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Choosing the ‘correct’ workflow to import vinyl/minimising signal loss, Moved from Audio Hardware
post Feb 26 2012, 16:54
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i'm predominantly versed in the field of photographic film capture and digitised images. But when it comes to a workflow for vinyl audio importation, i would really appreciate some advice.

i already have a workflow, but i would like to improve it (hence it will cost more money, always a compromise).

currently i have a TT with reasonable stylus (20-22kHz freq. response), reasonable phono stage (20-20kHz), good RCA interconnects but an average sound card with 'claimed' 24/96 IO which does not have RCA inputs.

i want to upgrade my vinyl source one day to something that supports 20-30kHz, and then match a phono stage and finally a sound card...

what are the best practices when selecting a sound card, or destination device to capture this analog source given my setup requirements?

which inputs produce less noise in an electrical sense - USB based, PCI sound cards, RCA inputs, TDM sync buses, particular product brands, amount of money spent, etc ?

IE. what is the most appropriate method of importing vinyl by losing the least amount of signal information at the destination ?

the only sense i could make of all these workflow questions is to match all components relatively, ie. price, specs. I don't know which audio companies/manufacturers are highly rated without spending a lifetime reviewing brochures and white papers...

i would appreciate some advice.

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post Feb 27 2012, 02:45
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How long's a piece of string? ;-)

Remember this first: many vinyls are cut using different gear, calibrated differently, almost never the same twice. Stampers wear out and DMMs are wont to suffer from a greater propensity toward sibiliance (they're less forgiving if cut hot). If you want perfect tracking and reproduction every single time, you have to know a: how the master was cut and b: how to reproduce the cutting lathe's setup on your own TT. There's more chance you'll win the lottery than ever knowing this information, so be pragmatic. If you TRULY want perfection, you'll need the engineer to cut you a dub from source tapes for a one-use playback. ;-)

Audio has parallels with video; you want to achieve best possible SNR throughout. A clean, few-steps-as-possible route is preferred. This doesn't need thousands of £/$ spending but some careful TLC will avoid common pitfalls. In my humble opinion, the best things to sort, in this priority, are:

I spent ~£400 having my 1210s professionally serviced recently and it was money well spent - their SQ now is mindblowing. Paired with even a decent everyday cart (Shure Whitelabel) and with a correctly adjusted tonearm the sound is marvellous, much better than before.

1) Pick your stylus and cart carefully.
You may prefer an elliptical styli for superior groove read even though the wear rate is marginally higher. Don't stick to clinical decision making though, investigate 'musical' combinations because heck, ultimately you have to like what you're hearing (more on this later).

2) Get your tonearm balance right!!! and double, triple, quadruple check azimuth, VTA, SRA, antiskate. The last thing you want to do is introduce excessive wear to your groove which will permanently damage it.
There's much FUD around this and only so much you can achieve with the gear you have so do your reading carefully and always second-opinion yourself. Consider buying (or making) an alignment tool. Quick reference #1: http://www.gcaudio.com/resources/howtos/cartbasics.html

3) Get a preamp which has low self noise and, ideally, >80 <=100 dB dynamic range.
Earth point is important, no AC hum is handy wink.gif and balanced outs are also nice - but I rock a cheapo Behringer PP400 mini phono preamp which just has RCA in and out (plus 5.25mm jack) for most of my casual listening / archiving, and... y'know what? It's really not bad. Not superb, but not bad at all. REMEMBER: Vinyl has an estimated DR of 80 dB (average, good quality) to 120 dB (best case on high gsm PVC) - the HA wiki discusses this at length. You do not need the world's most expensive pre to get a good sounding recording!

4) The quality of your audio interface will really help.
Get something nice if you don't already; budget for £150-300 - something outboard with a nice sounding ADC stage that can work natively at 44.1 kHz, 48 kHz, 88.2 kHz, 96 kHz etc, by going outboard you can often avoid most of the sources of RF and EM interference that plague internal and onboard soundcards. There's many manufacturers who produce affordable gear in this range; M-Audio, Focusrite, RME, MOTU, PreSonus, Apogee... (I love Apogee but it's realistically out of the budget I set earlier).

Chances are even if you have one of those "HD" on-board soundcards it won't actually be any good at capturing above 20 kHz (bar one or two, all of them are useless). If I had quality outboard audio interface that could ACTUALLY do 192 kHz sampling, and my preamp was decent, I think I'd definitely want to try it to compare results with an 88.2 and 44.1 kHz cap although I'd probably still settle on 88.2 kHz at 24 bit... You are NOT going to get an advantage capping at 24/96 or 24/192 unless your source is an ELP Laser Turntable ;-) plus the additional noise you add by dithering 24 -> 16 bit just isn't worth any negligible increase in SNR IMHO. Remember your source material likely has a SNR well below 80 dB and a well mastered CD decoded with oversampling can have upward of 140 dB but we're talking lab conditions here.

5a) Run everything off a common ground.
I cannot overstate the importance of this. Make a sacrificial multiway if necessary (unplugging earth pins FTW) or get an EMO PDU if you have money sloshing around in a spare Cayman Islands bank account.

5b) Run audio and power cables perpendicular; avoid crossing them if at all possible. If you run them parallel the audio lines will act as lovely long pickup aerials for your 50/60 Hz + harmonics.

6) If wiring your own cartridge, check the wiring schematic. Nobody likes a partially inverted audio signal.

7) make sure your deck's level and it's not inadvertently picking up rumble from traffic or you thumping around in the room whilst the record plays.
I've used piles of t-shirts and pillows in the past as quick 'n dirty isolation from the desk; nowadays I use a mattress and VERY CAREFULLY move around the room. I have a mini Draper spirit level which has both flat and diagonically-mounted levels so I can quickly check the deck on its surface. To avoid picking up bumps and super low frequency sound I'll usually sit and watch the deck whilst it plays if I'm archiving in. Don't believe me? Sit the cart in the groove of a record without it spinning, hit record and walk around the room. Gently hit whatever surface the deck is on a few times, even tapping it should transmit audio through into the recording. You'll need good monitoring or a keen eye for the spectral / waveform view in your DAW to see it, but it'll be there. If you have nearfields, you can gently rest a finger on the cone to feel really low end energy. Now you know that LF stuff is there, avoid creating it in the first place! ;-)

I almost bought some Freefloat Turntable Stabilizers a few years ago but didn't due to their cost at the time... Now reconsidering them but must do more research to see how well they actually do, whether they work well or are more a gimmick than anything else. Also been wondering if inflatable camping pillows would work comparably. Many people come up with their own DIY isolation solutions, c.f. http://www.audiokarma.org/forums/showthread.php?t=204628 and http://www.avguide.com/forums/turntable-is...platform?page=1 (Google is your friend.) Some may also suggest Vibrapods, my personal opinion is these are cone-shaped snake oil holders.

If you want to go crazy, you could even try recording a turntable's output direct without deemphasis, and then apply the RIAA curve in software after you've digitised. This can be tricky though as it's obviously a curve and most plugins won't accommodate for a nonlinear cut/boost across a wide frequency range; I'd also bet that my Behringer PP400 probably does a better job than 95% of the EQ plugins out there so I'd recommend you only try this with 'mastering' level (or at least some seriously good) EQ plugins.

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