This record ripping guide is useful even if you’re not a DJ. The methods I outline will work for anyone who has the problem of digitising a large collection of filthy vinyls whilst trying maintain good sound quality.

Also, the sections on cleaning and handling records is useful for any person who owns a record deck. Cleaning your vinyls is one of the easiest ways to achieve an improvement in sound quality across your whole collection.

If you have any questions about anything in this guide just stick them in the comments below.

Vinyl ripping guide index

This is a big guide so I’ve included an index. Just click a link below to skip that part of the guide.

Never touch your records
What equipment should i use to clean very dirty records?
The Knosti Disco Antistat Record Cleaning Machine
Vacuum Record Cleaning Machines
How does a vacuum record cleaning machine work?
How to make your own DIY record cleaning fluid
How to store records after they’re cleaned
Playing your newly clean records
What turntable will give me the best results when recording my vinyl?
Why you should consider a dedicated HI FI turntable for vinyl rips
What’s the best turntable for recording ripping my vinyl?
Can I use a DJing Deck to create quality vinyl rips?
Use your tonearm leaver to avoid damage
Buying a dedicated needle for ripping vinyl
How to use a hifi Needle with a DJing turntable
What’s a great hifi needle for recording vinyl?
How to correctly set up a hifi needle and turntable
How to set the alignment and position of a hi fi needle and stylus
Amplification and why you shouldn’t use a DJ mixer for vinyl rips
How do you set up a turntable preamp
What’s a good soundcard to use when recording vinyl?
Do this before you play or record any vinyl
The Recording Process
What’s the best software for recording my vinyl rips?
What drivers are best for recording vinyl
What audio settings should I use when recording vinyl
How to use ClickRepair
Volume Normalisation
Saving our Files
Tagging our files and cleaning up
Takeaways

 

I started DJ’ing in the 90’s. And I learned the craft using vinyl. Like many DJ’s who started back then I amassed a large vinyl collection by the mid-noughties.

Around 2008 I decided to make the switch to digital DJ’ing. I wanted to get all my oldskool dance tunes and hip hop onto my hard drive.

This presented me with a few problems which was:

  1. What is the quickest way rip these records to my hard drive?
  2. How do I maintain the sound quality of my vinyl rips?
  3. And how the hell do I complete all this work without going crazy?

I love sound quality. This was one of the reasons why I decided to rip all my own vinyl rather than relying on rips you can download from the file-sharing services.

I’d tried to using the vinyl rips I’d found on BitTorrent, but I was never too impressed with the quality. They sounded dull and lifeless. Especially when compared to the original vinyl’s which I owned.

So, I started the laborious process of recording my own records. After all, I knew I could do a far better job than the vinyl rips which were freely available online – or so I thought.

But, when I started to rip my vinyl collection, I became aware of how poor my recordings were. My vinyl’s transfers were suffering the same fate as the rips I found on BitTorrent.

I kept asking myself: Why do my vinyl rips sound bad?

Anyway, around the mid 2000’s, I became aware that some of the records I owned were being re-released as digital downloads. Surely, these would sound better – I thought. After all, these new digital downloads would probably be mastered from the original tapes.

The sound quality of the re-release was good, but they were over compressed. They’d been a victim of the loudness war. All the dynamics and life had been squeezed out of the tracks. And it pissed me right off.

Besides, I could only buy a fraction of the records I owned as legally downloadable files. I own many rare and deleted tracks, and I was aware that these records would probably never be released again. So, it was back to the vinyl ripping.

And it was back to trying to figure out how to improve my bulk vinyl ripping process.

After 10 years of trial and error, here’s what I learned.

Why Ripping a DJ’s vinyl collection is a different

There are plenty of tutorials online about how to transfer vinyl to your PC. But if you’re ripping a record collection which has been used for DJ’ing you have some big problems to deal with. Problems which are never addressed in other tutorials.

Want to know what this big problem is?

A problem which most DJs never deal with when ripping their collections?

Well, it’s this: Extremely dirty records.

Now I’m not talking about records full of swear words. I’m talking about records covered in decades worth of gunk, grease, muck, dust, fluff and beer.

My records were like this. Although I’d tried to take care of them, they’d been used a lot over the years: In clubs, at home, and friends’ parties. During all those years they’d picked up a lot of dirt and had the occasional drink tipped on them.

So, I needed a way to clean them properly. This was the first step towards producing the perfect vinyl rip.

Why you should never touch your vinyl records

If you ever visit a hi-fi turntable forum and check out the vinyl section, you will come across one startling fact. This is: you should never touch the surface of your vinyl and LPs.

Why? Because every time you touch your vinyl you leave dirt and grease on its surface. You might not be able to see it but it’ll be there.

On a good Hi-fi system (I’m not talking about DJ’ing systems here), you will notice a decrease in sound quality when the needle passes through these grubby parts of the record where you finger have been.

