Using NPC to rip vinyl - first try


#1

After playing records through the NPC’s phono stage for a couple of weeks, last weekend I made my first attempt at ripping a record using Vinyl Studio (http://www.alpinesoft.co.uk/). I ran into one problem (see below) but think I should mention two resources for those who, like me, are new to this process:



a) Vinyl Studio is definitely worth a look. I haven’t tried all the other software out there, but I can say that Vinyl Studio is well organized and provides a logical workflow – much easier than Audacity, which can be made to work but is not really designed for recording records and is limited to 16/44.



b) there’s a nice discussion of the process of ripping vinyl at http://birdhouse.org/blog/2011/02/20/digitizing-lps/. While I don’t agree with his decision to record MP3s, the article gives a good overview of what’s involved and would be useful for anyone just getting started at this.



Now the problem: my first recording has crackling sounds on it – like static on a radio when the weather is bad. I’m not sure about the source of this noise. It could come from:

a) an incorrect setting in Vinyl Studio. I read the manual carefully and think I got everything right, but I could have overlooked something.

b) an issue with my laptop. It’s a Win7 machine, very basic, purchased at the office supply store and not tweaked for audio, although it does have 4GB of memory.

c) RFI being broadcast in the vicinity of the NPC. My Synology NAS and an Airport Extreme sit on the shelf below the NPC, and PWD on a shelf to the right. No issues when playing through the NPC phono stage, though.

d) the USB cable; it’s a new AudioQuest, so I doubt this is the problem, but who knows.

e) a problem in the NPC; I would suspect a-c, but again, it’s a possibility.



I don’t have another laptop to use for testing. Any ideas about what’s causing this “static”? Anybody else using the NPC to rip vinyl? If so, please share your experiences.


#2

It is hard to describe noises of course, but from your description I bet it is a clock synch problem between the NPC and your computer/recording. This is a constant, pulsing noise which sounds a bit like slowly tearing fabric - a “ripping” sort of noise. You can hear the music fine as well, but would not want to listen to it.



I suggest increasing the buffer size in the recording software, as well as the latency if you have this to adjust. (You do not care if there is a bit of latency as you are not going to record anything on top of the LP, such as singing along.) Check all your other audio input settings as well. For example, check to be sure that the sync source is set to the correct digital input Turn off all unused inputs and outputs, if you can, etc.



Make sure the sample rate of the NPC and the recording software match. You may be able to tell the software to sync to the incoming clock.



Have you installed PS Audio’s USB audio driver? Is it properly selected in the software?



Perhaps there is a gain staging issue (where the input level expected by the software is lower/higher than what NPC is providing.) Make sure, for example, you are not recording line level out into a mic input. While this is an analog example, there are similar issues.



If you can post a snippet ( five to ten seconds will do) we may be able to help diagnosing the issue.



If you record “silence” (no record playing, but everything hooked up and on) do you get this noise? Have you tried recording another source, such as digitizing the output of a CDP or MP3 player?



Do you have a mic with a 3/8" jack you can plug into the laptop and record this? (change the input setting on your recording software to mic in). This bypasses the NPC all together. If this records cleanly it probably is an interfacing problem and not your computer itself.



There must be a Vinyl Studio forum somewhere. Have you posted your question on their forum?


#3
Elk said: I bet it is a clock synch problem between the NPC and your computer/recording. This is a constant, pulsing noise

The noise is not 100% constant -- every now and then there is a second or two without the noise.
Elk said: Make sure the sample rate of the NPC and the recording software match. You may be able to tell the software to sync to the incoming clock.

On the NPC, there is a setting called "Enable USB Mode." Once you select this (and I did), control over sample rate and such is handed over to the computer. The NPC manual is very clear about this.
Elk said: Perhaps there is a gain staging issue

I have the gain in the NPC set almost to the maximum because I have a fairly low output cartridge. Even so, the level indicators in Vinyl Studio are showing only 30/40% -- nowhere near the red line that you don't want to cross. This seems odd to me but I couldn't figure out what to do about it.

I'm going to be away for a couple of days on business. This weekend I will try recording silence from the NPC and also try a mic. The latter is a good idea because it will help me figure out if it's a vinyl studio problem or an issue in my computer. I think I did adjust the buffer size but will doublecheck that. Thanks for your suggestions!

