Transfer Vinyl to MP3 or CD

vinyl_to_cd

Some of the greatest music ever made isn’t available digitally, on mp3, or on CD; but rather is only available on vinyl. Moreover, if you already have purchased vinyl records, why should you have to go buy them on CD or MP3? No matter what the reason, you want to convert your vinyl to MP3, or ultimately convert your vinyl to CD.

Follow these easy steps, and you’ll soon be listening to your favorite vinyl records on your CD player, or even on and MP3 player such as your iPod or iPhone.

The Harder (but free) way to convert vinyl to CD or MP3

The cheapest way to transfer your vinyl to CD is to use a free audio program, such as Audacity, which is available for both Windows and Mac. This is what I’m going to show you below.

The Easy (but cheap) way to convert vinyl to CD or MP3

Using Audacity will require some manual slicing up of the audio, and cleaning up of noise, as well as finding another tool with which to burn the audio to a CD, so if you’re willing to pay some money, you can buy Golden Records Vinyl to CD Converter for Windows or Mac, and it will make the process go more smoothly.

The Easiest (but most expensive) way

If you’re really hardcore about converting vinyl to MP3 or CD, and don’t mind spending somewhere in the neighborhood of $75, you can buy a turntable that will record your vinyl to MP3s directly. You can then burn those MP3s to CD.

Here are the things you’ll need convert your vinyl to CD or MP3

That is, if you’re going the easy, or the harder way. I don’t have an LP to CD turntable, so you’re on your own if you buy one of those (though I’m sure it’s not that tough).

  • Vinyl records or LPs you want to convert
  • A record player with some sort of audio output. You probably have RCA outputs, but if you have USB, that’s great.
  • A computer with some sort of audio input. You probably don’t have RCA inputs, thus you will need the next item.
  • Appropriate connectors to get the audio from your record player into your computer. This is the most variable part of the instructions. Chances are, your turntable has RCA outputs; and your computer doesn’t have RCA inputs. Chances are, your computer has a 3.5mm microphone input, and your turntable doesn’t have a 3.5mm audio output. I use female-to-female RCA couplers, which connect the RCA outputs on my turntable to an adapter that converts male RCA connectors to a 3.5mm male connector. I then connect that male connector into the microphone jack on my computer. Ideally, I would use a female RCA to 3.5mm male connector, but I use what I have on hand.
  • A CD burner – either internal, or external to your computer. This is of course optional, if you are fine with just having digital files, such as mp3′s to put on your iPod, iPhone, or other portable music device.
  • Software. If you’re going the harder route, you’ll need Audacity, and iTunes. Or Golden Records Vinyl to CD Converter can help with both conversion and burning. If you have another program other than iTunes that you use to convert to MP3 or burn to CD, you can of course use that instead.

Here’s how to convert your vinyl to CD or MP3 using the free Audacity. You’ll of course have to download and install it first.

Get the music flowing into your computer

After you’ve downloaded, installed, and started up Audacity, you need to make sure the audio from your record player is being picked up by audacity. Choose whatever configuration of adapters you need to get your turntable audio going into your computer. You’ll probably be using an RCA to 3.5mm adapter. Plug the RCA cables from your turntable into the RCA plugs on your adapter, and plug the 3.5mm adapter into your computer’s microphone, or “line in” jack.

Now start up your record player. You probably can’t hear much because your record player isn’t being amplified. But, it is providing a signal to your computer. In Audacity, look at the options that are available in the drop-down box. One of them should be “Line In.” This is the option you will want to have selected. On my Mac, the correct option is “Default Input Source,” but I had to first change my input source by going into Preferences > Sound > Input and selecting “Line In.”

Press the record button on Audacity. If you have selected the correct input source, you will now hear your music playing. You’ll also see waveforms of your music on the new Audio Track that has been formed. If not, you may need to play around with your input settings a little, either within Audacity, or at the System level. If you’re on Windows XP, you may need to adjust the Default Device for Sound Recording in your Control Panel > Sounds, Speech, & Audio Devices > Sounds & Audio Devices > Audio.

