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Hip to the Groove #2: Analog Sounds in a Digital Format
by Tom Körp
Hip to the Groove #2: Analog Sounds in a Digital Format
I first got into vinyl records as a necessity: there were bands out there with whose work I was marginally obsessed, or at least enamored to the point where I would do whatever I possibly could to find, download, and/or purchase whatever recordings they had made available. Inevitably, this lead from the relatively easy-to-find full-length CD releases to less-common CD EPs and bootleg downloads, and finally back to vinyl records.

Necessity eventually led to novelty, and from there to collectibility—all of which originally stemmed from my general enjoyment of music, only now they had appreciated in value due to some sort of credibility, a guru-ness that is part-and-parcel with ownership of any great quantity of albums, even more so with the concerted and/or regular effort to collect vinyl. Let’s not forget the merit-badge list of accoutrements that one inevitably collects through this search: the turntable, the sound-dampening headphones, the hi-fi stereo system, the metal carrying cases and sturdy plastic crates, the gigantic shelves of carefully-arranged records worthy of Rob Gordon (née Fleming) and his loner-rific, Championship Vinyl lifestyle. Pure audiophile nirvana.

As I stated in the previous, inaugural edition of Hip to the Groove, vinyl is the veritable Lazarus of audio formats, inasmuch as the otherwise-clunky PVC plate has managed to survive and thrive despite numerous format shifts since its adoption in 1948. Compare this with the rather limited shelf life of alternative storage formats like 4-track, 8-track, and cassette tapes; CD-ROM, DAT, and MiniDiscs; ever-changing digital formats like MP3, WMA, AAC, FLAC, ALE, and the necessary accompaniment of Apple’s constantly-updated/outdated iPod and its imitators. By comparison, vinyl is one resilient sonnuvabitch. It’s simple, uncomplicated and—dare I say it?—elegant.

I’ve also mentioned my belief that digital audio formats and the easy portability of the iPod generation have diminished the value of music. Entire libraries of 12” LPs and 7” singles have shrunk to nanoscopic amounts, innumerable strings of 011001000110100101100111011010010111010001110011 held in the palm of your hand, easily found, copied, replaced, and deleted at a moment’s notice. You say that you have convenience and ease of use. I say that you are letting yourselves be robbed—you are throwing away your rightful inheritance. Stacks of paper, plastic, and PVC are rightfully yours, and such touchstones are far more important than mere convenience.

Portability engenders disposability; willful inconvenience is a considered affair, an undertaking with a purpose. Imagine that far-off day in the future when your kids finally start getting into music themselves, and they come up to you to ask, “Mom? Dad? What music did you listen to when you were young?” What will you have to show them? An external hard drive? A binder of CD-RWs? A handheld jukebox, or maybe a few hundred thumbnail-sized album covers on a pixilated screen? What kind of legacy is that?

I say this with no small twinge of remorse at the thought of my own recent actions. As much as it pains me to say it, I have been ripping my vinyl records to MP3. Granted, I have not gone so far as to sell and/or trash those albums which I have since ripped (nor would I ever commit such a travesty), but I do feel like some sort of musical adulterer. While it is true that I have a rather extensive MP3 library of my own, there has heretofore been very little interaction between my stacks of wax and my legions of ones and zeroes. Maybe the occasional overlapping track or the odd, wistful daydream about the Flamin’ Groovies, Billy Bragg, and Herb Alpert & the TJB being just a click away, but never any such copy-paste, trans-format infidelity.

Yet, here I am. Thanks to the digitizing convenience of a spare audio cable and easy-to-use audio editing freeware like WavePad, I’ve been a-ripping my vinyl like crazy. It’s a fairly simple process, if a bit jury-rigged and decidedly more time-consuming than ripping from my CD collection. Using a Y-adapter (2 RCA female to 1 3.55mm female) and a spare 3.55mm PC audio cable, I feed my turntable into the line-in jack on my PC’s soundcard. After adjusting the line-in settings in Windows Volume Control—I’m not using a preamp, so it’s a little trial-and-error to get a nice, even level that is sufficiently loud without being overwhelming—I set the album a-spinning, then hit record. After the LP or single plays through, I simply hit “stop,” then exit the recording control panel; this accesses the ripped audio as an editable WAV file, which I can cut and paste in order to separate each individual track as a new file. I can finagle with the sound levels if need be, use a filter to reduce noise, crop out unnecessary dead air at the beginning and end of each track, and then encode the tracks as MP3s (alternatively: WAV, OGG, AAC, FLAC, etc.). Although WavePad does not have the ability to edit a track’s ID3 tag, that’s just as easily done with the likes of iTunes or Winamp, so it’s no big deal.

Now, I know what you may be thinking—why is such a professed vinyl lover going gaga over the ability to rip his records as MP3s? Certainly, the sound can’t be anywhere near as clear as an LP played through a hi-fi system? Very true. While I’m sure that audiophiles who take the time to learn the ins and outs of WavePad (or similar software) can render a perfect digital copy from an analog source, I’m hardly that proficient. If nothing else, analog-to-digital conversion enables me to bring my vinyl with me wherever I go… via a portable MP3 player, naturally.

So, in the jaded words of cartoon savant Daria Morgendorffer, “Hypocrisy does not invalidate a point.” While I may have more than a few qualms about what digital audio has done to the proud tradition of record collecting, I’m not about to dismiss the benefits of the MP3 file format. Specifically, that I can now listen to the Flamin’ Groovies’ cover of Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London” whenever and wherever I damn well please. Ditto for Sorry About Dresden’s “Leviathan,” the Ghost’s “Magnetics,” and Dianogah’s “A Bear Explains the Right and Wrong Ways to Put on a Shirt, Shoes, Pants and a Cap.” Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some albums to organize—real albums, no less.
Posted by: Tom Körp

Features (March 19th, 2007)

Tags: hip to the groove, vinyl, record, album, ripping, conversion, wavepad