The ‘fad’ of digitising or ripping your records to digital files might bemuse vinyl fans. What’s the point? Audiophile man Paul Rigby selects eight high performing pieces of hardware for all price ranges to help you rip your collection without loosing quality.
Words: Paul Rigby
There are good reasons for turning your analogue music into ones and zeros. Firstly, you may want to preserve a particular disc and retain the sound quality of that disc. Maybe you’re fanatical about the condition of your vinyl or maybe you have a super rare or valuable disc and you don’t want to endanger your investment.
Secondly, don’t forget that the world is full of different, new and ageing audio formats (physical and otherwise) and those formats are excellent at doing a particular job well.
So, for example, while vinyl is an ideal medium for extracting raw sound quality, it’s just terrible as a method for listening to music while on the move. A digital file is perfect for this. In the old days, if copying to a blank cassette was not your thing but you wanted to listen to your favourite vinyl-sourced music while on the move, you’d have to resort to spending more money on a CD version of the same music and listen to it on a portable CD player. Similarly, you can spend money on a separate download for portable use. Why bother when you can freely extract that same music from a vinyl source?
Next, you can extract that music at the resolution you want. None of this “Sorry, it’s only available as a MP3” rubbish. If you want to rip a file at 24bit/192kHz or whatever, then there’s nothing to stop you (except, perhaps money).
Lastly, you can access your music in the digital domain. This provides flexibility for listening to music around the house where vinyl might not venture. Hence, you can stream digital files, using the right pieces of kit, to bedrooms, studies or outside in the garden using digital delivery systems from the likes of Sonos, Cabasse and hundreds of other systems, using a simple remote control.
So, even if you are a dyed in the wool analogue fiend, there are sensible reasons why some, if not all, of your vinyl should be ripped to a digital format.
One final point, when digitising vinyl, sound quality is paramount if you want to achieve the best quality rip. On that basis, I would avoid general DJ mixers and PC sound cards which do offer ease of use but prioritise those features over audiophile sound. Most of all, avoid those cheap turntables like ION, Steepletone and Crosley who offer turntables replete with USB ports.
To successfully digitise your vinyl to a digital file you need hardware and software. For now, what hardware do you need?
A cheap, bare bones ADC that will do the job and outputs a sampling rate of 48kHz only. It includes all of the essential connections but it’s stand out point is its tiny size. Of course, you will need to already have a turntable and phono amp but, if you already have these items, the AU-D4 ADC is an ideal budget digitisation option. To improve sound quality, you might want to investigate replacing the supplied power supply with something of better quality.
This is a good quality phono amplifier for use with any moving magnet cartridge. The key addition for this feature, though is the addition of a USB interface allows you to easily transfer vinyl to your computer. It arrives in a sturdy extruded aluminium case. It’s easily accessible too and be picked up from places like Amazon.
The compact PP 4 is another stand-alone ADC but, unlike the Rega, the phono amp module situated inside the chassis, not only handles a moving magnet cartridge but also supports moving coil which, for a box of this price, is not bad going. It also features a USB port and a free cable to boot.
Not a bad direct drive turntable, Audio Technica has a great reputation in terms of the quality of its cartridges. The addition of a USB output adds value to the package. Other features include three speeds at 33, 45 and 78rpm and a removable hinged dust cover. Try listening to the deck with and without the cover. Removing it should improve the sound. Of course, it also includes a selectable internal stereo phono amplifier. You also get a USB cable and adapter cables along with Mac- and PC-compatible Audacity software to digitise your LPs.
Capable of reaching up to 24bit/96kHz, this particular ADC is a little different from the rest because it doesn’t need an external power supply. In fact, it is powered from USB which means that it is ideal as a mobile unit if you need to do your digitising away from home base where power supply sockets are a premium. Also, it doesn’t need drivers and features a set of peak lights by the gold phono inputs in case of overload.
You might think that the GT40 is a bit expensive but, when you consider that moving magnet and moving coil cartridge support is thrown in (selection between those and also line level input being via a tiny switch at the rear) it also includes a phono amp, ADC and a signal up to 24bit/96kHz plus headphone capability, it really offers great value plus top sound performance. Build quality is superb too.
This turntable doesn’t provide an ADC. You’d need to grab a low cost ADC box for that. What it does add, though, is a built-in phono amp that means you don’t have to set any knobs or switches. It also includes a built-in headphone amp so you don’t have to buy speakers for it, you wish. The arm is a decent quality VPI model while the cartridge is the superb Ortofon Red. Great sound quality and plug-an-go ability.
Yes it is expensive but if you want to capture the best quality audio that you possibly can then think carefully about this box. To begin, this phono amp with a built-in ADC can capture sound at 24bit/192kHz. Indeed, it will actually also output at sample rates of 352.8kHz and 384kHz! In addition, it will also output to DSD. So all of the bases are effectively covered. Great sound quality, as you’d expect at this price. This is an American product so the included website is just one of several retail outlets where you can buy the Nuwave.