Convert your obscure phonograph records & tapes to personal (CD-R/MP3) backups with your computer!
Jan 12, 2007 (Updated Dec 13, 2007)
Review by henry_thoreau
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Pros:Resurrect your "extinct," out-of-print music via the "magic" of DAK’s vinyl-to-backup hardware and software!
Cons:Though it's easy to backup your vinyl to CD-Rs/MP3s, it requires attention, time, and patience.
The Bottom Line: What a delight to hear great-sounding CD-R backups (WAV- or MP3-format) of your "long-lost" favorites of yesteryear! Conversion does take some time and attention; but it's easy and worth it!
In order to hear one of my especially beloved, obscure, vinyl LPs as a CD-R backup, years ago I paid a professional service about thirty bucks for "dubbing plus noise-reduction." How I wish I'd known then what I know now!
Recommend this product?
Now I can do it myself, and so can you! All you need is:
1. Your (Windows, not Macintosh) computer;
2. a good record turntable (yes, new ones are still for sale); and
3. the conveniently small "DAK PC Interface Preamp Mixer" (together with its included, Windows-compatible software).
The DAK mixer:
This two-channel, stereo mixer measures approximately 9" x 5" x 1.5" and thus is small enough to fit on your computer desktop. It features two rows of LED lights to help you set recording level via either of two smoothly sliding "A" and "B" controls. Likewise there are several other basic knobs or switches (which are explained in the product instructions), including a power button. The rear panel includes three pairs of ordinary, RCA-style jacks (color-coded red for "right-channel" and white for "left-channel"): two pairs of jacks are labeled "phono/line;" and the other pair is labeled "amp." Likewise the rear panel includes a large stereo-microphone jack and a small 12-volt AC jack (for connecting the included, external adapter). The front panel includes a large headphone jack.
A stereo cable is also included to connect the DAK mixer to the "line in" jack of your computer.
[Note: Along with this tiny DAK mixer, I likewise managed to squeeze my old Luxman phono turntable onto my computer desktop; I placed plenty of foam padding beneath its four feet to minimize vibration, and I made sure it was level.]
Using the instructions DAK provided me, I simply connected my phono turntable's cable to the DAK mixer, and then I connected the DAK mixer to my computer's "line in" jack. This allows me to hear/monitor sound through my computer speakers.
My rediscovery of "DAK":
About a year ago while web-surfing, I joyously stumbled across the following web site:
To my surprise, there was good ol' Drew Kaplan with an online version of his erstwhile mail-order catalog from decades ago. I used to love receiving (and ordering from) his inimitably "busy" and verbose consumer-electronics catalogs back in the 1980s and early 1990's. But in more recent years I'd forgotten all about Mr. Kaplan and his "DAK" company (which is clearly an acronym for his full name: Drew Alan Kaplan).
[The curious can read all about Drew's own curious history via the following page at his site: http://www.dak.com/whathappened.htm]
What's your pleasure: "WAV" or "MP3"?
But I digress. The product that immediately grabbed my attention at DAK's new online store was this diminutive "PC Interface Preamp Mixer" that allows you to backup all your otherwise unavailable music from vinyl records (or tapes) to recordable CD-R media. You have the choice to convert/transfer your old "analog" recordings either to "WAV" or "MP3" format on your computer's hard drive. Once you've transferred your "vinyl" music to the digital domain on your computer's hard drive, you also have the option of using your computer's recordable-CD drive(s) to burn a disc containing "WAV" files (which will play on essentially any compact disc player) or MP3 files.
Being myself the only surviving troglodyte in the free world who hasn't yet embraced the "MP3 revolution" (I have 2,400 audio CDs connected to my PC via six Sony 400-CD changers!), I naturally opted to go the "WAV-file/CD-R" route instead of venturing into the newfangled MP3 arena. However, for anyone who prefers the undeniable convenience of (arguably) sonically inferior, "compressed" music to that of the (very slightly) "smoother and richer" conventional-CD format, it's nice to know that the software bundled with the "$69.90" version of DAK's mixer allows you to choose your favored digital format: "WAV" or "MP3."
