This post is the second and final look at the steps taken to import all the tracks needed in preparation for the remake, in particular how I went about digitising and importing the 12″ vinyl.
As I no longer owned a pair of turntables (I sold my Technic 1210’s on Ebay in 2006 to go ‘digital’) I had to first hunt down a suitable deck capable of playing the vinyl.
After doing some extensive research on the internet of well reviewed decks I became curious of numerous glowing reviews of an extremely cheap Bush MTT-1 record deck that also happened to have gained 5/5 in What Hi Fi? magazine back in 1997.
All the reviews stated what a bargain price the deck was and the quality of the sound, and so sticking with A) my price range and B) elements of wanting to go back to the late 90s, I went ahead and purchased one of the decks from Ebay for about £10.
After the turntable arrived I hooked it up to my PC and decided to do a spot test against the vinyl and an MP3 version of the same track on my hard drive.
Well 5 stars or no 5 stars I was less than impressed with the outcome, the Bush turntable seemed to have terrible frequency reproduction and despite the vinyl used for the test being practically brand new (I doubt it had even been played judging by the condition) the whole sound of the track seemed very thin and muddy.
FINDING THE PERFECT SET UP
After a chat with a knowledgeable friend on the subject (in hindsight someone I should have consulted with far earlier) he told me that the deck would have only got 5/5 due to it’s price range and the year it was made and informed me that the Technics 1210’s and good quality cartridges would have been a far better choice.
Luckily for me, a fellow course mate at uni lived with a DJ who happened to own a pair of Technics 1210’s with top end Ortefon cartridges, a fantastic X-one:62 Allen & Heath mixer and a Macbook Pro fitted with an M-Audio Firewire Audiophile interface, and an installed version of Logic 8!
I’d like to add here that although I used the term ‘luckily’ – in reality it took me around 3 weeks from buying the Bush deck to actually discovering about the DJ!
THE RECORDING PROCESS
The first part of the recording process was the initial set up of the decks and the equipment, and this included:
- Taking the head shells apart and checking the connections to minimize audio glitches
- cleaning and securing the cartridges to minimize glitches and jumps
- setting the quartz lock on the deck to enable the vinyl to be played at it’s intended pitch (and to make the warping in Ableton far easier)
- resetting all the settings on the mixer to avoid any colouration of the sound
- resetting all the settings on the firewire device to avoid colouration of the sound
- Setting up Logic 8 to record at 48khz / 24bit to allow enough scope for recording and dithering later.
Much of the above is general house keeping and common sense, but it is surprising how many DJs and producers overlook such simple tasks, and how much difference it makes in the long run.
To quote one of my tutors “you put s**t in, you get s***t out”, and as I was going to be using these recordings countless times in my editing, I really did not fancy the idea of having to re record the tracks again at a later date due to discovering a rogue glitch half way through the project.
Once all the equipment had been set up ready for the recording, it was then a case of creating separate folders on the Macbook for each track and then recording each track into the corresponding folder via the audio record path in Logic 8.
The recording process itself was calibrated by finding what I figured to be the loudest section of the track or the duration with the most elements and then setting the channel fader in Logic so that the highest peaks were floating in the yellow and just below the red to allow for some headroom in case of any unexpected surprises.
POST PRODUCTION & EDITING
Once all the tracks had been recorded successfully I then copied the folders from the Macbook onto a USB flash drive and took them home to my studio for further editing and tidying within Sony Sound Forge.
Even though the tracks were professionally mixed and mastered pieces of material, the analogue nature of the audio can open itself up to numerous glitches and mistakes that are often overlooked at the recording stage, and I figured that by sitting down the following day and going through each recording in detail I could then decide if any final adjustments to the sound needed to be made.
The 2 main areas of focus for this task was to
A) remove any artifacts in the audio, and remove any excessive silence from the start and end points of the audio file (also known in production circles as ‘top & tailing’)
B) Normalising the audio to -0.1 dB
Removing the artefacts from the audio was fairy painless as due to my meticulous (or some might say OCD) nature in the recording set up there were practically no artefacts to be found, but the ones that were discovered were quickly removed with my copy of the Waves Restoration bundle in particular the ‘X-Click’ module.
Once the initial clean up had been completed it was then on to top and tailing which took a matter of seconds within Sony Sound Forge.
Normalising the audio is an important process to talk about as although I made a pretty decent job of giving myself a healthy compromise between in recording level and headroom, I also knew that the volume differences between the tracks were going to be quite different compared to the WAV files ripped from the CD singles previously, and by normalising the vinyl rips, I could boost the volume without having to resort to limiting and compression.
Normalising works by taking the largest peak of a waveform and then uses that peak as a handle in which to drag all the audio up to a specified level (in my case -0.1 dB) and thus increasing the overall volume as naturally as possible without using more severe methods.
The reason I normalise to -0.1 dB is mainly because 0 dB is the actual threshold of digital audio and any higher can cause clipping distortion, and even though 0.0 dB is perfectly safe in most situations, I always like to have a safety net just in case.
In all honesty I usually normalise to -0.3 dB but after analysing a few professionally mastered mixes and tracks I noticed -0.1dB seemed to be the de facto standard in most cases.
I’ll be doing more on normalising later in the blog when I talk about mastering the CD.