Now, as a DJ ask yourself this question: How many times have you touched your records?

I bet you can’t even imagine how many times you’ve touched your records when mixing.

Well, every finger touch adds up. Every little jog or cue adds even more grease and muck to your vinyl. Over the years (or decades) this gunk and muck really adds up.

To make matters worse, a vinyl will pick up dirt every time it’s placed on a grimy slipmatt too.

And your vinyl’s will get grubbier if you place them in a dusty record sleeve.

Over the years this muck penetrates deep into the grooves of the record.

And this presents a real problem when you’re trying to obtain a high-resolution rip from a record which has been used for DJ’ing.

Can you clean a vinyl by playing it?

Playing a record will clean some of the muck from the record groove. You’re probably aware of this if you’re a DJ. After all, you’ll have probably found yourself having to clean fluff from your needle after playing a record. Some of this fluff will be dirt from the record groove.

But the amount of crud removed by playing a record is marginal at best.  And it won’t remove any of the grease and oily residue which is stuck to the vinyl grooves.

Additionally, most DJ’ing needles and styluses don’t penetrate the record groove as deeply as a dedicated hi-fi type needle.

audio technica needle
My well used Audio Technica AT440Mla needle mounted on Sumiko headshell

When I built my dedicated Technique 1210 HI-FI turntable (not a DJ’ing turntable), my deck wouldn’t even play many of my old records. They were simply too dirty for my new hi-fi needle (an Audio Technica AT440MLA)

When I started playing these unclean records on my HI-FI deck, it would only take a few seconds for the needle to collect enough muck to make the arm skip across the vinyl’s surface.

Seeing this happen vinyl after vinyl made me realise how dirty my records where.

As a DJ I thought I did a pretty good job of keeping my vinyl and LPs clean. But I was wrong.

My records would play fine on a DJ deck, but not on a HI-FI turntable.

The thing is, a DJ needle is usually set up with lots of extra weight added to it to ensure it doesn’t skip or bounce when cueing or playing.

Often, additional weight is added for scratching turntablist type setups. This is due to the heavy/fast movements of the records when performing scratches or cuts.

The main priority of a DJ deck is to keep the needle on the record. But this comes at a cost of sound quality.

By contrast, a hi-fi needle will have a marginal amount of weight added to it when set up (around 2 grams). A hi-fi needle just needs enough weight to stop it skipping on a bumpy or warped records – it needs no more than this.

On the other hand, DJ turntables often have the weight cranked up to the max. There’s nothing wrong with this because this extra weight is needed.

But the extra weight used by a DJ needle means it will track better than a hi-fi needle. Especially when playing dirty DJ vinyl. This is the reason my hi-fi needle wouldn’t play many of my DJ’ed with records.

Typical DJ style needle. The classic M44-7 made by Shure. A classic needle made for scratching

The extra weight added to a DJ’ing needle forces it through the mucky grooves and it stops it skipping. The hi-fi needle lacks this extra weight and will therefore skip and jump across the surface of the record.

How to clean a record when it’s been used for DJing?

Anyway, when you’re wanting to rip 1000’s of vinyl’s having an efficient ripping technique is essential.

You want a clean recording of each side of your vinyl first time and every time.

You need to minimise the number of re-recordings too.

The only way this can really be achieved is by making sure your records are spotless when you’re recording them.

The reason: It’s simple maths.

Remember that even recording 1000 LPs is approximately 2000 recordings.

Why? Because most vinyl records have an A and B side, and both sides need to be recorded. So that doubles the number of recording operations. Every vinyl is essentially 2 recordings.

So, if you’re attempting to record your collection, and it’s taking you 3 attempts before you get a clean recording. You’re turning 2000 operations into 6000 operations. And if you have more than a thousand records, or you’re having to perform multiple attempts to get a clean recording, the operation numbers will be even greater.

Therefore, when ripping a lot of vinyl, it’s worth spending money and getting the gear to thoroughly clean your records. It will really speed the whole laborious process up.

Because doing this increases the odds you can get a clean recording first time. And that reduces the possible workload dramatically.

So now, you might be wondering: what’s the best way to clean a lot of vinyl records?

What equipment should I use to clean very dirty records?

It took me a few years to figure this out and quite a bit of testing.

To date I use the following equipment:

  1. Two Knosti Disco Antistat record cleaning machines.
  2. One DIY built moth vacuum cleaning machine.
  3. Home-made record cleaning fluid (from a recipe I found online).

This set up isn’t for the faint of heart. It cost me nearly £500 for the whole lot. And that was over ten years ago. It’ll be more now.

I didn’t go out and buy all this gear at once. I steadily built up all this equipment. Because relying on a single record cleaning machine always gave me poor results when trying to bulk record mucky DJ vinyl.

