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Instant Music

Dragging Your LPs Kicking and Screaming into the Digital Age

By Jim Bray

Record companies are funny entities – or I guess maybe it’s the free market.

For some reason, many of the records I loved back when, well, when you could still buy records, have never been available on digital media. This despite the fact that since I liked them everyone else must, too, and therefore you’d think they’d have been available on CD for years.

On the other hand, going digital didn’t necessarily mean the best sound quality, despite the hype. Some CD’s of material that was on vinyl originally, sounds lousy on CD, thin and compressed. This usually happened when the digital discs were still a new medium, and perhaps led to arguments that vinyl is capable of better sound reproduction than a digital disc. And many albums really did sound great, assuming you hadn’t worn them out.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could go back to those original vinyl recordings you swore you’d never give up and bring them into the digital age?

You can, of course. Otherwise this column would end here. But you can easily capture and burn your albums, and I just did exactly that thanks to a nifty little gadget called Instant Music from ADS Technology.

Instant Music may be a bit of a stretch so far as being “instant” is concerned, but this simple little box and its software makes a wonderful tool you can use to finally experience on compact disc all those desert island records the music industry was too stupid to release on CD.

Albums such as the original London cast recording of the entire “Man of La Mancha.” I’d recently seen a production of MOLM and it reminded me of how much I had enjoyed the record. I searched for it online and discovered it wasn’t available digitally.

Then Instant Music rode to the rescue. The whole system consists of some software and a little box that hooks into your PC (via USB) and into which you plug the output from your stereo. The system lets you capture, clean up, and burn records, cassettes, TV or radio and you can output the newly-created digital data as a wave file, Windows Media, or MP3.

I have no place to put a turntable in my current home theater, nor do I miss it 99.5 per cent of the time. But I have an old stereo receiver that I’ve kept around to boost the height of my bedroom TV stand. So I hauled it into the spare room, hooked up my old turntable (see, it pays to never throw anything out!) and patched it into my notebook computer. And Presto!

So what if I can’t see the TV over my paunch when I’m in bed?

Capturing the music is easy. You just run a set of conventional patch cords from the stereo receiver to the Instant Music, then run a USB cable to the computer. The software lets you listen to the turntable through the PC’s speakers, so you don’t even need speakers hooked into the source stereo and, in fact, you’re only using the stereo as a preamplifier and switcher.

It’s a wonderful solution.

Once you have the music on your hard drive you can process it, removing pops, clicks and other record stuff. It works well and is very easy, but I noticed that sometimes it made the final product sound a bit sterile, which caused me to rethink some of the cussing I had aimed at those thin-sounding CD’s back in the old days of digital.

In the end, I found that on average if you used the minimum cleanup settings you got a pretty good compromise.

Here’s a list of the ins and outs of Instant Music.

• Audio IN: RCA Stereo (Left and Right); SPDIF (Toslink)
• Audio Out: RCA Stereo (Left and Right); SPDIF (Toslink)
• Power: USB bus power (no external supply needed)
• USB: USB 1.1 and USB 2.0 compatible as a Full Speed Device
Audio Specs:
• Capture: 16 bit
• Sampling Rate: 8, 11, 16, 22.05, 32 44.1 or 48 kHz
- THD+N = 0.01%
- SNR= 89dB
• Playback: 16 bit
- Sampling Rate - 32, 44.1, 48 kHz
- THD+N = 0.005%
- SNR = 96dB

The final step in the process is burning the music onto a CD, and Instant Music comes with Nero software that works well and is easy to use. I had trouble figuring out how to add my own chapter stops without breaking the entire album side into individual files, but it’s easy enough to divvy up the big audio file into track-sized ones anyway.

And now I have some wonderful-sounding compact discs of some albums I thought I’d never play again.

I have to admit, though, it’s kind of funny listening to a CD and hearing that distinctive “needle in the groove” sound, or thumps from the speakers as vibrations in the room were transmitted through the needle and recorded onto my hard drive.

I also used the Instant Music-captured files in Magix Audio Cleaning Lab and it worked really well. Audio Cleaning Lab is like the Instant Music software on steroids, and it’s easy to put chapter stops wherever you want.

And here’s a cute idea that helps make burning old albums even more fun:

Verbatim Digital Vinyl

Verbatim has been making blank recordable media for years. I remember their floppy disks well and I recently used some of their blank DVD’s in testing Freecom’s DVD burner.

But perhaps the niftiest – or silliest, depending on your disposition – blank media Verbatim has come up with is the Digital Vinyl CD-R Metal line of blank compact discs. These disks look like records, including gold and platinum ones, from days gone by. While the business side of the disks is highly conventional, the top or label side of these 80 minute discs features fake grooves like you’d have found on those golden oldie records that are so hopelessly obsolete.

Naturally, these disks carry a premium over the bulk blank CD’s you can buy just about anywhere these days. But if you want to impress your friends with how you’ve replaced your vinyl with, well, vinyl, this is a pretty neat way to do it.

They say everything old is new again, but with these cute discs from Verbatim, maybe they should also be saying that everything new is old again – at least when it comes to helping boomers burn Beatles.


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