Yesterday’s post of 78s generated lots of interest and a few inquiries about the process I use to record old 78 rpm records. For those of you interested in the equipment and process, I’ll run through it...
Turntable – Denon DP-60L (no, the DP-60L does not play at 78, more about this later)
Cartridge – Ortofon Super OM-30 (I replace the stylus with an Ortofon 78 stylus on this cartridge when recording from 78s)
Pre Amplifier – Carver C-1 (serial number 00014)Output to sound card through external processor loop
Software – Audacity Digital Audio Editor
Cleaning and preservation Fluids – L.A.S.T. (Liquid Archival Sound Treatment)
Tracking Force Gauge - AcousTech Stylus Force Gauge
Over the years I have owned several turntables. My favorite that was capable of 78 playback was an old Dual by United Audio. I used that Dual to record many 78s to open reel tape, but alas, that old record player is long gone. My current (that sounds strange to say about something I’ve owned for over twenty-five years!) is a direct-drive Denon DP-60L mounted with the straight tonearm and lightweight headshell. Before each use I clean the stylus using a short, dense fiber brush and LAST stylus cleaner. Twice a year I immerse the stylus in an ultrasonic cleaner for an hour or so. A standard 100x student’s microscope is essential to check stylus condition during cleaning. Once the stylus is clean and replaced, I set the tonearm tracking force using an AcousTech Stylus Force Gauge. I usually run the tracking force at 1.25 grams for LPs and 2.1 grams for 78s. The new Ortofon 78 replacement stylus that I got just this week has made a tremendous difference in quality. I believe that the thinline elliptical stylus of the Ortofon Super OM-30, while great for getting into the untouched portion of the grooves on LPs, was getting lost in the wider grooves of the 78s.
Now that the turntable is ready, we move on to the records. Many years ago, I almost bought a Discwasher automated record cleaner, but I continue to clean records by hand. If a record has not been previously cleaned and treated, I pre-wash with a mild surfactant-type dishwashing liquid (such as Dawn) and a soft synthetic sponge. After a thought rinse and air drying, I clean with LAST Power Cleaner. Vinyl LPs then receive a treatment with LAST Record Preservative. I have used this on 78s that are in really bad condition, such as the Bill Monroe I posted yesterday. LAST Maintenance Cleaner is used before each play. I have tried Bluenote Kymyas Record Conditioning liquids before and was impressed, but I’ve been using LAST for over twenty years. Why change now?
As I mentioned above, my turntable does not play at 78. Fortunately, the editing software that I use has an option to change the speed after the recording is made. I usually record at 45 rpm unless the record is in extremely bad condition, in which case recording at 33 1/3 rpm seems to reduce some ticks and pops. Audacity Audio Editor is a great open source program. It does include a noise reduction add-on, but I have found that it clips too much music even at the lowest settings, so I do not use it. I do use the equalizer when a lot of surface noise is present. The equalizer includes several pre-sets for the most popular 78s (Decca, Columbia, RCA Victor, etc.) or is user adjustable. The “Tick Removal” tool is useful as well as the pitch adjustment and fade in/out. Files may be exported as mp3, ogg or many other formats.
Each 78 rpm record takes an average of one to one-and-a-half hours from start to finish. Before I post the files, I drop the bitrate down to 112k bps using Switch software from NCH Swift Sound.
For those that inquired, I hope that this has helped. Most of the records in my personal collection (over 3000 LPs and 100 78s) are in generally good condition, but some are less-than-perfect treasures found in used record shops. All are treated with care and stored in archival sleeves. Of all the different equiptment and technics I have experimented with over the years, I find that the replacement stylus has made the most dramatic improvement in quality. I do not expect to get good quality results with lesser quality equipment, a high quality cartridge and stylus are essential, as are the alignment and tracking forces.
I purchase most of my record cleaning supplies from Jerry Raskin’s Needle Doctor
Audacity software is available for free download at Audacity
The audio file conversion software I use is Switch Plus Sound File Conversion Software
Those riders that transfer old 78s and LPs to digital and want to exchange tips and tools, drop a note or leave a comment. I'd love to hear from others who are preserving their old shellac and vinyl.