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Our Services — in a Nutshell

 

Conversion

 

We will convert your records; reel-to-reel tapes; and Compact, DAT, Mini-, and Micro- Cassettes to the digital format of your choice—music CDs, MP3 files comprising a digital album or a compilation, or high-resolution audio files.  Basic noise reduction is conducted after conversion to remove any system-generated noise, DC offset, and extremely low and high frequencies.  You’ll receive a track list insert in the jewel case for CDs, or separately for DVDs or flash drives.  We can convert CD tracks to MP3 files and provide ringtones created from your personal, non-copyrighted recordings as well as copies of your personal, non-copyrighted CDs.

 

Optional Services

 

Noise Reduction:  We apply software to significantly reduce artifacts:  clicks, ticks, crackle (“fry noise”) and pops on records, pervasive noise from worn grooves, and hiss on tapes.  The result is a cleaner and more enjoyable audio track.

 

Waveform Editing:  We can manually edit audio waveforms to reduce or eliminate unwanted noise that software was unable to correct.  We can also adjust the volume of individual tracks, and we can join into a single track parts of a piece of music that appeared on different sides of a record or tape.

Track Splitting Without a Track List:  In the absence of a track list and obvious signs in the waveform, we can split tracks only by listening to the entire audio file and using our judgment about where to make the splits.

 

Album Jacket Art for CD Case Insert:  We can scan an album jacket and print the result so it can be inserted in the jewel case.  We can also design custom inserts from record labels or your photos.

Physical Restoration of Reel-to-Reel Tapes:  Reel-to-reel tapes must be free from deterioration; otherwise, we cannot convert them.  We can incubate tapes suffering from binder or back coating deterioration to restore them to a playable condition (we can offer no guarantees that this will be successful).  If you intend to keep a tape that we convert to play it in the future, we can provide a tape preservative that will prevent hydrolytic deterioration.

 

Deliverable Media

 

We will provide you with a music CD, a collection of MP3 files on a CD, DVD or flash drive, or high-resolution audio files on a flash drive.  Additionally or as an alternative, music files may be made available for downloading from the Internet cloud.

 

Our Services — in Detail

 

Play It Again, Paul, LLC will digitize your records, mono or stereo ¼” reel-to-reel tapes (on 3", 5", 7", or 10.5" reels), Compact Cassettes, Digital Audio Tape cassettes (DAT — 44.1 or 48.0 KHz), Mini-Cassettes, and Microcassettes, providing you with music CDs, CDs or DVDs with MP3 files, or flash drives with high-resolution audio files that can be played, stored, and backed up without risking loss of fidelity due to wear or age.  You'll have the flexibility to play music on your computer, in your car, on your smartphone, on your CD or DVD player, or on your MP3 player that you may not have listened to in years.  With MP3 files converted from your CDs' tracks, you'll be able to play your music on devices other than a CD player.  You can have portions of your personal, non-copyrighted recordings converted into MP3 ringtones once they are in digital audio form, and we can provide copies of your CDs containing personal, non-copyrighted audio tracks.

Due to low demand, we do not maintain the capability of reading types of media beyond those listed above, for example, multitrack reel-to-reel tapes or 8-track tapes.  However, for the few requests that we have had requiring this additional equipment, we have been able to rent that equipment at a reasonable cost.  In such cases—and only with the customer’s concurrence, that rental cost is charged to the customer.

 

Conversion

Conversion is our core service, and it includes all of the following:

  • Free pick-up & delivery in Northern Virginia

  • Physical cleaning of record

  • Removal of system-generated noise, DC offset, and extremely low and high frequencies

  • Conversion to digital format

  • Volume adjustment on the entire recording as appropriate

  • Track splitting

  • Addition of album, artist, and title information to each track

  • Inclusion of title/artist/track list

(See What Happens in a Record Conversion Project for additional information.)

Cleaning & Recording

Records are physically cleaned before conversion, which generally improves sound quality.  The original recording is converted to digital format and captured by an audio recording/editing program.  The volume of the entire record is adjusted at this stage, and we will remove all noise before the first track and after the last track of each side of a record or tape.

Virtually any sound system will generate low-level noise, and we identify and remove that noise.  We also remove “DC offset” (an aberration in the wave form that can stress and even damage speakers) and extremely low and high frequencies that should not be part of the recording’s content.  For example, frequencies above 22 KHz (or 48 KHz in Hi-Res audio) cannot be reproduced by most sound systems, but fragments of those frequencies can appear as noise in the audible range—a phenomenon known as “aliasing.”

 

Recordings are made at a 16-bit depth, 44.1K samples/second, as this is the standard for music CDs.  If you prefer high-resolution audio files, we will make recordings at 24-bit depth and up to 96K samples/second (file size will increase proportionately).

 

All work is performed on WAV files.  If you're after MP3 files, the WAV files will be converted to MP3s as the final step before writing them to a CD, DVD, or flash drive or uploading them to the Internet cloud.  (WAV files are "lossless," i.e., they contain all data digitized from an audio recording.  MP3 files are "lossy":  the digitized data are compressed to reduce the amount of space needed to store the file by 75-95%, thereby permitting much faster downloading.  There is a slight degradation in sound quality with a "lossy" format compared to a "lossless" format.  For more information, see Types of Audio File Formats.)

