Non-redbook CD "ripping": SUCCESS!!
The ART USB-Phono-Plus pre-amp turned out to be a beautifully-made little gem. Mine came with a copy of "SoundSaver Express" software on a CD, but I already had "Audacity" recording software on my laptop, so I didn't bother installing SoundSaver.
I connected the Phono Plus via USB to my laptop... but because this was all new to me, my initial attempts at recording went poorly. I tried running a toslink connection from three different CD players (as well as from my AV Receiver's toslink audio out) into the Phono Plus, but in each case, the input signal was far too loud, and massively distorted and clipped... and the gain control on the Phono Plus had no effect on the signal whatsoever.
The solution came from within Audacity.
The Audacity software's "Input Volume" slider has a range of 0.00 to 1.00, and I initially had it set at about 0.40, which seemed like a reasonably logical starting point; not too much, not too little. Also, that setting had worked (at least from the standpoint of being an appropriate input volume) when I was attempting to use the ground-hum plagued "EZ-CAP" device for this project.
Not this time. But since it had
been an appropriate volume-setting with the EZ-CAP, I then spent way
too much time fiddling with and trying every different physical connection method I could think of -- both toslink and coaxial -- assuming (again, because this was all new to me) that I must be doing something wrong with my hookups.
After giving up, and "sleeping on it"... the following day I was finally able use the toslink connections to successfully record input signals from all
of my digital output devices, by lowering the Audacity input volume-setting all the way down to 0.03 for certain "test" CDs with the "loudest" mastering (Taylor Swift's "Red", for example), and 0.04 for older, more "quietly" mastered CDs, like the classical-content Erato and Apex ones that were my actual "target" CDs for this project.
The Phono Plus being a pre-amp... it is, of course, not at all necessary to use an AVR as an output source. Doing so, however, works perfectly well. For the "final" recordings, I ended up using a direct link from my Oppo BDP-103's toslink out.Caveats:
Obviously, if you have a large number of CDs that you need to record, using the Phono Plus is not a very practical "ripping" methodology... simply because the recording can only be done at normal playback speed. It is, however, the only way I've found that enables me to obtain a copy of an otherwise un-rippable non-redbook audio CD, using a recording methodology that is purely digital from output to input.
There is, of course, the added benefit of being able to record directly from a turntable: the Phono Plus's primarily-intended purpose. Oddly, I found that the Phono Plus's gain control again had no effect on the signal. And, as in the other cases, the Audacity input-volume needed to be set extremely low, at 0.03.
The "real-time-recording" aspect is obviously true when recording LPs as well... but a much more seriously time-consuming aspect comes with having to clean up the Audacity recording's flawless pickup of even the minutest of dust particles on the vinyl.
I have a few extremely well cared-for classical LPs in my library, none of which, sadly, have ever been (nor will probably ever be) re-mastered for CD.
I used the Phono Plus to record two of them, both of which I've had since the mid '70s. Both LPs are completely free of scratches, and considering their age, are remarkably clean. Even so, I spent the better part of an entire day on each Audacity recording, using WavePad editing software to isolate and take out every dust-particle "pop" that I could manage to locate (easy
to do, during soft passages... impossible
during louder ones). The end result is that I now have CDs of both of these albums, which, when played back, sound like very clean LPs being played on a good turntable.
So... was it worth the effort involved? For those two LPs... yes
. Will I be doing this with many of my other
LPs? Not likely. There are one or two others I have that are dear to me, and that probably will also never be re-mastered for CD. I'm sure that I'll get around to recording them this way... eventually.
In the meantime... what's more important to me, is that I now have the means to "rip" any non-redbook CDs that happen to come my way in the future. And that