Optimize your audio settings

Press Stop on Audacity, and celebrate just a little. But now you want to make sure you’re getting the best quality audio into your computer. Look at your sample audio track. It should say that it is a “Stereo, 44100 Hz 32-bit float” track. If it doesn’t, most commonly, it probably says it’s a mono track. You need to change this in Preferences > Audio I/O. Under Recording > Channels, change “1 (Mono)” to “2 (Stereo).” While you’re there, make sure that Device is set to “Built-in Input.”

Now you should optimize your input levels. Ideally, you want the loudest parts of the music to be as tall of waveforms as possible, without “clipping.” So, delete that last test audio track, and let’s make another. This time, keep an eye on the Input level monitor on the top right hand corner of Audacity. Adjust the slider with a little microphone on it underneath the record button so the monitor never quite maxes out – only coming close when the music hits loud points. If the monitor maxes out, a little vertical red bar will appear at the end of the monitor. Make a note of the input level you’re at, move it down a bit, and make a new audio track, adjusting until the red bar doesn’t show up anymore.

Optimize audio in Audacity when converting vinyl to CD

Record the music

Once you’ve got your audio settings optimized, you’re ready to start recording. Stop your turntable, delete your sample audio track, then press record again before starting up your turntable (you’re going to need a sample of that initial bit of noise from your turntable). Start up your turntable and record your first track. If you want to record the entire side, go ahead; but it will be easier to break your music down into tracks if you do them one at a time. Unfortunately, there’s no way to speed up this process, you just have to sit and enjoy the music.

Remove noise from the music

On your audio track, click and drag on that bit of audio that was recorded just before the music started on your LP. Then, go to Effect > Noise Removal…. Since you’ve already selected your bit of noise, click on Get Noise Profile on the dialog box.

Remove noise in Audacity to convert vinyl to CD

The dialog will disappear. Delete all of the sound you just sampled, so that the actual audio of the song is at the beginning of your audio track (you want to do this so that your Preview will have music in it when you’re tyring the Noise Removal).

Now, select all of the audio track, and go again to Effect > Noise Removal…, and this time Step 2 will be highlighted. You can adjust how much noise you’d like to have removed. You may want to hook up some headphones to your computer at this point to Preview a couple of times to make sure you’re removing the right amount. If you remove to much, you may hurt the integrity of the music – too little, and, well, you’ll have noise. Once you’re satisfied, select “Remove Noise.”

Export the music

Now that you’ve removed the noise, you’re ready to export your track. Go to File > Export as WAV…, and save your track, making sure to name it in some way that makes sense. If you’ve recorded an entire side, you can just select a song, and choose “Export selection as WAV….” If you just want to transfer your vinyl to MP3 and you’re going to skip CD burning entirely, you can export directly to MP3 if you wish.

Burn to CD

Once you’ve recorded all of your tracks, it’s time to bring those tracks into iTunes, which is also free, and will help you burn the music to a CD. Create a new Playlist by going to File > New Playlist, and name the playlist. I like to go with the format: “Artist name: Album name.” Now, with that playlist selected, drag all of your files to your iTunes window. This will add those songs to your iTunes library, but also add them to your Playlist.

Change iTunes metadata when converting vinyl to CD

If you really want to get all of the metadata correct on your CD, select all of the tracks in your Playlist, then right click on them and choose “Get Info…” this will bring up a dialog box where you can set the metadata for all of the tracks on the album. Fill out this information, press “OK,” then repeat this process for each individual track, to get the track data correct. Of course, you can skip all of this entirely if it’s not important to you.

Now, click “Burn Disc” on the bottom right-hand corner of the iTunes window, choose “Audio CD,” and click “Burn.” You’ll of course have to have a blank disc handy.

So, that’s a free, though somewhat complicated, process for converting vinyl to CD, or for converting vinyl to MP3. If you want to simplify the process, you can buy Golden Records Vinyl to CD Converter, or buy a Vinyl to CD turntable.

