Adventures In CD Recording

Recording vinyl records onto a CD is easy – and worth it

A vinyl LP on a turntable
Matt Cardy/Getty Images

The Dilemma: Preserving Vinyl Records

I love my vinyl fecord collection. I love my 15-year-old Technics SL-QD33(k) Direct Drive Turntable. Its Audio Technica PT-600 Cartridge has served me very well in the listening of my favorite record albums.

I also love to listen to music while working on this site. I usually load my workhorse Technics 5-Disc SL-PD888 CD changer in my office and listen to several hours of music while working.

However, I would also like to listen to my vinyl recordings while working as well. I could move my turntable into the office; however, since I would have to turn the records over every 40 minutes or so, this would interrupt my workflow.

The answer to this dilemma: why not make copies of my vinyl record collection onto CD? I have a CD-burner in one of my PCs; however, the process of downloading the music from my vinyl records into the hard drive, then burning them on CDs, then deleting the files off the hard drive afterward and repeating this process just takes to too long. I would also have to remove the turntable from my main system. In addition, I would need an additional phono preamp to connect the turntable to my PC's sound card line input. 

The Solution: Record Them To CD

A standalone audio CD recorder. Not only could I make CD copies of my vinyl records, but I could just integrate the CD recorder to my existing main system.

In addition, the CD recorder not only will generate copies of my records, but since choice records in my collection are no longer in print or on CD, I can use this method to preserve my recordings in case my turntable malfunctions or the records themselves become damaged, warped, or otherwise unplayable.

Guide Confession: I have never personally owned an audio cassette deck. I have owned a couple of reel-to-reel audio tape decks in my life, including the classic AMPEX PR-10. However, I have never been totally satisfied with the audio quality of audio cassette technology, with its limited frequency response, dynamic range, and inherent tape hiss (even though improvements such as Dolby HX-Pro and S have made the audio cassette sound more palatable).

The idea of making audio cassette copies of my vinyl records, or buying audio cassette versions of my favorite recordings, never really excited me too much. Now, with CD recorders becoming a much more reasonable option, there is finally an affordable format for me to copy my older vinyl recordings, that maintains the quality of the original recording and allows me to play the CDs on any of my several CD players.

Having decided on this approach, which CD recorder to choose? CD recorders come in several varieties, single well, dual well, and multi-well (for more info on various types of CD recorders, check out my current CD Recorder Top Picks.

Since I already have a dual-CD drive (CD/DVD player and CD writer) in my PC, capable of duplicating audio files at 8X normal speed, I didn't need a dual-well deck.

Also, since I am not planning to mix-and-match cuts from several CDs at once, I didn't need a multi-well deck. All I needed was a good single-well CD recorder that was up to the task and easy to use.

So, I set out to a local retailer to pick up an audio CD recorder. My choice: The Pioneer PDR-609 CD-R/CD-RW recorder. The price was a very reasonable on sale. I also picked up a ten-pack of audio CD-R disks to get me started.

Upon arriving home with the unit, I proceeded to open the box and integrate the CD recorder into my system. The Pioneer PDR-609 comes with everything you need to get started: the recorder, a remote control, instructions, and two sets of AV cables.

Although the PDR-609 has both digital-coax and optical in/outs, you need to purchase those cables separately. Since I would be using this unit with the analog source of my turntable, for the time being, this was not an issue.

On the top left side of the unit, there is a large sticker explaining to the user what type of blank CD media the PDR-609 is able to use. Although this is a CD-R/RW recorder, you do not use the same type of blank CD-R/RWs you would use in a computer. Blank CD media for use in CD audio recorders must have a "Digital Audio" or "For Audio Use Only" marking on the package. The differences in the laser pickups and data requirements for Computer CDR/RW drives make this distinction important.

Installing the PDR-609 was a breeze. All I had to do is hook it up to my AV receiver's tape monitor loop, just as I would an analog audio tape deck. However, recording with this unit is a little different than recording from your typical tape deck; you just don't press the record button.

