The Early Years Part 3

If you have fallen asleep we are now at the creation of MK vinyl 2 CD in 2003 and the digital age is moving on at a fast pace so I decided it was time to down size my music collection by unpacking some of the cardboard storage boxes we had in the loft, both me and my wife Julie had our own vinyl records and audio cassette tapes as well as I had still remaining a couple of old Reel to Reels (they keep cropping up don’t they).

I had a fairly good hi fi set up and read up on how I could link up the hi fi system to my computer to be able to record from the vinyl records and the audio cassettes and transfer them to the digital domain.

The same principles apply when connecting up audio leads know the inputs and outputs and remember the output of a given piece of equipment has to go into an input of the receiving machine and get the left and right channels correct too?

I was easily able to get the RCA phono output from my amplifier to the 3.5mm input jack on my sound card using a simple 2 x RCA Phono male to 1 X 3.5mm stereo male plug this lead was 2 metres long. The audio came through loud and clear and the recording was very good aside from pop and crackle from the playing surface of the vinyl record.

I did a few vinyl records as a test and then began to look at how to lessen the surface noise from the vinyl. There was a few audio editing software packages around at the time so I tried Goldwave it did take a bit of trial and error and the results were pretty good but there seemed to be a dullness to the audio as filtering out pops and clicks really did take the brightness out of the recording leaving a sometimes lifeless piece of music, I did ask a few people to have a listen and some were amazed at how good the audio sounded and others said it was acceptable but not as good as a CD.

Then followed a trial of different audio software packages some offering a bit more than others but like so many packages out there all had good points but the ideal would have been a bit of each so this I did for a while recording on one package, filtering on another and compiling on yet another, I must point out that for me being almost blind I was trying to find software packages that would be compatible with My JAWS speech screen reader from Freedom Scientific made in the USA.

Further searching on the internet I came across www.cedaraudio.co.uk who were based in Cambridge and clearly offered a hardware solution to the pop and click removal but at a price tag of £4,000 wow! That is serious money so I contacted them to get a demo and was amazed at the quality of the products so my plan was to set up my own small business in audio transfer to partly fund the equipment upgrade that was necessary to get professional results.
So I came up with the name of MK Vinyl 2 CD or www.mkvinyl2cd.co.uk the MK relating to my postal code area and the vinyl 2 cd encompassing what I aimed to do, the only reason I went for the number 2 in between the vinyl and CD was the word ‘to’ was already a domain name already in use in the USA.

My next purchase was a professional record cleaning machine and I went for the Moth Pro MK2 a very sturdy not too smart looking machine but would do the business so to speak. I also changed my PC and invested in a custom built beast with on board digital inputs and outputs as the analogue to digital conversion was done by the Cedar Audio hardware before the signal reached the computer.

I have written a short article on how I transfer Vinyl To Digital which gives a bit more in depth information but by no means full of technical jargon so feel free to have a read.

The Early Years Part 2

Leaving home for anyone is a huge step for me it was only a small one ‘Not like Neil armstrong on the Moon’ I was ready willing and able to leave home and get a Milton Keynes Development Corporation one bedroomed flat in Fenny Stratford, bletchley.

It was not that I was unhappy at home but sharing all of my life with either my elder or younger brother does take your tolerance to the limits at times, with an elder brother who had the number one rule of ‘What’s Mine is Mine and What’s yours is also Mine!’ Well clothes, aftershave, hi fi, cassettes vinyl records gadgets which I had saved fror and looked after were all fair game to an elder brother! and you know that instance when you go to use a cassette tape and it is broken and you did not do it but you know exactly who did you are powerless in proving it and despite arguements and using the arbitration services of Mum & Dad you get no where. Jackets that suddenly disappear from your wardrobe and appear in your brothers but with an added beer stain or grease mark and guess who has to pay the dry cleaning cost ? yep me.
So in 1981 I got my own flat, so much space, my own kingdom, my own domain, decorated to my own tastes well need I say more? I worked hard and loved it if it meant working 7 days a week I did it to pay my rent and gradually furnish my flat, starting with second hand furniture, cooker, chairs, table, washing machine it did not matter as I replaced those things bit by bit.

