My Turn

My Turn is Low End Mac's column for reader-submitted articles. It's your turn to share your thoughts on all things Mac (or iPhone, iPod, etc.) and write for the Mac web. Email your submission to Dan Knight .

Vinyl to Disc

How I began enjoying my phonograph album collection again

John Comeaux
My Computer Man

The first breakthrough came when my brother-in-law gave me his turntable, saying he had to let it go and move on. Bless him. Just think, a spare high-quality phonograph to play with as I please - but no amp or receiver to plug it into. So I simply hooked it up to a Y-connector and into my son's iMac.* Then I recorded some sample cuts from my Beatles collection. He used "Sound Recorder," and we adjusted the volume levels until we got the right setting. We also had to sample at 44 KHz rate. It was easy as pie. Once recorded, we dropped the files into Toast v. 4, and we made a disc using his QueFire CD-RW.

* If your turntable does not have a built-in phono preamp (some do, but most don't), you will need one. The phono preamp equalizes the signal according to the industry-standard RIAA equalization curve. The RIAA curve reduces the bass signal and increases the treble signal on recording and does the opposite on playback. During recording, full bass signal would create too-large grooves and unequalized treble would hardly register on the groove. Every receiver or integrated amplifier that has a phono section has a built-in phono preamp. If you amplify the signal without equalization, the music would have too much treble and too little bass. Standalone phono preamps are available from Radio Shack (<$50), NAD, and Parasound (<$150). More expensive units are available from audiophile manufacturers at much higher prices. eBay is a good source. Alternatively, you could use an old receiver with a phono section and plug the Mac into the tape monitor outputs.

OK, this is great. But my son needs his iMac for school and web projects, and he doesn't want me in his room all the time fiddling around with this. So let's just take the phonograph to my room and - uh oh, wrong connector.

The old Performas (mine is a 6290 CD) had the slightly longer microphone plug, nonstandard in the audio world and unknown at Radio Shack. Was all doomed? Low End Mac to the rescue.

I searched for a connector that would transform phone jack output from a phonograph player to Mac input. What I found was the NE Mic, a transformer from a regular microphone input to Mac mike input. It's by Griffin Technology, and it was about $20. The only downside is that it is mono, not stereo. I probably won't miss the sound of "Number Nine" weaving back and forth annoyingly across the speakers in "Revolution No. 9".

The most critical part of all this is the second breakthrough. Magnetic phono output is too weak for anything other than a pre-amp. That's the function of the Griffin transformer; it's an amplifier that uses no external power. But you have to ground your phonograph player with the standard ground wire, otherwise the sound is unusable.

So, from phonograph to Y-connector to Griffin input to Performa, and - uh oh. There is no 44 KHz selection in the Sound Recorder box. What gives? After all this, I failed?

All is not lost. I happen to have a Power Mac 8100 in another bedroom, so I transfer all the equipment and wires there. Hooray, it has the ability to sample at 44 KHz. So let's get this thing recorded. Here we come, Beethoven.

Oops, each side of an album takes over 100 MB. How do we transfer them on Zip drives that only hold 94 MB? Using compression only saves about 5%, not enough. Do I have to record each and every cut separately? That'd take so much time (although my son points out that I will be able to select the cuts on the CD player). Is it worth it?

QuickTime comes to the rescue. My son has QuickTime 4 Pro, which has the ability to convert and export. We record in 8-bit AIA sound, which fits easily onto the Zip, and then bring it over and convert it to 16-bit sound in one click. Now we drop it into Toast, and we burn our masterpiece. QuickTime would also allow me to divide the sound file into cuts, but again it adds so many steps in the process, it takes away the fun.

That's the process. A lot of learning and trial and error.

My son says, "Dad, just get an iMac for your bedroom." Maybe when the new models arrive.

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