If you don't clean up the sound when you make the digital copy, you'll forever wish you had.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983


Digitizing your phono records? Here's how to clean up the noise

July 11, 2010

Reader recommends DAK phono digitizing system
By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2010, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2010, The Post-Standard

   I'm often asked how to make digital audio files -- for those who want to create audio CDs or MP3s -- out of old phonograph records. There are two ways, not one.
   Here's the fast way. You play the phonograph record on any old record player and send the audio signals to your computer. At the computer, you use recording software to capture the sound, and then burn a CD from the recorded sound or turn the recorded audio into MP3 files.
   The longer way is much better. You find a good-quality turntable -- you might have one from your old bell-bottom days -- and plug it into a stereo receiver. You clean each record thoroughly (wash it in warm water with Ivory Liquid, then rinse and dry it). Then you play it, sending the audio from the "Tape Out" jacks of the receiver into your computer and make the recording.
   You then use good audio recording software to save the captured sound of each side of the record as digital audio files, in WAV or AIFF format. (This is a must. Never save the original as an MP3. It's not editable.) Next, you run the recorded audio through a cleanup program that removes clicks, pops and gritty noise. Finally, you export the audio as an MP3 or burn it to an audio CD.
   (For effective and no-nonsense audio editing, Windows users have a great $25 program called Wave Flow, from www.waveflow.com. Mac users have Fission, $32, from www.rogueamoeba.com.)
   The two cleanup routines, one physical, the other electrical, make a huge difference in the sound. After all, every click and pop will assault your ears each time you play that recording. If you don't clean up the sound when you make the digital copy, you'll forever wish you had.
   It's not hard. I highly recommend the software I use, called SoundSoap 2, which works with both Windows and Macs and costs $99. Go to www.bias-inc.com. (The "pro" version of SoundSoap 2 is much more expensive but isn't necessary for most users.)
   The best feature of SoundSoap 2 is the way it automatically tunes itself into all the noise in a recording. Once it has learned to distinguish noises of all types, you can tell it to take out the noise. It's that simple.
   You can even switch in a cool "invert" function that plays just the noise that's being removed. A split-screen display in the center shows, on the left, the incoming (and noisy) sound and, on the right, the filtered version. You're never left wondering what's going on as SoundSoap 2 removes clicks, crackles, hiss, hum, rumble, and other unwanted noise.
   SoundSoap 2 automatically knows whether you're installing it on a Windows PC or Mac and puts the correct version on your computer. It can run as a normal stand-alone program or as a plugin for advanced audio editors.