Saving your record collection
During his tenure as a Crutchfield staff writer, Marshall Chase wrote about home theater receivers, sound bars, and in-wall and in-ceiling speakers.
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There's been a resurgent interest in records, recently. Twenty-somethings have made the format retro-cool, adding to the ranks of those who never gave up on records. And others have rediscovered the listening value of their forgotten collections and even added more titles thanks to irresistible yard-sale prices. But the fundamental problems that have always plagued records, preservation and lack of portability remain. One solution is to digitize your collection.
The argument can be made that much of the music you already have on records can be bought on CD or downloaded from the Internet, so why do it yourself? I won't dispute that point. But the operative word here is bought. Not many of us like to spend money to buy something we already own. Perhaps your records have special meaning to you that goes beyond dollar signs.
Or you could even have a "situation." I recall a customer who had a collection of early Chicago blues and jazz records that had me practically drooling. Not everyone in his family liked the music, so he wanted to put everything on disc so he could sit in his car and listen in peace. Hopefully, your situation isn't as dire. But there are times when it would be nice to hold your entire record collection in the palm of your hand.
Killer dust bunnies
Before you start, it's a good idea to make your source material (the records) as clean as possible. Dirt is the enemy of records, whether you have 45s, 33s or 78s. Records have grooves and that's where the dust loves to settle. This will do evil unto your records when played back both in fidelity and as further damage through abrasion. I recommend that you give all of your records the brush — like the AudioQuest record brush pictured at left, that is.
Gentle cleaning methods are preferred when it comes to records. Lint-free cloths, cotton diapers and distilled water have been in the tool kit of record collectors for years. Once your record is clean it is best to store it inside of its paper sleeve with the opening facing up. Gently slide the record into the cardboard album cover. This positioning will both keep the record from sliding out onto the floor and offers greater protection from dust re-entry. If your original sleeves and covers are not in the best of shape, replacements can often be found with a little online research. Best storage practice is for records to remain vertical and in a place away from extremes in temperature and humidity.
Obviously, you are going to need a turntable.
Many turntables, like the Pro-Ject Debut III USB, have a digital output that connects directly to a computer, or in some cases, a thumb drive. Such models enable direct digital recording and some provide noise clean-up with included software. Or you can use free-to-download software, like Audacity®.
If you already have a turntable, you can still do digital conversion using an analog-to-digital converter. I think the best kind are external, like you will find in the Pro-Ject Phono Box II USB. If you have a receiver that doesn't have a dedicated phono input, you will either need a turntable with a built-in pre-amp or an external pre-amp to connect your turntable to an available auxiliary input.
If you are trying to archive 78 rpm records, it's good to keep some things in mind. First, 78s are best played at 78 speed. While there are some software packages that can "correct" the speed, the sound is not quite the same. If you have a turntable that can play at 78rpm, you probably don't have a stylus that does. The grooves on a 78 are wider than they are on vinyl records. This requires a special stylus and cartridge as well as adjustment of the turntable arm. Please remember, especially with treasured recordings, that improper equipment can damage your records.
In a sentimental mood
No one can truly define the value of your records to you. That would be like a stranger looking at a family photo and trying to tell the story behind it. Just like making a scrap book, people take record archiving to different levels. My own hope is that the resurgent interest in vinyl and 78s goes beyond the curiosity of the technology and into the meaning of the music and stories behind each record you hold dear.