Of course, we prefer listening to our vinyl as it was intended to be enjoyed, in its original state. But some folks like to catalogue their records digitally, or listen to them from their iPod on the train, or maybe just don't have the time and effort to track up a record the old-fashioned way (do those people exist?). For these types, we've got turntables with inbuilt phono stages with USB outputs that can be connected to your computer - the Debut Recordmaster and the Essential III Recordmaster.
We recommend one of the most popular free, open-source audio editing softwares around - Audacity. You can of course use any other editing program you prefer, but it's easy to use, very versatile and, as we said, free.
So first thing's first, you've downloaded your editing software. Second thing's second, we've got to connect everything. If you're using a Phono USB turntable, connect it to your computer using the included cable - the USB-B end in the rear of your turntable and the USB-A end in your computer. You can use your turntable's RCA output simultaneously. If you're using one of our Phono Box USBs, connect your turntable to it with an RCA cable. Then connect the Phono Box USB to your computer using a mini-USB to USB cable.
Before you open Audacity, there are a couple of system settings that need to be edited:
- On Windows Vista/Windows 7/Windows 8:
1. By the system clock, right-click over the Speaker icon > Recording Devices then right-click over USB Audio Codec > "Properties".
2. On the Advanced tab, in the "Default Format" section, make sure the drop-down menu is set to "2 channel 16 bit 44100 Hz".
- On Mac OS X:
1. From Apple Menu > System Preferences select "Sound" and click on the Input tab
2. Select "USB Audio CODEC" or similar as the input device and verify the meter shows input. If not, from the Finder, select Go > Utilities > and open Audio MIDI Setup. Click the Audio Devices tab, then select your USB device in the "Default Input" and "Properties for" drop-downs. Choose "44100.0 Hz" and "2ch-16bit".
Now it's time to open up Audacity.
The following is abridged from some Audacity tutorials:
- Set the Audacity Project Rate in Selection Toolbar at the bottom left of the Audacity screen to 44100 Hz:
- Use Device Toolbar to set the input (recording) and output (playback) devices and to set the channels to "2 (Stereo) Input Channels", as in the below example on Windows 7:
- The output is set to the named speakers of the built-in computer sound device.
- The input is set to the USB device (usually called or including the phrase "USB Audio CODEC").
- Recording channels are set to stereo.
- These settings can also be changed in Devices Preferences.
Windows Vista and later call most USB external devices "microphones" but Windows XP and earlier do not. Some higher-end USB recording interfaces may appear as their explicit manufacturer's name.
- From the Transport Menu click "Software Playthrough" to turn it "on" (the checkmark is shown when it is "on"). This setting can also be enabled or disabled in Recording Preferences. Software Playthrough lets you hear the turntable through the computer speakers when recording. It also lets you hear the turntable without recording if you turn on monitoring (see the next section below).
Enable monitoring to set the recording level:
- Turn monitoring on by clicking once on the microphone icon in Meter Toolbar.
- In Mixer Toolbar, turn up the left-hand output volume slider (by the speaker icon).
- Try to aim for a maximum peak of around –6 dB, which corresponds to around 0.5 on the waveform. You can always boost the level later with Effect > Amplify... or Effect > Normalise... after you have completed editing.
Now just press the red Record button in Transport Toolbar to start recording from the turntable. You can pause and restart the recording between tracks or sides with the blue Pause button, which keeps your recording on one track within Audacity.
If you do want to start new tracks for different sides of the tape or LP on a new track in Audacity, press the yellow Stop button to stop recording, get the LP to where you want to go to, then press the red Record button in Audacity and start the player. The recording will now restart on a new track.
When you have finished recording, press the yellow Stop button and save your recording into the Project you started by using File > Save Project.
Removing clicks and pops is recommended when recording vinyl, as any loud click will interfere with maximising the volume of the recording - the Amplify effect can't tell the difference between music and clicks. Select the entire track by clicking on the Track Control Panel or choosing Edit > Select > All then choose Effect > Click Removal.
As a final step, since you were careful not to record too loud it is likely that your recording is not as loud as possible. To correct this you can use the Normalize effect.
- Choose Edit > Select > All to select all the track.
- With default Tracks Preferences, you may not need this step - all the audio in the project is selected if you choose an effect without first selecting any audio.
- Choose Effect > Normalize....
- Accept (for now) the default choices in the Normalize dialog and click the OK button
- The volume is normalized to -1 dB, so leaving a little headroom below the maximum possible 0 dB level.
Note that Normalize defaults to retaining the existing balance between stereo channels. However basic consumer-level equipment can often record with channels unbalanced. To correct unwanted volume differences between left and right, uncheck "Normalize stereo channels independently".
When you are happy with your editing, you need to export the recording as an audio file such as WAV or MP3 that you can either play on your computer media player (for example on iTunes or Windows Media Player), or which you can burn to an audio or MP3 CD. To export a single audio file, use the File > Export... command.
If you are planning to burn a CD with your exported files you should ensure that you use the export format 16-bit PCM stereo WAV, this should be the default if you have not changed it. Also ensure that your Project Rate is 44.1kHz (44100 - see the box in the bottom left hand corner of the Audacity window).
So those are the basics of recording to your computer via your USB turntable. We'd recommend using bigger WAV files when you export to retain as much sound quality as possible. Editing your audio with Audacity can get a bit more complex, which can be rewarding - check out their support manuals if you want to remove more noise, create separate tracks or make any other changes.