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Digitizing Rare Vinyl 397

eldavojohn writes "While the RIAA is busy changing its image to a snake eating its own tail, one man is busy digitizing out-of-print 78s. 'There's a whole world of music that you don't hear anymore, and it's on 78 RPM records,' he stated to Wired. Right now, you can find about 4,000 MP3s on his site, with no digital noise reduction implemented yet."
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Digitizing Rare Vinyl

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  • poor server (Score:2, Informative)

    by eyeareque ( 454991 ) * on Tuesday August 12, 2008 @11:09PM (#24578235)

    Someone should download the entire site and post it on bit torrent... then email this guy so he can put the bit torrent link on his site.

    I feel bad for his poor server.. its about to get quite a few hits since this is now on slashdot.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 12, 2008 @11:19PM (#24578281)


  • (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 12, 2008 @11:30PM (#24578343)

    A Russian has been up to this since the mid-90s, digitizing old Soviet LPs (1930s on up) and putting them on his site ( []) for free.

    It's a very extensive collection, and is worth a look, regardless of what you think about Russia's past or current behavior.

  • by shoppa ( 464619 ) on Tuesday August 12, 2008 @11:33PM (#24578371)

    Most 78's (there are exceptions, including the very famous and historically important V-discs) are not vinyl.

    They are shellac, or rather a mixture of shellac, wax, slate, and a cotton or paper filler.

    I personally believe that the decline of the music industry is directly related to the replacement of shellac with vinyl, and that the RIAA must remedy this decline immediately.

  • Wax not vinyl (Score:3, Informative)

    by uncoveror ( 570620 ) on Tuesday August 12, 2008 @11:33PM (#24578375) Homepage
    78s were not made of vinyl. The substance was much closer to wax, FYI.
  • by NixieBunny ( 859050 ) on Tuesday August 12, 2008 @11:50PM (#24578475) Homepage

    The paper filler was useful in some cases - it kept the record from falling apart, so it would still play (albeit extra-noisily) if cracked.

    There was a spectrum of record pressing quality back then, too. I have some Billy Holiday records on Columbia that are nearly unplayable due to surface noise, yet many other records sound very clean.

    Some later 78s were pressed with vinyl, such as Elvis stuff. It sounds very good.

  • Re:78's, 16's... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Digital Pizza ( 855175 ) on Tuesday August 12, 2008 @11:57PM (#24578519)

    I was talking to a stereo repair guy in San Diego when a woman brought in an old record player, which happened to have the 16RPM speed available on it. He said that those records were pretty much just used for speech due to the low speed, and were mostly religious sermons recorded by preachers and sent out to their "flock" in the 1950's. (Presumably they switched to tape once that became common and affordable.)

  • by schwit1 ( 797399 ) on Wednesday August 13, 2008 @12:25AM (#24578659)
    He's doin' Yosemite Sam!!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 13, 2008 @12:35AM (#24578727)

    It is not the cartridge itself that matters. The shape of the needle changed from the 78 size to a smaller one for the microgroove recordings. (33 + 1/3 and 45 ) The smaller radius on the end of the later needles means that it will be riding on the bottom of the groove instead of on the two sides ( at 45 degrees). Back in the day (fifties and sixties)the cartridge often had both types and could be turned over to select the correct one.

    Of course for best fidelity the single use steel needle is preferred....:) I still have a wind up gramophone of maybe twenties or thirties vintage that uses these. No amplification, no electricity.

  • by Orion Blastar ( 457579 ) <orionblastar@gmail . c om> on Wednesday August 13, 2008 @12:56AM (#24578803) Homepage Journal

    some of the song lyrics are racist and at least one of them is x-rated and people have to request it.

    The early 20th century had a lot of raw, dry, dark, and offensive humor in their songs. People who didn't grow up during those days will find it horribly offensive, esp during the WWII anti-Japanese years or during when segregation was still a law and songs mocked African-Americans.

    Just a warning for people who are easily offended, some of these songs might offend them. So do us all a big favor if you are one of them and don't listen to those songs. Monty Python had a similar warning on their show for the same reasons.

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Wednesday August 13, 2008 @01:16AM (#24578913) Homepage

    I was expecting someone putting a record into a flatbed scanner

    That's been tried [], and it sort of works. But ordinary scanners don't have enough resolution. The Library of Congress has a scanner that does. [] They image the disc at a resolution of 1 micro per pixel, which yields 8 GB or so of imagery. Then they have software which can reconstruct the audio from the image.

