Rich TAkes! On Tech. Import Audio Workflow

I was checking out Audacity for ripping LPs to iTunes. Does anyone have any comments or suggestions for doing this?

gc16035_imic_1Okay, I’ll bite!

My major computer hobby for the last three years has been importing and correcting analog audio. I’ve just about ran out of stuff to import. I’ve found that importing cassettes is far easier than records, either it works or it doesn’t. The major defect with older cassettes is that the tape head pressure pad likes to fall off, the glue fails. They are easy enough to glue back on. Superglue would likely work, although I’ve just been dabbing it with silicon caulk and letting it cure for a while. I only need one good go around anyway. The other major issue is tape drag, this often manifests after a few minutes or so, due to cheap cartridges from the plant. Double play tapes seem more susceptible to this issue too. I’m not sure if there is a fix for that, I’ve just been pitching them after a couple of failed attempts.

A few words about equipment,

it doesn’t have to be expensive, although it helps if it once wasn’t cheap.

The only piece of hardware I use in my set-up which needs to be new is a Griffin iMic.

An iMic is a USB interface which you can add two RCA inputs to a 1/8th inch mini phone plug input. The iMic retails for around thirty bucks. Input is switchable between “line” and “mic”. Just set it where ever it works best for your setup. I use the pre-amp section of a dedicated receiver. Just plug the iMic into the output somewhere, inputs hooked as normal for tape deck, turntable, DVD/VHS player, etc. I record (input) just fine with no speakers hooked to the receiver, and I keep the volume set to zero, speakers off. (It also works at any volume setting, but why run the amp section?) The advantage of using this type of setup includes greater flexibility, greater fidelity since the cartridge likely costs as much or more than an entire USB turntable, and I’m guessing that the RIAA equalization curve settings in the phono section of a receiver is probably more accurate.

iMic allows you to connect microphones and other input devices to your iBook, PowerBook, PowerMac or other Mac or PC systems. All you need is a USB port. iMic supports both mic and line level inputs via a selectable switch, and provides a line-level output for connecting speakers or headphones.

The Griffin iMic sells for under 28 bucks at B&H:

Next, you will need an older decent component style turntable. I like the older Technics Direct Drive models. They seem extremely accurate, and have no belts to wear out. They are readily available at garage sales, on eBay or Craigslist for pennies on the dollar compared to when they were new. I paid twenty bucks for one at a yard sale, even though I already had one. Make sure it has a decent quality magnetic cartridge, I like Grado, Shure, or Audio-Technica. eBay has a nice Top Ten Cartridge List, I’m pretty sure my Grado cartridge comes in at number nine on their list. If you have any doubts about the cartridge in your turntable, it is best to replace it. Expect to pay around a hundred bucks for a good quality cartridge. For our purposes, there is no need to spend hundreds of dollars on a cartridge, just don’t go too cheap.

On the back of the turntable, there is a either a tiny wire or a set screw for ground. Use it. Run an external ground from the receiver (below) as well. I usually pull a receptacle plate and attach it directly to the ground post on the receptacle  which is normally a green screw, currently I have it connected to a ROMEX clamp for metal conduit with a metal utility box. Failure to run the external ground will result in 60 cycle hum.

SX_26600Next you will need a decent older receiver. SONY, Pioneer, Yamaha, something like that. It should have Speakers A-B with an OFF setting for the speakers. Inputs should include PHONO, TAPE, TUNER, AUX or CD. Mine is from the late 80s and includes DAT and VIDEO 1 and VIDEO2/CDV. The total wattage isn’t important, we don’t need bone-jarring wattage, in fact, I don’t recommend hooking up speakers at all. We do need decent quality circuitry, which is why late 70s-early 90s component receivers are great. Anything from 40 Watts RMS and up should be fine, and these can also be had on the cheap. Expect to find one in the 25-100 dollar range. It should have an external antenna section, and if you choose to add an antenna, you’ll be able to import radio too.

I bought a decent JVC HX Pro Dolby tape deck at a pawn shop for 25 bucks, HX PRO was the latest and last hurrah of cassette Dolby noise reduction. Naturally, the higher fidelity is only good for tapes recorded in the HX Pro format.  Dolby B and C are also supported, as well as no noise reduction at all. The correct setting depends entirely on which format the tape was recorded in.

If you want to get extreme with your audio import options, hook up the audio outs from a DVD/VHS player as well. A great option for importing clips of those old VHS tapes you have laying around.

The iMic hooks up to the receiver with a 1/8th inch stereo mini-plug to two RCA connectors. Hook the RCA jacks to any output on the receiver, I think I’m using the tape > out jacks. You may need to experiment to find outputs that stay on all of the time. The mini-phone plug hooks into the iMic at either “Line” or Mic” inputs. You might need a long mini-plug to RCA patch cord, or a USB extension to reach your desktop. I am using a Mac Pro desktop, but this method should work with any computer, desktop or laptop. With either option, you will want to use a quality 2.1 external USB speaker system to monitor your import. I’d suggest to stay away from really heavy bass thumpy external speaker systems. We are looking for accuracy to monitor the audio.


First you need to import the file, which is where an audio editor comes into play. Audacity works fine, as well as several other audio editors. I like Sound Studio best. Just open a new file, start your analog media, and hit record. Adjust your input levels in Sound Studio accordingly. You want just below clipping for the loudest section of your import.

