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What You Get

The program itself and a comprehensive electronic help system.

System Requirements

  • Power-PC based Power Mac with a 1GHz G4 Processor or better - or -
  • Any Intel-based Macintosh (Universal binary)
  • 512MB or more memory
  • MacOS X 10.4 (Tiger), 10.5 (Leopard) or 10.6 (Snow Leopard)
  • 500MB (1/2 GB) disk space per album you plan to record

Vinyl Studio 7.5.x

By Monte Ferguson

In this day of digital media it may sound archaic, but there are those of us who still have older material that we’d like to preserve. Namely record albums and cassette tapes. (If you’re someone who is under 30 I will pause while you look up those terms, records and cassette, in a search engine….. )

The problem is, it’s not so easy bringing older media into the digital age. The Compact Disc was already a digitized format. Not so with records and cassettes. For the older material you have to first get the sound into your Mac. Then you have to find an app to capture that sound, clean it up, convert it to a digital format, and then store it on your computer. It sounds complicated, and it can be a chore. But the rewards are also great. In exchange for your time and effort you can listen to long neglected music.

Sound Editors vs Vinyl Studio
There are a number of programs that can record, and modify audio files. They can do the job. But they are not that straight forward to use, especially for novices. Nor do they make the process easy. I am sure that they work well but they are a general purpose tool that is really geared towards sound editing.

Vinyl Studio is a purpose built program. Not a general tool. It was designed to digitize analog recordings. It doesn’t try to be a recording studio. It looks at your recordings as a collection of music. Not a big audio file. From the get go you name the artist and album. After you finish recording you either tell the program where the track breaks are, or look them up within the program. Then fill in the name of the tracks, or songs. Place the track markers, and then save it. Job done.

Interface
Vinyl Studio takes a task based approach to organizing its interface.

The initial screen you are presented with is the Record section. New users will be happy to know that by default the program is set to display tool tips and suggestions. (The program tells you up front how to turn them off if they annoy you.) This is a thoughtful way of learning the program as you use it, rather than having to stop and refer to the help section. Initially you have to specify where to save your recordings. Then indicate the name of the artist and album. You can add other info like year and genre as well.

The Split Tracks section shows you a wave form at the bottom of the screen. You can manually place markers to indicate track start and end points. Or, you can try the Lookup Track Listing. If your album is found, all of the tracks will be labeled and markers in place automatically. Other options in this section include: Edit Track Details (should the lookup fail), Scan For Track Breaks, & Edit Album Details. Edit Album Details is where you can enter more info about the album and also indicate if it is a album without track breaks.

The next section is the Clean Up Audio Section. This is where the nitty gritty work gets done. Here you can correct the imperfections in the source audio file you just imported. There are tools in this section to remove background noises like hiss an hum. You can also removes pops and clicks. The remaining sections: Burn CDs & Save Tracks are pretty self evident. You can choose to export your cleaned up audio to physical media or save them as a digital file for use with iTunes and an iPod.

Pros
My first impression of the program was one of familiarity. Its initial interface is similar to audio gear I’ve used in the past. That is a plus. The program doesn’t try to overdo it in the wow factor. It tries to be familiar and approachable. The built in tool tips and helpful hints throughout the program are welcome. There are also several helpful features of the program that ease the recording process. I liked the fact that the program had a built in timer which counted down after the needle touched down. I didn’t have to fiddle with starting the recording. I just hit the record button. Then the program told me when to drop the needle. There is also a built in feature to stop the recording after it detects the needle has been raised. I also liked that the program has, right up front, a line levels read out. You can therefore adjust the recording level of your source to avoid clipping yet get the most out of a recording session. A running counter lets you know how much time has elapsed, as well as how much disk space has been used by the recording, in real time.

Beyond the initial interface and tools lie some quite powerful and handy features. The program has automated tools to remove; clicks, scratches, tape hiss, hum and rumble. Many programs make you go through tedious steps to remove those audio imperfections. It supports multiple levels of undo/redo. Very handy when you’re trying out various filters. It allows for experimentation. Though I have not put it to the test, the programmers claim that files saved in Vinyl Studio’s internal format take up half the space of competing programs recordings. Vinyl Studio is also non destructive. That means any work you perform on a file does not change the underlying audio until you export it out of the program.

Cons
While the program is a solid overall performer, it does have a few quirks and omissions that may make you pause. The program initially imports files into a proprietary format. Presumably this allows for the non destructive editing. But it might be a liability. Plan on exporting to another format, like AIFF, for archiving purposes. I would also recommend that you not use the online lookup tools to determine track breaks and album track listings. I had very spotty results with that feature. So much so that I got into the habit of manually entering track names. I wish the filters were not hidden as such. You have to scour the menus to find them. I also wish the interface was more clear about which filters were being used or had been applied.

Conclusion
There is a lot of work involved with importing, converting and cleaning up old analog recordings. The end result can be quite rewarding. But it demands a certain amount of patience and care. Of course the right tools make the job more enjoyable.

I have found Vinyl Studio to be a joy to use. It helpfully guides you through the initial, and hardest phases, of recording and importing your music. It offers automated tools to aid you in the audio clean up and export phases. Its built in help system, also located online, is quite extensive. With a program so thoughtfully laid out you can rest assured you are bound to be pleased with the results of your hard work.

Posted: Friday, December 3rd, 2010


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