With the seemingly inexorable move to the use of a computer as an audio source, there has never been a more appropriate time to consider ripping your existing music. Ripping CDs is relatively easy – just pop them in the slot, make sure the music software is suitably and properly set up, and the computer should do the rest. By way of contrast, digitising your LPs can be a tedious and mind-numbing process, but one that can also be ultimately rewarding, cost saving and fantastic sounding.
Why you should do it?
There are good reasons to digitise your record collection. First, you can preserve the best-possible version of your LP for archival purposes. Your records are never going to sound as good as when they first leave the record sleeve, or when they are fresh off the record cleaning machine, so that is the perfect time to port them across to your computer.
Perhaps more importantly, it means you don’t have to re-purchase your existing record collection. One of the problems with CD was if someone decided to migrate across to polycarbonate exclusively, it was very difficult to incorporate your existing LP collection and the usual way of overcoming this was to re-buy any recordings you still wanted to listen to in the digital age. In fact, the music industry has come to increasingly rely upon listeners buying the same recording time and time again with each successive format. However, by ripping your LPs to computer, you aren’t forced into buying the latest remix, remaster or reprocessed copy on the next file format… you already have the original.
Finally, it allows you to access your vinyl recordings in the digital domain. That sounds obvious, of course, but it means if you have a media player like an iPod or a smartphone, you get to carry your record collection round with you everywhere. In addition to saving money on new downloads (see above), there is something psychologically comforting about hearing the gentle crackle of the lead-in groove as your commuter train gets stuck in a siding outside of Paddington for 35 bloody minutes. Interestingly, staying with the psychology of personal audio, I find when listening to ripped vinyl, I tend to listen to the whole album and not to become my own shuffle mode so readily. I don’t know why this is and I don’t even know whether it applies to a select few or applies universally. But there’s something about playing vinyl recordings burned to an iPod that appears to be more appealing to the human condition (well, this human’s condition at least) than an all digital solution can provide.
Why you shouldn’t you do it?
One of the big issues with ripping your vinyl is the inconvenience factor. Not so much in the recording process, but editing and adding metadata to the tracks once they are on the hard drive. There are programs that can help, by helping you edit the tracks quickly and individually, running off to music database sites to populate metadata, album cover etc (all you need to do is enter the album title). But even the best of these occasionally falls foul of the more left field part of one’s LP collection and the only way to do the job properly is fully manually. Which can be a chore. Generally, those who tried ripping their vinyl and gave up, usually fell at this hurdle, but recently this hurdle’s bar has lowered considerably.
Once again falling into the potential trap of anecdotal pop psychology, some of us appear to be more troubled by the presence of clicks, pops and crackles (no matter how mild they be) when they are emanating from what should be a digital format. We expect our digital sources to have a silent (or perhaps more accurately, ‘uniformly very low noise’) background, and to have that near-silence punctuated by echoes of the past can sometimes detract from the listening experience. In particular, we seem especially prone to hearing end of side distortion and track damage on digital transfers that we are more willing to forgive when the record is playing in real time. Track clean-up applications designed to remove clicks, pops and scratches have their place, but often the cure is worse than the disease. However, if you have a record that sounds like bacon frying (it’s lunchtime as I write this) some mild corrective measures can help.