So, you want to unpack all those vintage records and convert them to digital. Listening to music you grew up with is like looking through the old family photo albums. Going back in time and remembering music helps cope with the stress of modern day life. It helps us remember when times were simple and life was fun.
Before you begin converting, let's first visit the old agrument of vinyl vs digital. There are those who believe that vinyl has a satisfying charactoristic that digital does not offer. Vinyl would occasionally pop, skip, hiss or do whatever vinyl did. It wasn't perfect, but it had a warm sound that is absent in the perfect world of digital.
As a serious vinyl collector of approximately 50,000 records, I will side with those who prefer the vinyl sound. That doesn't mean I don't have digital music. I have converted thousands of records to digital for the purpose of taking it to the road. Digital files can easily be burned to CD, then played in the car. Be aware that the earlier car CD players will only play WAV files, while later players will accomodate for MP3.
PREPARE YOUR VINYL
Serious record collectors use a record washing machine. If you don't have one, there is an alternative. Records stored for decades have collected dust and finger prints, deep in the grooves and will result in very poor audio quality. Luke warm soapy water works great. Rinse well and dry. Use a soft cloth and wipe with the grooves. Be careful not to rub, but blott, the labels. They are paper and are easily damaged. Never stack wet records together. Use a good stylus. If you're going to the time and trouble to recreate quality audio, take a few more minutes and change your stylus. Most all styli are still available.
As a bit of trivia, there was a time when 45 RPM record players were manufactured for cars. Although this worked, somewhat, there were problems with the technology. Since cars move, tone arms were extremely heavy, in order to properly track the record. This called for heavy wear and the record didn't last long. Forgetting to remove your records from a hot car would result in warping of your favorite tunes. Warped records rarely ever played again.
So, let's get to converting. There are two ways of accomplishing this. The market is presently flooded with USB turntables. A USB turntable comes with software, allowing you to plug your turntable into your USB port and start recording. It's as simple as that. Some problems with the USB system are as follows: The tone arm is constructed poorly, the platter is extremely light and what you hear is what you get. One more thing to consider is that the USB turntable is not supplied with a 3 mil stylus for 78 RPM records. Another way to get better results is to do what I do. I use a professional turntable with a quality tone arm and a very heavy platter. This is fed into an audio mixer with the use of a vinyl recording program called "Spin It Again" from Acoustica.
Although Spin It Again is designed exclusively for recording vintage vinyl and tape, Mixcraft will record any and all audio. Spin It Again allows you to clean records and tapes that have developed noise over the years. An old scratchy record can be made to sound close to new again. These programs are very affordable and effective. You are given a FREE trial period for both before purchasing. You can't go wrong with this.
UPDATE: Friends, associates and aquaintences who have used Acoustica products, are completely satisfied. Their tech support staff are very knowledgeable and available for any assistance needed.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTS ABOUT USB TURNTABLES
USB turntables have many drawbacks, but would probably satisfy those who have limited experience with vinyl and recoding. In addition to the lightweight construction and only a 1 mil stylus, USB turntables have no controls for volume and EQ. What you hear is what you get. Setting up a conventional turntable, with an external mixer, gives you control over recoding. The choice and end result is yours.
Here is a sample USB turntable. They are available online, as well as in many retail electronics stores, for around $150. This is far cheaper than the alternative, but the quality is adjusted to the price.
WHAT YOU NEED TO RECORD VINYL
After downloading, installing and purchasing "Spin It Again", you'll need some additional equipment. Computers are equipped with sound cards that will accomodate your gear. First, you need a turntable that will play the records you want to convert. For LP's and 45's, a used Technics SL-1200 on Ebay will provide top quality recordings. For 78's you will need something vintage, possibly a retired broadcast professional turntable. All these items are on Ebay. The second (Optional) device is a small audio mixer. It will give you multiple audio inputs and allow you manual control of audio input levels. These are also found on Ebay. See some examples of equipment I use for recording.
This is a Technics SL-1200. It will play 33 and 45 speed records up to 12" diameter. The quality is superb and can be found on Ebay. This is recommended for those with amateur knowledge, but demand quality audio.
Here is a pair of QRK professional broadcast turntables. They will play 33, 45 and 78 speeds. Any brand broadcast TT will provide the same results. Available on Ebay. These are vintage, but parts are still available. Requires cutting an opening in a counter top for mounting.
GATES CB-500 broadcast turntable. Will play 33, 45 and 78 speeds and will handle records up to 16" diameter. Available on Ebay, but very expensive. Circa 1940's - 1950's, 16" records (Transcriptions) were produced by the military for public broadcast. These were never available to the public for purchase, but are now on Ebay.
Newcomb Audio Products - TR-1680 Transcription Player. Widely used in schools. Plays 16, 33, 45 and 78 speeds and will hold a 16" record. Has dual needles for LP or 78. Can be found on Ebay. Great for older vintage recordings.
Homemade turntable. This TT was made from boxes of misc parts. Plays 33 and 45 speeds and will handle a 16" record. Technics SP-25 turntable with a Micro-Trac 16" tone arm. Parts were scrounged from bone yards. It works incredibly well.
Oops! This is for cutting records, not playing them. This is another topic on another page, but I use Acoustica audio products for cutting records as well. I'll bet they didn't know about that.
Arakkis audio mixing console. This is way over the top for casual use, but is available on Ebay. This will handle 12 inputs and provides VU meters for stereo. Very high quality audio. Made for broadcast production use.
Audio mixing board for home use. Small, but with quality. Can be purchased new, or used on Ebay. This will satisfy your recording needs.
Sorry if I have confused you with so many options, but if you are shopping for quality recording, you have dozens of options when using "Spin It Again." Basically, you can use any turntable and any mixer. Your personal desire is your decision.