#4

Let us know how your additional experiments work out. It appears so far that you are doing things in the best way possible.



The 30 - 40% level indication is very suspicious. My guess is that somewhere there is a gain level set too low (probably an input) and by cranking up the level on the NPC an input is being overloaded. This will result in digital distortion which is crackly as you describe, much nastier than analog distortion.



Is the signal going through a Windows control panel, such as Realtec? Are you using ASIO? (ASIO bypasses everything Windows).



I suggest checking the levels set in Windows (Start menu->Control Panel-> Sound). Make sure the levels for the USB device is set at 100%, no enhancements are on, etc.


#5

I also have a new NPC. love it for playing vinyl directly into PWD and then into an Octave V-110. Sounds great!

I want to try ripping now and I am looking for recommendations for software. I am aware of audacity, but have heard it is not for the novice. What else do any of you use and why? I plan to dedicate an audio PC to the task, but I also have a mac as well. Thanks


#6

I suggest Goldwave. It has all of the power and flexibility that you need for the purpose and is affordable.


If you want a very powerful, pro recording and processing option I strongly recommend iZotope's RX 3. It is one of the best audio restoration, SRC and dthering programs available and also will record.


Audacity is not difficult to use, but is limited to 44.1/16 when recording. (It accepts 24 bit input but pads all bits over 16 with zeros.)


#7

Thanks for the recommendation. I want high Rez. So audacity is a no go.


#8

Use Vinyl Studio http://www.alpinesoft.co.uk/ works great for high rez and soon DSD. It works on both Mac and Windows PC’s and takes a few minutes to get familiar, but then you’re off and running.


#9

thank you for the recommendation, I will give it a try!!


#10

@magister: with regard to your ‘choppy sound’ problem, try unchecking ‘Use WASAPI for recording’ in VinylStudio’s Check Level dialog and see if the problem goes away. WASAPI, although the preferred option, sometimes misbehaves.



If this works for you, you should also change Windows’ shared recording format to match the settings you are using in VinylStudio. This is done in the Sound section of the Windows Control Panel. I can provide more details if you need them.


#11

Welcome, Paul!



Thank you for posting. It is great for you to be here.


#12

Just wait till you guys see what Paul’s done with the program. I am testing a beta version right now that handles DSD like no other program on the planet.



Paul’s in this for the long haul and we have every intention of supporting his software.



It’s great he’s volunteered his time to make the program more high-end and to answer questions on the forum. I see great things!


#13
alpinesoft said: WASAPI, although the preferred option, sometimes misbehaves.

Thinking about this further . . . As he is using an ASIO driver, which bypasses WASAPI, it makes sense to try actively "turning off" the program's access to WASAPI. If the program tries to talk to two layers simultaneously (WASAPI and ASIO) there could easily be issues.

#14

Sorry, I missed that. And that’s not necessary. If ASIO is selected, the ‘Use WASPI’ option is irrelevant and is not displayed.



So, magister, if you have a native Windows 7 driver for the NPC you could try using WASAPI instead of ASIO. Maybe there’s a problem with the ASIO driver. It’s something to try at least.



Have you considered posting a short sound sample for Elk to listen to? He might recognise the symptoms (as might I).


#15

Reading these posts made my day. It’s terrific that Vinyl Studio will support DSD, and a big thanks to Paul S. for getting involved in this forum. I have the PS Audio driver set as my default in Windows, and it appears (if I recall correctly) in the pull-down menu in Vinyl Studio. I confess I am bit confused about the ASIO and WASAPI business – I do remember seeing an ASIO driver in the folder I unzipped before installing the NPC software from PSA.



As I said in my original post, I’m away from home right now. I’ll be back on Friday but am going to a concert that night (live music :slight_smile: ) so I’ll mess with the NPC on Saturday and post a sample if I can’t get things to work right. The comments here suggest that its a software issue, not a hardware problem, which would be nice–even though I am looking to get a new computer for audio purposes to replace the laptop, I’m still shopping and don’t have an alternative at the moment.


#16

It’s a software communication issue of some sort. I am certain we can get it figured out, especially with Paul’s help.


#17
> I confess I am bit confused about the ASIO and WASAPI business.

