How Can I Convert LPs and Cassette Tapes to Digital Files on a Laptop?
Q Are there any inexpensive options for converting LPs and cassette tapes to digital files on a laptop via USB? I know of several software programs (such as Audacity) that can capture and edit the audio files, but what about the hardware? I own quite a number of LPs and cassette tapes that I would like to archive, and I don’t want to have to buy a USB-equipped tape deck (provided there is such a thing) and turntable. Instead, I would prefer to connect my components directly to the converter or use my AV receiver’s record loop ouput. —Eric Tang / via email
A A short list of inexpensive audio converters (and by inexpensive I mean in the under-$50 range) would include the Behringer UCA222 ($29), Griffin iMic ($40), and Numark Stereo iO ($49). Each of these options has a line-level stereo input to capture analog signals from your turntable or tape deck and a USB output to transfer the converted digital files to a computer. A key difference between under-$50 converters and more expensive pro models is that the sampling rate for recording is limited to 44.1 or 48 kHz on inexpensive ones, while pro models can capture audio at a 96-kHz or higher sampling rate.
Since you bring up the option of connecting a turntable directly to the converter, I should note that, in that particular case, you would need a unit with a phono preamp to boost the phono-level signal coming from the turntable to line-level prior to conversion. One inexpensive option that fits the bill would be Behringer’s U-Phono UFO202 ($30), which has the ability to switch between phono- and line-level input. You could also step up to ART’s USB Phono Plus ($79), which basically does the same thing but offers a few additional features.
Now let’s talk software. You already mentioned Audacity, a free audio editing program that’s a popular choice among Windows PC users looking to transfer vinyl to digital. For a free program, Audacity is packed with features, though it has a bit of a learning curve. It also requires that you manually slice up tracks in the editing window in order to save files individually. For that reason alone, you might want to instead consider Sound Forge Audio Studio 10. This $30 Windows-only software package features a Vinyl Recording and Restoration tool that steps you through the conversion process and automatically creates new files when it detects pauses between tracks. Sound Forge Audio Studio 10 also supports 92-kHz/24-bit audio should you eventually decide to go with a pro converter that can capture better- than-CD-resolution audio.
On the Mac front, there’s Final Vinyl, a free program from Griffin Technology—the same company that makes the iMic hardware. Final Vinyl is basic, easy to use, and it provides an option to automatically mark silent sections between tracks so you can easily save them as separate files after recording a full LP.