Killing The Vinyl Revolution One 33 1/3 At A Time
As a reasonably early adopter, I bought an MP3 player with the thought of transferring some of my CD’s to listen at work or while travelling. For once, I had, apparently, got it right in taking a gamble on the future of music being digital. I had toted my vinyl album collection to college, across the Atlantic and a variety of homes in the USA without the ability, in some instances of listening to them with any regularity. But they were lovingly cared for, even though they had worn during the years and the college period was particularly hard on them.
I had avoided the 8-track pitfall on my own account but my father couldn’t resist a deal and had one installed in his car. To combat the constant stream of Frank Sinatra and Big Band music, I did buy one 8-track cartridge that was guaranteed to blow the doors off the car when I was allowed to borrow it. Uriah Heep’s “…very ‘eavy, ….very ‘umble” would regularly wake the neighbours as I returned from a night out with friends in the wee hours of the morning.
Having arrived in the US without a raft of electrical equipment due to issues with voltage and anticipating only a 3 year stay, I added to my collection using cassette tapes. I know, I know – they stretch, get wound up in the car (you don’t see yards of tape of tape lying on the side of the road like you used to after being yanked out of the stereo and ejected out of the car window and the reproduction is iffy accompanied by the constant background hiss). The CD was in its infancy and having seen the disappointment of those who had replaced their entire collection with 8-tracks, I wasn’t going to fall for that craze, not this smart cookie. I was going to wait! Disenchantment with the cassette soon set in and I returned to vinyl.
Audiophiles should applaud now because you ain’t going to like me later!
My love affair with vinyl lasted another couple of years until I was convinced that the CD was here to stay, relatively speaking of course. Despite some lingering reservations and countless battles removing the over elaborate packaging, the CD became my medium of choice. Apparent that my stay in the US was going to be longer than originally intended, I jumped in with both feet and bought the Harman Kardon CDR2 to convert the vinyl to CD rather than repurchase all of the old albums some of which have never ever been released on CD.
Audiophiles should let out their collective groan, I did warn you, but there may be worse to come!
The Harman Kardon requires the special music blanks which work out a little more expensive than the computer disks that are labeled “music” but will not actually work in the CDR2. I recorded a number of my favorite albums to CD and liked the ease and convenience of the CD but something was not right. Early CD players in cars often would not play recordable disks which I found out the hard way as my new vehicle was one of them. I abandoned that project.
Audiophiles see redemption on the horizon but wait!
The other thing that bothered me was the reproduction in great detail of the static, pops, clicks and hisses on the original vinyl.
Audiophiles are apoplectic; they are charging up the paddles and calling their emergency support groups!
Fast forward a decade or so and I buy a new car. This has an IPod docking station in the glove box and is controlled through the stereo with screens and everything. I have to buy the IPod but I will have to load up my CD’s into ITunes first. The CD’s were the easiest to load and the process was quickly accomplished even though I had used the highest bit rate possible to maintain as much quality as possible.
I looked lovingly at my boxes and cupboards of vinyl, some had not been played in over 20 years, and had to make a decision. I decided I wanted to hear the music and be able to take it with me anywhere I went as part of my collection. That meant digitizing the albums but I didn’t want to hear all of the imperfections.
Having made this decision, I needed to buy a new turntable at a reasonable price. I eschewed the notion of an all in one to record directly to MP3 as I wanted control of the quality and after all the Harman Kardon still worked perfectly. Research showed that you get what you pay for, the cheaper turntables, according to the experts in the audio shops, are designed pretty much as throwaway items. For instance, the stylus cannot be changed. I settled on a Sony PS-LX350H.
In the years since my first attempt at recording the vinyl, the computer software has advanced exponentially. There is a myriad of programs available to “remaster” your audio files. Again I researched this as best I could and bought Goldwave. This has features that satisfy the more sophisticated user yet was simple enough for a beginner like me to grasp.
The process is fairly straightforward. After loading the recorded CD into Goldwave, I was able, in the vast majority of cases, to make 4 passes of the digital file. The first looks for the pops and clicks and eliminates or vastly reduces them, the second takes the initial noise and uses that signature to eliminate all like sounds throughout the album, the third takes out light hiss and hum and finally I max the output of each channel. The tracks can be easily separated and any inordinately long silences can be eliminated or shortened.
Then I recorded the output in CD format on to another disk using Roxio, reinserted the disk and loaded it into ITunes. If I have been careful enough, ITunes will find the track names via Gracenote and the cover artwork. With some of the more obscure albums, I had to enter the tracks manually and find covers on the internet.
The job is not finished but with over 1,400 albums (including CD’s) in the system, it is well on the way. There are little issues with some of the albums that remain. I have carefully cleaned, often washed the albums, to get them into the best condition possible. When necessary I have taped a dime on to the arm of the turntable to prevent a couple of skips and I have used slightly hotter water to soften the edges of a couple of albums so that they could be gently pressed flat to eliminate warps. I have even experimented on a couple of concert DVD’s and produced CD’s to load into ITunes. The next phase is recording the cassette tapes and getting that annoying hiss out of the music.
Overall this has been a labour of love. Rediscovering some of these albums that are perhaps 40 years old has been a pleasure and now I have the ability to listen to them when I want and wherever I am. There is a lot of work involved also. Everything about the process is real time, 45 minutes to listen and record the album, 20 minutes to load and set up the .wav file, 45 minutes to run the remaster process and prepare the files for recording on to a CD, 16 minutes to burn the CD, 20 minutes to load into ITunes, fix the song titles and album artwork, 15 minutes to thoroughly wipe the CDRW’s before the process begins again. That is close to 2 ¾ hours for one album. I shudder to think of the total time involved.
Audiophiles, I am going to throw you a couple of bones. I am not a blind piano tuner so my auditory senses are not honed but having recorded the albums at the highest bit rate possible, I suspect that I can tell that the sound may be fuller than a CD reproduction. I say may be because in the process of the initial recording, the sound is sometimes thin and with all of the adjustments that can be made with software and modern home theater systems, you can give the illusion of a big sound. The second is that these vinyl albums will not be kicked to the sidewalk. To begin with, I may occasionally play them in their current state and bask in the knowledge that I have turned back the clock in restoring them to their former glory – well almost. Add to this that in my search for images of album covers, I have often found them on specialist dealer and auction sites, I was staggered by the prices offered and asked for the very albums that I owned. Now I may be scouring the sidewalks myself for those piles of records that people leave for the garbage collectors without any thought for what you can do with them with a little time and effort. The artists intended for the music to be heard and not the sounds of wear and tear on the vinyl and that is how I want to hear it. Audiophiles consider themselves to be purists in their defence of vinyl but if you want to hear music as it is originally played and recorded by the artist, would they not be looking for mono reproductions?
As a final note, I see an increasing number of new vinyl albums sold by current artists and I am sure they will sell well but where on earth do you find a record shop these days?