Let me explain the setup.

The Knosti Disco Antistat

record cleaning machines
Two Knosti vinyl cleaning machines. The cheapest way to clean a lot of vinyl

My first record cleaning machine was the Knosti.

These are one of the cheapest record cleaning machines you can buy commercially.

These machine work by having a fluid bath with brushes either side of it. One of the best things about the Knosti is it clean both sides of the records at once (unlike most vacuum record cleaning machine)

But the downside of the Knosti is its fluid bath. When cleaning lots of extremely dirty records the cleaning fluid gets dirty fast.

Also, when using a Knosti style machine, the record is left to air dry after cleaning and this creates a problem. After the cleaning fluid evaporates surface dirt is left vinyl. The grooves are clean, but the vinyl’s surface isn’t. And this surface dirt will clog up your needle and increase the chances of poor recording and a re-recording.

Also, when using a Knosti, your later vinyls are always dirtier than your first due the water getting progressively dirtier with every cleaned record.

I found that adding a second Knosti significantly improved the cleaning process.

The first disco anti-stat acts as pre-wash (which removes most of the dirt), and the second acts as a final wash; removing any last remnants dirt and dirty cleaning fluid.

You can clean many more record before the 2nd bath gets too dirty. You can roughly clean four times as many records before you’ll need to replace the cleaning fluid in the 2nd bath.

homemade vinyl cleaning fluid
This is picture of used cleaning fluid. This was clear when before it was used. This is after around 15 dirty records. It’s filthy

The use of a second Knosti improved my vinyl cleaning process a great deal. However, because the records are air dried, you still end up with dust and debris is on the surface of yours records.

The Knosti’s are excellent cleaning machine. The brushes penetrate deep into the vinyl groove and they clean both sides of the vinyl at the same time. But the presence of dirt on the surface of a cleaned records increases the likelihood of re-recordings. And this is no good if you’ve got a few thousands records to record.

After using a Knosti, if you then play your cleaned records a few times, you will end up with a perfectly spotless vinyl. But you’ll need to wipe your records with a records duster and keep cleaning your stylus every time the surface dust builds ups. I’ve found that around playing each side 3 times you usually end up with a spotless record which is free from dust.

This is fine for most average hi-fi users, but if not if you’re wanting digitise a large vinyl collection.

Remember: If we’re trying to record just a 100 records. We’re turning 200 recordings into 600-800 operations if we need to play each side 3 times before we can capture a perfect recording.

Therefore, if you want to save time, you want to aim for a perfect recording first time, majority of the time. So, you need something which will suck the fluid from the record after cleaning. If you suck up this excess fluid, you’re sucking up the remaining dirt in the fluid too. The dirt which would otherwise be left on the surface of the vinyl if it was left to be air dried. Because you’ve removed this last bit of dirt you have greater chance of getting that perfect recording the first time around. And this will reduce the amount of re-recordings you have to make.

Vacuum Cleaning Machines

There are various commercial record cleaning machines (RCMs for short) available to buy.

Some brands include:

  1. Okki Nokki
  2. Moth Cleaning machine (I have the DIY version of this)
  3. Loricraft (the best money can buy but not cheap)

I’ve even heard of people using ultrasonic cleaners to clean their records. I believe this is effective but personally I don’t have any experience about these types of cleaner.

I think now there’s even more RCMs on the market. I attribute this to the recent resurgence in vinyls popularity.

How does a vacuum record cleaning machines work?

Most vacuum record cleaning machines (like the Moth and Okki Nokki) work in a similar fashion.

RCM machine
I’m stingy so I build my own vacuum RCM using the Moth Kit. It might not be pretty but it works

You simply attach your record to a revolving disc. Cover the vinyl with cleaning fluid. Give it a brushing with a special brush (scrubbing to dislodge the dirt). And then vacuum up the excess and dirty fluid.

One downside of using a vacuum record cleaning machine (when compared with the Knosti’s) is that a vacuum RCM only cleans one side of the record at a time. Whereas the disco anti-stat will clean both sides at once.

However, if you combine a Knosti with a vacuum RCM you have an effective way to clean a lot of records quickly.

The Knosti cleans both sides of the record at once (one less operation), and the vacuum RCM remove all the excess cleaning fluid. Because the waste cleaning fluid is vacuumed off it leaves no residual dirt and dust behind.

Using two Knosti’s and a vacuum RCM, I can clean around 50 records in two hours. Afterwards, I can then rip a 90% of my dirty DJ vinyl’s in one go.

However, It’s not a perfect system. After about 50 records the cleaning fluid in both baths needs changing.

But you only need to put fresh cleaning fluid in the 2nd bath (the final wash). The old cleaning fluid in the second bath can replace the dirty fluid in the first bath. The filthy fluid in the first bath is then discarded.