Step-by-step, detailed instructions:
Now, I'd have to be some kind of crazy to waste my (or your) time with my own "tutorial" regarding the basic steps involved in dubbing your vinyl records (or tapes) to your computer's hard drive (and subsequently onto CD-Rs). Drew Kaplan himself has already gone to astounding lengths in creating full-color, step-by-step, online tutorials that make the process readily understandable even for the most obtuse neophyte. I suggest you begin with the following page at the DAK.com site:
After reading that page's voluminous introductory information, you can proceed to the following two web pages for even more detailed, step-by-step instructions:
1. The below page is Drew's "general" tutorial regarding the basic steps involved with dubbing vinyl to digital (whether you use "his" products or not):
2. The next page is Drew's related tutorial that should answer virtually all your remaining questions regarding how to use this DAK mixer's primary bundled software to dub your vinyl onto your computer's hard drive (and then onto a CD-R):
By the way, my experience was that the DAK customer-service people were reasonably quick and helpful in responding to an initial email of mine, and so I've little doubt they'd be able to answer any special questions you might have after purchasing their hardware or software.
How does the resulting music sound?
In a word, delightful! Mind you, I don't claim that even the best "vinyl-to-CD-R" backups sound fully as good as your average retail CD (obviously, that's technically impossible); however, assuming that you employ a modicum of "trial and error" to fiddle with the (downloadable) DAK software's settings (as well as the DAK mixer's own settings) to maximize sound quality; and assuming that you do use DAK's (likewise included and downloadable) noise-reduction software; and assuming you're an average listener with reasonable expectations, you should be downright delighted with your CD-R backups--especially given that you simply can't play your obscure, out-of-print music in your CD player through any other means. Of course, the quality of your original vinyl--not to mention your turntable, cartridge, and stylus--will likewise have a bearing on your final results.
Furthermore, I suppose some computers' sound circuitry might be at least marginally more effective than others. [My computer is a Compaq Presario SR1620NX Desktop PC that I bought in late 2005. I rather doubt its sound chip is anything highly special, but I'm no expert.] You can purchase expensive sound cards like the ones that certain professional CD-R dubbing services use; but I seriously doubt that the difference would make a difference to most folks' uncritical ears. For example, I still have the costly, "professionally dubbed" pop-music CD-R that I alluded to at the outset of this review, and it sounds fine; but it doesn't sound noticeably better than the best dubs I've created myself via my typical PC and this DAK hardware-plus-software package for seventy bucks.
Having said that, I must grant that some of my ancient, vinyl LPs proved much better "dubbing fodder" than did others. This is no reflection on the DAK hardware or software; instead, it's a reflection of the sonic characteristics of the original analog recording, not to mention the vinyl pressing, of a given record. Of course, the condition of your "used" vinyl will be a significant factor, too. I've generally found that even rather heavily played, "noisy" vinyl can (after using the supplied noise-reduction software) end up sounding more than satisfying. And "virtually virgin vinyl" can end up sounding downright dynamic, rich, and smooth--sometimes (almost) fully as enjoyable as a professionally mastered, retail CD!
In other words, although a few of my vinyl-to-digital CD-Rs sound merely "good," the majority sound "very good," and a noteworthy number sound downright "great"! I frankly never expected to get such (generally) remarkable results via DAK's tiny mixer and its compatible software.
A few of my vinyl-to-digital CD-Rs sound slightly lacking in the "low-end" part of the sonic spectrum (i.e., the bass). However, the majority sound, at very least, quite acceptable in that regard; and, again, a noteworthy number sound surprisingly dynamic and smooth even in the lower range, which I find remarkable given that we're speaking of 1960's through early 1980's LP's, some of which truly needed the noise-reduction treatment.
Use the noise-reduction software!
Speaking of the latter, initially I created a number of CD-R's without employing the optional "noise-reduction" step, which does add considerably (perhaps up to an extra hour or so, depending on your computer's processing speed, etc.) to the entire process of creating a new CD-R dub. Some of those "unfiltered" recordings sounded reasonably good. In fact, I was initially concerned about using any noise-reduction whatsoever; you see, I'd once heard that some (formerly common) noise-reduction algorithms could remove too much of the original musical content and therefore not produce a fully dynamic dub.
Thankfully, that's not the case here, and I soon adopted "complete" noise-reduction as part of my standard operating procedure. I discovered--frankly to my surprise--that the noise-reduction software included with this DAK mixer not only does an unbelievable job of virtually eliminating even the most irritatingly loud pops and ticks of vinyl records, but also it essentially leaves all the desirable qualities of the music very much intact. Therefore, I strongly suggest that you go ahead and try the noise-reduction steps from the very get-go with all your dubs. The extra time that noise-reduction involves is well worth it. It produces noticeably "cleaner" music.
