Digitizing LPs revisited

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Reader Rick Patterson is the latest to ask the age-old-analog-audio question. He writes:

Has anyone developed software that will enable me to use my Mac (Mac Book or iMac) to record LPs and put them on CDs? I would like to be able to record an LP and select each song. I tried one application that came with a USB turntable connected to my Mac. It recorded the entire side of the LP as a single file. And I never could figure out how to get the file off my Mac and onto a CD.

If I wore a watch, I could set it by the frequency I receive this question. It appears that an answer is good for about two years and then it’s time for a return trip. So return we shall. Let’s start with hardware.

The gear

You have a USB turntable so all you need to do is jack that turntable into your Mac, select it as the audio input in the Sound system preference, and then fire up an appropriate application to capture and parse the audio. Others aren’t so lucky. They have “normal” turntables sans USB port. These folks must find a way out of the turntable and into the Mac.

You can’t make a direct connection because of the turntable’s RIAA curve—this curve reduces low frequencies and pushes higher frequencies. Directly connect that turntable to your Mac and the sound will be unsatisfactory. Instead, you must channel the turntable through a device that corrects the RIAA curve. That device could be something as simple as your stereo receiver. String an RCA-to-miniplug cable between output on the receiver (Tape Out, for example) and your Mac and you should be fine.

If you have a receiver that doesn’t have the inputs or outputs you need, you can look at a phono preamp. This boosts the signal from the turntable to acceptable levels, as well as deals with the RIAA curve. Phono preamps run between $20 and $150.

The software

You can use any audio editor to capture the sound from an attached turntable or tape deck—Apple’s GarageBand will certainly do the job. But you want to additionally automatically chunk your LPs into tracks. To do that you need an application that “listens” for audio gaps and creates new files based on these moments of silence.

If you have a copy of Roxio’s $100 Toast Titanium ( ), you have that application in the form of the included CD Spin Doctor. Operation is pretty simple. Start the capture, drop the needle, play the side of the LP, and when you click Stop in CD Spin Doctor the application will identify gaps. If you agree with its decisions, choose the option to divide the file into separate tracks. If it missed the mark, you can adjust the track splits.

Note that while I’ve had good luck with the most recent version of CD Spin Doctor, I’ve found older versions to be unreliable. If you don’t have the latest version and you’re not keen to upgrade to Toast Titanium 10 to get it, you have other options.

One is Ambrosia Software’s $69 WireTap Studio ( ). Like CD Spin Doctor it can listen for silence and automatically create files based on that silence. Alternatively you can easily insert markers or create new tracks as the record plays.

Another is Rogue Amoeba’s $50 Audio Hijack Pro/Fission bundle. Fission ( ) is another easy-to-use audio editor that can automatically split files based on periods of silence. I like both WireTap Studio and Audio Hijack Pro/Fission a lot. Both will export files directly to iTunes where you can then arrange the tracks into playlists and burn them to CD.

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