After 50 records the fluid in the first bath is practically black. Below is a sample picture the picture of some fluid that removed from the first bath after around 45 records.

How to make your own DIY record cleaning fluid

I make my own cleaning fluid for washing my records. You can buy commercial record cleaning fluids which work very well. But they’re expensive and simply not cost-effective when you are cleaning thousands of records.

For around £30 – £50 you can make around 5 litres of cleaning fluid. This will clean many records.

My basic record cleaning fluid recipe is:

  1. 20% isopropanol alcohol (high purity)
  2. 80% distilled water (high purity)
  3. A couple of drops of a wetting agent like Kodak Photoflow

This is just a formula I found online elsewhere.

If you are going to make your own record cleaning fluid, you must use ingredients of high purity. You need to be buying lab/medical grade isopropanol and distilled water. Anything else will leave small mineral deposit on your vinyl.

If you’re wondering what the wetting agent does it ‘thins’ the water. Allowing it to penetrate deeper into the record groove.

Without the wetting agent, the fluid will not clean effectively. It leaves crud in the deepest parts of the groove.

How to store records after they’re cleaned

Once I’ve cleaned and recorded my records, I then safely store them away. I usually discard any original old paper sleeves which came with the vinyl. I’ll replace them with new and clean plastic sleeves.

A fully cleaned vinyl, with new internal and external sleeve. Using new sleeves means that my vinyl should stay clean for years

This is to avoid re-contaminating from the old paper sleeve. Old sleeves will often be covered with dirt which has built up over the years. I don’t want to have clean my record again, so the old sleeve inserts get replaced (unless they contain unique artwork).

Finally, I cover the vinyl, the new sleeve, and vinyl packet with a large plastic record cover. This stops any dust getting into the vinyl packet when it’s sat on the shelf.

Doing all this means my records should stay clean for years to come. And since I won’t be using them for DJ’ing anymore, they should stay clean.

Playing your newly clean records

When you’ve cleaned your vinyl’s you’ll want to handle them more carefully. When you’re DJ’ing with vinyl you don’t really care where you place your finger tips and how you hold your records. If you treat your newly cleaned records like this, they’ll be grubby again in no time.

If you want your records to stay clean you need to handle your clean vinyl a little more delicately when loading them onto a turntable. You’ll at least need to do this until you’ve captured your recording.

Hold your cleaned vinyl using the very edges of the record. You want to avoid placing any fingertips on the surface of the record. If you touch the surface of your vinyl, you’ll leave some grease on it, and this will result in a reduction in sound quality.

The results

So why go to all this trouble. Well, all this will seem pointless unless you’re a sound quality nut like me.

But if you’re anal about sound the results are worth it.

Not only do I end up with a vinyl rips, which to my ears, sounds better than re-released tracks (mainly due to the lack of brick wall compression).

But I get to hear new musical elements in records which I’ve have owned for years. It gives me a new appreciation for my collection too.

What turntable will give me the best results when recording my vinyl?

Moving on…

Now it’s time to discuss the recording equipment for ripping lots of vinyl.

Why you should consider a dedicated HI-FI turntable for vinyl rips

If you want the very best sound quality when recording records, you should consider investing in a dedicated hi-fi deck.

Many DJs make the mistake of using their DJ decks for ripping vinyl. This is something I did at the start, and it was one of the major causes of the poor sound quality in my recordings.

The problem with DJ decks is that the turntable is designed to prioritise stability over sound quality. As a DJ myself, I’ll happily sacrifice a little sound quality if it means the needle sticks to record when mixing and scratching records. Straight tonearms also back up this claim as they sacrifice sound for stability.

But this means that if you use a DJ style turntable for ripping tunes, you’re hindering the recordings before you even start.

The very best DJ decks will never sound as good as a dedicated hi-fi turntable. I’d dare say that a properly cleaned record, on a turntable like the Pro-ject Essential II, would sound better than Pioneer PLX 1000. Just so you know the Pro-ject is around 50% cheaper than the Pioneer.

A Hi-fi turntable’s principal job is to produce the best sound stage as possible. But a hi-fi turntable won’t track the record as well as a DJ deck. And you certainly wouldn’t want to use a HI-FI turntable for DJing. You’d break it if you tried.

But a hi-fi deck, which has been set up correctly, will always sound better than a DJ turntable. Therefore, if you use a hi-fi turntable for ripping your records you will end up with rips which have good sound quality.

What’s the best turntable for recording (ripping) my vinyl?

If you’re thinking of buying a hi-fi turntable for ripping your records, then check out WhatHi-fi magazines recommendations. They create shortlists of turntables based on budget. It’s a great place to start.

After reading WhatHi-fi, you should be able to create a list of suitable turntables. After this, it’s just a case of finding customer reviews for any turntables which catch your eye.

