North Western Winds

Contemplating it all from the great Pacific Northwest

Ripping LPs

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I’m on holidays this week, and that probably accounts for the increased posting of late. As I’m writing these posts, a lot of the time I’m also using my iMac to digitize some old LPs that my parents have. You see, I gave my mother a 30GB iPod for Christmas, which at this point she can barely operate. She likes to listen to music or audiobooks at work on a CD player or iPod shuffle, so this seemed like a good gift. I suggested we buy some new music for her from the iTunes store, and I’m certain we will do that again. What she really missed, however, was her old LPs, which she hasn’t listened to in years and years, and which she is deeply nostalgic for.

She wanted to buy a turntable that would plug in to the computer via USB, and bring her collection into the digital age. Given her large lack of computer skills, and the amount of work this represented, I suggested using the money for the turntable to simply buy new versions of these recordings, either in CD or directly from the iTunes store. Unfortunately, she was right in assuming that a lot of these LPs are not sold in the iTunes store or CD. I learned this the hard way, about which – later.

So she bought the LP recorder against my advice to simply move on and buy whatever was available in CD or AAC format. I think she did this primarily because she has little conception of what will be missing in any direct recording of an LP – ie. meta data, and containing each song to a single file. Playlist? Shuffle? Search? What’s that? I was left wondering how I could teach her – or Dad – how do this this right when I had never done it myself. The open source program that shipped with the turntable was a Windows program, which is OK. Mom and Dad have an old PC that runs it fine. It had an ugly interface and more critically, it had no tools for splitting the LP sides into songs.

The more I thought about this, more I began to doubt that I could get them to be able to do this, even if I found and purchased a better recording program for them. If I was going to be doing the recording – as was beginning to dawn on me – I didn’t want to be doing it on an XP machine at their place. I began to search for Mac recording programs that could handle LPs properly. After mucking about with a handful of programs, I settled on Rogue Amoeba’s Audio Hijack Pro. It has a very simple interface, and allows you to split your songs by clicking a button as each song finishes. That would work, but it would be time consuming and could easily lead to doing the song over if I missed the gap. (Plus, I didn’t really want to listen to these LPs! Thank goodness for that mute button… )

The clincher in this deal was that Rogue Amoeba also offers a audio editor called Fission, which you can get in a package deal with Audio Hijack Pro. The trial allowed me see that Fission was very good at doing the splits automatically, and that would be a tremendous help.

Once I had my programs chosen, I had to come up with a workflow that would allow me to get the job done with a minimum of fuss, and still get iTunes files that had at least minimal meta data. My first attempt went something like this…

Record LP to the iMac in .AIFF, which is a high quality, lossless format that can be copied to CD and be playable in most CD players. I would then have a CD backup that was playable in more than a computer, and I use it in iTunes to create the meta data automatically. The problem was in trying to rip the CD in iTunes. It read the CD just fine, but the recording was not in its database. iTunes would not be able to automate the creation of the meta data.

Well, that was disappointing.

This is what I’m doing now, in more detail.

Make a file in the Music folder, call in ‘LP Rips’.

Make a folder in ‘LP Rips’ for each album to be recorded.

Make a ‘Sides’ folder in each album folder. Use it to contain the two master files for Side A and Side B. Make a second folder in the album folder and call it ‘Songs.’ More about that later.

Record each side in Audio Hijack Pro using: AAC, 128 kbps, stereo. These are custom settings, but they are easy to do and the program will remember them until you change it. I make one file per LP side because it makes splitting easier; now there’s half as many songs to name at once.

I open each file in Fission, select it and ‘normalize’ it. As I understand it, this strengthens and evens the volume a bit. Select ‘smart split’ and Fission will searches the open file for the gaps between songs and lets you see what it finds (I have yet to see it make a mistake). I approve the spilts and then save each resulting file with the name of the song it contains. I save those files to the ‘songs’ folder mentioned before. If there’s a mistake, I can open the masters and create the songs again. In practice, I haven’t had to do that, but it’s good to have those masters just in case.

Once I have all the song files named properly, I drag and drop them all on iTunes, which opens up and imports them. Once they are in iTunes, I can do more work on the meta data. I select all the songs and add the performer and album names under ‘get info’. I also like to add genre information here.

To burn a CD with the AAC files, I select all of the songs and tell iTunes to ‘make a playlist from selection’. Then I burn the playlist to a blank CD.

The final step will come with I take the CDs to Mom and Dad’s PC and import them into their iTunes program and from there into Mom’s iPod.

So, that’s how I’m doing it.

I’m just curious – is this as lean as it can be?

***

Update: November 4, 2007

Some changes to the workflow since this was first written. I now do 160 kbs MP3’s. I upped the bitate for better quality around the time that iTunes rolled out its DRM free songs. It’s not as high as they use, but then they work off of better master copies! I moved to MP3’s for future compatibility. Finally, I don’t use iTunes for tagging. I use Audio Hijack to tag artists and albums, and Fission for adding song titles. Now, when the songs are imported to iTunes, they are fully tagged and read y to go.

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Written by Curt

January 18, 2007 at 1:03 pm

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