A DJ’s Guide To Ripping Vinyl

Phil Morse | Founder & Tutor
Read time: 7 mins

Over the years, I’ve made a lot of mistakes trying to rip vinyl so that I can play those files digitally. I once spent a whole summer ripping pretty much my entire record collection, not realising that 128mbps MP3s are probably not the best audio quality to be using for DJing! That was 2004, and my knowledge – along with the size of my hard drive – has grown an awful lot since! But one big thing I’ve learned is that really, it’s not worth ripping vinyl unless you’ve got a very good reason to do so.

Weird way to open a comprehensive guide on ripping vinyl maybe, but hear me out: It takes too much time and the results are almost certainly not going to be as good as simply going and spending a few pennies on the digital file of the song that you want for your DJing.

However, that said, I do still regularly rip vinyl for various reasons. And if you’ve got a large vinyl collection, or you’re addicted to collecting records, and you’re also a digital DJ, there are definitely going to be times when you want to do so as well. So if that’s you, read on: In this article, I’m going show you in detail how it’s done.

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What’s covered

We’re going to look at what you need, then at the process that you’ll be following to do it successfully, and finally I’ll share some hard-won practical tips.

We’re going to focus mainly on how to do this for individual tracks, because you should really only be adding individual tracks to your DJ collection that you’re actually going to DJ with – a DJ collection is no place to be adding album after album of stuff that you’re never going to use in a DJ set. However, we will look at how to rip whole releases and albums towards the end of this article, as it is something vinyl collectors will want to do aside from DJing at times.

A DJ’s Guide To Ripping Vinyl – Contents

Watch the show

Prefer me to talk you through this? In this video, a recording of a live show from the Digital DJ Tips YouTube channel, I talk you through everything in this article, and we take questions from our community on the subject.

Why rip vinyl?

There are four big reasons why you may want to rip vinyl. The first reason is the obvious one, which is that you want a digital copy of something that you own on vinyl (or even – God forbid! – cassette, but we won’t go into that here), and you don’t know where to find it as a digital file. Essentially, it’s not available to buy. In this instance your only option is to rip the record that you already own.

Read this next: Where DJs Get Their Music

The next reason is an economic one – if you have loads of records that you want to DJ with, especially if you’re moving to digital DJing from playing with vinyl in the past, you may not have the money to buy them all again as digital files.

Now I’ll reiterate that unless you’re cash poor and time rich, it’s almost certainly a better use of your efforts to simply go and buy those files digitally. But that was the exact reason I spent that summer ripping all my vinyl back in the day. I simply couldn’t afford to buy digital files. And to be honest, back then, there wasn’t really a good place to buy them.

Especially if you’re just starting in digital DJing but have been collecting records all your life, you may just take a look at your vinyl collection and say, hey, there’s 50 tracks in there that I know I’m really going to want to play in my digital sets – I’m just going to rip them! And that’s fine.

Another reason applies especially to those DJs who play hybrid sets, where maybe your set-up allows you to play vinyl as well as digital files. In this case, while you may be happy playing the actual records of certain songs usually, you may have other records that are degrading and you want to clean up and preserve them before it’s too late. By ripping them and applying processes to the files, you can do that, while also creating versions of those songs that actually sound better than the original, degraded vinyl.

For instance, I have a couple of cherished acetates (acetates are a special one-off pressing of remixes etc that DJs used to get made back in the day) that were given to me by big-name DJs. And the thing with acetates is, you can only play them a couple of dozen times and they wear out. So for me, digitising those was a no-brainer.

And a final reason for ripping vinyl, of course, is if you’re a DJ/producer – you may simply want a record deck alongside your other production equipment in your home studio, so that you can very quickly rip samples from obscure records, or add scratching and vinyl effects using a real turntable to your productions.

(While admittedly that’s a slightly different use case, a lot of the equipment that we’re going to go through here is exactly the same. Ultimately, it involves taking an analogue recording and digitising and processing it. So if that’s you, you’ll find a lot here for you as well.)

What You Need To Rip Vinyl

Record deck

Firstly, you’re going to need a record deck. Unfortunately, most of the cheap all-in-one ripping or portable decks that are advertised as USB turntables are not good enough for doing this. The audio quality simply won’t be there. The good news is, if you already own DJ turntables, they’re almost certainly going to be good enough. And any type of entry-level hi-fi turntable is also fine.