Don’t just take WhatHi-Fi’s word that a turntable is good. I also recommend looking at Amazon reviews and the searching for reviews on Hi-fi forums too.

You want to find people who have used your desired turntable and you want to see what they say about it.

Lastly, when budgeting for a turntable, remember to factor in other additional costs too. You may need to buy a needle, stylus and headshell as well. If your turntable comes without them (most hi-fi decks do). You may also need to buy a headshell as well. And you’re also going to need a dedicated turntable preamp as well (I’ll be covering this later).

Personally, I use Technics 1210 Mk5 when recording my vinyl rips. Believe it or not, old Technics decks make excellent hi-fi turntables. You just need to use them with a hi-fi needle and cartridge. And balance the correct arm weight correctly.

Additionally, you can convert an old Technics turntable into a formidable HI-FI turntable. There are many upgrades you can buy for this classic DJ deck.

technics turntable
My upgraded Technics turntable. It looks good and it sounds amazing

Can I use a DJ’ing Deck to create quality vinyl rips?

If you don’t want to buy a dedicated hi-fi deck, as a last resort, you could use a DJ deck to rip records. Your results won’t sound as good as a recording made using a dedicated HI-FI turntable.

I’d recommend buying and fitting your deck with a hi-fi needle and stylus. If you do this ensure you mount and set the correct tonearm weight. Otherwise, you may ruin your new needle.

Use your tonearm leaver to avoid damage

Lastly, when using a hi-fi needle to play and rip vinyl’s, ensure you use your tonearm lever to place your new needle on/off your vinyl records.

Unlike DJ’ing needles, hi-fi needles are easy to break. Using the tonearm level will prevent you from damaging your new needle. The level stops you being heavy handed with your fragile needle and allows you to gently drop or remove your tonearm on/off your vinyl.

technics 1210 mk5 tonearm
The tonearm lever on a Technic 1210. Use this when you’re using a hi-fi needle

Buying a dedicated needle for ripping vinyl

If you’re buying a dedicated hi-fi deck for your vinyl ripping, you’ll need a hi-fi needle/cart/headshell to get the best out of it.

Wondering why? Let me explain.

Hi-fi needles/carts are often more sensitive than DJ type needle/carts. A DJ needle, just like a DJ deck, sacrifices a degree of sound quality for stability and improved tracking ability.

During the vinyl ripping process, sound quality is paramount. The extra stability provided by a DJ type needle isn’t needed. Our new hi-fi needle isn’t suitable for DJing with because you cannot use it for DJ’ing type actions (like queueing records or scratching them).

Hi-fi needles are sensitive and are easier to break compared with DJ type needle/styluses. Something as simple as the rotating your vinyl backward (like it does when you are queueing your record) can damage them. Simply put: hi-fi needles are designed to be played one way.

As mentioned earlier, ensure you use a tonearm lever to place and remove your new needle on your records. Simply dropping the hi-fi needle onto the record (like you would with a DJ needle) will damage it.

Hi-fi needles are not designed to resist the physical forces that a DJ needle can be put through. So, treat it gently otherwise you may end up buying another one.

How to use a Hi-fi Needle with a DJ’ing turntable

I recommend that you mount any hi-fi needle stylus in its own headshell if you’re planning to use a DJ turntable for vinyl ripping. Why? Because it’s a fiddly job setting up a hi-fi needle and stylus. Plus, there’s always a chance of damaging the needle when assembling and positioning it in a headshell.

It’s just easier to just have your hi-fi needle and stylus already set up and ready in its own headshell. That way, you can just swap it over when you want to record some tunes.

I use a Sumiko headshell with my Technics 1210 Mk5. It’s a nice looking headshell, which is sturdy, and it looks great.

What’s a great hi-fi needle for recording vinyl

There’s lot of great hi-fi needles which you can buy. If you check them out on Amazon and Ebay you’ll be overwhelmed with choices.

Again, just like you did with the turntable, you’ll want to create a list of possible candidates within your budget. And then look at Amazon reviews and the hi-fi forums for feedback for the models on your needle/stylus list. Ideally, you’re looking for a needle/stylus which works well with your turntable and the type of music you’re playing.

How to correctly set up a hi-fi needle and turntable

After buying your new needle/stylus/cart you will need to set it up correctly. It’s essential that you use the recommended manufacturer weight which comes with your stylus.

If you set too little weight on the needle the needle won’t track, and you run the risk of it jumping off the record or not being able to track correctly. Too much weight on your needle and you run the risk of damaging your needle and your records.

Also, excessive weight will cause the stylus to bottom out and rub on the vinyl. This will decrease the sound quality and will add unwanted noise to your recordings.

To set the correct weight for your needle, you’ll need a micro-weighing scale. These types of scales are often popular with people who craft their own jewelry.

