Although I've been discussing all-digitalentertainment setups lately–and obviously music is a big part of that–there's not much point in delving into further details of my activities. Picture a man ripping a CD. Now picture it thousands of times over the course of a year. Imagine him alphabetizing the resulting files and storing them on blank DVDs while watching TV in a window on his computer screen. Not too thrilling, is it?
But vinyl, in the form of old record albums–that's something else.
Converting those isn't quite as simple as merely feeding CDs into a drive, but there are reasons you might want to make the effort. In particular, there are some LPs that haven't made it to CD (Johnny Comes Marching Home by the Del-Lords, Matt Dillon by Short Dogs Grow, and This Is Not the New Dream Syndicate by the Dream Syndicate come to mind) and occasionally CD releases that messed with the original record's integrity. (I know we're all still upset with the way that the suspenseful lead-guitar parts of two songs on the Pale Fountains' ”¦from across the kitchen table were replaced on the CD with flaccid keyboards.) I figure it's somebody's duty to digitize those lost moments.
There are two main methods. One is some type of direct audio-in link from your existing stereo into a computer's sound card. This is the sort of thing you could probably figure out for yourself, but it might be worth buying something like the Griffin iMic USB Audio Interface (about $50). It's a small device (five centimetres in diameter) that lets you connect an audio source like a cassette deck or turntable to the USB port of a Windows (XP only, so far) or Apple computer. Mac owners get a bonus: audio-editing software called Final Vinyl. Windows people will have to make do with the dozens of available shareware and commercial programs or plug-ins.
The advantages of the iMic are that it'll accept input from any device that you can attach to the other end of a standard 3.5-millimetre stereo plug (a TV, DVD player, or VCR; a video-game console; broadcast or Internet radio stations; even the old 4-track with the recording of your garage band playing a 32-minute version of Neil Young's "Cortez the Killer"). It's a pretty useful device.
But what if you don't own a turntable, or it's some old piece of crap that you (or an older relative) bought in a mall electronics store at the dawn of the 1980s? One solution to getting those old records off the shelf and digitized is to buy a USB-equipped turntable. Think of it as a self-contained record player, blessed with the standard stereo-output ports plus a computer-ready USB plug.
You can capture the sound directly into software that'll help you split up the tracks and reduce analogue artifacts like clicks and pops. And you don't have to make low-quality MP3s either–go ahead and record full-range uncompressed WAV-format audio.
I found turntables from three companies, along with a host of customer reviews of each, on Amazon.com. That site, which is American, won't ship to Canada (although I'd bet one of the independent sellers listed on the site might if you contacted them), but after more digging I found some Canadian retailers. Most of them need to learn how to market via the Internet. Except for my old buddy AxeMusic.com in Alberta (which did come up at the top in a Google search), I had to think of possible retailers using my own brain, find their Web sites, then search their catalogues.
Luckily, the word turntable doesn't return a lot of results, but thinking of music-equipment stores gets tiresome, which is my way of warning you that I didn't try very hard to find every possible place that sells these things. So ask around and support your local shops first.
I never bothered to follow any Canadian leads related to the Ion Audio ITTUSB Turntable (US$140). It's apparently the original USB turntable, but the Amazon crowd gave it the lowest rating, a mere 3.5 out of five. It does come with Mac/Windows audio software called Audacity, which is well-regarded for ease of use and the ability to add customized software processing in the form of widely available (and free) plug-ins.
A company called Audio Technica offers the AT-LP2D LP-to-Digital Recording System. Amazon lists it for US$170, although there are units available for half that. It also gets a score of 3.5 out of five, but the included software is Windows-only. Best Buy in Canada has it for $199, although it sometimes sees sale prices around $140.
Finally, with an impressive 4.5 out of five at Amazon (plus an unsolicited rave e-mail to me from a Georgia Straight reader) is the Numark TTUSB Turntable with USB (listed at US$300, but selling for half that). Like the Ion, it uses Audacity software but is apparently a better-quality turntable. It also features a line-in plug, so you could, say, record from a cassette deck. This seems to be the product people prefer, and it's also the easiest to find in Canada.