Capturing Analogue Audio
In our digital age it’s easy to forget that you may have many important memories on film, video, vinyl record or even cassette. These may be stored in the cupboard, at grandma’s house or up in the attic for safe keeping. The world is quickly running out of playback devices for these various formats and the physical material is slowly degrading, affected by the environment that it is stored in. If you want to keep these precious moments alive, then it’s time to move them into the digital realm. You will benefit from the backup, portability and ability to share your audio or family memories over the internet with colleagues, friends and family.
In this Blog we are going to discuss the migration of analogue audio content such as vinyl records, open reel audio, cassettes or mini discs to compliant digital files. If you don’t have the hardware, software and tools or you’re just not comfortable handling this to achieve professional results, then outsourcing to an industry audio digitization facility such as FATS Digital with highly experienced audio technicians will produce great results.
With improvements in PC’s, audio capture cards and readily available audio editing software, capturing old audio recordings is easier than it once was and coupled with some inexpensive audio software, reasonable quality digital recordings can be achieved.
In order to capture your old vinyl records or analogue tapes you will need the right equipment. Ideally you want to use a high quality player. These items are not manufactured any longer so they can be hard to come by. At FATS Digital we cater for all formats of audio and have a number of professional quality players for each format.
You will also need an amplifier. Again at FATS we use professional amplifiers, however an old one should do the job. It needs to have inputs to connect your play back devices and a record or line output. This is a set level output to allow use with other equipment.
Figure 1: shows the back of the amplifier.
Red Box 1. Shows the Phono Input.
Red Box 2. Shows the “Line/REC OUT” RCA outputs.
You connect the play back devices to their correct input on the amplifier using RCA connectors, connecting white to white and red to red. If you intend to transfer vinyl records then connect your turntable to the “Phono IN” denoted 1 in Figure 1 above. The Phono connectors have a different line level to the other analogue tape formats and also require an earth which eliminates hum. Only the “PHONO” selection on the amp is designed to work with this type of signal. If your amp doesn’t have a “Phono in” you will not be able to transfer records. An alternative option could include the purchase of a turntable with a USB recording port but the quality may be poor.
Any low level source such as Audio Cassette, Reel to reel audio or Mini disc can be connected to the “Tape 1 IN RCA connectors” – denoted 2 in Figure 1 above.
Using a RCA to 3.5mm stereo lead, available from any electronics store, connect the RCA connectors to the amplifiers “Line/ REC OUT” and the 3.5m headphone jack to the “Line-in” input of a PC card on the input card on your laptop or PC.
Figure 2: RCA to 3.5mm stereo lead.
Figure 3: Line-In input of PC
In this example the audio input is the blue connector. The green headphone socket is for headphones and the red socket is for a microphone
Plug your audio player into a power source. Plug in some headphones. Listen for unwanted sounds such as interference caused by nearby power RF or electronic devices and eliminate the cause. Playback your recordings and listen for static or strange sounds. Every sound that the player makes will be recorded into any digital files you make. The less noise you can hear, the better. Ideally we want to eliminate any added noise and only capture the desired audio content on your original tape recordings.
If you are transferring vinyl recordings you want to make sure the record is dust free and clean. If transferring old tapes, hopefully they are clean and dry.
FATS specialize in recovering good quality output from old and degraded tapes. We use special ovens to dehydrate absorbed moisture from tape oxide and tape cleaners to clean the tape surface. If you need help, please give us a call.
Now you have your playback devices connected to your amp and the output of your amp connected to the input of the PC card. On your PC you need to have a program capable of recording your audio input and saving it as a file that can be transferred and played back on a player such as an ipod or phone. For this example we will consider the file type MP3. MP3 files have been around for a long time, are universally used and are compressed so they are small and can be emailed.
For suitable software Google search “PC MP3 recording software”. There are a number of inexpensive software available including free versions. Learning to use your software will be easy once you have your equipment connected and have a signal going in.
Open the program you intend to use for recording.
In this example we will be working with Audacity (http://audacity.sourceforge.net/).
At FATS Digital we use high end professional tools so if we’re tackling this type of project we would be using Pro Tools.
Click the link to their website and download the free program. Once Audacity in installed open it up and adjust the following settings.
And turn the input volume to about 85%
Now press record in Audacity
You will undoubtedly have at least a couple seconds of excess noise at the beginning and end of your recording, so highlight that section (just drag your cursor across that area) and hit delete.
In the screenshot above, you can see we have a little more than a second of unnecessary noise (the time it took for us to hit play on the tape deck after we hit record in Audacity). The darker gray area is what we’ve highlighted and plan to delete. Repeat this process at the end of your recording until you have removed all the excess noise.
After you’ve trimmed the excess and ensured that you got a quality recording (just hit play to hear what you’ve got), you can save the data into an audio file, such as MP3. Just go to File > Export to be presented with all the formats that you can save your data in.
To compress your file into a reasonable size but still retain the maximum quality, select FLAC. For maximum compatibility and more compression, while still retaining a very reasonable amount of quality, select MP3.
Once your data is exported, you can play back your file anytime you want on your favourite media player (or on your phone, etc).
From here the rest is up to you.
The quality of the recorded files will depend on the quality of the equipment used, the configuration of the file format chosen and the expertise of the operator. Whether we are working on material for the National Film & Sound Archive or your precious memories, at FATS Digital we use the best equipment and professional personnel to guarantee archival quality transfers. Every transfer uses the same professional standard and the same professional care because at FATS Digital that’s what we do.
The above article is intended as an initial starting guide for transfer of consumer recordings not holding copyright. For more detailed explanation please contact your local FATS Digital office.