording device. This task is handled by a dedicated phono preamp (or an integrated one in the speaker amplifier), which also performs another critical task - equalization. Due to the mechanical constraints of the record medium, both low and high frequencies are much quieter on the record than they should be at playback. A special equalization filter must be applied to restore the correct tonal balance; this task is performed by the phono preamp at the same time it is amplifying the signal to a usable level. This signal is then taken into a standard line input and amplified for playback, or recorded.Equipment
I will discuss the turntable and cartridge/stylus separately here, as they are generally purchased separately. Chances are good that you'll need to purchase at least 3 components - a turntable, cartridge and phono preamp, so I'll spend the most time talking about these. If you need to buy all three, you should budget for at a bare minimum $200 expense (and a lot of time). If you need a quality sound card as well, budget another $100.Turntable
Turntable quality is often assumed to be of little importance. All it does is spin the record, right? Unfortunately for us, that's not really true. What a record player does is convert physical vibration (of the needle in the groove) to an electrical signal that can drive an amplifier. The problems arise from the fact that the groove might not be the only thing vibrating the stylus - motors and mechanical instability can be huge noise culprits. Furthermore, frequency stability in the motor is extremely important to reduce wow and flutter. You can check this using the strobe built in to most higher-end turntables. Most turntables will have a dot or dash pattern around the outside of the platter. Many also include a built-in strobe, which flashes at a particular frequency. By looking at the dot pattern while the platter is moving with the strobe on, you should see the dots (usually one row for each speed) 'frozen' in place by the strobe. Any movement or wavering indicates an unstable speed.
If you're buying a new turntable, I would recommend looking on the used market for a belt driven model constructed mainly of wood or metal (plastic vibrates much more easily). Some direct drive models are good too, but others are horrible - if you're looking at one of these, be careful. Consistently good belt-drive brands include Dual, AR, Thorens, Linn and others. The best direct-drive brands are the typically in the Technics family, but other brands include Sony and JVC. Aim for models that were top of the line in their day. Beginners should avoid any with a 'linear tracking' mechanism, as these require additional tuning and are not novice-friendly. These are easily identifiable, as they don't have a tonearm -- the cartridge assembly moves on a tube across the record.
This is a place where you really need to research your options and put in the time to get a good turntable. Most of the stuff out there is going to be crap, and you need to sort through it and find the rare gems to get decent quality. Especially with belt-drive and idler-based turntables you may need to replace belts or idler wheels to get stable rotation speeds. Check this before purchase, or expect to invest in the maintenance if buying online. If you can't find anyone praising it on forums and so on, don't buy it.
Because of the difficulty with finding and getting a good vintage turntable tuned up, you may want to consider the new (or less-used) market. Not all are created equal -- the lower tier turntables are usually far better suited for private listening than for producing a vinyl rip.
Here is a breakdown of what you can expect to pay for new, commonly available turntables (prices retrieved from Google Shopper, www.needledoctor.com
, and other sources as of March 2010. You may be able to find these for cheaper through other sources, and this is in no way designed to be a comprehensive list of all acceptable turntables. The bulk of the attention was paid to the equipment one will most commonly find in vinyl rip descriptions.
