How to digitise your CD and record collections

What are the best direct-drive turntables, CD drives and hi-fis for digitising your CDs and records? BBC Music Magazine's audio expert Chris Haslam answers all your questions and more

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What should you do with CDs, LPs and cassette tapes?

In 2019, 79.5 per cent of all music consumed was streamed using online services. There’s no escaping digital and the undisputable convenience of it, but what about your CDs, LPs, cassette tapes – and even those old reel- to-reel recordings hiding in the attic? Naturally I still advocate a good quality hi-fi with CD player and turntable, but if you’re looking to streamline your collection, or maybe save some irreplaceable analogue recordings, you can digitise pretty much any format for future enjoyment.

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How to digitise your CD collection and upload your CDs to your computer

If your computer has a CD drive, uploading your CD collection is easy, albeit potentially time-consuming. Mac owners can organise their library using the Music app, while PC users can download free music management software including Audacity and Exact Audio Copy. I would recommend storing your music collection on a separate hard drive, while an NAS (Network Attached Storage) drive makes your music accessible over the internet for wireless streaming.

How to digitise records and LPs

Digitising record collections is a little trickier, requiring a turntable with a USB output (try Audio Technica, Sony or ION) or a phono preamp with USB such as the Pro-Ject Phono Box USB V (£149, henleyaudio.co.uk) that works with your existing turntable.

How to digitise cassette tapes

Cassette tapes – which degrade faster than vinyl – can also be digitised, and if you have a tape deck you can connect its 3.5mm headphone output to your computer’s microphone input. Alternatively, players with USB outputs work well, while cheap £30 portable tape players like the ION Audio Tape Express can do it easily – although don’t expect flawless results.

How to improve the audio quality of digitised records

Always record in the best possible audio quality you can, but have realistic expectations, particularly with 78rpm records which are never going to be perfect. And remember, unlike CD ‘ripping’ you’ll need to use software to create individual tracks and name them. You can also clean up poor recordings, although that might lose the individuality and little imperfections that your recordings have picked up over the years and that you’ve grown to love.

What about reel-to-reel recordings? My father has a collection I’m keen to preserve and with his old player still working (just) and a five-pin DIN-to-stereo jack, I can connect to his computer’s microphone. That said, I may cheat and call on the services of an audio conversion specialist. vinyltodigital.co.uk is a company that can work with any format, including the short-lived MiniDisc.

The best CD drive for digitising your CD collection

Naim Uniti Core £1,999

With capacity for over 100,000 CDs, this wonderfully accomplished CD drive and music server makes transferring your collection to digital completely fuss- free, with easy playback in the highest possible quality. naimaudio.com

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The best direct-drive turntable on the market for digitising your record collection

Audio Technica AT-LP120XBT-USB £289

Perfect for vinyl lovers and digital streamers, this direct-drive turntable plays 331⁄3, 45 and 78rpm records, has Bluetooth for streaming to a separate speaker and USB output for digitising your old records to a computer. audio-technica.com

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The best hi-fi system to digitise cassettes and CDs

Teac Audio TEAC AD850 £399

This innovative hi-fi separate with CD player and cassette deck plugs into your existing set-up – thanks to the USB input you can digitise and transfer your music directly to USB flash drives. teac-audio.eu

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This article appeared in the December 2020 issue of BBC Music Magazine.