The scales you use will need to measure between 1.0 grams, up to 30 grams. And they’ll need to be able to measure in 0.1 gram increments too.

You can get dedicated turntable scales for this task. Or just borrow a set of a jewelry friend.

How to set the alignment and position of a hi-fi needle and stylus

For correct alignment and position of your new needle/stylus, you’ll want to use a turntable protractor during the setup. This will ensure that you achieve the optimal position for your needle.

Before you start to make any recordings, you will want to use your needle for a while. The reason: Hi-fi needles need to be ‘broken in’ first before they are working at their best. So, go grab a beer, or a coffee, and then play lots of records using your new set up.

After a few hours playing music your new needle and stylus will be ready for ripping some vinyls.

Amplification (and why you shouldn’t use a DJ mixer for vinyl rips)

When ripping vinyl, a common mistake made by most DJ’s is to use a DJ mixer for the recording process. I did this at the beginning.

It doesn’t matter if your DJ mixer is worth a £1000s. All DJ mixers suffer from the same problem which makes them a bad choice for archiving music.

Ideally, you want to use a dedicated phono amp for the recording process. From my own experience, a decent dedicated phono amp will produce better sound than an expensive DJ mixer.

The reason for this is due to phono amps using something called an RIAA curve.

An RIAA curve is an optimised EQ setting designed exclusively for turntables. It has been in development since the 1950s. And it is pretty much accepted that it’s the best EQ curve to use if you want a turntable to sound good.

One stark difference between a phono amp and a DJ mixer (apart from the appearance) is the absence of any EQ controls. EQ controls allow the amp to deviate from the RIAA curve, and this would be suboptimal for sound quality.

Additionally, DJ mixes often have extra channels and effect units built into them. Each of these things can add unwanted noise to the audio signal. By contrast, the signal path in phono amp is far simpler as it consists of a single stereo channel.

My first dedicated phono amp was a Cambridge Audio 640P which I bought new for around £70. I was blown away with the sound the first time I used this amp with my new hi-fi turntable setup. I heard new sounds, nuances, and movements in tunes which I had owned for decades. It was sublime.

And this little amp sounded cleaner and more natural than my £750 DJ mixer.

To prove this last point, I conducted a few tests. I plugged my hi-fi deck into the DJ mixer and noticed a significant decrease in sound quality. This proved to me that a good quality dedicated phono lamp will always beat any high-end mixer in terms of sound quality.

Even today, you can still pick up a Cambridge Audio 640P up for around £25-£50 quid from eBay. And in my opinion, they’ll beat any expensive DJ mixer on the market when it comes to sound.

My last point just goes to illustrate that you don’t need to spend astronomical amounts of money to get good results. You just need the right equipment for the job.

My Croft Micro Pre Amp. Valve lovelyness at its finest

I have now moved on from using the 640P and now use a Croft Micro 25 valve amp for playing and recording music. The Crofts are a beast when it comes to sound quality. Best thing is I can run a CD line through this pre-amp too. But they aren’t cheap. If you’re just starting out, go for 640P or something similar

How do you set up a turntable preamp?

Setting up a phono preamp is simple. Turntable phono’s out and ground connect to the amp inputs. The output of the amp will then go to a power amp (or your main amp) via a CD or line in. This second amp will control the balance, volume and EQ (but you really shouldn’t need EQ on a good system).

What’s a good soundcard to use when recording vinyl?

The last part of our vinyl ripping hardware chain is the soundcard.

When picking a soundcard, you need ideally want to be using a studio type soundcard rather than one designed for gaming or movies. Doing this will give you a cleaner sound, and it which won’t colour your music.

Preferably, you want a sound card which produces a flat response (flat EQ) when recording and playing music.

Soundcards have improved significantly since I began recording music on my computer. But when I started you could notice a significant difference in sound quality between soundcards like a Sound Blaster (which are designed for gaming) and studio type cards. Today, there is less of a difference.

However, I will still try to record my music in the studio type card. There is less chance of unwanted noise being introduced the recording in the sound stage should be better too.

I recommend that you avoid using the built-in components on your PC or laptop for recording your vinyl rips. Often, even on the best laptops and PCs, these components are of low quality and usually add a lot of unwanted noise to recordings. Get yourself a dedicated soundcard, you will notice a big difference in sound quality.

Which soundcard is right for you depends on your budget. But these days can pick up good soundcard for around £50+ which will produce a flat response and create good quality recordings.

If money is no object, then you might want to consider getting yourself a dedicated ADC. This is my next planned purchase for my vinyl ripping process.

I’ve personally been Native Instruments Traktor A10 soundcard for vinyl rips as of late. And I really like the type of sound it produces.

Do this before you play or record any vinyl

Even if you’ve cleaned your tunes using a vinyl cleaning machine, your records will still have some dust and grime on them.