Some of the CD-R dubs I'm now enjoying:
Just for fun, I'll now chat about the LP-backup CD-Rs that I created (strictly for my own use and to companion the original vinyl LP's that I likewise continue to own). [Feel free to skip to the conclusion of this review.]
Thorinshield: (self-titled) (1968) This was nearly my only (borderline) disappointment. On the one hand, the dub does sound altogether listenable and enjoyable. On the other hand, even with noise reduction, it still sounds a teensy bit "tinny." Perhaps my dubbing settings weren't optimal, and/or the original recording/pressing just doesn't lend itself to such dubbing via my relatively "cheap" 1988 Luxman turntable with P-mount cartridge, etc. I rate this dub "good to (almost) very good." I'm actually nitpicking to complain, given the age and nature of the original vinyl. I've got a few early store-bought CD reissues that sound worse than this dub!
Patrick Sky: Reality Is Bad Enough (1968) Considering the lousy condition of my overplayed vinyl specimen, the dub sounds more than adequately pleasing, including crisp, acoustic guitar and decent vocals. Noise-reduction worked miracles here: essentially all of the vinyl's ticks and pops--and some of its minor distortion--are "magically" removed!
Patrick Sky: Photographs (1969)
The original vinyl's in somewhat better shape, which accounts for the noticeably nicer sound of the very pleasing dub. The bass guitar on the song "Circe" sounds remarkably full-bodied when played through my B & W speakers. This rates "very good to excellent."
The Hassles: Hour of the Wolf (1969)
This is Billy Joel's early band. Although the opening track ("Country Boy") sounds tinny, it's a forgettable track anyway. More significantly, the more pleasing track "Night After Day" sounds "virtually very good" though not excellent. (The condition of my old vinyl likely slightly hampered the dub.) Nice to hear this late-sixties LP again after all these years!
Bruce Haack: Electric Lucifer (1970)
This is the original ("Book 1") Columbia LP. My dub rates "very good to (nearly) excellent." I'd likely have been waiting an eternity for a CD reissue of Haack's obscure concept record featuring not only moog synthesizer but also electronics of his own invention. [UPDATE AS OF 12-13-2007: SUBSEQUENTLY, A COMMERCIAL CD REISSUE DID FINALLY APPEAR, AND I PURCHASED (AND HAVE ENJOYED) IT.]
John Kay: Forgotten Songs and Unsung Heroes (1972)
John Kay: My Sportin' Life (1973)
I managed to fit both of these (more or less) "post-Steppenwolf" LP's on a single CD-R. In both cases, the sound is downright remarkable. I could almost imagine that the opening track ("Many a Mile") of Kay's first solo LP was professionally transferred by a major studio onto a retail CD! Wow. The money I spent for this DAK hardware & software was well spent!
Robert Fripp: The League of Gentlemen (1981)
Nice to be able to hear all the original tracks again (a CD edition released in later years was incomplete). Such dubbed tracks as "Inductive Resonance" almost approaches "studio-quality" while others sound merely "very good."
Rick Nelson: Memphis Sessions (1986)
This somewhat controversial Epic LP features tracks originally recorded in 1978-79. Reportedly, Nelson became outraged after hearing the "tampering" that the studio had finally done to the original versions of these songs. Most notably, this LP edition includes the conspicuously "up-front" lead-guitar licks that continuously accompany Rick's lead vocals. Having heard Rick's beloved "pure" versions (with, seemingly, scarcely any lead guitar at all!), I have to say Rick (in this particular instance) must have been nuts! Minus those supposedly "adulterating" lead-guitar licks, these tracks sound rather pedestrian and forgettable. But with the added guitar licks, this is one of my favorite Rick Nelson albums ever! In any case, my CD-R dub sounds downright incredible--virtually as pure, rich, full-bodied, and dynamic as any studio-CD release you could ever hope (in vain) to hear! Here's yet another example of why I'm thrilled to have shelled out seventy bucks for DAK's "mixer-plus-software" package.
If you own one or more obscure vinyl records (or tapes) whose precious music will almost certainly never be reissued commercially in CD (or MP3) format, you can either continue to miss that "extinct" music OR you can do yourself a big favor by creating your own analog-to-digital backups. Perhaps the most hassle-free and affordable way to do so is to order this reliable DAK PC Interface Preamp Mixer (with its bundled recording/editing and noise-reduction software). I'm sure glad I got mine!
P.S.: I also suggest you read the following review titled Supercharge your CD collection! at the following Epinions page: http://www.epinions.com/content_295802670724
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