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Making Room for Analog Records in a Digital World

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Making Room for Analog Records in a Digital World


Making Room for Analog Records in a Digital World

Making Room for Analog Records in a Digital World

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Keep your tapes and records, says tech contributor Mario Armstrong. He offers advice on converting old albums into audio files you can play on a personal computer.


This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya. So you worked hard to gather a collection of tapes and records over your years. How often do you listen to them now? With the advent of portable MP3 players, sometimes transferring that audio is a monumental task. But no fear, NEWS & NOTES tech contributor Mario Armstrong is here to help. Hi, Mario.


CHIDEYA: So what do you do? I mean I still have Push It Real Good, you know, on a cassette tape, you know, back from the day, you know? Am I ever going to be able to - I don't even have a cassette player anymore.

ARMSTRONG: You don't have a cassette player anymore? You know, this is something that a lot of households don't have. I mean good luck finding a turntable somewhere. But we have all these collections of all this great music from back in the day.

You know, I think of my father's even comedy albums. Like - I know he probably wouldn't want me to say this - but I know he has a whole collection of Richard Pryor albums that I used to listen to when I was a kid. And I would love to transfer that stuff now to digital devices so I could carry it along with me.

CHIDEYA: What are some of the tools? Just outline them for us.

ARMSTRONG: Yeah. There's a couple of things you need. I mean you could go the hard way and actually this yourself. Which isn't that hard. But what I mean is you have to have a turntable, number one, if you're doing wax or vinyl records, a cassette deck, number two. Then your computer needs to have what is called a sound card. Most computers these days have this already on them. And then you need the actual chords that would connect one of those devices - your cassette recorder or your turntable - to your actual soundcard.

And really the easiest way to solve that problem is to go to Radio Shack -because they're pretty common - and say, hey, I'm transferring my cassettes or my vinyl over to my computer and what's the chord that I need to have to connect those devices? And they'll be able to walk you through those steps.

CHIDEYA: Now you have your computer, let's say, connected through the right chords to your, you know, record player. I'll just leave the cassettes out of this for a second. What happens next?

ARMSTRONG: Okay. So what happens next is you need software to capture what you're going to play on that record player. And I should also mention that it's good to have what is called a pre-amp. I don't want to get people too techie or too confused.

But the turntable itself, if you just put the needle on the record and hit play and it's connected to your computer, it may not be loud enough on its own to be able to generate enough sound. So you may have to get a little box or a typical stereo amplifier that's in between your turntable and that computer to get connected.

But outside of that, Farai, I mean you need software that allows you to capture what is being recorded. There are free tools out there; there are costly ones. One of the ones that I recommend that's easy for everyone is called Audacity. There's also a new one out by Adobe that's free, and it's perfect for this type of thing.

And basically you hit the record button on the software, put the needle to the record, and then you just let it record. And then you would stop after each track. Or if you just wanted the whole album to record, it could do that as well.

CHIDEYA: This sounds like a lot of work. What alternatives do we have?

ARMSTRONG: It is a lot of work if you're going to sit there through album after album. So, you know, if you only have a few albums, then maybe you do it yourself. If you have a lot of albums or tapes that you would like to have converted digitally, then you want to start looking at services that supply this.

There are a lot of them online. The only thing that I've seen that I'm scared about is that, you know, some of these pay services talk about $20 to convert, say, one album. Or as high as $120 for, say, a two-hour cassette tape that may have sound editing where they take out the hissing and they take out any the pops and all of those things where they actually do some sound engineering to it to make sure it sounds very clean and clear.

CHIDEYA: So it sounds like basically I'm going to have to either lock myself in my house full-time or go broke to do this.

ARMSTRONG: I have the solution, at least one anyway. You shouldn't have to go either way. I found a USB - which is a connection to your computer - turntable. So a turntable that - forget all of the stuff that I said earlier - and you just connect the turntable directly to your computer. It comes with all the software you need, none of all this wiring stuff you have to worry about. And you can do 33-1/3, 45, even those old school 78s just by connecting this to your PC.

CHIDEYA: What would you record first out of your collection if you were digitizing…

ARMSTRONG: Earth, Wind and Fire, man. I have too much Earth, Wind and Fire stuff that I would love to have. Also, I'll confess, I am a Hall and Oates fan, and I have some old school Hall and Oates records that I would love to convert over.

CHIDEYA: All right then.

ARMSTRONG: What about you? Don't put me out there. What about you?

CHIDEYA: Oh gosh…

ARMSTRONG: Chaka Khan?

CHIDEYA: I have old Lionel Richie and Prince and The Police.

ARMSTRONG: Ah, that's right you're a Prince fan. Oh, Police, classic. How can I forget that?


ARMSTRONG: Yeah. See, so all those good memories can come back…

CHIDEYA: And Salt ‘n' Pepa. Salt ‘n' Pepa's here…

(Soundbite of laughter)

ARMSTRONG: And you're saying it correctly, too: Pepa.

CHIDEYA: That's right.

ARMSTRONG: But you can bring all that stuff back to life, Farai. You're right. We're living in this digitized world. So, you know, burn that stuff. Get it on your computer, because then you can have it on your CD or you could put it to you iPod or MP3 player.

CHIDEYA: Well, Mario, thanks a lot.

ARMSTRONG: Thank you, Farai.

CHIDEYA: Mario Armstrong is NEWS & NOTES tech contributor. He also covers technology for Baltimore area NPR member stations WYPR and WEAA.

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