    Not only is this useful for fragile, unique records, but it will work on cracked or scratched ones. It's even possible to reconstruct a broken record if you have all the pieces.

    The current scanner only works for horizontal recording; it can't read depth. So it won't work on vertically recorded records (Edison) or stereo (45/45 Westrex has two components 90 degrees apart.) They're working on that.

  • by Per Wigren ( 5315 ) on Wednesday August 13, 2008 @01:27AM (#24578975) Homepage

    It seems common for collection enthusiast like these to not understand or care about audio encoding, only the content. Not that I blame them for that though, but it's a bit annoying.

    For example the otherwise fscking fantastic SOASC [] project: "FLAC: Why should I? Better go real WAV instead", followed by "WAV: That would be dream, yes. But it would take 10 times as much space.". Then they provide overkill bitrate CBR MP3s because VBR has problems on some hardware from the mid-90s...

    Lossless is lossless is lossless, how hard can it be to grasp the concept that WAV == WAV.gz == FLAC?

  • Re:78's, 16's... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Z00L00K ( 682162 ) on Wednesday August 13, 2008 @01:55AM (#24579121) Homepage

    And another part too...

    The 78 RPM records weren't on Vinyl - it's Shellac, which is a lot more sensitive than Vinyl.

  • by dontmakemethink ( 1186169 ) on Wednesday August 13, 2008 @02:15AM (#24579223)

    If you really want a song to be cleaner, clean it up yourself and then send the mp3 back to him.

    Cleaning an MP3 is rather dubious since the final result will have been encoded, decoded, and re-encoded to a lossy format. The low frequency range of 78's makes it feasible, yet difficult to palate. Trust me, been there, done that.

    If you're aiming for a noise floor of a relatively modern recording, even from the 70's, you're looking at about 18+dB reduction. Removing large amounts of hiss is best done in layers with 6-7dB reduction each, so we're talking at least three passes through a good multiband noise gate, each layer leaving artifacts of its own.

    It's actually very interesting doing the processes together in realtime. At first it didn't make sense to me that they even made realtime multiband NR, but the best settings for each layer vary depending on the dynamics of the content. The first layer deals with just the louder segments, so you use different settings if they tend to be a vocalist or a drum, for example. The second and third deal with lower level sounds and don't vary quite so much, but the amounts of noise each layer will reduce is a matter of trial-and-error.

    In the end, you leave just enough hiss behind to mask the artifacts. Any artifacts present in the source file have to be masked too, so they greatly affect the amount of hiss that can be removed. He definitely should be archiving to a lossless format if he ever expects anyone to work on them at a later date.

  • by jabithew ( 1340853 ) on Wednesday August 13, 2008 @03:13AM (#24579463)

    "But the bits beyond the hearing range of humans are the best bits!"

  • by hedwards ( 940851 ) on Wednesday August 13, 2008 @04:03AM (#24579725)

    It's kind of moot considering that one would have to transcode from ogg to something useful if one is to listen to the files on a portable player.

    I know there's probably one or two players on the market that can handle ogg, but most of them can't, and as such MP3 is a far more useful format. Excluding of course any of the lossless codecs.

  • by beerbear ( 1289124 ) on Wednesday August 13, 2008 @04:20AM (#24579805)
    I'm a happy owner of a Cowon IAudio7. OGG and FLAC support out of the box, great sound, nice interface, big storage capacity.
  • The record is not necessarily a lossy format. While pure digital (mp3s encoded at 320+) gives you a lot of good sound, it still can't compete with the warmth and depth of old fashioned vinyl. I realize a lot of people will disagree with this, but most of those people haven't listened to a record on a high quality turntable through a good amplifier playing on really good speakers.

    The difference is highly noticeable.

    Sadly, you'll find more folks listening through the speakers that came with their fancy new Dell claiming the difference can't be heard.

  • by fosterNutrition ( 953798 ) on Wednesday August 13, 2008 @07:33AM (#24580635) Journal
    Amen! I hunted around for ages before finding a device with the features I wanted, and that little bugger has them all. Compared to similar offerings (in terms of storage anyway, because the feature set sure as hell is unmatched) it is damn cheap too. I really hope they consider sales of it to be a success so that they keep pushing OGG.
  • by molo ( 94384 ) on Wednesday August 13, 2008 @08:41AM (#24581171) Journal

    FYI, in the US, it is only material published before 1923 that is guaranteed to be public domain.


