Recording with USB turntables or USB cassette decks

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Audacity is often included with USB turntables, USB cassette decks or USB sound cards, and is suitable for recording from any USB audio device using the instructions on this page.

USB audio devices connect to the computer's USB port and are used to transfer records, or tapes, to digital audio files (from which audio CDs can be burnt). This is very useful if your computer doesn't have the necessary line-in port for digitizing LPs or cassettes with a conventional turntable or tape deck. USB turntables often include a line input to which standard tape decks or similar sources can be connected for transfer to the computer.


Much of the information on this page, and the pages linked to below, also apply to recording with USB tape cassette decks and audio devices connected with external USB sound cards.

Please see the Audacity Wiki page on USB Turntables for a fuller discussion of the operation of these devices.

Some users with extensive experience of digitizing LPs and tapes believe that connecting a good quality conventional turntable or tape deck to an external USB interface or sound card is an ideal solution. USB sound cards usually do not suffer from the transmission problems of USB turntables or tape decks, and are also free from the random clicky noise that can afflict sound devices built into computer motherboards. Moreover their analogue-to-digital converter (ADC) may be superior to that provided with a USB turntable

Ensure the Audacity software is up to date

Make sure you have the current version of Audacity as the software provided on the device manufacturer's CD can be out-of-date. Note that neither the version number of the CD nor that of any guides produced by the manufacturers necessarily relates to the Audacity version number. To check your current version of Audacity, choose Help > About in the menu (or Audacity > About Audacity on OS X). Then go to the Audacity download site and, if needed, download the latest Audacity for your operating system.

Manufacturer's guides

The guides provided with the devices might be confusing, they are written by the device manufacturer rather than by Audacity. Sometimes the guides supplied with the devices are out-of-date or have errors. Here are some errors that you may come across:

  • Many manuals state that you should "select stereo mix for your input". This is not the case, rather you should be setting the USB device as your input.
  • Audacity Preferences are not under the File menu, as many manuals state, except in the legacy 1.0.0 version of Audacity which is only appropriate for Mac OS 9 and Windows 95. Preferences are under the Edit menu, or under the Audacity menu on OS X.
  • You do not need to select Monitor Input each time you launch Audacity, as some manuals urge you to. Monitoring the input is optional and allows you to hear the device through the computer speakers just like an ordinary turntable, or cassette deck, whenever it's playing, without having to record. If you want to select Monitor Input, you need to have the Meter Toolbar enabled (note: NOT the Mixer Toolbar that some guides state). Instructions on this are below.

Set up Audacity to record from the USB audio device

Connect the USB cable of the device to the computer. Connect to an empty USB port on the computer, not to a USB hub (a device that allows multiple USB devices to be connected to one of your computer's USB ports). Then launch Audacity. If Audacity was already running when you connected the cable, restart Audacity or choose Transport > Rescan Audio Devices.

  • Set the Audacity Project Rate in Selection Toolbar at the bottom left of the Audacity screen to 44100 Hz:
Selection toolbar
  • Use Device Toolbar to set the input (recording) and output (playback) devices and set the channels to "2 (Stereo) Input Channels":
Device Toolbar showing USB turntable selected for input
    In the above example on Windows 7
    • the output is set to the named speakers of the built-in computer sound device,
    • the input is set to the USB device (usually called or including the phrase "USB Audio CODEC")
    • recording channels are set to stereo.
    Windows Vista and later call most USB external devices "microphones" but Windows XP and earlier do not. Some higher-end USB recording interfaces may appear as their explicit manufacturer's name.
Operating System Specifics:
  • On Windows Vista/Windows 7/Windows 8:
    1. By the system clock, right-click over the Speaker icon > Recording Devices then right-click over USB Audio Codec > "Properties".
    2. On the "Advanced" tab, in the "Default Format" section, make sure the drop-down menu is set to "2 channel 16 bit 44100 Hz".
  • On Mac OS X:
    1. From Apple Menu > System Preferences select "Sound" and click on the "Input" tab
    2. Select "USB Audio CODEC" or similar as the input device and verify the meter shows input. If not, from the Finder, select Go > Utilities >, and open Audio MIDI Setup click the Audio Devices tab, then select your USB device in the "Default Input" and "Properties for" drop-downs. Choose "44100.0 Hz" and "2ch-16bit".
  • From the Transport Menu check "Software Playthrough" to be "on" to hear the turntable through the computer speakers; this setting can be toggled on/off easily from the Transport Menu.
    These settings will be stored in your Audacity Preferences under the Devices and Recording sections and will be remembered when you next relaunch Audacity.
  • Set your recording level:
    • Turn monitoring on by clicking once on the microphone icon in the Meter Toolbar.
      MeterInActionGood.png
    • Go to the Mixer Toolbar and turn up the left-hand output volume slider (by the speaker icon).
      MixerToolbarWithoutInputSelect.png
    • The right-hand input volume slider (by the microphone icon) can often be used to vary the loudness of the recording, but it may not function with all turntables. If it does not, try adjusting the input level on the turntable (often, there is a gain control under the chassis). Alternatively, you may be able to set this in the operating system mixer (right-click over the speaker icon by the system clock).
    • Try to aim for a maximum peak of around –6 dB, which corresponds to around 0.5 on the waveform. You can always boost the level later with Effect > Amplify... or Effect > Normalize... after you have completed editing.
Possible solutions for excessive output volume if there is no gain control on the USB audio device:
  • If the device has RCA leads for connecting to speakers and your computer has a line-in port (blue), plug the RCA leads into an RCA stereo > 1/8 inch stereo TRS adapter (obtainable from most electronics retailers), then connect the adapter to the line-in. Set Audacity to record from line-in then you can use the Audacity input slider to control the level.
    • If you have no line-in, do not use the microphone (pink) input unless there is a way to switch it to line-level stereo or unless it offers line-level stereo compatibility.
  • If the cartridge is replaceable, take it to a hi-fi shop and see if you can get a lower output cartridge. If the cartridge is ceramic (cheap USB turntables often use these) it will have a high output. Replacing this with a magnetic cartridge will give lower output and better quality.
  • Then, ignoring any instructions in the manufacturer's guide to select "stereo mix", simply press the red Record button image of red record button in Transport Toolbar to start recording from the turntable.

Recording, editing and exporting

Once your USB turntable or cassette deck is set up and working properly, go to the Basic Recording, Editing and Exporting section of our Tutorial - Copying tapes, LPs or MiniDiscs to CD for instructions on how to:

  • make and edit your recording
  • export it to an audio file
  • import it to iTunes or Windows Media Player
  • burn it to CD

Troubleshooting

The following potential problems during recording are discussed in detail in the Audacity Wiki - see: Troubleshooting

Links

|< Tutorial - Copying tapes, LPs or MiniDiscs to CD

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