How to Preserve Vinyl Records On CD

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

A vinyl LP on a turntable
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You love your vinyl record collection. Listening at home is great, especially in your designated listening room. However, you can't spend all day in the listening room, you would also like to listen to your vinyl in other rooms around the house, and also in the car.

One option that may be desirable is to record those vinyl records onto CDs.

Use a PC or Laptop with a CD burner

Just about everyone has a CD burner on their PC, and, using an analog-to-digital USB audio converter, or buying a turntable has a USB output are ways to get started.

However, the process of downloading the music from vinyl records into the hard drive, burning them onto CDs, then deleting the files off the hard drive afterward (depending on how much hard drive space you have), and repeating this process can take extra time. To perform the required steps you may also need additional software.

In addition, if your PC is not in your listening room, you have to move your turntable or purchase a second turntable specifically for the purpose of using it with your PC. In addition, if the turntable does not have a USB output, you need an additional phono preamp to connect the turntable to a PC's sound card line input.

However, one advantage of using a PC is that not only can you copy your vinyl records to CD, but you can also use the digitally created files to copy the music to USB flash drives or memory cards, or keep them on your PC and access them on other smart playback devices, such as smart TVs, Network Blu-ray Disc players, Home Theater Receivers, and some media streamers you may have in the house.

Also, if you save the files in "The Cloud", you can access them on compatible mobile devices, no matter where you are. Check out some additional tips on using the PC method.

Use a standalone CD recorder

Another way to copy vinyl records is to use a standalone audio CD recorder. Not only can you use it to make CD copies of vinyl records, but you can just integrate the CD recorder to your existing main system for playing all the other CDs you might have in your collection.

Although the PC method provides flexibility beyond CD, the advantage here is that CD is a good physical preservation format - and, since the CD copy will have the same file structure as commercial CDs, the result will sound closer in quality to your vinyl record original.

Here is how to use a standalone CD recorder for making copies of vinyl records.

  • CD Recorder Availability - CD recorders are getting rare, but there are still several brands and models available.
  • Use The Right Discs - For CD recorders, make sure you use blank CDs marked for "Digital Audio" or "For Audio Use Only", some CD data discs may not be compatible. Disc compatibility information should be provided in your CD recorder user manual. Also, you can choose between CR-R discs (record once - best for straight dubbing) or CD-RW discs (re-writable and erasable).
  • Setup Considerations - Setting up most CD recorders is not difficult, but when recording from a vinyl record turntable, you may not be able to connect your turntable directly to your CD recorder as it most likely doesn't have dedicated phono inputs.

    This means you have three connection options. You can get an external phono preamp that you place between the turntable and the audio inputs of the CD recorder, get a turntable that has a built-in phono preamp, or, if you have a stereo or home theater receiver that has a dedicated phono inputs that you are already using to listen to your vinyl records, you can select that turntable as your source and send its audio out to the CD recorder via the receiver's tape or preamp outputs.

  • Monitoring Your Recording - If your 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 will be able to 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 your CD recorder has LED level meters, they will allow you to see if the incoming signal is too loud - you want to make sure that your loudest peaks do not reach the red "over" indicator on the level meters, this will cause distortion on your recording.

  • Recording Both Sides - Unlike recording from other sources, one issue recording from a vinyl record to a CD is how to record both sides of a record without having to manually pause and start the CD recording at the proper time.

    In most cases, you will have to manually pause and then restart the recording. However, if your CD recorder has a Synchro feature it makes it a lot easier. Using Synchro, 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 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. The recorder 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 it actually works pretty well.

    What is especially nice is that the when the unit pauses after playing one side of a record, you have time to flip the record, The CD record will restart and record the second side automatically when it hears the stylus drop again on the record. This is a real time saver as you 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, you can just pop on some headphones and monitor the recording.

  • The Silence Threshold - Another interesting feature you may find on a CD recorder is the ability to set the "silence threshold" which allows you to fine-tune the effectiveness of the Synchro, as well as any Auto Track recording feature. Since vinyl records have 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 silence threshold.
  • Additional Features To Take Advantage Of - Some CD recorders allow you to create your own fade-ins and fade-outs between cuts, and some also have 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 can usually be entered by using the keypad on the remote control, but some high-end and professional CD recorders may allow for connection of a Windows-style keyboard.
  • Finalization - 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 CD-R disc, you cannot record anything else on it, even if you have empty space.

    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.

    Voila! You can now take your completed CD and play on 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!

The Bottom Line

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

Also, in addition to CD, if you are important your vinyl record content into a PC, in addition to burning onto a CD, you also have the option of transferring the content onto a USB flash drive or memory card, or even storing them in "The Cloud", which makes it even easier to access across multiple types of digital playback devices through direct playback or streaming.

Note: Of course, before coping your vinyl records to CD using a PC or CD recorder, be sure they are as clean as possible.

No matter which method you choose to make copies of your vinyl records, since many important records in your collection may be no longer in print or even available on CD, you can use this method to preserve recordings in case your turntable malfunctions or the records themselves become damaged, warped, or otherwise unplayable.