Converting LPs and Audio Cassettes into a Computer Juke Box

1. Introduction
2. Choosing a Compression Format
3. Directory Structure and File Names
4. Importing CDs using Nero
5. Importing CDs using iTunes
6. Converting LPS and Audio Cassettes in to a Computer Juke Box

Recording from an analogue (non-digital) source is in real time. A record that has 26 minutes on a side will take 26 minutes to record that side, several minutes to save as a wave file and longer to convert to MP3. If you record each track one at a time the process becomes more hands on and slow.

You could search Amazon and eBay and the internet in general for a CD version of the album, or iTunes for a downloadable version. With a CD you can get perfect importing to the computer in a few minutes and sell the CD later usually only costing you the price of postage. You could also rent from the local library at a modest cost. As you still have the original album, as a vinyl LP and you are doing this as a back up for your personal use you may not even be breaking copyright laws; although not all CD versions of an original LPs have the same track order or tracks and may be re-mastered.

Not all LPs have been converted to CD format and even when they were they may no longer be current or findable as a CD. You have the album, it is just a matter of recording it to the computer.

The sound card or onboard audio on a computer will have line input, microphone input, line out and speaker output. Line out is usually used for speaker output to active speakers. The microphone input is not suitable to use as line input. Sometimes, particularly on laptops this may be the same socket but muting mic and selecting line in will then have the correct input levels for the recording.

If you have a hi-fi system you can connect the cassette line output from the amplifier to the line input on the computer. This may require a 3.5 mm stereo plug to left and right channel RCA phono plug cable. If you want to monitor the recording on the same hi-fi you will need a second cable from the 3.5mm mini jack line output from the computer to the tape input on the amplifier. The green plug on the back of the computer above goes into the speaker socket of the computer monitor.  Some amplifiers, particularly older British and continental equipment use 5 pin DIN plugs. You also need the cable long enough to connect the computer to the amplifier.

Use high quality cable that are well made and not been damaged. The transfer is a time consuming process, there is little point defeating the quality with cables that are damaged or do not make a firm connection with the sockets on the computer or hi-fi. Long cables may introduce hum and signal loss requiring additional amplification.

Connecting a Turntable to the computer

A pickup cartridge fitted to a record deck is usually moving magnet (MM) or moving coil (MC). The line output is feed into the phono preamplifier which is built into a hi-fi amplifier. You can not feed the turntable directly into the line input of a computer with a cable adapter.

Moving coil cartridges are more expensive than moving magnet and their output level is much lower although you can still get some output into an amplifier that only accepts moving magnet. If you already have a working turntable and amplifier you do not need to get any addition hardware beyond the need for a cable from the tape output to computer line input. Most amplifiers do not have moving coil (MC) options and will only work with moving magnet (MM) cartridges. You can plug in a turntable with MC to an amplifier with MM input, but the level is one-tenth and not useable. If you plug a turntable with MM into an amp with MC you will overload the amplifiers circuit. An even older type of cartridge is a ceramic one, which outputs could feed the signal directly into a computer but is inferior in quality to MM and MC cartridges.

Some shops (e.g. Maplins) and other internet stores (Firebox) sell turntables with USB connectors that allow you to play a record and to record it with the supplied software. Although these do make the task simpler they are not high quality decks and a second hand hi-fi turntable may cost you less and result in a better recording.

In the 70s and 80s a really cheap, excellent quality and popular turntable was the Pioneer PL12D. These can be had for £20-40. A nice bonus is the 45 rpm adapter for singles taken from juke boxes that have had their centres pressed out. Add a NAD 3020 amplifier, for the same money, and you have a system that is far better than the computer interface turntables.

You can even consider funding a top quality deck, setting you back hundreds if not thousands and resell it for little loss, if any, a few months later having completed the transfer. A Rega Planar 2 or 3, Michell, Linn Sondek or one of the other top model record decks which may cost £400-£2000 retain their second user value very well over a few months giving you time to complete the transfer of all your albums. Cartridge replacement is possible either second hand or new but it is worth while getting confirmation on the condition and usage of the cartridge first. A top quality deck may need a service. A Linn service by a dealer costs about £80 and you are then confident that the deck is performing to it's best advantage.

