Now, in many if not most cases you will not quite have the quality of CD you would have had if you had simply spent the money on brand new CDs. However, in some cases you can actually have a better quality CD than you can buy! This is because in a few cases, excellent audio engineers took great pains to make the LP sound as good as it possibly could. When remastered, these exceptional quality albums must have the treble tones attenuated to minimize the aliasing distortion. This causes the bass to be too loud, so that, too, must be attenuated. CDs simply do not have the undistorted frequency response of a quality cassette recorded on a good tape deck, which can record frequencies up to 18 khz. Vinyl is even better, with a frequency response high enough that they modulated music with a 44KHZ tone to make "quadrophonic" four channel stereo in the 1970s.
Led Zepplin's "Presence" lacks presence on the CD. Sample your own and you get the presence back- along with a noticable alias. But it still sounds better than the factory model.
To sample cassettes, you need only a cassette deck. If you don't have a good one, do not buy a new deck! Newer cassette decks sound terrible, some with frequency responses that don't go up past 3khz or down below 500hz. Even though its head will likely be a little worn, a used deck from the height of analog (1970-1980) will still sound better than the cheap junk they sell these days.
To sample vinyl, you will need a turntable and a preamp. The reason is if you plug a quality turntable directly into your sound card, you will have a very low volume, very tinny signal. This is because of a technology known as the "RIAA rolloff," which was a kind of "dolby" for turntables used long before Dolby patented the process. Bass tones need to be amplified, and the treble tones need to be attenuated. A good stereo reciever from the 1970s or 1980s will accomplish this for you.
If you have no equipment, you can usually find it in pawn shops or used record stores. It is seldom very expensive. I bought a used German made Dual turntable (with its tone arm supported by a 4 point gimbal, like a ship's compass) in town for fifty dollars. This same model sold for several hundred dollars when new.
You will, of course, need a computer with a sound card with an auxillary input. The make of the computer and its operating system do not matter, although for our example we will use a Windows computer. You will also need software to sample the music with. I use a program called Exact Audio Copy, a free program you can download from the above link. Although, as I said, you can use any computer, OS, or sampling program, the step by step instructions presented here apply to EAC on Windows.
Now that you have the hardware and software, it's time to connect the hardware. There are a few different ways you can do it.
You will need a stereo cable with RCA plugs (or a din plug if that's what your stereo uses) on one end, and a 1/8 inch stereo plug on the other end for plugging into your sound card. This often comes with your sound card, but if not, you can buy one at any electroniucs store (Radio Shack, Circut City, Best Buy, etc).
The 1/8th inch stereo plug goes into your computer's AUX IN jack. If your stereo has tape inputs and outputs, connect the other end to its tape output (often marked "record"). If you do not have a tape output, you can use your stereo's AUX OUT plug. If it has neither, you can buy an adaptor and use its headphone jack. Only use the headphone jack as a last resort!
Now that your hardware is all set up, start your software. From here on in, we aill assume you are using EAC (it's free), although again, any software should do.
First, start the volume control program. In it (example here is Windows) select "Options," then "Properties." make sure the correct input is checked for display, and under "Adjust volume for" select "Recording" and click "OK". On the "recording" control, "Mute" is replaced with "select". Make sure the correct input is selected (Line In or Aux, depending on which one you plugged your stereo into).
Start EAC, and under its "Tools" menu, select "Record WAV". A dialog with buttons and a level meter will come up. Click "Select Target File Name" (everything else is disabled). Give your recording a name (the default is "Record.wav") and choose where the file will be stored.
Before you actually start recording, you will probably want two records from whoever you are sampling, as you can usually fit two LPs on a single CD.
Now, find the loudest passage on your album and adjust the volume to get the meter as close to zero as possible without going over zero. If you go over zero, you will introduce very, very ugly "clipping" distortion, just like recording to tape.
Some people put the volume well below zero. This is nearly as much of a mistake as letting it go over zero, as the lower the volume, the more aliasing. If you record your album at half volume, you have essentially recorded it in eight bits rather than sixteen. You want it as close as you can get to zero without going over.
Now that the volume is set, rewind the tape (if you are using tape). Then, click the "Start Record" button on EAC, and start your album. Unlike a tape recorder, if you mess up the beginning, you don't have to start the recording over- simply start the record over. You will need to delete some silent sections later anyway.
When the first side is done, turn your album over and play the other side. Don't stop the recording! When this is done, start the second album, if you are putting two albums on one CD. When you are done recording, click "Stop Record" and then "OK" in EAC's recording dialog.
Next, from EAC's "Tools" menu, select "Process WAV". Select the file you just finished recording.
Now, highlight any blank parts and delete them (Edit, Delete Selection).
Then save the file, and select "Cue Sheet" from the menu, then "Create Cue Sheet".
You could select "generate cue sheet," but often this will miss some track starts. My preferance is to select track starts manually. Zoom into where a song ends (there will usually be a gap in the waveform, although not always). Place your cursor between the two songs on the waveform display, and click "Cue Sheet," "insert," then "track start" for the beginning of each song.
Then save your wave file (File, Save) and your cue sheet (Cue Sheet, Save Cue Sheet). Close the wave editor, and from EAC's menu select "Tools," "Write CDR." A dialog to write a CD will open.
Select "File," then "Load Cue Sheet." select the cue sheet you just saved.
From here, you can add more .wav files as tracks if you wish, or just select "CDR", "Write CD". If your music pretty much fills the CD, tell it to close the CD when done. If you're only putting a single album on it, leave the CD open and you can add a multisession volume to it with MP3s, HTML, pictures, or whatever. However, EAC only does audio- you will have to use whatever software came with your burner to add the computer-only files.
When it has finished, you will have a more or less CD quality CD, depending on your source. But we're not done yet- we still don't have any MP3s.
Now, for ripping MP3s I like a different program, CDex, although we'll continue with EAC for now. Open a web browser, go to Google, and search for "'band name' discography". When you find a track listing for your album, copy and paste into the proper fields in EAC or CDex (or whatever your favorite ripping program is). To change "Track 1" to the proper song title, just click on it and it will allow you to paste the real song name in.
Highlight all the songs, then click the "MP3" button. Your CD will then produce an MP3 of each song, with properly formatted ID3 tags.
Your MP3s will have every bit of quality as any MP3 of the same bitrate that was ripped from a twenty dollar factory CD. Your CD may well have even better quality than that factory CD! You've saved a little money, and had a little geeky fun in the process, as well.