Rich Warren: Plenty of options to get music on CDs
While the currently hip forsake CDs for vinyl LPs, a lot of folks still appreciate the convenience of CDs and their relative resistance to damage. With a CD, the 100th or even 1,000th play usually sounds the same as the first. Even the most passionate vinyl lovers can't make that claim.
Which brings us to this reader question: "Just wondering if you have a particular model or brand of recording devices to buy so that I can convert my old records and tapes to CDs. I would appreciate your thoughts."
You can approach this from five directions. The road to perfection requires time and effort by playing a tape deck or an LP on a quality turntable/phono cartridge into a computer. This allows using software to clean up the sound and tailor the CD to your preferences.
Our reader further qualified his request by specifying he'd prefer the easier, less-versatile route of an all-in-one device. He wants to drop the needle on the record and push the record button. At the end of the process, the LP, with its individual tracks, results in a ready-to-play CD. This assumes the device gets the tracks correct and doesn't insert tracks during soft parts of the music.
Another option is connecting a stand-alone turntable, usually with a pre-amplifier built-in or attached to a stand-alone CD recorder. This permits using a high-quality turntable and phono cartridge with a good preamp into a garden-variety CD burner.
Expect to spend $300 for the bare minimum to twice that much for a good turntable, preamp and CD recorder. This requires a bit more effort than an all-in-one unit, but remains easier than using a computer.
If you prefer easy, and are willing to spend money, you can replicate most of your existing record collection by downloading many of the albums from iTunes and burning them directly to CD. While many rare and collectors' items may not be available via iTunes (or other online music sources), most people are surprised by the wealth that waits online. The bonus is pristine sound.
The easiest way to transfer LPs and tapes to CD results from not doing it yourself at all. A number of reputable businesses, locatable online, or sometimes locally in major cities, offer to transfer analog recordings to CD for a modest fee. They even take care of the labeling. They also transfer analog videos to DVD.
I have not used these services, so I cannot recommend a specific business. However, Internet ratings and comments usually steer you in the right direction.
A company called Ion focuses on selling gear that converts analog sources to CD. It markets the $300 LP 2 CD, which is a turntable with a built-in CD recorder. CNET generally liked it, but noted that "construction quality doesn't match price."
Teac designed its $210 GF-350 to look like an old-fashioned record player/radio, which is hokey. Apparently, similar models appear under different brand names. Although Teac still lists it, the GF-350 may be discontinued (you still can find it used online). Crosley markets very similar units in the $300-$350 price range. Wal-Mart lists them on its website.
Overall, enthusiasm waned over the past few years for converting vinyl to CD. Very few all-in-one models appear on the Internet. Various software remains for those using computers, but the best software, Audacity (http://audacity.sourceforge.net) is free, although not the easiest to use.
Transferring any sizable vinyl collection to CD consumes an immense amount of time. Most of us expect to download a three-minute song in 30 seconds or rip a one-hour CD in five minutes.
No matter what method you use, transferring vinyl resembles driving on Chicago's Dan Ryan Expressway in rush hour. You just can't go faster because you have to play the LP in real time.
Rich Warren, who lives in the Champaign area, is a longtime reviewer of consumer electronics. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.