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I’m often asked what’s the best method for transferring vinyl and archiving to digital formats. This can be achieved at the lower budget scale by buying one of the numerous USB turntables that come with a basic software recording/editing solution for under €100. For me, I take advantage of my studio’s legacy and current gear. Everything starts at the Technics SL1210 MkII. This old girl still runs perfectly after many years (only studio use so it’s to be expected) and I have made sure she sits perfectly level using a spirit level and adjusting whichever corner leg heights accordingly.
For vinyl transfer, (and you may wish to skip to the next paragraph here) I occasionally use one of 2 cartridges: An Ortofon Concorde DJ and a Stanton 500 AL II – Why the choice of 2 cartridges? Well, believe it or not, for a period during the late 90′s, early 00′s, some record company A&R guys got their tracks cut specifically to bias one of these two manufacturers products. The Ortofon tended to be a shade brighter and have great clarity & dynamic range, but maybe ‘too’ crystal clear for some ears/sound systems.. The Stanton on the other hand leaned towards a more rounded body of sound, which had less clarity in higher frequencies but delivered a good all round, raw punch on a club system. However, each branded model requires a different arm adjustment on the Technics deck so it can be a real pain in the butt to keep interchanging cartridges. This paragraph is written for reference only as to be perfectly honest, most of the time I leave the Ortofon on the deck and make any (if) necessary tonal adjustments in a decent quality plug-in EQ.
Right.. deep breath.. The deck is feeding it’s output into my Technics SH MZ-1200 DJ mixer. Of course any decent quality mixer will do – best leave the EQ’s flat and make sure your channel gain and main output are peaking at no more than say zero to +1 db, or whatever your VU meters show as good, no overdriven/distorted line level. The mixer’s output then routes to my audio interface (an M-Audio ProFire 2626). Again, any decent soundcard or audio interface will suffice (making sure that if your hardware has a software mixer displayed on your PC/Mac, that its levels too are non-distorted). On my Mac G5, at this point I’d launch Bias Peak, set it to record at 24 bit, then play the record in.
Once recorded into Peak, the track’s waveform is displayed. Regarding any clicks or pops on the vinyl, I don’t use any form of de-clicker plug in, preferring to remove them manually by zooming in on the offending point of the waveform, selecting the pencil tool and simply drawing it out. Next step is to remove any unwanted silence from the front and end of the audio and save as a 24 bit archive file ‘as is’. This copy will be the master, non-eq’d, non-compressed, non-limited version and will remain as the source for any version to follow it. The next version (under a different file name) will be saved as the definitive copy for me to play back and gig with – and this is where the wonderful Sonnox Oxford Inflator plug in appears.
Prior to this, I’d recommend not normalising your file but move straight onto EQ treatment should it be needed – After this, the Inflator plug in is launched and set up. With the level just hitting into the red periodically, and the settings as my preferred default (which is in the effect/curve area illustrated in the image here, but with the curve set at midway point, represented as Zero) the Inflator process is applied. It is a fantastic plug in that avoids the overly crushed dynamic limiting of some other level maximising plugs and keeps a reality of presence and dynamic range that mirrors the original, but sounds so ‘Now’! See images for before and after this treatment.
The file would then be saved (dithering down from 24 to 16 bit) into my ‘Vinyl Vault’ folder with a (M) at the end of the file name to remind me that it’s the ‘Mastered’ version. It is this copy that will be either encoded to a high quality AAC or left as a full quality AIFF to be copied onto the MacBook’s hard drive for use with Traktor Pro when DJ’ing out.
So that’s my method. If you have Logic 8 by the way, (and not the Sonnox Inflator plug in) I would highly recommend using it’s Adaptive Limiter plug in as an alternative. This I’ve found gives the required loudness to match other tracks in your collection without sacrificing a whole lotta dynamic range (be warned though, it needs to be set up correctly, so RTM people) (read the manual).
Top image of vinyl & stylus courtesy of the wonderful Chase Jarvis