You will also need a quality carbon fibre brush to remove any dust from the surface of the record before playing.

A needle brush is also useful to safely remove dust collected from the record whilst playing

Some records may be warped from storage. This accessory helps to force the record flat.

Connect the turntable to a phono amplifier or the preamplifier or amplifier of a hi-fi system. A phono amplifier may have sufficient output to feed directly into the computer's line input.

If you have to move the turntable remember that the same considerations to positioning and set up apply, namely the turntable must be completely level and should not sit on top of a "sound box" like a side board unit or cabinet. You also have to make sure that you avoid the risk of knocking the turntable or support. Do not position the computer keyboard on the top or next to the record deck. Even moving around the mouse on the same surface could make the needle jump. In transferring you are about to "fix" the audio quality for all your future listening. Dust on an LP is not likely to be present on the next replay and the odd pop and crackle may not detract from the listening experience. Having recorded a pop from dust you will find this fixed and anticipated each time the track is played. You can always apply filters later and just for the affected scratch, static or dust.

A top quality British amplifier with MM and/or MC inputs from the likes of Arcam, Linn, Meridian, Mission, Naim, Quad and Rega similarly can be purchased and resold or put to good use powering the speakers with the input going from your computer juke box. Failing this you will need a phono stage pre-amplifier to bring the RIAA EQ level output from the cartridge to that of the tape/cassette level.  The Terratec's Phono pre-amp iVinyl connects directly to the computer via USB. A quality hi-fi phono preamp is more flexible and might be resold with the turntable to someone with a vinyl collection.

Connecting a Cassette Deck to the computer

The output on a cassette deck or hi-fi tuner are compatible with the line in on a computer. These do not need a hi-fi amplifier although the amplifier's tape output could still be used.

You could also connect the ear phone output of a cassette walkman with 3.5 to 3.5mm stereo leads to the computer making sure that the output level is high enough but low enough not to distort. Line level inputs are better as they are at a fixed output level.

Firebox also sells a cassette tape player called the Plus Deck Cassette Convertor that fits inside a PC, using a spare 5.25" drive bay. There are also external USB cassette decks. These lack bias and equalization switches or Dolby section.

Many commercially made cassette tapes are recorded using Dolby B on Ferric or chrome tapes. Personal recordings may be Dolby B, Dolby C or Dolby S. Use the original deck that recorded the tape, or the best quality deck you have for playback.

You may even find that you prefer to switch off Dolby completely or have it on even for tapes that were recorded without Dolby B. Let your ears be the judge. If in doubt opt for using Dolby B only on those tapes that show the Dolby logo or you recorded yourself in Dolby. Do not be fooled into thinking a recording in Dolby is better with Dolby switched out just because this seems louder. You can adjust the record level but removing hiss and background noise, which the Dolby circuit has done is hard to apply after the transfer.

There are four basic tape formulations used in home recordings:- Ferric, Ferrichrome, Chromium dioxide and metal. Ferrichrome and Chrome tapes share the same equalization but have different bias properties. Many decks do not give you the choice and have bias and equalization on one switch. Many machines sold had poor replay azimuth and were not adequately set up for any of the tapes sold. After the machines where reset for a tape like TDK AD and SA the recordings and playback where much improved. Many of the top model Aiwa and the decks from Nakamichi have variable controls to set the bias. Although more important for recording than playback the more flexible the deck the better chance of optimising the playback quality of what you have.

All my home recordings, including concerts, school events and from telephone conversations are in Dolby C. Most of the commercial tapes, even from the BBC, do not show the Dolby logo.

It is better to use a deck that can select Dolby B, C or S (a much later and less common noise reduction system) and Ferric, Chrome and metal tape equalization. Do not transfer cassette versions of your vinyl as the LP is of a far higher quality than a cassette transfer provides. Radio programmes and recordings of live events are different. You might even find telephone recordings and answer phone messages that may be worth preserving even if the quality is not very high.

