Since there are a good few vinyl listeners active here, and some just adding LP-replay capabilities to their rigs, I thought it might be a good idea to start a thread for discussing Needle Drops, how to go about them, and the tools and techniques that are available/can be employed when making them.
What is a Needle Drop?
A Needle Drop, in this case, is simply a digital recording of an LP.
What is involved in making a Needle Drop?
At a minimum you’ll require a turntable, an analog-to-digital converter (ADC), and a means to record the output of the ADC - which might be a dedicated recorder or a computer (or similar) and sound recording/editing software.
Depending on the turntable, ADC and software used, you may also need a phono-preamp/stage. And dedicated digital recorders typically have ADCs built-in.
With those things in place, you play the record while feeding the output of the turntable, or your phono-stage into your ADC/recorder and capture it with the recorder or via your computer and software. Once done, if desired, you can process the audio to “de-click/de-pop” it, split up the recording into individual tracks, add suitable metadata and/or convert the data to an appropriate replay format (be that MP3, AAC, FLAC etc.).
In most cases your turntable or phono-stage will provide an output at line-level with RIAA EQ already applied. This allows for direct recording of the output. In some cases it can be advantageous to use a phono-stage with defeatable RIAA EQ, or a simple line-amp, and capture the raw output from the LP without applying RIAA EQ and then apply the necessary equalization in software.
Note that you will have to apply some kind of EQ to a raw recording otherwise it will almost completely lack bass and have an extreme excess of treble.
Typically this approach is most interesting when using high-end, purpose-specific, vinyl recording solutions that have their own built-in LP EQ options. It is most generally encountered when doing Needle Drops of older material that was pressed from a master using a curve other than the “standard” RIAA EQ curve. Some hardware phono-stages also allow for applying different EQ curves to deal with such pressings (e.q. Parks’ Audio Puffin and iFi Micro iPhono).
Most ADCs and recording tools will allow you to perform your capture, or recording, at different quality levels. It is quite common, if not actually necessary, to do such capture at higher bit-depths and sample rates than you ordinarily intend to use for replay - and then keep those raw captures around in case you want to process them differently in the future.
Personally I tend to capture in PCM format at 24-bit/192 kHz, do any and all editing at that level, and then convert down to 24-bit/96 kHz FLAC for actual replay. That way, if better de-click/pop options become available it’s a quick re-run through my processing chain to take advantage of it, without having to re-record the LP from scratch.
Processing the Capture
This can involve doing software-based RIAA EQ (etc.), marking up the recording with metadata and track start/stop points, performing various noise-reducing operations, and actually generating individual music files for replay elsewhere (some people choose not to split up the tracks and just play “sides” as they were recorded).l
There are lots of ways to do this, ranging from manual editing in a free, general purpose, audio editing tool, such as Audacity (which works on Windows, macOS and Linux), to specialty tools - specifically built to do Needle Drops - like Vinyl Studio or Pure Vinyl.
Specialty software will generally have more appropriate built-in de-click/de-pop and other noise processing than general purpose software, both for automatic processing as well as manual adjustment.
Commonly, these tools allow you to do non-destructive editing such that when they get updated, you can simply re-run them, and the settings/edits you made, over the original captures and output new files in a single, quick, operation.
There are also a number of tools specifically for automatically de-clicking/popping a recording, such as the Click Repair tools. Using these generally makes for a less automated processing step, but often yields better, and faster, net results.
If you’ve chosen to split the Needle Drop up into individual tracks, then the specialty tools have track-timing/splitting look-up databases behind them that make the process much faster/easier, as well as allowing mostly-automated application of metadata, album art and so on.
This is either done using your normal audio chain/player from the converted files, as tracks, or can be played back in the editing tools from the original source capture - often with the noise-elimination processing being applied in real-time. The former is probably the most common, but those who like to listen to LPs “as an album” often opt for the latter.