Your records will naturally pick up dust from the air, record sleeve, slipmatt to name a few sources. And even after a good cleaning with an RCM, they will still be some residual dirt left over in the grooves. Especially if your vinyl has been used for DJ’ing.

So, before you play your cleaned vinyl, ensure you wipe your record down with carbon brush or something similar. This will remove any surface dust and stop it from building up on the needle.

Also, I recommend buying a bottle of Clearaudio stylus cleaner. It’s not cheap but a bottle will last you a lifetime.

I clean my needle after every play with the stylus cleaner. It’s surprising how much dirt will build upon your stylus after playing just a single side of vinyl. And a dirty needle will reduce your sound quality and produce poor recordings.

So, keep everything as clean as possible. And keep an eye out for dust building up on your needle too. After you’ve made a few hundred recording you will get an ear for when your new needle is full of dust and dirt. I can’t tell you how to do this, it’s just something you pick up the more you do it.

Lastly, a warning: never play wet records. If you’ve just cleaned some vinyl’s, ensure they’re 100% dry before recording them. I like to leave them for 24 hrs before recording them. If you play your records when wet the needle will act as a cutting tool and it will damage your discs.

The Recording Process

What’s the best software for recording my vinyl rips?

You have many options when it comes to recording software. One of the best options is free and it’s called Audacity. You don’t need to buy or pirate pr buy any paid audio editing programs for this process.

The paid programs won’t sound any better than Audacity. So, if you’re just starting out stick with Audacity because it’s free powerful, and there’s plenty of tutorials online showing you how to use it.

Regardless of which program you use, just make sure you select the best sound driver in your software’s options before making any recordings.

What drivers are best for recording vinyl?

Mac users can probably skip this section as Apple’s does a good job of providing decent sound drivers by default.

If you’re a Windows user, you’ll want to use ASIO drivers when recording. If you cannot find an ASIO driver from your soundcard manufacturer, download ‘ASIO for all’.

‘ASIO for all’ is 3rd party sound driver for windows which works with many sound cards. Your recordings will sound better if you use an ASIO diver when recording. Avoid using Direct X or MME drivers as these will reduce the sound quality of your recordings.

If you’re a Linux user, I’d recommend using ALSA driver for recording. ALSA, like ASIO drivers, allow the audio signal to be passed directly through the CPU without any transcoding or recoding.

What audio settings should I use when recording vinyl?

I record all my vinyl at 44 100 Hz sample rate and at a bit depth at 32 bit.

Using a higher bit depth means I can lower the input volume of my recordings a little and not lose much sound quality.

When recording your records try not to have the average sound right up to the top. As this might cause clipping. Or your recording might clip when there’s a bad click or pop on your record.

If you’re recording at 32 bit you can aim to have your audio input peaking around -8db to -16db. This will give you plenty of headroom in the event of clipping.

Once I have recorded my vinyl I will trim and delete the ends of the tracks, leaving a 2-second gap between tracks and at the ends of recordings.

The next step is to add markers where our tracks are. Finally, we can use a macro to automatically split our recordings where we positioned out markers. This macro will also save the split pieces of audio as individual files too. Additionally, save the files as Wav files for now.

Don’t worry about the naming the tracks. Just make sure they’re named numerically and they’re in the correct order. For example, A side track 1 might simply be labelled 1. The next track would be labelled 2. And so on…

Make sure you save the files into a folder which has been labelled correctly. I like to use the naming format: Artist – Single or album title. Use a dash (-) to separate the artist name and title.

We will be using other programs to change the track names and apply the correct meta tags. For now, the only thing you need to get correct is that your tracks are saved in the correct order.

How to use ClickRepair (be careful with this)

This next stage is purely optional. It’s also the only stage where you will have to use your own ears and judgment when processing records.

What am I talking about? Well, it’s the process of de-clicking: removing pops and crackle from your recordings.

Don’t get too excited about the thought of having no clicks, pops, and crackles in your vinyl rips – it doesn’t quite work like that. Your result will vary from track to track.

I’ve tried pretty much all the click repair and de-noise software there is, and the best (and still one of the cheapest) for this task is a program called Clickrepair.

This noise removal program isn’t a silver bullet. Sometimes the program can perform an exceptional job, sometimes it can’t be used at all.

Using a program like this is a compromise. Whenever you remove a click you are removing parts of the records and causing a possible distortion in your tracks.

Certain elements in a record can sound like a click. And this means that these elements will be processed by the program when click removal is applied. The more aggressive you remove the clicks the more possible damage and distortion you can cause to your recordings.

The number of clicks removed, and the damage caused by the process varies between tracks. The determining factor of this ratio depends on the tonality of the track(s) you’re processing.

