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.

Use a PC or Laptop with a CD burner

Asus DRW-24B1ST DVD/CD-R Drive

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 does not have a USB output, but your PC has analog audio inputs you will need an additional phono preamp to connect the turntable to a PC's sound card line input.

Transferring music from vinyl records into 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.

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 the turntable or purchase a second turntable specifically to use it with your PC.

However, one advantage using a PC is that you can copy records to CD, copy the digitally created files 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 via your home network.

Also, if you save the files in "The Cloud", you can access them on compatible mobile devices, no matter where you are.

Use a standalone CD recorder

Another way to copy vinyl records is with a standalone audio CD recorder. Not only can you make CD copies of vinyl records, but you can use a CD recorder with your existing audio system to play other CDs you might have.

TEAC CDRW890mkII CD-Recorder
TEAC CDRW890mkII CD-Recorder. Images provided by TEAC

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: Make sure you 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).
  • 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 as it most likely doesn't have dedicated phono inputs. 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 that has 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 the CD recorder has LED level meters, you will be able 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: One issue with 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 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. The recorder can 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 works pretty well.
    • When the unit pauses after playing one side of a record, you have time to flip the record, The CD recording will restart and the second side will be recorded automatically when recorder 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 use headphones to monitor the recording.
  • The Silence Threshold: Another feature you may find on a CD recorder is the ability to set the "silence threshold". This allows fine-tuning 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 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, 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.

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

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.

Also, in addition to CD, if you are importing your vinyl record content into a PC, 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.

No matter which method you choose, 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 become damaged, warped, or otherwise unplayable.

It's kind of weird to hear the sound of a tonearm drop and disc surface noise on a CD!