What Are the Best Tips for Going from Turntable to MP3?

Mal Baxter

Transferring perishable vinyl to a digital medium can preserve favorite sounds in an indestructible format. It should be remembered, however, that the format devised by the Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG), audio layer 3, better known as MP3, is a compressed format that may shrink the quality of audio. Still, the convenience, portability, and cross-medium capability of digital MP3 offsets potential loss of quality and may offer good reason for transferring those stacks of discs. Numerous products exist to simplify the process by linking the transfer directly to a digital MP3 player. Patching methods accomplish the task by cabling the audio equipment to a computer through amplifying components.

It's often best to transfer music from a turntable to MP3 through a USB cord.
It's often best to transfer music from a turntable to MP3 through a USB cord.

Some techniques for going from turntable to MP3 include computer recording through preamps, mixers, and sound cards. It's possible to record playback directly into a preamp-equipped sound card designed for this purpose. Freely available audio editing software processes signals onto computers with relative ease. Format shifting, or ripping, the obtained file follows; this may involve running the file through a coding-decoding program (codec), usually a non-destructive process. Another simplified method is to record directly from a dedicated universal serial bus (USB) turntable.

An MP3 player.
An MP3 player.

Those who want to transfer music should familiarize themselves with the capabilities of the devices at hand or consider the purchase of inexpensive cables and adapters to assist. There is no best way for copying recordings from turntable to MP3, but there are ways that result in lower-quality audio. These can include recording speaker output through a microphone or recording into a laptop's smallest line-in jack. With high-quality alternatives available, it's not difficult to create a professional quality transfer with just a little product knowledge.

One very convenient method for going from turntable to MP3 involves a dedicated USB turntable. This machine plays the record and digitizes the output into a USB device like a media card, flash drive, or portable MP3 player. Such units might come with analog output converters and conversion software. When a line is plugged into a computer's USB port, audio can be captured with software, perhaps a freely available audio editing suite, and then exported as an MP3 file. Some companies even offer turntables that cradle MP3 players and record into them directly.

Another way to convert from an older-model turntable to MP3 is by amplifying the turntable output through a receiver or a stereo system preamp. Then a cable is drawn from the amp's auxiliary port, or line-out, to the computer sound card's line-in port. Connector adapters may help here.

A mixer can also be used as an amplifier between turntable and computer. This can digitize the signal and send it to a computer with a USB or high-speed digital cable. Recording occurs in the computer, typically as a waveform audio file (WAV). The file can be converted to MP3 and then either copied to a playlist or burned to an audio compact disc (CD).

An audio editing suite is a powerful tool for transferring audio from turntable to MP3. Software editors are capable of recording incoming audio from almost any linked player of old or new technology, and can be easily obtained from free open-source providers. Additionally, a vinyl record should be flattened under a telephone book for a few hours before recording. A turntable's cheap or worn cartridges and needles should be replaced, perhaps with new ones designed for the condition of the record collection. Time and location should be chosen so recording can continue undisturbed, as this process cannot be sped up, and the record should be cleaned.

USB cables are used to connect devices -- such as record players and other audio equipment -- to computers.
USB cables are used to connect devices -- such as record players and other audio equipment -- to computers.

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