Second hand decks worth looking out for include virtually any from Nakamichi (£100-£1000), some Aiwa models that offered high quality for little money (£25 up), Arcam (for Dolby S and one of the top designed decks made), Uher CR240 (Dolby B) or CR160 (Dolby B & C, not metal), Sony Walkman Pro WM-D6C (Dolby B and C and metal tape). The Sony uses a 3.5 mm stereo jack for line output.

The Uher decks are portable pro equipment and can still be serviced today. They are very robust and flexible machines. The Sony Walkman Pro is an exceptional hi-fi deck and has retain a strong following. Prices second hand are high, but resell very good. You need to know the condition of the playback head and possibly need to invest in a head cleaner and also head demagnetizer. Sony Walkman Pro were sold over a number of years with minor internal changes. These can still be serviced, but Sony are now charging very high inspection fees on all of their equipment compared to the more reasonable charges made by the now closed Sony Service Centre a few years ago.

If you have reel to reel tapes you first need a deck that supports the reel size. It is a lot of work to transfer 10" reels onto 5" ones because you only have a Uher reporter available. The next problem is to know whether the tape is mono, dual sided mono, stereo / 2 track or dual sided stereo / 4 track. The recording may also have been recorded at any speed from 1 7/8 inches to 15 inches per second or even a pro 30 inches per second.


Some software will remove pops, crackles and static, but this usually results in changing the sound quality as well. Experiment and decide for yourself. You can separate tracks later. Some software will do this automatically but you still have to type in the track names.

As I personally do not listen to single tracks from albums and most audio cassettes are either collections for the car (which I do not need to transfer), albums or off air radio programmes I store only the entire side of both vinyl and tapes. These are then make 2x 250-400 Mb files for an LP. Cassette quality, even with live recordings with a good quality microphone is inferior to LPs and so most of them I record and save as MP3 at 192 kbits instead of saving as a WAV file.
For vinyl and audio cassettes the free program Audacity is a simple and robust application that controls the input recording level, the output monitoring level and creates wave files or MP3 files. A number of filter options allow the removal of hiss and pops from records. Many of these filters also remove the quality of the music but are perfect for the silent and quiet passages.

Owners of Creative Sound Blaster cards or Ulead Video software have similar options of recording WAV files, but not all versions convert to MP3, so a separate package to convert to a compressed audio format may be required.

Nero 7 comes with Soundtrax2 which records music from cassette or vinyl then copies the result to CD.

The built in audio hardware of modern motherboards is much better than it used to be. Some PCI cards have an un-acceptable level of back ground noise. One leading sound card picked up the activity from the SCSI controller of the hard disc recording pops every time the drive was accessed and alternative card from the same manufacturer had no problems. The same card in two computers with the same mother boards had different characteristics. One was useable the other too noisy. There are external boxes that take a line level input and connect to the computer via a USB socket this removes the circuit noise and hum that may be hear when recording or playing back from the computer's sound card.

I use an old Pentium III system with a Sound Blaster Live PCI card connected to a Meridian 101B pre-amplifier (purchased in 1978). This has the quietest noise level and matches the very latest computer hardware which I use at the same time for the more intensive video conversion. A computer like the P3 system can be picked up for under £50 and sold later for nearly the same money or even obtained free from Freecycle, The Meridian pre-amp sells for £80-150 at auction, more than it was when new. A quality phono amplifier or integrated amplifier with phono inputs will cost at least as much.

CDs are transferred digitally. The computer will apply error correction and reread the track until it is read or determines that it is unreadable and give an error. A better quality drive may track and correct better but the difference is likely to be negligible. The same does not apply to record and cassette decks.

The higher quality the source is the better the recording. Dust vinyl records with a good carbon fibre cleaner to remove surface dust. Clean cassette heads regularly and check the cartridge and record heads of the tape machine or get an expert to do so. It would be very frustrating to have recorded all the LPS only to find that the turntable's speed was slightly off and you didn't notice because you had the sound level down and was concentrating on the transfer, not sitting back and listening to the album.