WASAPI ('Windows Audio Session API') is the 'Windows way' of talking to audio devices in Windows Vista and later. You can turn it off in VinylStudio, in which case it falls back to an older mechanism supported by Windows XP called MME, or multi-media extensions. As I say, this sometimes works better but involves a bit of configuration in the Windows Control Panel to get the best results.

ASIO ('Audio Stream Input/Output') is a third-party mechanism designed by a company called Steinberg which allows applications to bypass Windows completely and talk to the hardware essentially direct, at the cost of needing an ASIO driver provided (normally) by the hardware manufacturer.

As Elk suggested, I would give ASIO a try. Nothing to lose. I'm not sure how you install the NPC's ASIO driver, but that is a requirement. Also, as already suggested, when using the Windows driver try unchecking 'Use WASAPI for recording' in VinylStudio's Check Level dialog. So you have three options. Let's hope one of them works :)

#18

As promised, I experimented on Saturday but could not access the PSA site until today. Here’s what happened:



Unchecking “Use WASAPI” eliminated the static sound. The Input Source is the default recording device, which is the PSA Audio driver that I had previously installed. IIUC, PSA supplies an ASIO driver, so maybe there was some conflict between that and WASAPI. Problem #1 solved.



Problem #2 was the gain level. I had the slider all the way to the top but the loudest passages in my test recording only got halfway up, nowhere near the red zone, with most passages between 15 and 30%. I play most classical music between 45 and 55, as shown by the volume numbers on my preamp. Despite the seemingly very low level of my test, also a classical album, I played it back around 60 – so the level was apparently not as low as the check level indicators suggested, although I would like to record at a somewhat higher level. Because of my low-output cartridge, I have the gain in the NPC set pretty high for normal LP playback (third level from the top, out of 20 or so levels of gain available). Turning the gain up one level in the NPC helped a little, but not much.



In the Vinyl Studio help file under “Record Level,” above the third screenshot it says “If you have a USB device on Windows Vista or later, the Check Level dialog might look like this.” I have Win7 and the NPC is obviously a USB device, but I do not see the item “Set digital gain to 1 (recommended)” that is shown directly under the input source in the screenshot. Nor could I find such a control in the menus. Could this be involved in the low recording level?


#19
magister said: Unchecking "Use WASAPI" eliminated the static sound.

Excellent!

It make sense. After you get the level issue resolved I suggest you go back and make sure you are using an ASIO driver and Windows layer. It will sound better than going through Windows which I believe is happening now.

I do not have an NPC, but my experience suggests using all of the available gain of the NPC. There is no reason I know of to throw away clean source gain that is not overriding an input.

I have never used Vinyl Studio either (I know, big help am I). I hope Paul comes back to assist with this aspect of the program.

However, are you getting digital files that when played back are comparable in volume to the original analog source? If so, your overall gain staging is probably pretty good. You will know fi there is a problem if the digital files is noisier than the original (noise floor too high) or if there is distortion on the loud passages (an input being oversaturated).

If the file sounds good, but is quieter than you prefer you can always boost the overall level of the digital file later in post. Vinyl Studio appears to have a very easy to use normalization function. A simple volume post in the digital realm will not affect the quality of the sound.

#20
Elk said: There is no reason I know of to throw away clean source gain that is not overriding an input.

Interesting. Somewhere, years ago, I picked up the idea that one should not set gain in a phono stage higher than necessary. Don't remember the reasoning at this point. Setting the NPC's gain at the max might very well get me about where I'd like to be for ripping vinyl (as opposed to playing a record for regular listening).

Elk said: there is a problem if the digital files is noisier than the original (noise floor too high) or if there is distortion on the loud passages (an input being oversaturated)

Certainly no distortion, and not much if any noise. But I would not call the recording comparable to the original since I play the record in question at about 50 (preamp volume) for regular listening but had to play the rip at 60 to get it to sound about the same.

Elk said: Vinyl Studio appears to have a very easy to use normalization function.

Yes, I saw this in the Vinyl Studio manual. So there is a workaround if I can't actually get more gain.

Elk said: A simple volume post in the digital realm will not affect the quality of the sound.

Thanks, that is good to know. I am a total noob at recording, as you've probably figured out.