Sampling/bit-rates: CD standards are 44.1 KHz/16 bit. This setting works fine for tapes. It might be a good idea to increase this to 88.2 KHz/24 bit for vinyl records, since further processing might be involved, in which case, more information is better. It can be changed back to CD standard rates after editing. You will be recording in an uncompressed AIFF audio format. It will result in a huge file size, but it is needed since CD only recognizes AIFF natively.

I am a huge fan of Sound Studio, it’s been my editor of choice for years. Although v2 was quite buggy and crashed a lot, v3 has been extremely bullet-proof. The current version is Sound Studio 4, and is being developed by the original developer again. I can’t speak to the current version, although I’d guess it’s as good or better than v3. It is available in the App Store for 29.99, which is less than the old upgrade price. While every other item I’ve talked about in this thread are all cross-platform, Sound Studio is Mac only, and supports lots of command + shortcuts right out of the box. Command (+) or (-) expands or contracts the waveform, very helpful for quick editing, while Option + I invokes Interpolate, which is used for eliminating those defects. (I may have re-mapped Interpolate to Option + I) It is very powerful, as you can interpolate high to low, or more often low to low in the waveform. This is achieved by selecting the area that you wish to interpolate. For example, if you see a huge spike in the waveform, which is almost never music, zoom way in, mouse just to the left, and select the area to just of the right of the spike. It is high-lighted, and Option + I, and shazam! No more spike.

Another powerful tool in Sound Studio is the create marker function. Command + M. After an import, I usually go back to the start, and somewhere before and after the needle drop is a bunch of low noise, no sound. Mouse to where you want to start your file, click the timeline, and Edit>Create marker. Command + M. Then double click in the waveform to the left of the marker you just added, this will highlight everything up to the marker. Hit delete. If you do this in between two markers, it will delete everything selected, plus the marker to the left. Continue adding markers for the beginning of each track.

Say for example you have a recording with six tracks on side one, and as you imported side two you have another long section with noise and mostly nothing before the music starts. Scroll in the track to where you want side two to start and add a marker, which in this case will be marker 7. Scroll back to the beginning of the end of side one, where you want the audio to stop, and add marker 8. Double click between the two markers, which selects that portion of the waveform, hit delete. Marker 8 gets deleted as well. The thing to remember is that delete will delete the selected audio, plus the marker to the left. That is why setting marker 1 where you want to start and deleting everything left of it works so easily.

So what is the point of setting markers, other than easily deleting unwanted audio? Maybe side two didn’t record at as high a level as side one. Select between whatever part of the audio, and increase the volume. (or decrease, for that matter). I mainly use the markers to cut out tracks, without actually cutting them out until I’m done editing. The real reason is the split by markers function. Select this, and all of your marker tracks will be saved as Marker 1, Marker 2, etc, as individual files. I usually save them to the same folder that I have the entire file in. With recent equipment, it takes less than a minute to cut out all of the tracks. You can also edit your marker names, but I’ve found that is needless extra work in my workflow.

Then I open Toast. Select Audio CD. I select all of the individual Marker 1, Marker 2, etc, tracks that I just exported, and drag them into the Toast window. Select all in toast, and set the time between tracks to zero (or how many seconds you wish). Go back and set the time for track one to 2 seconds. That’s a CD thing, you need to do this. Add the name of the album in the field at the top of the Toast window, and select more options or info. In the next window that opens, add the artist and year (I forgot if year is an option, LOL!) Select add to all. Burn to CD.

Now you have a CD standards compliant CD. When Toast asks mount or eject, select mount. If iTunes is not open, go to the desktop and drag the audio disk onto the iTunes icon in the Dock. iTunes will open, and depending on your settings, it should auto-magically consult whatever CD database they are using these days and auto-populate everything, title names, album name, year, the whole works. Do you want to import to your library? I do! That is the whole point of this exercise!

I have encountered some media which wasn’t in the DB, and I had to manually enter it. That happens less than 5% of the time.

Editing defects from a vinyl import:

Most older vinyl has many scratches, pops, etc. Major offenders can be simply edited out manually using Audacity or Sound Studio, although it is very time-consuming. (Use the “Interpolate” command in Sound Studio). For stuff that can not be manually removed, I like ClickRepair. It runs in a Java environment, so you may need to install the Java Runtime Environment (JRE), since Apple quit including Java by default. Instructions are included. Anyway, it is well worth the 40 bucks to register ClickRepair, you would be amazed at how well this thing works. A JAR file is included in the download, it runs in Java 6 SE. You can run ClickRepair directly from the tiny JAR file, and/or you can also install it again directly, from this Apple link:

Java for OS X 2014-001

More info here:

“ClickRepair is a mature, well-tested, application for declicking and decrackling audio in uncompressed audio files. It has been developed over a period of many years. There is an extensive user manual that is part of the download package. ClickRepair will not operate on compressed audio files, such as mp3, and there are no plans to incorporate such a feature.”

You won’t believe the difference running your file through Click Repair makes. Repairing defects in reverse optionally is a huge feature, too! Especially handy for cymbals, horns, and other hard attack elements.

Final notes:

Getting the album title and artist correct is important, it is how iTunes consults the database.

Two, after I burn the CD, I go back to the import folder and delete the individual tracks, I usually keep the original one piece import file, just for backup purposes if nothing else. You might want to delete that too, if disc space is an issue.

Three: manually entering the meta-data is not that tough using Get Info (Command + I) in iTunes. It is a pain, but is helped by using the previous or next button in the Get Info window.

Four: You don’t need the latest and greatest version of Roxio’s Toast. Any version from 8 to today’s version 12 should work, I’m using version 10.

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