In my work life I have Technics 1210s and a high-end digital mixer (Pioneer DJ DJM-A9), while at home, I have an “all-in-one” turntable (with some of the features we’re about to discuss built-in), namely the Pro-Ject Debut RecordMaster II.

Setting up your turntable properly

Having a good turntable is not enough – you need to make sure it’s set up properly too. Having a good cartridge and stylus, then ensuring you have the tracking weight (which is the weight that’s applied to that cartridge and stylus as it’s playing the record) set correctly – no pennies on headshells here!

Also, making sure that you have the anti-skate control set correctly, which is the control that balances the tendency for the record deck’s arm to pull towards the centre of the record when playing. If your turntable has a height adjustment for the arm, follow the instructions to set that correctly for your particular cartridge, stylus and headshell too.

Phono pre-amp

The second thing you’ll need is a phono or “RIAA” preamp. This converts the very low output of a record deck into what’s called a line-level output, which can be digitised to feed to the computer. In other words, it’s bringing the record deck up to the same volume as, for example, a CDJ player or the audio output from your phone when you plug a cable into it (in order to play it through DJ gear).

Why are turntable outputs so quiet?

The reason the output from a record deck is usually very quiet is that it hasn’t been amplified at all within the deck. You can demonstrate this on a DJ turntable by unplugging the turntable from the wall and putting a record on. If you turn the platter by hand and plug the turntable into any phono input on a mixer, for instance, the audio will still be coming through absolutely fine.

The tiny level that’s there is created by a miniature magnet and a coil of wire that’s vibrated within the cartridge by the grooves of the record, hence the need for a preamplifier to take that signal and turn it into something we can use – in this case, something we can digitise to feed to the computer.

It’s important to note that this preamplifier is nowadays sometimes built into turntables – all turntables that are called “USB turntables” have it built in (such as the Audio-Technica AT-LP120X USB, and some turntables that aren’t USB turntables have a switch allowing you to change the output from line to phono (such as the Reloop RP-7000 Mk2).

Read this next: Roundup – The 9 Best Turntables For DJs

Audio interface

The third thing you’ll need is a minimum “two-in” audio interface (meaning it can feed two audio sources into your computer – ie a left and right stereo signal). There are lots of options here. Again, you may find that there’s one built into your record deck (a USB socket on the deck is a giveaway).

Alternatively, if you’re using a DJ set-up where you have turntables plugged into a DJ mixer, that mixer – as well as containing the phono preamp – may contain an audio interface. Basically, if there’s a computer USB socket on it, that means that you can plug it directly into the computer without the need for a separate audio interface. The same would apply to higher-end DJ controllers that have inputs for record decks.

However, basic audio interfaces that do this are cheap to buy – the Behringer UCA-222 is practically legendary. It’s worth noting that if you have a DVS set-up, which is a way of controlling DJ software with traditional turntables, the DVS audio interface or mixer definitely will do this job, with the added advantage of containing the phono preamp as well.

Ripping software

Next, you’re going to need software to record the digitised input on your computer. Literally anything that you can hit record in will work, but the most popular free program here is Audacity. It has lots of useful additional tools to help, which we’ll get into shortly.

If you’re planning on ripping a lot of vinyl, especially if you’re planning on ripping whole releases or albums, a pro tool like VinylStudio can make it much quicker, by giving you efficient tools to edit your results and automatically add metadata and artwork. Don’t underestimate the amount of time you’ll save by using software like this if you have a lot of vinyl to rip.

How To Rip Records

Clean the records

So now you have some vinyl that you’re certain is worth ripping, and you’ve got yourself set up – let’s look at how this is done.

Firstly, it’s important to clean your record(s). A specialist vinyl cleaning kit containing fluid and cloths will help remove dirt, dust and static. Don’t worry about every single pop and crackle, some of them may be impossible to remove anyway, so just do your best here.

We can tidy up a few of these later, but you should always do this, especially with records you haven’t played for awhile or have bought second-hand, to protect your stylus as much as anything.

Set the level and make the recording

Next, set the correct input on your recording software and test the audio is coming through, and then set the recording level so the recording isn’t in the red at the loudest part of your vinyl. There’s no need to push the recording too loud here (a common mistake) – we can get it as loud as possible later, but we cannot undo digital distortion later.