I must admit I did not have too much of a social life as I worked many hours at that time working for a large carpet retail / warehouse company called Eastern Carpets they were based in tolpits Lane, Watford I worked at one of the large warehouse stores Millers Carpets in Dukes Drive bletchley, I was an assistant manager so trading over six days with late night Fridays I only had Sunday as a permanent day off but often chose to work with one of our carpet fitters in my spare time to earn some extra cash as when I first left school I was ann apprentice carpet fitter so knew the trade from floor level so to speak!

This also did mean I could afford to buy some speakers a pair of Wharfdale XP2 Lentons, big and heavy costing £95.00, I well remember going on the train to Comets in Bedford and bringing the brutes home on the train, along with a TRIO FM radio tuner and a TRIO Graphic Equaliser this all purchased as hi fi seperates in a stack cabinet this all stood pride of place in my lounge.

I made the next purchase in my hi fi collection a TRIO Cassette Deck so then I had the means of playing all the media I owned and was then able to make cassettes for family and friends for the booming market of in-car cassette players plus now being able to copy some of my Reel to Reel Tapes to cassette.

It was amazing how popular you soon become when you are able to do all this home recording, vinyl records, Reel to Reel Tapes to audio Cassettes.
You did of course get the pop and click of the vinyl record but no one knew any different in those days.

Without boring you all of the in between changes in life moving from my flat to buy my first house and later selling and moving on again, getting married having a lovely daughter losing my eyesight (thought I would slip that one in) quite significant really but will save that story for another day.

We can now get to the birth of MK Vinyl 2 CD, in 2003 living in Milton Keynes in the town of Bletchley.

Part 3 to follow

The Early Years Part 1

Since a young lad I have had a keen interest in hi fi equipment and like many youngsters of the 60s Dad had a Reel to Reel Tape recorder which we did get to use and the most usage that tape Recorder had was in recording the Top 40 on a Sunday eveninghosted by a variety of TV Top Of The Pops DJs alan Freeman, Ed Stewart, David hamilton, tony blackburn and Pete Murray to name but a few. The tape deck was a Fidelity 2 Track with just two speeds 3.75 & 7.5 inches per second.

The recording method was crude by todays standard we had the tape Recorder stood on the table with the microphone plugged in we stood the radio nearby with the microphone near to the radio speaker and that was as simple as it got, daring not to make any noise in the room whilst you recorded the music, and I do remember doing likewise to get songs from top Of The pops from the black and white TV usually with the microphone stood on top of the TV, but you know it was okay, not quality but just okay.

I did progress in 1975 to getting my very own cassette tape recorder a small mains and battery unit with piano type keyss with a microphone built in and also an external microphone, oh and an earplug! not headphones just a single earpiece.

In my early teens I did then realise you could actually record music from the radio or vinyl records via a plug in lead which was fantastic you did not hear any noise in the background from things like Mum hoovering or my brother slamming the door saying oops! forgot you were recording, really.

I much later purchased an Akai 4000 Reel to Reel which would do 2 and 4 track recording in mono format or stereo, I did have a set of stereo huge over the ear type headphones which made me feel like an engineer monitoring my sound levels and playback. I could only record from my radio cassette player and listen via my headphones no speakers!

That is where I think I was getting more serious about hi fi and once I had left school and got my first job and a means of my own money source I could do some saving and buy my beloved hi fi equipment my very first turntable being a JVC LA-11 which cost me £69.99 at Comet’s in Bedford and aside from Mum and Dad telling me I had more money than sense as it represented about 3 weeks wages!

As you can probably appreciate the turntable was only the start as to even be able to hear the records you have to have an amplifier so that was my next purchase a TRIO KA 110 to the cost of £112.00, which then allowed me to plug my headphones in and listen to my vinyl, still no speakers as I shared a bedroom and we had no space but I had fantastic stereo quality sound and could also connect my Reel to Reel up as well.