Here are a few tips when using ClickRepair:

  1. Do not overwrite your original ‘un-clicked’ recordings once you’ve run ClickRepair. Always keep a backup copy of them so you can revert to them if you need to.
  2. In my experience, the parts of tracks which are affected the most when repairing dance tracks are solo kick drums, acid (303) riffs, and breakdowns. When evaluating a track listen to these track elements first.
  3. Use ABX testing so you can AB test/split test tracks. Foobar2000 with the ABX plugin is excellent for this. It’ll allow you to skip between 2 versions of the same track whilst keeping the same play position.
  4. Make sure you clean your records properly before recording. A good clean will naturally reduce any crackle and pops, meaning you don’t need to use aggressive settings in ClickRepair
  5. Evaluate your tracks using the best speakers you can get your hands on. Ideally, some studio monitors. If you don’t have access to these buy yourself a decent set of headphones for the task. Better speakers = better evaluation.
  6. If in doubt don’t use it.

The more you use this program the more you’ll develop an ear for the tracks it will work with and the tracks can’t be used on. I can’t teach you this, it’s something you’ll have to learn yourself.

If this guide proves popular, I may make a video showing this process in more details. Leave a comment below if you’d like to see this😊

Volume Normalisation

Once we’ve applied our de-clicking, and we’re happy with the results, we then perform our final processing tasks.

Finally, we normalise our tracks to a level of -0.2 dB. You can do this individually, but it’s much quicker to use Audacity’s batch processing functionality.

Saving our Files

This step will vary depending on the platform and the possible DJ’ing software you use.

First, I save all my files as 44,100Hz 16-bit Wav files. And I apply a light dithering when reducing the bit depth from 32-bit to 16-bit.

The next step after this is to convert it to a lossless file format. I personally like to use Flac files, as they’re compatible with Traktor and my favourite media player (Jriver).

Flacs are compatible with most decent media players on Windows these days. I think even the latest windows media player will play them.

If you’re on Mac, you’ll want to probably save them as AIFFs. AIFFs are compatible with that crappy media player know as iTunes.

Always, keep a copy of your tunes in some sort of lossless format. If you want to convert your vinyl’s to MP3. Then just convert your FLACs into whatever bitrate Mp3 you need.

Don’t use MP3 as an archiving format. Mp3 is a lossy file format. Some information is lost when you convert files from lossless to lossy. You cannot get this information back once you’ve converted your files.

So even if you prefer to use MP3 as your main format. Just keep a lossless copy of your original vinyl rips somewhere. Hard drives and storage space are cheap these days. It doesn’t cost much to back up even the biggest vinyl collections as FLACs.

Tagging our file and cleaning up

The final step of the process is to tags and add artwork to new files. And I also like to clean up the filenames of my recordings too.

Now, you cannot rely on the usual methods of tagging tracks. Methods like audio fingerprinting and ISRC codes can’t be used to generate the correct tags for our files. However, there is a solution at hand, and it’s called MP3Tag.

MP3Tag is an audio tagging program. It can scrape various sources for meta tags such as the artist, track title, album name, etc.

One of MP3tags best features is its ability to use Discogs as a tagging source.

So, if the track you’re trying to tag exists on Discogs you can use MP3Tag to find and apply the correct tags to your vinyl rips. Also, the program can use Discogs as an artwork source too, so you can embed album/singles covers with the press of a few buttons.

Once you’ve applied the correct tags to tracks you can then use MP3tag to generate neat and tidy file names for your tracks too.

Tagging and adding artworks makes your newly ripped tracks easier to search through and look at when they’re used in other programs (like media players and DJing software).

Once we’ve changed the file names and added our tracks we’re done. That’s it. Your tracks are now finished and ready to be added to your media player or DJ’ing program.

Takeaways

  • You don’t need to buy a vacuum RCM. If funds are tight just get 2X Knosti record cleaners.  The cleaning process will take longer if you do this. Why? Because you’ll have to wait for your records to dry in the air. If you have many records to digitise, or you’re in a rush get the Knosti’s and a vacuum RCM. It makes the process much more efficient and quicker.
  • Never play wet records. You will mess them up.
  • Buy 2nd hand gear if funds are tight. Most HI-FI gear I’ve used is well made and will still work years (even decades) after it was manufactured.
  • Always use your tonearm lever to lift a hi-fi needle on and off a turntable. If you don’t you will break your new needle.
  • Be careful with ClickRepair. It’s a great program which can work miracles. But if you don’t evaluate tracks individually you will end up with tracks which have distorted parts in them.
  • The only part of the process you can speed up is the post-processing and editing of your audio files. Learn how to use keyboard shortcuts and macros, they will help your speed over the long term. Also, once you’ve made edited 30 or more tracks you will get into a flow and your post processing speed should improve.
DJ Kippax
DJ, turntablist of over 20+ years and proud computer nerds. I love a wide range of music and love my HI-Fi gear.

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