 

Splitting Tracks

The entire record or tape is converted in one continuous session (the extraneous recording of turning the record or tape over to the other side is deleted).  Individual songs are split into separate files.

 

CD players support gapless playback, which preserves the continuity of music when one song bridges into another or when two songs are crossfaded.  However, this capability is not universally supported in MP3 players or computer software players.  If your intent is to play the digitized files on an MP3 player or from your computer, we will provide test audio clips and ask you to determine whether your device(s) support gapless play.  If they do not, we recommend that continuous tracks will not be split.  (See Gapless Playback & How to Test It.)

 

Album, Artist, and Track Title Information

During the conversion of records or tapes, the album title, artist, and track titles are added to each track’s WAV or MP3 file prior to writing to the CD, DVD, or flash drive.  This service may also be necessary when converting a CD to MP3 files should the CD lack a CD-Text file or if on-line look-up services return inappropriate information.  (See Labeling Music CDs:  CD-Text­, Labeling MP3 Tracks:  ID3 Tags, and Altering Metadata for more information.)

 

Compilation Discs

When original media are 45s, 78s, or EPs (Extended Play records), you’ll receive a compilation CD or DVD with tracks appearing in whatever order you like.  (This is not offered for LPs or pre-recorded tapes.)

Necessary Ancillary Services

Requirements sometimes arise for additional, but necessary, work, such as repairing a broken tape.

 

Optional Services

 

Noise Reduction

 

With Conversion, you'll have a digital version of what your original recordings sound like—including all the extraneous noise that crept in with years of playing.  With Noise Reduction, we invoke various software applications that significantly reduce “impulse noise” such as clicks, ticks, and crackle ("fry noise"), as well as reducing “broadband” noise that occurs with worn record grooves or appears in tapes as hiss.  The result is a cleaner—and more enjoyable—audio track.  (See What Happens in Noise Reduction for a Record for additional information.)

 

There are trade-offs in applying noise reduction software to audio recordings.  Overly aggressive application risks removing an unacceptable amount of the music along with the noise, and the result will sound dull and muted.  This is particularly true when attacking large pops, since they have waveform characteristics similar to those of drums.  On the other hand, while mild application preserves the music, much of the unwanted noise remains as well.  We use our professional experience to make sure that you get the best sound with as little noise as possible.  Noises—especially pops—that remain can be edited manually by us if desired (see Waveform Editing).

Track-Level Noise Reduction

Noise Reduction is typically applied to an entire recording, cassette, or tape before songs are split into separate tracks.  Though infrequent, there are times when the results may not be satisfactory.  For instance, this approach may introduce artifacts in tracks that are substantially quieter than the others, or it may substantially alter the sound in tracks that have significantly different instrumentation than others, particularly involving percussion.  This issue may be especially relevant for personally recorded cassettes and tapes where tracks differ in their sonic characteristics resulting from things like microphone placement, proximity of performers or speakers to the microphone, acoustics of the setting, background noise, and especially the overall volume of the performance or speech relative to the background noise level.

 

An alternative approach we can take is Track-Level Noise Reduction, where we first split the problematic songs into separate tracks and then apply the noise reduction software to each of those tracks separately.  Though there is a modest additional cost for each track processed individually, the result will be cleaner tracks throughout the recording.  (Track-Level Noise Reduction is not available for 78s or 7" 45s.)

 

When the standard Noise Reduction approach produces variable results and we believe that Track-Level Noise Reduction may be warranted, we’ll advise the customer of the issue, provide examples, and offer the choice of which approach to take.

 

Waveform Editing

Manual Click & Pop Reduction

At times, clicks and pops escape removal by software.  When they do, they can almost always be identified and corrected during manual editing by listening to the track or spotting them visually.  Normally, Noise Reduction is performed before Waveform Editing since the former cleans up most of the noise.  Though rare in our experience, Waveform Editing can be performed without first applying Noise Reduction when there are only a handful of anomalies to be addressed.

 

Large or loud aberrations are pretty obvious, but some small imperfections may be missed.  To illustrate, the pop in the first image below is easy to identify visually, and the smaller one in the second image can be spotted with a bit of listening and zooming in on the waveform, even though it’s less than a millisecond in duration.  The click in the third image is harder to find, though it’s definitely audible.  Uunfortunately, some aberrations are virtually indistinguishable from the surrounding waveforms and defy detection, even though it’s obvious that they’re there.  If we have performed manual click and pop reduction and you then detect an anomaly in what we deliver to you, let us know, and we'll fix it if we can. 

The amount of editing effort is highly variable depending on the amount of damage.  It can be just a few minutes for an album or up to two to three times the playing time of the track.  (One badly damaged 78 that we worked on, a worst-case scenario, took four hours to clean up each side.)  You will be provided an estimate of how much effort will be involved before we proceed, and you can decide how far you want to pursue Waveform Editing.