This was a basic set up I had for a while before the next big event in my life, I left home!

Part 2 to follow

Why Bake A Tape

To Bake Or Not To Bake
That is the question?

Most people think I have gone a bit mad when I tell them I am ‘baking tapes today’.

When customers tell me they have a very old reel to reel tape and not sure if it will be suitable for transfer to digital because of its age I can only say all will depend onthe condition of the actual magnetic tape itself, some magnetic audio tape including audio cassettes, video tapes can all breakdown over time and one cause which is commonly known as ‘Sticky shed syndrome’ will result in not being able to play that tape due to the nature of ‘sticky tape’.

What is happening in sticky tape is the adhesive that was used to bind the magnetic ferric oxide (rusty brown colour) coating to the carrier tape has started to degrade and becomes unstable or sticky so when you attempt to play the tape it will start to snag on the tape playback heads and rollers due to being sticky and will defragment and shed bits of the magnetic coating and adhesive residue.

Once this starts to happen you will be damaging the tape beyond repair or restoration as firstly it will destroy the audio quality, stretch or damage the actual carrier tape and leave a mess on the recording equipment playback heads, capstans and rollers which will have to be cleaned off to avoid further contamination.

The method of tape baking we use has worked successfully for us on reel to Reel Tapes and also on audio Cassettes. We use a Food Dehydrator which in simple terms completely dries out the tape, we put the tapes in the dehydrator for 24 hours at an even temperature and once this has been done we leave the tapes for a further 12 hours to cool and settle. If at that point we run the tape and it still does snag we can repeat the baking for a further period, however in my experience I have never had to do this.

Some audio restorers use convection type ovens but I have never trusted this method so can only comment on what i have done myself along with other colleagues in the audio restoration business.

So if you have any tapes that do feel a bit sticky you know what it is likely to be and be advised not to play them for fear of losing those precious audio memories.

A customer Question

Talking with a customer last week on the phone the question he asked was ‘Why should I choose MK Vinyl 2 CD?’…..

First and foremost my answer was I have been doing audio transfer work since 2003 I have learned an awful lot and am 100% comfortable that the audio transfers I do are done in the most efficient, effective and cost economical way to produce good results that customers really want.

We communicate with our customers confirm safe arrival of their media and do what we say on our website www.mkvinyl2cd.co.uk by first professionally cleaning all vinyl followed by recording on quality reliable turntables then that signal is sent to the www.cedaraudio.co.uk hardware from a world leader in sound & audio forensic technology. We manually separate tracks not relying on time saving software that can make drastic mistakes when trying to find those gaps in audio files the final audio is compiled to a high quality CDr disk in most cases but can also be made available to you in other digital formats like MP3, FLAC or wav on flash drives (USB memory sticks).

Audio tapes whether Reel to Reel or Cassette are all captured on quality reliable studio machines such as Revox, sony and Teac and the audio files edited and produced to the best possible quality we can achieve based on the audio condition of the original media that is sent to us.

Finally we take pride in returning the media in a well packaged and protected parcel and we email you to let you know in advance that the order is on its way, the final stage in the process is for the customer to pay us of course.

Our Vinyl to Digital Process

What happens to a vinyl record when it arrives at www.mkvinyl2cd.co.uk, it will surprise many customers as I know some customers do think that the cost to transfer vinyl records to digital is quite disproportional to the cost of the vinyl record whether a 7 inch single or a 12 inch LP.

When we buy in services we are first and formost buying time and expertise from a professional and depending on what that project may involve based on labour, materials etc will denote the cost.

From start to finish a 12 inch LP takes about 1.5 hours to transfer to CD, our first aim is to give the vinyl a deep clean and vacuum on a professional record cleaning machine, I use the MOTH Pro MK2 which offers a robust and reliable machine to work with. I am in control of the cleaning action, application of cleaning fluids and vacuum time as some machines do this all for you which may save you ‘hands on time’ but can mean spending more time if the cleaning was not thorough. The cleaning fluid used is dependant on the level of soiling on the record and we use organic fluids to ensure the playing surface is not likely to suffer any damage due to some high strength non organic solutions.

