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Last Updated: Sunday, 29 January 2006, 01:25 GMT
Turning old music into digital
Chris Long
By Chris Long
Click producer

With all the talk of MP3 and digital formats, it is easy to forget that music started off as analogue, on records. Chris Long shows how you can drag those magic vinyl masterpieces into the digital age.

LPs
Not all music is available on CD or download
It was not that long ago that the only music storage format of any worth was the record.

Until the early 1990s we bought LPs and singles in their millions and it looked for all the world like there would never be a change.

But ultimately the domination of digital technology relegated our vinyl recordings to the "stuff we used to have in the good old days" section of the great history book in the sky.

Of course the assumption today is - despite The Beatles and Led Zeppelin still not being available on the likes of Napster and iTunes - that everything you might want is available digitally.

Could there possibly be vinyl albums out there that are not available on CD or download?

Yes, of course there are, so unless you have a device like a Teac player - which is a turntable and CD recorder combination - you are going to have to cross a couple of hurdles if you want to turn vinyl into digital.

Interfacing

Generally what is missing in the equation, says Creative's Darragh O'Toole, is what is called a phono pre-amp.

"Your record deck outputs a very weak signal, which is at turntable level," he says.

"On your hi-fi you'll see an input called phono. That's because it has to take this very low level up to what's known as line level, which is the line that things like your CD players, radio and telly are at. So that's for interfacing."

Teac
A Teac machine combines a turntable and CD recorder
He says you could buy a top of the range Soundblaster X-Fi, which comes with a phono pre-amp on board, but for general soundcards all you need is to buy is a little box.

"You're looking at a price range of probably 30 and upwards, from standard to very premium components."

To copy your old cassettes it is exactly the same process, but without the need for the phono pre-amp. You can plug the tape player directly into your sound card.

At this point it is probably worth pointing out that in the UK it is still illegal to copy LPs, although the authorities have not prosecuted anyone who has done so for their own use.

Most other countries around the world operate a fair use policy, allowing people to copy their music for their own listening pleasure.

Crackle and pop

OK, so you have copied the record on to your computer. Now to remove all those irritating crackles and clicks.

Vito Salvaggio, of Sonic Solutions, says: "Generally when consumers bring in analogue audio from an LP or a tape, along with the music they bring all the ticks and clicks and crackles. We recognise that and apply what are called filters.

"The user doesn't really need to know about the filters, though we provide very easy to use controls to remove a fair degree of those hisses and cracks.

"Unfortunately, the more we apply the filter the more of the music that you lose, so it's not an exact science, it requires that the user listen."

Finally you need to add the tag information - or as we humans call it - the name of the album and its track listing.

LP
If your record is obscure, the digital software may not recognise it
This is where an interesting combination of the new Creator 8 software package and the internet comes into its own.

Says Mr Salvaggio: "They can bring the analogue in but there's no information about that song, it's just a digital file called Track01. The problem we've been tackling is making it one-click easy to get the information about that track.

"We do that now with a really rich database of millions of popular music songs from around the world with all the track information - the track, the title, the genre, even the track number on the original LP. Easy Media Creator allows that now."

The problem is that, if you have an even slightly obscure record, the all-knowing digital world turns out to be a rather ill informed digital world and offers up the wrong track names, but at least it tries.

All you have to do is write your files to a CD and print a nice label and you too can revisit your old recordings. Let's hope that they are as good as the memories.



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