Budget ($60-300) [best suited for listening only, not ripping]
Audio Technica AT-PL50 - $60-90
Audio Technica AT-PL120 - $200-220
Ion / Numark / Gemini USB turntables [entry level models] - $60-80
Ion / Numark / Gemini USB turntables [standard, more feature rich models] - $100-200
Mid-tier ($300-1000) [usually more than suitable for ripping, providing that other elements in signal chain are on par]
Music Hall MMF-5 - $875
Pro-Ject Debut III - $350-380 [not with stock Ortofon OM5E, this cart is an inferior tracker]
Pro-Ject RPM1.3 $499
Rega RP1 - $445
Rega P3 - $895-1095
Technics SL-1200 MK2 / MK5 or SL-1210 - $550-800 depending on exact model
Thorens TD-170 - $550-580
Higher-end ($1000 and up)
Clearaudio Emotion - $1400
Rega P5 - $1400-1500
Music Hall MMF-7 - $1400-1500
Music Hall MMF-9 - $1995
VPI Scout - $1800-2000
Linn LP12 - $2000-3000
VPI Scoutmaster - $2500-3000
VPI Classic 1 - $2750
Rega P9 - $5000Cartridge & Stylus
Pairing the right cartridge with your turntable and tonearm is the single most important thing in achieving good sound from your vinyl setup. In some ways, the cartridge you choose is more important than the turntable itself. Personal preference does play a part, but there are important technical considerations that need to be met before preference for a particular sound coloration should be factored in to the decision.
First, if you've bought a used turntable, you should replace the cartridge or more likely the stylus on it (if possible) if you have doubts as to its history or care. They are easily damaged and do wear out with use and over time. You have no way of knowing whether or not the person took care of it.
Some basic info, cut and pasted verbatim from Wikipedia:
There are two common designs for magnetic cartridges, moving magnet (MM) and moving coil (MC) (originally called dynamic). Both operate on the same physics principle of electromagnetic induction. The moving magnet type was by far the most common and more robust of the two, though audiophiles often claim that the moving coil system yields higher fidelity sound.
In either type, the stylus itself, usually of diamond, is mounted on a tiny metal strut called a cantilever, which is suspended using a collar of highly compliant plastic. This gives the stylus the freedom to move in any direction. On the other end of the cantilever is mounted a tiny permanent magnet (moving magnet type) or a set of tiny wound coils (moving coil type). The magnet is close to a set of fixed pick-up coils, or the moving coils are held within a magnetic field generated by fixed permanent magnets. In either case, the movement of the stylus as it tracks the grooves of a record causes a fluctuating magnetic field which causes a small electrical current to be induced in the coils. This current closely follows the sound waveform cut into the record, and may be transmitted by wires to an electronic amplifier where it is processed and amplified in order to drive a loudspeaker. Depending upon the amplifier design, a phono-preamp may be necessary.
In most moving magnet designs, the stylus itself is detachable from the rest of the cartridge so it can easily be replaced. There are two primary types of cartridge mounts. The older type is attached using small screws to a headshell which then plugs into the tonearm, while the other is a standardized "P-mount" or "T4P" cartridge (invented by Technics in 1980 and adopted by other manfacturers) that plugs directly into the tonearm. Some mass market turntables use a proprietary integrated cartridge which cannot be upgraded.
After learning about what types of cartridges are available and checking what's in your price range, you need to select a good match for your tonearm. A cartridge is a good match if the resonant frequency falls between 8 and 12 Hz. There are a number of resources available to learn about this interaction.
Some basic information on resonance and why getting this number to fall within that range matters:http://www.gcaudio.com/resources/howtos/tonearmcartridge.htmlhttp://www.theanalogdept.com/cartridge___arm_matching.htm
A giant database of cartridge information is available here:http://www.vinylengine.com/cartridge_database.php
A tool that helps you evaluate the resonance of a particular tonearm and cartridge pairing on the same site:http://www.vinylengine.com/cartridge_resonance_evaluator.php
For the mathematically inclined, you need three values: the weight of the cartridge in grams, the compliance of the cartridge, and the effective mass of the tonearm in grams. Be sure to also add any extra weights you are using, including the nuts and bolts used to fasten the cartridge, to the weight of the cartridge.
resonant frequency = 159 / √((tonearm mass + cart weight) * (compliance))
The true best measurement of resonant frequency is obtained by using a test record, but these have their own set of issues that are beyond the scope of this wiki. Checking your information with the tools above should suffice.
