How to Preserve Vinyl Records On CD

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

A vinyl LP on a turntable
Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Listening to vinyl records at home is great. However, you can't spend all day in your listening room — you would also like to listen to your vinyl in other rooms around the house, and also in the car.

One option is to copy vinyl records onto CDs.

There are three methods to copy Vinyl Records to CD

  • Use a PC.
  • Use a standalone CD Recorder.
  • Use a Turntable/CD Recorder Combination.

Keep in mind that with all three methods, transfer of vinyl record content to CD is done in real-time.

Turntable Connections

Before you start to copy vinyl records to CD you need to be familiar with the types of connections a turntable may come with. 

Denon DP-400 Turntable – Rear View
Denon

Depending on the Turntable brand or model, one or more of the following connection options may be included. 

Audio Out with Ground or Audio Out with Built-in Equalizer/Preamp.

Denon DP-400 Turntable Connection Options Spotlighted
Denon

If you have a turntable that only has the audio out with ground option, you will need an external preamp/equalizer to connect the turntable to standard RCA audio inputs on a PC or CD recorder if they don't have a corresponding audio input/ground connection option.

Pro-Ject Phono Box MM – Phono Preamp
Pro-Ject

USB Output

A growing number of turntables come equipped with a USB port. In most cases, this allows the connection of the turntable directly to a PC. However, for some turntables, the USB port may only allow direct copy from the turntable to a USB flash drive. 

Ion Audio LP 2 CD Turntable with USB Port

Select Turntables with a USB port may also come with audio editing software.

Using a PC or Laptop with a CD burner

Using a PC with a CD-burner in combination with a turntable connected to an analog-to-digital USB audio converter or a turntable with a USB output are ways to get started.

  • If your turntable doesn't have a USB output, but your PC has analog audio inputs you may need an additional phono preamp to connect the turntable to a PC's sound card line input if it doesn't have a built-in preamp/equalizer.
  • You may also need additional software.
Asus DRW-24B1ST DVD/CD-R Drive
Amazon

PC Advantages

PC Disadvantages

  • Transferring music from vinyl records to a PC hard drive, burning them to CDs, then deleting the files off the hard drive afterward (depending on how much hard drive space you have), and repeating this process takes extra time.

Using a Standalone CD Recorder

Another way to copy vinyl records is with a standalone audio CD recorder. You can make CD copies of vinyl records, as well as play other CDs you might have.

Pioneer PDR-609 CD Recorder – Front and Rear Views

CD-Recorder Availability

CD recorders are getting rare, but there are still several brands and models available.

Use The Right Discs

Use blank CDs marked "Digital Audio" or "For Audio Use Only", some CD data discs may not be compatible. Disc compatibility information should be provided in the CD recorder user manual. Also, you can choose between CD-R discs (record once - best for straight dubbing) or CD-RW discs (re-writable and erasable).

Pioneer PDR-609 CD Recorder – Status Display

Setup Considerations

Setting up most CD recorders is not difficult, but you may not be able to connect your turntable directly to your CD recorder unless your turntable has a built-in phono preamp/equalizer. This means you have three connection options:

  1. You can get an external phono preamp that you place between the turntable and the audio input of the CD recorder.
  2. Get a turntable that has a built-in phono preamp.
  3. If you have a stereo or home theater receiver with dedicated phono inputs that you are already using to listen to your vinyl records, you can select the turntable as your source and send its audio out to the CD recorder via the receiver's tape or preamp outputs for recording.
Pioneer PDR-609 CD Recorder – Analog Audio Connections

Monitoring Your Recording

If the CD recorder has a headphone jack, there may be a monitor function that allows you to listen to your vinyl record as it is being recorded. As you listen to the incoming signal, you can use the CD recorder's level control (there may also be a balance control) to set the most comfortable sound levels for your copy. If the CD recorder has LED level meters, you will be able to see if the incoming signal is too loud.

Make sure that your loudest peaks do not reach the red "over" indicator on the level meters, this will cause distortion on your recording.

Pioneer PDR-609 CD Recorder – Left Side Controls - Monitor Highlighted

Recording Both Sides

One issue recording from a vinyl record to a CD is how to record both sides of the record without having to manually pause and start the CD recording at the proper time. In many cases, you do have to manually pause and then restart the recording.

However, If your CD recorder has a Synchro feature recording two sides of a record is a lot easier.

You can 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 senses the sound that the tonearm cartridge makes when hitting the surface of the record and stops when the cartridge lifts off. The recorder can pause between cuts and still "kick in" just as the music starts.
  • When the recorder pauses after playing one side of a record, you have time to flip the record. The CD recording will restart on the second side when the recorder "hears" the stylus drop again on the record.
  • The Synchro feature is a time saver as you can start the recording, do something else, then come back to flip the record.
Pioneer PDR-609 CD Recorder – Right Side Controls – Synchro Highlighted

The Silence Threshold

Another feature you may find on a CD recorder is the ability to set the "silence threshold". This fine-tunes the effectiveness of the Synchro, as well as any Auto Track recording feature. Since vinyl records have surface noise unlike digital sources, such as commercial 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 set the -dB levels of the silence threshold.

Fades and Text

Some CD recorders allow you to create fade-ins and fade-outs between cuts. Some also have CD-Text capability, which allows you to label a 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 can usually be entered using the keypad on the remote control, but some high-end and professional CD recorders may allow the connection of a Windows-style keyboard.

Finalization

Once your recording is finished, you can't just take your created CD and play it in any CD player; you must go through a process called finalization. This process labels the number of cuts on the CD and makes the file structure on the disc compatible for play on any CD player. To finalize, just press the "Finalize" button on the recorder or the remote control. On some CD recorders the estimated finalization time, and its progress, will be displayed on the front panel status display. You should be able to play the finalized CD on any CD, CD/DVD player, or PC/MAC CD or DVD Rom Drive.

Pioneer PDR-609 CD Recorder – Left Side Controls - Finalize Highlighted

Once you finalize a CD-R disc, you cannot record anything else on it, even if you have empty space.

Using Turntable/CD Recorder Combos

Another method of copying vinyl records to CD is with a Turntable/CD Recorder combo. 

Similar in concept to a VCR/DVD recorder combo, since both the turntable and CD recorder are in the same component, you don't have to use separate connecting cables or connect an external phono preamp. 

Depending on brand and model you can copy your records to CD with a one-button push. However, you may have the flexibility to set levels and fades. 

The finalization process is still required.

Unlike a PC or standalone CD recorder, you may not have the option to edit, add text, or perform additional tweaks that can help to optimize the quality of the recording. Also, the turntables included with such combos may not provide the best sound quality for your records.

Teac LPR550-USB CD Recorder with Cassette and Turntable
Images provided TEAC

The Bottom Line

While many audio enthusiasts consider copying vinyl records onto CD less than desirable in terms of converting that warm analog sound to CD, it is a convenient way to enjoy the music in your office or car, where a turntable may not be available.

If you are importing your vinyl record content into a PC, in addition to making a CD copy, you also have the option of putting it onto a USB flash drive or memory card, or uploading to "The Cloud". This makes it easier to access recordings across multiple digital playback devices through direct playback or streaming.

Before copying your vinyl records to CD using a PC or CD recorder, be sure they are as clean as possible.

Since important records in your collection may no longer be in print or even available on CD, it is worth preserving them in case your turntable malfunctions or the records become damaged, warped, or otherwise unplayable.