The PDR-609 has features that you find on a high-end audio cassette deck and then some. There are several interesting set-ups and options that make this unit very flexible, especially in the recording of vinyl records.

First of all, I like the fact that it has a standard headphone jack and separate headphone level control. Secondly, in conjunction with the Monitor switch and both Analog AND Digital input level controls (as well as a Balance control and two-channel LED level meter), you can easily setup the input sound levels. One cautionary note, you want to make sure that your loudest peaks do not reach the red "OVER" indicator on the LED level meters, this will cause distortion on your recording.

Note: Before recording, be sure your vinyl albums are as clean as possible

Now, to start recording. Basically, you choose your input source, Analog, Optical, or Coaxial. For the purpose of my recordings, I chose Analog. Now, to set your levels, turn on the Monitor function, put your record on the turntable, play the first track, and adjust your input levels as discussed above.

Now, the question is, how can I record both sides of my record without having to manually pause and start the CD recorder at the proper times? Well, Pioneer has an interesting solution that is perfect for recording vinyl records. The Synchro feature does everything for you except flip the record. This feature enables you to automatically record just one cut at a time or the entire side of a record, stopping and starting at the correct time.

The Synchro feature can sense the sound that the tonearm cartridge makes when hitting the surface of the record and stops when the cartridge lifts off at the end. If the record surface is extremely quiet, the unit can even pause between cuts and still "kick in" just as the music starts. You would think that beginnings of songs would be cut off, due to delay time, but so far the system seems to work well for me. What is especially nice is that the when the unit pauses after playing one side of a record, you have all the time in the world to flip and then the PDR-609 restarts and records the second side automatically. This is real time saver; I can start the recording, go off and do something else, then come back and keep going. If I want to check the progress of the recording, I can just pop on some headphones and monitor the recording.

Another interesting feature that aids in the recording of vinyl recordings is the ability to set the "silence threshold". With vinyl records having more surface noise that is not present on digital sources like CDs, the CD recorder may not recognize the space between cuts as silence and, thus, may not number the recorded tracks properly. If you wish to have accurate track numbering on your CD copy, you can actually set the -DB levels of the Auto Track function.

Once your recording is finished, however, you can't just take your newly created CD and play it in any CD player; you must go through a process called finalization. This process is important in that it labels the number of cuts on the CD and makes the file structure on the disc compatible for play on any CD player. Caution: once you finalize a disc, you cannot record anything else on it, even if you have empty space.

This process is actually very easy. All you have to do is press the "Finalize" button. The PDR-609 then reads the disc and displays how much time (usually about two minutes) the finalization process will take. After this message is displayed on the LED display, just press the record/pause button and the process begins. When the finalization process is finished, the CD Recorder stops.

Conclusion

Voila! You can now take your completed CD and play it in any CD, CD/DVD player, or PC/MAC CD or DVD Rom Drive. The quality of the copies is excellent, although it's kind of weird to hear the sound of a tonearm drop and disc surface noise on a CD!

Now, this is only the tip of the iceberg with regards to the capabilities of the Pioneer PDR-609 CD recorder. You can also record from digital audio sources (as mentioned earlier), but I haven't utilized its digital input recording capabilities yet. You can also create your own fade-ins and fade-outs between cuts. This unit also has  CD-text capability, which allows you to label your CD and each of its individual cuts. This information can be read by CD and/or CD/DVD players and CD/DVD-Rom drives, with TEXT reading capability. The text functions and other additional features can be accessed easily from the provided remote control.

In conclusion, while many vinyl record enthusiasts may consider the copying of vinyl recordings onto CD less than desirable, it is certainly a convenient way to enjoy such recordings in your office or car, where a turntable many not be available. Also, as stated earlier, this may be the best way to "preserve" out-of-print recordings that may never be re-issued either on vinyl or CD. Also, with its analog input capability, it would interesting to experiment with live performances using an audio mixer with RCA audio outputs and CD-RW blank recording media.

From all indications so far, the Pioneer PDR-609 is an excellent choice for a stand-alone audio CD recorder. By the way, it is also a great CD player as well.