VINYL – records, that is, not flooring – has made a comeback, and a new generation of hi-fi buffs has discovered the seductive sound of stylus delicately lowered on to microgroove. But those of us who grew up in the era of the LP are making the transition in reverse.
Cherished albums that have been laid waste first by CDs and then MP3s have lingered for decades on dusty shelves, in the expectation of eventual resurrection. The popularity and cheap price of USB turntables means that day is finally at hand – though it’s work to be undertaken only by those with time and patience to spare.
It’s now possible to acquire one of these turntables on the high street for as little as £20, though the average price is closer to £50. You won’t get high fidelity but you will get a workable interface between your vinyl and your hard drive, and the ability to re-master your old music to a universal format that will work on any portable player.
But before you splash any cash, look in your loft to see if you still have a pre-PC era record player. If you can run a cable from its headphone socket to the line in or microphone jack on your computer, you won’t even need the USB functionality.
Turntables always come with converter software, but don’t choose one on that basis, because the two most usable programs are freely available: Audacity and EZ Vinyl/Tape Converter. Audacity offers more help in removing pops and scratches, but the principle is the same: you play each side of an LP and transfer it to a PC or laptop in real-time. You then split the recording into individual tracks and tag each one with title, album and artist, before converting them to MP3 format.
Tagging the files is the most laborious part of the process, but you can’t skip it. Audacity and EZ Converter rely on you typing the information by hand, but a better way is to import the newly-created files into Musicbrainz Picard, which matches them with a vast online database.
Even so, the workflow is labyrinthine, and expect to spend 90 minutes on each LP. Many music lovers soon write it off as a fool’s errand.