How Can I Convert LPs and Cassette Tapes to Digital Files on a Laptop?

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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.

modesto66's picture

Can these audio converters be used to connect any analogue out to a Kef x300a speaker that has an USB input?

Rindge Leaphart's picture

I had the same issue, especially with cassettes. Moving the music to a laptop is fine, but what about instead moving it to a real audio device that can run in conjunction with your current audio set-up (I'm assuming you have one)? I purchased a Yamaha Musiccast (can be found on the web for fairly low rates), which is no longer manufactured. I have upgraded my device with a 750GB HD and it allows me to save full audio files without compression or I can compress them to save space. The beauty of this device is that it will take input form cassettes decks or turntables and send the output to your avr. Great device that I am very found of and has allowed me to "Save" my cassette collection as well as continue to enjoy the music for years to come. The only downside (true for any device) is that you have to take the time to record each cassette and LP, which took me several months. Fortunately I had an auto reverse tape deck (nakamichi) so I would drop the cassette in at night and go to sleep while the yamaha recorded. Cassettes were easy, but lp's were a bear. Oh, and I almost forgot, the musiccast has wireless capability that allows you to beam your music from the main device to receivers all around your house. Once again great device and one of the best ways to save your cassettes and lp's.

Rindge Leaphart

Eagleshadow's picture

I've been using one of these Behringer Dac's for over a year now to drive my computer speakers. I couldn't be more pleased at $30.00. It is not for headphone listening as it doesn't seem to have the required impedance to insure adequate volume for many low impedance headphones. I don't use headphone on my computer so it doesn't matter. Since I do not have a golden ear the sampling rate is not important. It has no USB output. Only RCA stereo line in/out,optical and mini jack out for the headphone.

burbis's picture

I was under the impression that Garage Band could be used to record music on the Mac, with input via the audio in 3/8" miniplug. Does anyone know if this works?

Biffstar's picture

Yes, Garageband does do 3/8" recording of input streams. You can also do basic cleanup like hiss reduction, etc, afterwards.