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21 Comments

  • Best instructions I’ve seen — thank you for making it understandable and easy!

  • Things are a lot clearer after reading this, maybe now I can convert vinyl with some success. Thank you

  • You also need a phono preamp. Very important because this boosts the levels to normal, audible levels. If you have a dj mixer or tuner/ receiver with phono input that will suffice. Only one recording interface has a phono input that I know of and that is the Digi mbox 2 pro.

  • I have read where normal CDs are written in 16 bit quality, so don’t waste the file space on 32 bit.

  • You forgot to clean the LP itself, also most units that record directly to vinyl are cheap. The downside is they use crappy at best styli and cartridges. I’ve seen those on the market for 150USD. My turntable and cartridge setup run in the neighborhood of 1200USD not including preamp and power amp. Easiest is not always better, and you pay for what you get. I typically use a program called spin-it-again, mainly because I don’t want to fool with pro-tools (which is also capable of it). New stylus, good turntable, and take the time to set up your cart(weight, azimuth, angle). Doing this with, properly cared for vinyl will yield CD’s that sound better than modern production. Post processing should be kept at a minimal as well.

  • After purchasing the Crosley, what software can I use that allows me to boost the sound quality? Once I have made a cd, the quality is flat. I need to give it some digital pop. Is Audacity or Sound Forge the solution? Please help. This is the answer I am searching. I need Teddy Riley music to have bottom to it. Same with Jodeci or Norman Whitfield produced music. Everything sounds like it it going through an AM Transistor radio. HELP!

  • Marvin
    You can get some improvement by adjusting the frequency output (boosting the bass for instance or the mid range levels. I don’t know if Audacity does this, Sound Forge does, and for a lower price tag and slightly less control Roni’s Amazing Slowdowner will do that http://www.ronimusic.com/

  • I am reading your above instructions with great interest. I have over 2000 45′s & 1000 albums that I want to put on my computer in such a order that if I want to hear “Be-bop-a-Lula by Gene Vincent” all I would have to do is type in his name ( and everything he done would pop up). Or if I typed in the song title that would also pop up. I am retired and have a lot of time to enter everything but I want it done right. I don’t mid spending a little money for this pluss at my age time is limited (69 years). Most of the records I bought when I was a kid 1956 and up.Well I won’t go on about the past so what advice can you give me & what do you sell for only converting music?
    Thanks
    Bill Duvall
    Rockabilly-Bop@cox.net

  • After pulling most of my hair out trying to record using Audacity I will give it another go using your easy instructions. Thanks.

  • Nice write up on using Audacity. Just downloading the tool and trying to jump in can be quite overwhelming. There are definitely easier tools out there but it is also hard to beat the Audacity price tag (FREE!).

    I am using an old MCS turntable (JC Penney brand) that is from the early 80′s. I bought it used 16 or so years ago at a thrift shop and all I have had to do is replace the belt ($10) and replace the needle ($30). I have like $50 total in the unit and it has lasted nearly 20 years. Just goes to prove that you don’t need a $500 turntable. Simple and reliable.

    I run that into an Onkyo receiver that has a phono input and tape output. I then run the tape out to a Vantec USB external soundcard and then run that to my laptop. There are better external soundcards out there but this one was only $30 and gets the job done. Most laptops don’t have a line-in jack so I found that a external card was required.

    Keep the vinyl spinning!

  • I downloaded Audacity many times and deleted it as it seeemd so complex to what I was using before my PC crashed and did not recogise the turntable. Thanks. I resumed recording vinyl easily thanks to the instructions

  • I am using an older Kenwood turntable- circa 1990 – & going through an amp to my PC. It does record but a very high AMP -almost flat line blue – and I am not able to reduce to a good recordable sound. I have lowered the volume at both the AMP and the PC and have tried the slide bar on Audacity. Have any suggestions?
    I was a Radioman using Morse Code – during WW 2 so go slowly :)

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