Vinyl isn’t dead — it’s simply on the mend. Some believe the recent sales spike is ushering in a new renaissance of sorts, breathing life into a seasoned format that barely survived the ’90s and the early aughts, as more convenient digital music formats appeared. Others say vinyl owes its renewed vitality to new-age audiophiles with a penchant for superior sound — or maybe it’s simply a hipster fad, like double-rimmed glasses, mustaches, and fixie bikes. Whatever it is, vinyl is back.
Unfortunately, not all record labels pre-package their vinyl with digital download coupons or CD copies of their latest release. It’s a new methodology, stemming from our desire to sync our tunes with our home audio system and mobile devices. However, though many analog recordings still rely strictly on the drop of a needle, that doesn’t mean you can’t convert them into a more accessible digital format. Doing so will not only preserve the record for future listeners and allow you to take entire albums with you on the go, but it will also give you a convenient means for cleaning up noisy records using a bevy of simple software applications.
The only question: How do you do it without running out of patience and money?
Sadly, there is no catch-all method for digitizing your vinyl collection. The exact process depends on what kind of equipment you’ve got. Some turntables come with built-in pre-amps; others don’t, and rely on a receiver with a built-in phono pre-amp or a stand alone phono pre-amp. These days, modern turntables tend to feature both a built-in pre-amp and USB output, allowing you to quickly and efficiently convert that musty copy of Steely Dan’s Can’t Buy a Thrill with little effort. That’s not to say you can’t convert your vinyl to a digital format without an integrated USB output, but opting for a turntable built with said output makes the process far easier. Below are two such offerings we recommend; if these don’t work for you, check out our rundown of the best turntables.
Sony PS-HX500 ($598)
Okay, we realize that $600 might seem steep for a record player; that’s because $600 is pretty steep for a record player (though they get much pricier). If you’ve deeply invested into a large collection of vinyl records, though, it might be worth your money. The player is outfitted with a high-quality Texas Instruments digital audio converter (DAC) that transfers at a minimum of 16-bit resolution (that’s CD quality). That’s just the minimum, though — this bad boy can transfer files up to 5.6MHz DSD, which no other record player can do. If you’re an audiophile, this is simply the best choice.
Audio Technica AT-LP120 USB ($249)
Audio Technica’s AT-LP120 USB isn’t stylish, but it’s a mainstay as far as budget turntables go. It comes equipped with selectable integrated pre-amp (so outboard phono pre-amps are unnecessary) and a USB output that’s compatible with both PC and Mac systems, not to mention three speeds (33⅓, 45, and 78 rpm) and the ability to rip at 16-bit/44.1kHz and 16-bit/48kHz sample rates. Best of all, it offers admirable sound for the price.
Aside from your turntable, you’ll also need a few cables in order to make the necessary connections. If your turntable lacks a USB output, for instance, you will need a stereo RCA cable and an RCA-to-3.5mm cord. Both cables are relatively affordable — typically under $10 — at your local electronics store or online sites like Amazon. You’ll also need a computer with a “Line-in” port and enough space to save the resulting files, as well as a little patience, given you must play an album in real-time in order to properly record and convert it.
Furthermore, you can always purchase a dedicated phono pre-amp if neither your A/V receiver nor your turntable have one. There’s a wealth of pre-amps on the market, ranging anywhere from $20 to upward of $1,500, but opting for a nicer device will nearly always result in heightened clarity and a more natural soundscape. In the unlikely case that you’ve gotten this far but don’t actually have a record collection, we can help there too.