Get Those Records, Tapes and CDs Onto Your Smartphone - The New York Times
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Get Those Records, Tapes and CDs Onto Your Smartphone

By J. D. Biersdorfer

Dec. 25, 2019

Ready to convert your older analog audio to more portable digital formats? Here’s how to make it happen.

 

With a bit of time, software and gear, you can convert your old audiotapes, CDs and vinyl records into digital files for personal use with your smartphone, media server or online archive. With a bit of time, software and gear, you can convert your old audiotapes, CDs and vinyl records into digital files for personal use with your smartphone, media server or online archive.J.D. Biersdorfer

A huge amount of the world’s audio has been digitized, but many veterans of the Analog Age still have out-of-print albums, lectures and other content locked on vinyl records, cassettes and CDs. Converting the audio to digital formats for personal use is much simpler than it used to be, though, thanks in part to gadgets that connect to a computer’s USB port.

In addition to making files that play on your smartphone or media server, digitizing your analog audio creates an electronic archive you can store online for safekeeping. The steps for converting your old recordings vary on the formats and equipment you have, but here’s a general outline of the process and the equipment you may need. 

Get Audio-Editing Software

No matter what type of analog media you’re converting, you need software to digitize it. Capturing the audio to a computer has been a common approach for decades, and free programs to do the job include Apple’s GarageBand for Mac and the open-source Audacity (for Windows, Mac and Linux), which has its own guide for converting records and tapes. Commercial software is also available, like Roxio’s $50 Easy LP to MP3 or the $40 Golden Records from NCH Software.

 
Audacity is a free audio-editing program that can digitize records and cassette tapes. Audacity is a free audio-editing program that can digitize records and cassette tapes.

Choose a digital format for recording. Uncompressed or lossless formats like WAV, FLAC and AIFF preserve more of the original audio for higher-quality sound, but compressed formats like MP3 create smaller files.

Follow the software’s instructions for importing audio. After you capture the whole album, you can use the program to slice up the recording into individual tracks, label the songs, and clean up hiss, pops and other noise.

Digitize Vinyl

If your stereo equipment is long gone but you held on to your old records for sentimental reasons, using a compact USB-based “conversion” turntable that connects directly to the computer is one approach. You may not have ultimate control over the recording quality, but it’s usually the easiest process to convert the vinyl yourself. 

For the less technically inclined, ION Audio makes several conversion turntables, including the $110 Premier LP, which connects to the computer with a USB cable and includes its own conversion software. Audio TechnicaCrosleyand Sony also make USB turntables.

If you still have a turntable with a headphone jack or a port labeled “line” (or a stereo receiver with a “phono” input for the record player), a device called a USB phono preamplifier links your hardware together with audio and USB cables to pump the sound into the computer for recording. ART Pro Audio USB Phono Plus ($100) and Reloop iPhono 2 USB Recording Interface (about $100 in the United States) are two options.

For USB-based recording using older turntable systems without the headphone jack or line output, you’ll most likely need to include a separate phono preamplifier box to boost the audio signal as well. The $50 Rolls VP29 and the $66 ART Pro Audio DJPRE II are two models to consider. 

Digitize Audiotape

No tape deck? Tape players with USB connections for the computer or flash drives can be found online starting at around $20. These devices can be quite efficient for digitizing old lectures, family history and other recordings.

Inexpensive tape players link to the computer to digitize cassette recordings.J.D. Biersdorfer

If you still have a tape deck, check its jacks. A cable with a 3.5-millimeter plug on both ends or an RCA-to-3.5mm cable are common for connecting to a computer’s line-in port (if it has one), or you may be able to use a USB interface box like those used for digitizing vinyl.

Convert CDs

Still have CDs you want to transfer but no CD player or computer disc drive? External USB-based CD players sell for as little as $20 online. Once you connect one, spin up those discs and import the tracks with Apple’s Music app for Mac, Microsoft’s Windows Media Player or another free CD-ripper app.

If your computer no longer has a disc drive, external CD player are available online for as little as $20.J.D. Biersdorfer

Outsource the Job 

The do-it-yourself approach is not for everyone, but audio conversion services will happily digitize your old analog media for you — for a price. This can range from $15 to $35 for each record or tape converted, but some companies include restoration and sound-cleanup services as well. Memories RenewedEver Present and DiJiFi area among the many conversion companies to check out.

Keep Looking

While not a surefire solution for a fully digitized library, some unreleased and obscure recordings turn up online eventually, as did tracks from Jeff Buckleyand Prince this year. 

The Internet Archive can also be a treasure trove for old 78 r.p.m. recordings from the early 20th century, as well as early hip-hop mixtapeslive concerts and other bits of audio history. But no matter if you’re converting your analog audio yourself or scouring the internet, patience has its rewards.

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