As you shop for a cartridge, you will find a large selection of relatively inexpensive moving magnet designs and a fair amount of fairly priced high-output moving coil designs. The more expensive cartridges tend to be the low-output moving coil variety. LOMCs require more amplification at the preamp stage than their HOMC brethren and are generally aimed at the audiophile market. As with most things, you get what you pay for. At What.Cd, the consensus favorite carts for their price / performance ratio are the AT-440MLa and the Denon DL-160. For the budget conscious, the Shure M97xE is the clear favorite. Make sure these carts are a good match for your tonearm and do your homework prior to pulling the trigger on a purchase. If you still have doubts visit the Vinyl forum and we can help you figure out of you're on the right track.
All pricing from http://www.needledoctor.com
Popular moving magnet cartridges:
Shure M97xE - $90
Audio Technica AT-440MLa - $200
Ortofon 2M Blue - $225
Rega Elys II - $295
Audio Technica AT-150MLX - $400
Goldring 1012GX - $450
Ortofon 2M Black - $670
Popular moving coil cartridges:
Denon DL-160 - $180
Denon DL-103R - $380
Audio Technica AT-33EV - $500
Dynavector 10x5 $500
Dynavector 20X - $750
Sumiko Blackbird - $900Phono Preamp
You may have one already, if you've got a receiver/amplifier with a phono input. The quality may not be the best, but it would certainly be usable. If you've got such a unit, connect the turntable to it and switch the input to 'phono'. It should have a 'tape monitor' or 'preamplifier' output that you can use to record from. I do not recommend this option if you can avoid it though, most modern receivers have cheap, poor sounding and noisy phono preamps. However, some vintage receivers were well equipped to deal with this issue. Stay away from 80's or 90's receivers.
If you're buying, there are lots of options. The used market is a good place to look, try to find reviews by audio magazines or on audio forums for ones you're considering. Excellent new phono preamps can be had for quite a small amount of money and it is the recommended route. The TCC TC-760LC is widely regarded as a good deal - it's only about $75 and reportedly sounds good. Another good option is the Cambridge Audio Azur 540P, also well regarded and available for under $100. For a few more dollars the Hagtech Bugle seems to be universally loved, at $150 (with no case or power supply). If you've got some electronics savvy and would consider a DIY solution, the RJM Audio VSPS is a good choice and can be built for next to nothing, the Phonoclone at the same site is also excellent, as is the DIY version of the Bugle.
Expect to spend $75-100 on the new market, or $25-75 on the used market.Sound Card/Capture Device
You'll need a good quality sound card capable of 96KHz/24bit or 192KHz/24bit capture. Aim for a device with good analog specifications. Unfortunately onboard audio devices don't meet this requirement, you'll definitely need a separate sound card to get a decent quality capture. If you've already got a Creative X-Fi model card, it will suffice, but I can't recommend these for anyone purchasing a new one. If you've got a PC with a PCI slot available, I recommend the e-mu 0404PCI or e-mu 1212m (about the same price, the 1212m is much better if you can get it), or the M-Audio Audiophile 192. If you can't find these, the M-Audio Audiophile 2496 is an excellent card as well, though it doesn't support 192KHz operation and doesn't have as impressive specifications. Finally, if you need multichannel or a more entertainment oriented card, the Asus Xonar DX2 is probably a good choice.
If you'd like an external unit, I can recommend the e-mu 0404USB or e-mu 0202USB. For Firewire, the M-Audio Firewire Solo is fairly well regarded. Going with external will cost you extra and probably sacrifice some quality too (at this price range), so I'd go with internal if you can.
Spend $100-150 new for an internal, $200-250 for an external.Cables
You'll also need interconnects, to hook all of this up. You'll need at least one stereo RCA cable to connect the turntable to your preamp (though many turntables have this attached), as well as the correct cable to connect the RCA jacks on your preamp to your sound card. There are three common jacks used on sound cards, and you'll need to get the correct type for your card. Consult the following descriptions to determine what type of cable you need.