  • by pz ( 113803 ) on Wednesday August 13, 2008 @08:50AM (#24581287) Journal

    That was pretty brilliant of the record companies, though, don't you think? Make the medium out of nice, soft vinyl, and make the worthless, replaceable needle out of the hardest mineral on the Mohs scale.

    Brilliant, that is, if you want to maximize the rate at which the media wear out.

    I have mod points right now, and this post makes me wish there was a "-1 ignorant" rating.

    You must be new here. Or at least not tech-savvy or young enough to never have thought about these things.

    If you want to minimize wear between two friction surfaces the WORST thing to do is to make them both out of the same material. The best is to make one hard and the other soft. I don't know why this is true, but perhaps someone more versed in mechanical engineering and materials science can explain. In watches, for example (mechanical ones), the jeweled bearings you hear about are typically a sapphire or ruby (synthetic) cone in which a metal (steel or brass) pin rotates, not gem-against-gem. So diamond-against-vinyl makes sense (hard against soft). And not all phonograph needles were diamond; that was a relatively late phenomenon.

    But far more important is how the medium -- the record itself in this case -- is manufactured. In some cases they were injection molded (rare), but more often they were pressed. Now think for a second, how are you going to make records, and do it inexpensively enough that you can sell them? Make them out of metal, like steel? And then what, cut each groove? Probably not (although that's exactly how the original lacquer disks were made). A moldable plastic sounds like a good idea. And that's how the majority of disks were (and still are) made: take a hot lump of vinyl, about the size and shape of a hockey puck, and press it between two hot disks of metal into which are carefully machined (ie, cut) grooves. Use enough pressure and the vinyl will replicate nearly every nuance of the mold. Although you can do this with a hard plastic, plastics are all pretty soft, and hard plastics have a regrettable tendency to break easily because they're brittle (like the old 78 RPM disks).

    Now, you can argue that perhaps a less expensive material could be used instead of diamond for the needle, and was for a long time (eg, garnet), but the materials cost of industrial diamonds that weigh a few micrograms is next to nothing. The expense is in the shaping (playback needles aren't just pointed cones, at least good ones weren't) since that requires highly specialized equipment and skilled labor.

    So, yes, it is brilliant to use diamond and vinyl. Did you ever see black dust or ribbon coming off of a record from the needle -- at least for one that was in proper alignment and not being dragged crosswise? I never did. And I still have my very playable record collection. The wear in records was not from removal of material, as with many wear mechanisms, but in gradual reshaping of the groove as the needle passed through. Thus the progress over time to lighter and lighter contact pressures and lighter and lighter cantilevers, with lighter and lighter moving masses -- eg, the moving magnet approach.

  • by sm62704 ( 957197 ) on Wednesday August 13, 2008 @09:12AM (#24581565) Journal

    there is no real technical reason for vinyl to sound better

    Sorry, but your link is woefully ignorant and has some really bad inaccuracies. For instance, "The vinyl surface is heated to several hundred degrees on playback, and repeat play of the same track should wait at least several hours until the vinyl has cooled". That is just utter bullshit. Not everything in that article is wrong, but there is much wefully inaccurate information in it.

    The 44k samples per second of the CD limits the upper frequencies to 22kHz. Yes, that's higher than you can hear, but all the high frequency harmonics are gone. Those harmonics color the frequencies you CAN hear. Plus, the closer you get to that 22k, the more aliasing you have.

    Analog mastering introduces noise, but digital mastering introduces rounding errors and aliasing.

    If you have an analog medium from a digital master, or a digital medium from an analog master, you have the worst of both worlds, with th edisadvantages of both and the advantages of neither. The LP of Led Zeppelin's Presence will sound better than the CD (provided your turntable is good enough), while the CD of Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit will sound better than an LP version no matter how good your turntable is.

    Digital has a far larger dynamic range than analog, but oddly the only place you see those dynamics is in the movies, and they're done badly there. I've wished for a "dynamics compression" module so I could watch a movie where the music wasn't thundering while the speech is berely audible. CDs, OTOH, almost never use the dynamic range they are capable of. I can NOT for the life of me figure out why the LP version of Boston's first album has so much more dynamics than the CD version; technically, the CD should have more dynamics. It's just a matter of bad remastering.

    I got a few things wrong in Digital vs. analog- which is better? [] (tape speed for one), but whoever wrote that wiki you linked should read it.

    Also if you want to digitize your own vinyl, read How to rip from vinyl or tape []. I should have more strongly stressed in both articles that with analog, the quality of the playback device is of utmost importance for fidelity. Usually with analog equipment (although not always) the more you pay, the better it will sound, even to untrained old ears.

