Those of you out there with a vinyl collection may at some point want to preserve your collection digitally. There are many ways to achieve this, and the method described here is in no way the perfect solution for everyone, but this method does not require any software purchases so it’ll cost you nothing to give it a go. My goal was to capture my albums using the highest quality my Mac Pro could provide. I settled on 24bit 96kHz Apple Lossless files. While these files won’t play on portable Apple devices, they will play inside of iTunes. You could also create 24bit 48kHz AAC lossless files and they will play on your portable devices.
If you are going to attempt this, you will need a few things, including a turntable that outputs line level output instead of the traditional phono level output. If your turntable does not have this, you can also purchase a phono preamp that will achieve this. You’re also going to need a copy of Audacity which you can download for free.
First thing we have to do is set up our Line Input on our Mac to run at 24bit 96kHz. Launch Audio Midi Setup in the Utilities folder. Select the Built-in Line Input and change the format to 96000.0 Hz and 2ch-24bit.
Now go ahead and launch Audacity and go to the Preferences. I am using Audacity 1.3.12, so if you’re using a different version, your screens may look slightly different. In the first section we need to tell Audacity to record 2-channel stereo.
Now click on Recording in the left menu. I select the Software Playthrough option so I can hear the music through my Mac while I’m recording. This is an optional step, and it won’t harm anything if you don’t enable it.
Click on the Quality option in the left column now. Here we have to set Audacity to sample at 96kHz (or 48kHz if you’re ripping for use on iOS devices).
Now we need to do some actual recording. Get your record ready and make sure it’s very clean. This will help you to avoid additional noise in your recordings. Now we need to do is set our recording level in Audacity. To accomplish this, start playing a loud section on your record, hit Record in Audacity and adjust the Input Level Slider until you’re not clipping the sound. It is better to record a little quiet instead, since clipping will ruin your recording. This first screenshot shows a recording that’s clipping.
This screen shot shows a proper input level and the sound is no longer clipping.
Now that our recording level is set, let’s delete our test track and capture Side A of our LP.
Hit the Record button in Audacity and start playing your album. When the record is done, stop the recording. Select the needle drop at the beginning and the silence at the end of the recording and delete them. Now we need to add some labels which will help Audacity export the songs individually. Click the Skip to Start button and then press ⌘+B to add a label. Here is where you enter the name of the track. Click at the beginning of the next track and create a label there as well. Do this at the beginning of every individual track.
Once you have labeled every song, we have to normalize the track to make sure the volume is at an acceptable level. Hit ⌘+A to select the entire track. Click the Effects menu at the top and select Normalize in the drop-down menu.
Click OK to accept the Normalize effect’s default settings.
After the file has been normalized, we need to export the files. Click on the File menu and select Export Multiple. When the Export window comes up, select Other uncompressed files and then click the Options button.
In the options window we want to select AIFF as the Header and Signed 24 bit PCM as the Encoding. This will create our 24-bit 96kHz AIFF audio files.
After you click OK you will be brought back to the Export window. You can now click the Export button. This will bring up the Edit metadata window where you can see the track name and number has been automatically populated by our track labels. Just click OK since we can set the artist and album data in iTunes later.
Now we wait and when the export is done, we should have our individual tracks ready to be copied to iTunes.
Launch iTunes and go to the Preferences. Click on the Import Settings button.
Select Apple Lossless Encoder from the drop-down.
Open the AIFF files in iTunes. Once they are copied to the library, select them all, right-click and choose Get Info to set the artist and album data, click OK when you’re done.
Now right-click on all the files again except this time choose Create Apple Lossless Version.
When iTunes is done, you can right-click and get the info of a track to verify that you now have a 24bit 96kHz (or 48kHz depending on your choice) Apple Lossless file.
You can now delete the original AIFF versions out of iTunes. As I mentioned, 96kHz Apple Lossless files will not play on any iOS devices so if you desire, you can go back into iTunes preferences and set the import settings to be AAC and iTunes Plus. You can then right-click on your lossless files and create an AAC file that will play on your iOS devices.
Like I said in the beginning, this is one of a million ways to rip your vinyl collection. Is creating a 24bit 96kHz lossless file overkill? For some it may be, but for vinyl collectors and audiophiles it’s worth the effort.