My sources are a Linn Sondek with an Ekos arm and Troika cartridge, a Uher CR160 professional portable cassette deck and a Sony WM-D6C Pro Walkman.

Some amplifiers have DIN plugs, like the Merdian 101B I am using. You may have to make up a connector yourself. I have the tape output fed into a QED expander and connect the computer to this.

Otherwise connect the computer to the tape output of the amplifier. Most amplifiers use phono plugs for left and right channels. A cable with two phono plugs on one end and a 3.5mm stereo jack on the other will connect the amplifier's tape output to the computer's line in.

Check with the Windows recorder that line in is working and that you can hear the record playing through headphones or the computer's own speakers and that you can set the recording levels fully.

Some records have very high peaks that can overload the line input resulting in clipping when the recording is played back. Monitor the loudest passage of the album and set the recording level so that it does not clip.

Some computers have sound card software that shows a peak meter that goes red if the level is too high. If you don't have this use Audacity to see the wave form and make sure there is some head room.

Some recordings are very low, particularly on tape. You can change the recording level but this may also increase the back ground hiss of the electronics.

During the recording make sure there is no application running that will pop up or load. Outlook 2007 still runs mail notification so you may want to remove the accompanying beep. Although the recording of audio is not so intensive as video you are unlikely to be able to make successful recordings if you are loading and running other applications at the same time. For certain, any intensive file transfer going on in the back ground will interfere with the recording.

Using Audacity to convert tapes and vinyl to MP3

Audacity is an excellent free tool from You will also need the Lame mp3 encoder.

When you have downloaded and installed Audacity you need to make a few changes in the preferences. The playback and record devices need to be selected and stereo (the default is mono).

Under file formats you will also need to tell it where you have stored lame_enc.dll and the preferred data rate for MP3 conversion. Before recording, or before saving a file as MP3 you can enter the title, artist and album information and select the genre from the pop down list. Unfortunately you can't change the options either by removing those you do not need or adding in ones that you do. Most music genre are included. There are tools that can edit the MP3 files later.

There is a slider to set the level of the line input and you can monitor this by the during recording as well as observing the wave pattern and so lower or raise the recording level to avoid clipping yet to give the maximum output level.

You can press pause to change the side of the cassette or LP. Hit pause again to resume recording. Once you have recorded the album hit stop. To select the whole audio press Ctrl A then click on the effects menu and select Normalize. Click OK.

If you would like to remove some noise from the recording such as back ground hiss and rumble find a blank section between two tracks and use the cursor to select it. Click on the effects menu and choose Noise Removal.

Then click on the Get Noise Profile Button.

The noise reducing plug-in will disappear so you can select the area of the file you want to process. Ctrl A to select the whole file, click on Effects menu and Noise Removal. Move the slider to the right and click preview to hear the results. Keep doing this until you've found a setting that removes the noise but doesn't leave the recording sounding artificial. Click OK.

To split up the recording into individual tracks click on the audio and place the cursor at the start of the first song. Choose Add Label at Selection from the Tracks menu. Enter the song title as the title of the label. Repeat for each track. When you have labelled the tracks click on the file menu and select 'Export Multiple'. Choose MP3 as the format and click Export. Click Done to save.

Album covers, sleeve notes, booklets

LPs covers often include sleeve notes and lyrics as well as the play list with composer, lyricist and musicians. The 12" LPs can not be scanned with an A4 scanner and will need to be scanned left and right and the images merged later. Although this is not a difficult task and applications like Paint Shop Pro can be used to help it is still a slow process. You may also find that the two part scanning leaves the two images with a different colour or brightness and so joining them together seamlessly is difficult.

Scan at 300dpi. You can always elect to batch convert to a small resolution later. 300dpi avoids most of the faults in scanning at a lower resolution and does not take up as much space as 600dpi scans require. Printing, if you should ever wish to do so, from a 300dpi scan is fairly close to the original.

Last updated 1st September 2008