RCA jacks appear in pairs colour coded red and white (or black), they're the same type used for most audio equipment. The red jack carries the right channel audio signal, the white jack carries the left channel. If your sound card has this type (Audiophile 2496), you need a standard RCA cable. They look like this:
3.5mm (1/8") 'Mini' jacks are common on consumer gear, and are the type most people are familiar with. They carry both stereo audio signals on the same connector. The same type is used on iPods and other portable devices, and most headphones today use this type of plug. I don't have a good photo of an example, but most people should be familiar with these. The necessary cable is readily available.
1/4" TRS jacks are common on professional gear, and generally carry only a single channel per cable. There are 3 conductors in this jack, tip-ring-shield (TRS), designed for balanced signals. In our application we're going to be using single-ended signals, so a connector with two conductors (TS) is more appropriate. If you have this type of input (All e-mu cards, M-Audio Firewire Solo), you will need a pair of RCA to TS cables (or a stereo set). These are somewhat more difficult to acquire, but should be readily available at professional audio equipment dealers (probably where you bought your sound card anyway). The TRS jack can take on a couple forms, as it is often used in a 'combo' connector that can accept either an XLR jack (microphone) or TRS jack. It looks like one of the two jacks in the photo
Don't waste your money on overpriced cables. You shouldn't spend more than $50 on a 6ft cable, just ensure that you use shielded cables to make sure there is no interference.PC
Mostly any PC should work fine for this. You'll need lots of disk space (you should have a minimum of 10GB free before attempting a capture), but the performance requirements are not particularly high. USB will use the most processing power, and has the most risk of audio dropouts.Vinyl Ripping
1. Plug in your turntable, put record on turntable. Hook it up to the IN jacks of your phono preamp.
2. Plug in your phono preamp, Hook it up to the line-in jack of your computer.
3. Open Audacity. Set the drop down box under the Fast-Foward button to "Line In".
Now for the soundcheck:
1. Drop the needle onto a loud spot on the record, and press record in Audacity. Adjust the input levels in audacity, and in your computers volume control application until the waveform has dynamic range (If the waveform is just blue, your music will sound flat and distorted). The waveform should not go past the window it is inside. If so, you have to lower levels and should soundcheck again. The waveform should be close to the edges of the window, but it is better safe than sorry. You can always Amplify a midlevel waveform, but clipping is an uneditable sin. Play back the track to test quality. If there is a lot of crackling, this can remedied by cleaning the vinyl. If the vinyl is old it probably has dust, so you should clean it as well.
2. Now exit out of the "test track". Place the needle on the outer edge of the record, and press record in Audacity.
3. Once the side is done playing, press stop, and remove excess gaps at the beginning and end.
You have a few options at this point:
a) If the album side is one track, just export it as a wav, by clicking File > Export As Wav...
b) If the album side has individual tracks, select the track, and click File > Export Selection As Wav... You will need to repeat this step for each track
c) If the album is a one track flows into the next type deal, export it as one track, and generate a cue file for it. (this will be covered later)
Repeat this step for each side.
Note: Do NOT use Noise Reduction.
Now that you have your files, convert them to FLAC.
If you ripped a side with multiple songs to one big file, you will need to split files, or generate a cue sheet. This can best be done with CD Wave. I'm sorry its shareware but its the best way to separate long files into shorter ones, and it generates cue sheets for you. Here is a short tutorial from the www.etree.org
You can also generate a cue file indirectly by using Audacity labels and a 3rd-party, open-source java applet. You can use the cue file with one large file or, Audacity can also break the audio into separate tracks. See this Audacity wiki article for more information: http://wiki.audacityteam.org/index.php?title=Cue_sheetsDocumentation
It is important to support your rips with lineage information for completeness. The more documentation you have makes it that much more reputable. Include sampling rate, bit depth, hardware (turntable, stylus, catridge phono preamp, soundcard, software, etc.)