Working Checklist

This page assumes that you have already connected a turntable, preamp and have done some test recordings. You have already selected a software application to record the incoming audio steam, and you know how to segment the larger file into the correct size tracks so you can burn an exact duplicate of the manufacturer’s CD. You’ve already listened to the album to know that it plays well, and that both the disc and the needle are clean. Ironically, I think you should start out with something other than your most favorite record. You still need to be very familiar with the music, but you will get much better at this the more you do it. Also, don’t start with live albums or where the breaks between songs is too short or indiscernible. You want to tackle that challenge after you’ve got a few rounds under your belt.

By now, you should also have taken time to “tune” your turntable. The more functions you have on your deck, the more work you have to do. Balancing the tone arm, anti-skipping adjustments and speed adjustment knobs are common features to direct drive turntables, so check over the manual. The other thing is to track down a turntable adjustment disc. Several “audiophile” stores used to sell this kind of disc that would confirm the channel, the tone and even the balance of the arm.

So, now you’re ready to start?

1) Listen to the headphone output while you test play the record. Both sides of the needle, the preamp and the recording software are giving you stereo signal (even if it’s a mono original).

2)  Set the speed adjustment to the correct disc speed. If you have the ability to fine-tune the speed, push it both faster and slower and confirm the speed exactly. Your tracks will be a different length if the turntable is off even slightly.

3) Listen for the overall tone. Do the channels match in volume? Are they at a good tonal range? How is the master volume — if you’ve got the loudest parts of the song pegging in the red, you will have distortion. If you never get in the red, then your tracks will be too quiet. Most vinyl records will have a very different left-right balance from one another. This is why I like to use a DJ Mixer as my pre-amp:  you can slide the mixer that is meant to slide between two records now to compensate between channels. You can now get L & R to make the same overall volume.

4) If you’re recording an LP, make sure to listen to at least three of four selections to make sure that you’ve discovered the loudest track. You should find that you need to switch levels between different records, but it should remain consistent for the same record.

5) Set a timer. Most records take 20 minutes a side and flip the disc for the other side. Clean the second side and brush the needle lightly with the flip.

6) Save the recording before you start the edit. Make sure that you have a track list handy when you start to edit. Your goal is to make your tracks match  whatever it says on for the commercial release, but don’t trust the timings on the back of the cover. These are wrong most of the time. Use a database like http://www.discogs.com for this info instead. It’s by record geeks, for record geeks.

7) When you burn the disc, make sure that you use some sort of normalize setting. This will make the volumes level out to one another very nicely.

8) Import the CD into iTunes so you can carry it around on your phone, iPod, mix discs, and share with friends. Music is always better with your friends, and your friends are always better with music.

9) Use a notation system to keep track of which albums you have recorded. I usually put my CD copy of the album in a thin paper sleeve and store it with the record.

TROUBLESHOOTING: Make sure that you are listening to your end product carefully and troubleshoot the problems:

Is there line noise? Check your ground wire on the turntable. Check the connecter cables by swapping out different cables.

Do your raw tracks sound fine on the computer, but the CD’s sound flat? Check your burn settings to make sure that it’s not altering the EQ.

Do the CD tracks sound fine, but the MP3s in iTunes sound weird? Check your input settings and make sure that you’re burning your discs at a minimum of a 192KBs bitrate. Anything less sounds squishy.

In sound check, do have an extraordinary difference between the channels? If you have already checked the cables, the controls and the software then you may have a bad record, a bad needle, or a short in the cartridge. Isolate the problem… Try the disc on another table, swap the needle, and also make sure that the work desk is level. Turntables must be flat and level in order to play properly.

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