  • by cmaurand ( 768570 ) on Wednesday August 13, 2008 @09:43AM (#24582057)
    I'm getting nothing but errors when I try to pull any of these up. They were working earlier, but it looks like Yahoo has pulled them.
  • by adolf ( 21054 ) <> on Wednesday August 13, 2008 @11:11AM (#24583755) Journal

    Every DVD player I've ever owned, from a fancy and early Apex, to a pyrotechnic Toshiba, a moderately expensive JVC, a so-cheap-its-nearly-funny RCA player from Walmart, and now a PS3, has had such a "dynamics compression" option either buried in the menu, or right out on its own remote button.

    Go look for it.

    If you're using a digital feed to a surround receiver, then you'll instead need to find a similar option there. If it doesn't exist, you can always buy 5.1 channels worth of analog stereo compressors, and tie their sidechains together so they all can operate in unison, and call that your "dynamics compression" module.

    There's no reason to wish.

  • by FrameRotBlues ( 1082971 ) <> on Wednesday August 13, 2008 @11:48AM (#24584477) Homepage Journal
    Mod Up. Old Victrolas only play at 78 RPM, but some had a speed adjustment IIRC. I think you can still get cactus needles from Antique Electronic Supply in Tempe, Arizona. []
  • by billcopc ( 196330 ) <> on Wednesday August 13, 2008 @01:55PM (#24586883) Homepage

    The problem with that particular wiki page comes from its "sources", which are mostly non-expert debates in the forums. Arguing back and forth until both parties admit they're unqualified, does not result in a statement of fact. One such thread featured an EE and a beginning self-taught DSP coder, making random statements, performing fundamentally flawed experiments using known-poor sound editing software (sorry, Audacity!), and finally divining contradictory observations from the absolutely useless results. They're more likely to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq than quantifiable truths in sound waves.

    The biggest fudge factor in the Vinyl vs CD debate comes from the re-mastering bullshit that has all but hatched today's overcompressed pop sound. It used to be that radio stations would compress the audio to maximize transmit power, but now even CDs are squeezed 6 to 15db beyond what they need to be, just to give that "loud" sound today's idiot kids lap up like high fructose pussy juice. Compounding the problem is the abundance of absolutely horrible speaker systems available in your average big-box store, which would make 70s music lovers cringe and puke.

  • by Hairy Heron ( 1296923 ) on Wednesday August 13, 2008 @02:38PM (#24587705)

    It's kind of moot considering that one would have to transcode from ogg to something useful if one is to listen to the files on a portable player.

    Actually a number of portable players support OGG and for things like iPods, etc you just install RockBox. No need to transcode anything.

  • by the eric conspiracy ( 20178 ) on Wednesday August 13, 2008 @03:36PM (#24588669)

    Urban myth. []

    We have plenty of examples of glass objects that are unchanged from Roman times.

  • by useridchallenged ( 1344333 ) on Wednesday August 13, 2008 @08:54PM (#24592903)
    Just to clear up some confusion, 78 RPM records are not made out of vinyl. They are made from shellac (for the most part) and are far noisier than vinyl because of the roughness of the shellac. In early 78s they would even add abrasives to the shellac so that the record would literally sharpen the steel needle as it was played. The SNR (Signal-to-Noise-Ratio) of the best 78 RPM record is horrible when compared to even the worst vinyl (ie. LP, 45). The work that the person is digitizing from 78s pre-dates the LP - which means that this is pre-1960s music. However, great music can transcend the medium - in spite of the hiss, crackle and pop of the shellac, you will still find yourself tapping your toes. I think people can get too caught up in format (uncompressed vs compressed, encoding type, digital vs analog) and hardware (like turntables, speakers, tubes vs solid state, etc.), and completely miss the music itself. But if you take the best that analog can offer and the best digital can offer and put them side by side, for the most part you will be splitting hairs technically, and aesthetically you will be down to subjective preferences.
  • I couldn't have said it better myself.

    I've wished for a "dynamics compression" module so I could watch a movie where the music wasn't thundering while the speech is berely audible.

    Many modern receivers have something called "dark mode", which corrects that to a certain extent. It's designed to make it easier to watch movies at night while people are sleeping, so that the thunderous music and special effects sounds are toned down so you can still hear the dialogue, all at acceptable volume levels.

Someday your prints will come. -- Kodak