It’s now time to start the recording: Click record in the software, then drop the needle on the record. Don’t worry about the extra space or noise at the start of the recording, as we’ll trim this next. At the end of your track, stop the recording, then head to the software.

Tidy up, export and finalise the file

The first thing we’re going to do here is back up the raw audio we just made. This is in case you mess up the next stage. You can then return to it and optimise the track again later on. Keep that recording saved somewhere.

It’s time to use some of the editing and processing tools in our software. The first thing we’re going to do is remove the empty space at the start and end of our track by highlighting and deleting those areas. The next important thing is to remove any bad scratches or pops. You can always see these as they show as vertical lines on an otherwise smoothly undulating waveform – like someone’s drawn a line with a pen on your waveform from top to bottom.

Audacity has a repair tool that lets you highlight these tiny pops and then attempts to replace them with adjacent audio information, and it does quite a good job. It’s important to remove them because that means the next stage in the process will work properly.

That stage is called “normalising”. This is where we tell the software to make the file as loud as possible by taking the loudest parts and making them as loud as the file can handle, and then bringing everything else up by a proportionate amount. It’s literally like turning the volume up. It gives you a very loud file without changing the nature of the file, and without any distortion.

A useful option to tick on the dialogue screen in Audacity’s Normalise feature is “DC offset” correction, which is a technical fix that can reduce potential distortion, reduce headroom, even file compatibility with some gear.

All this done, it’s time to export as an audio file. You’ll need to choose the file format at this stage. I always export nowadays as FLAC because it’s lossless, reasonably efficient size-wise, and you can add metadata to it. But 320mbps MP3 is fine too.

Read this next: Music File Formats For DJs – A No-Nonsense Guide

And finally, it’s time to add that metadata and artwork if you use it. Now while you can do this in Audacity, I prefer to do it outside the software. One obvious place to do it is in your DJ software, or you can use a tag editor such as MP3tag.

The metadata I always add is a piece of artwork (no larger than 800 by 800 pixels and in the JPEG format – an Image Search in a search engine will usually find the right record cover) plus artist, title, year, and genre. But just add what’s important for you here at this stage.

Practical Tips For Ripping

So that’s it! That’s the process for ripping vinyl. Now let’s look at some nuances and a bit of further advice.

Take care when recording

So the first one is be really careful not to walk around in the room close to the turntable, or put things up and down on the table where the turntable is, or have the music too loud in the room when you’re ripping. Any wobble or bass feedback that gets transferred to the turntable at this stage is going to stay with your recording forever.

Think of it as a performance and allow the turntable to do a really good job for you on this one really important play-through!

Other clean-up processes

There are lots of other digital processes that some people like to apply to rips. You may hear people talking about subsonic rumble filters, “de-essing” filters, hiss reduction and more. These are all worth investigating, but my advice is to put more of your effort into having a properly set-up turntable and properly cleaned records, and then allowing the turntable to do a really clean run through of each track, which will eliminate most of these problems right at the source.

However, because you’ve made a backup of the raw file before adding any processing, if in the future you decide that some of these tools may be useful for certain recordings, you can always come back and revisit them later.

If there’s one extra process that you might want to consider, especially for very worn or old records, I’d recommend looking at “noise reduction”, which removes hiss and low-level, non-musical noise from the surface of the vinyl. It does this by asking you to play a part of the record where there’s no audio (for instance the run-in grooves), which it listens to to determine what is actually hiss and background noise, and then removes it record wide.

Ripping whole albums and releases

The process I’ve just described works best for the odd track that you want to rip. It’s highly inefficient for whole EPs and albums.

While Audacity does allow you to label and edit individual tracks, remove/ tidy up gaps between them, and export multiple files from a single project including metadata – for ultimate speed, specialised vinyl ripping software is a must.

Such software has automated clean-up tools, is faster for separating individual tracks in one big recording, and can look up and add metadata and artwork automatically for you.

The program I’ve used successfully (and still use) is called VinylStudio, but there are other options out there designed to achieve similar results. Look for a trial to check they suit you before buying.


Ultimately, ripping vinyl can be fun, and it can also be a great way to catalogue and preserve hard to find music. But as I said at the start, for most DJs, most of the time, buying the digital files of the songs you want is likely to make more sense than doing this.

However, if you still want to have a go, I’ve just given you everything you need to get started. If you have any questions about the process, please ask them in the comments below. I’d be happy to help.

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Last updated 26 February, 2024

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