Our next stage is to place the record on the turntable and set up for recording. We do not use a basic USB plug in turntable but reliable higher end hi fi decks and in my case I use the Rega Planar 5 fitted with a goldring 1042 stylus and cartridge. We record at 24bit and 96000khz to achieve a good result in a .wav format.

At this point our set up chain is vinyl turntable to pre amp, to the HHB Pro 850 Cd recorder where the signal is converted into the digital signal as the Cd recorder unit offers great controllability of the signal in to allow for accurate adjustment in level and output to the www.cedaraudio.co.uk Declick rack mounted unit and then the final journey of the signal is to the hard disk on the PC.

At this point the digital signal is recorded by our chosen software program and in my case I use sony soundforge Pro primarily as I am visually impaired and need to use speech software soundforge allows for great accessibility via my access software.

Once we have the digital file we can then edit and compile as required so such things like sound enhancement, normalising signal, track seperating can be done. It would also be at this point we assess the audio files for suitability of our storage means for the customer such things as file formats like MP3, FLAC or WAV are considered but much depends on how the customer intends to listen or work with the audio.

The 78 rpm Record

Primarily these records fall into two categories firstly the vintage ‘shellac’ type generally associated with record labels such as HMV, Victa & Parlaphone were produced commercially and played using steel tip needles and produced in mainly 10 and 12 inch diameters.

Secondly the 78 rpm records that most customers bring to us were those privately produced in-house by dozens of small recording studios around the country back in the 1950s that offered the services of recording family & friend type recordings such as singing, singing with piano in background or poetry & birthday greetings, personal messages etc.

These records were usually on a metal alloy base (sometimes glass) with a black ‘acetate’ or lacquer coating to which the groove was cut directly by machine from the sound modulation being transferred via the microphone. These records were not as robust as the shellac types and should be played using a fibre or trailing needle but in our experience many people only had the steel tipped needles which caused eventual damage to the playing surface hence quality is not very good with many unwanted audible thumps and clicks.

The acetate or lacquer coated 78s were also widely used in the recording & broadcasting industry as a quick way of capturing audio for demo or sample records and in this respect were not really intended for longevity. The acetate records were also made in the 1960s on more modern cutting machines at 33.3 and 45 rpm speeds again as simply a way to put varying audio into a wider playing platform such as demo discs for musicians to spread their music to radio stations. Often these dubs were taken from Reel to Reel tape recorders which were becoming more popular and affordable.

The shellac type were robust as far as being played with a steel needle and the composition of the record had some granulated limestone and cotton fibre too! this gave it that inherant audible grinding and crackle as the steel needle travelled across the playing surface, they were however bery brittle and easily broke if dropped.

In the making of 78 rpm records there are also slight differences in the width of the groove wall that the stylus runs along so we have to keep a selection of stylus with different tip thickness, this also helps in some cases where damage has occurred to the playing surface because a thinner tip stylus will ride further down the groove wall and may give a better sound and likewise a thicker stylus will travel higher up the groove wall which in turn may sound better so it is not a definitive solution but a bit of trial and error on our part to get the best possible result in capturing the audio.

It can also be noted that although 78 rpm is a quoted speed in some cases they can vary and again it is a question of getting the right balance sometimes a bit more difficult to judge as speed alters pitch and if you have nothing to match your captured audio to soundwise it is a bit more challenging.

The 78 rpm records do take more careful cleaning and in some cases a wet cleanis not appropriate so different approaches have to be used in a dry clean which could be brushing and vacuum.

We use the Rega Planar P78 turntable which is made for playing 78s and we have fitted this with a mono Nagaoka cartridge and keep their own brand 78 rpm stylus in a range of four tip sizes these cost on average £109 each so we treat them with great care.