 

Track Volume Adjustment

Occasionally, certain tracks on an album are noticeably louder or softer than the other tracks, and we can increase or decrease individual track volume, as you desire, to compensate.  Home recordings sometimes exhibit a problem where portions are at a substantially different volume, and we can address this by raising or lowering the volume of different parts of a track.

 

Track Manipulation

Some musical pieces won't fit on a single side of a record, and the piece was split between two sides.  We can join the two segments of a musical piece seamlessly into a single track, either when the segments are split at a rest, or when the end of the first segment overlaps with the beginning of the second (the overlap is removed).

Tempo and Pitch Adjustments

Occasionally, a digitally converted recording will sound too fast or too high-pitched (in severe cases, it might sound like David Seville's chipmunks).  This generally occurs when a battery-powered device was used to make the recording, and the batteries were running out of power.  When the recording is played on a fully powered device, the tape's speed is faster than it was during recording, and what one hears has a faster tempo and a higher pitch.  We can adjust the speed and pitch to make the recording's tempo and pitch sound normal.  This may be an iterative process so that the speed adjustment matches what the customer wants to hear.

Track Splitting Without a Track List

Some records or tapes have no indication of where tracks might be split.  There are no obvious signs in the waveform that indicate where a new track might begin, and there's no track list.  In such cases, we can listen to the entire audio file and use our judgment about where to make the splits.  Iterative review and concurrence may be required to ensure what we deliver matches the customer’s expectations.

Album, Artist, and Track Title Information

Conversion of your CD’s tracks to MP3 files relies on album, artist, and track title information appearing in a metadata file on the CD or on information found in on-line CD look-up services.  Unfortunately, the information may be missing in both the CD and look-up services, and if it is present, it may be inaccurate.  Adding or editing that information is included in the Conversion price, as is tailoring it to suit your preferences (see Labeling Music CDs:  CD-Text, Labeling MP3 Tracks:  ID3 Tags, and Altering Metadata for more information.)

Album Jacket Art for CD Case Insert

 

We can scan an album jacket and inserts, if any, and print the results so they can be inserted in a jewel case.  (Keep in mind that text on the jacket and inserts will be correspondingly reduced in size.)  Each side of the album jacket and inserts is priced separately.

We can design custom inserts from record labels (examples below) or your photos.

Physical Restoration of Reel-to-Reel Tapes

 

If you intend to keep a reel-to-reel tape to play it in the future, we can provide a tape preservative that will prevent future hydrolytic deterioration.  This works only on tapes that are not yet showing symptoms of deterioration.

 

Reel-to-reel tapes are prone to absorbing moisture into the binder and back coatings, which can make the tape sticky and possibly ruin the recording.  We will assess each tape to ensure that it is free from deterioration.  We cannot convert a tape showing any symptoms.  To counteract deterioration, we can incubate tapes to restore them to a playable condition—a process that involves monitoring over 72 hours.  We can offer no guarantees that this will be successful.  If it is, the restoration lasts only for a few weeks.  The first step is to transfer each tape to a 10.5” reel to reduce the effects that expansion and contraction may have on the tape’s base.  We incubate tapes in “batches” of up to three tapes.  (See Magnetic Tape Deterioration—Coating Deterioration for more information.)

 

Deliverable Media

 

CDs:  CDs are appropriate for, by definition, playable music CDs, but they may also be used for smaller collections of MP3 files.  You have your choice of a 700 MB/80-minute consumer-grade CD-R (durability is estimated to be between five and 30 years), a 650 MB/74-minute or 700 MB/80-minute silver CD-R rated by the manufacturer at 50 years (the “silver” is the metal used in the CD, not the CD’s color, which happens to be white), or a 650 MB or 700 MB gold archival CD-R rated at 300 years.  Please note that the original industry standard for music CDs was 650 MB (74 minutes).  CDs capable of storing 700 MB (80 minutes) appeared in the mid-1980s, and this has become the de facto standard.  CD players manufactured before the mid-1980s cannot accommodate the now prevalent 700 MB CDs.  (Roughly speaking, 175 MP3 files will fit on a 650 MB CD-R and 200 on a 700 MB CD-R.)

 

DVDs:  DVDs are appropriate for moderate collections of MP3 files (roughly 1,400 songs).  Our expectation is that customers desiring MP3 files will copy the files to their computers or other devices, and so we offer only consumer-grade DVDs.

 

Flash Drives:  A flash drive would be required for high-resolution audio files but could also be used for a very large collection of MP3 files.

Jewel Cases for CDs or DVDs:  You have a choice of a slim case, full-size, or double case.  The slim case will take up less space on your shelf, but it lacks a spine where you can read the disc’s title and artist from the side.

Delivery via the Internet Cloud:  Instead of providing your music files on physical media, they may be made available to you to download from the cloud.  There is no charge for substituting cloud delivery for physical media.

 

If you intend to rip a music CD to your computer, be advised that the track titles, artist, and album name may be lost, depending on the ripping software (see Hints for Ripping a CD).  For an additional charge, the audio files may be delivered via the cloud in addition to your receiving a music CD.

For more information, please see the following pages.
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