Channel D Pure Vinyl 3.1
Software Type: Digital LP playback, editing and archival; high-resolution digital music server for OSX
Channel D's Pure Vinyl is software for ripping and listening to your records digitally. I don't know about you, but my LP-buying habits differ from my download-buying habits. The former is more varied and daring partly based on the fact that there's about one million times more LPs that interest me as compared to downloads. So my LP collection does not mirror my hard drive collection and sometimes, many times, I'd love to have access to my LPs from my computer. Channel D's Pure Vinyl to the rescue!
You can consider this review a follow-up to Michael Fremer's review that first appeared in Stereophile and as such I highly recommend reading Michael's review too (and check out his AnalogPlanet!). The notion of ripping vinyl only really works if the ripped results can stand up to the original. And I'll state right up front that sonically, 24/192 vinyl rips using Pure Vinyl sound lovely. They sound in a word marvelous and are the equal of or better many HD downloads in my digital library as long as you begin with a good-sounding piece of vinyl. But that's the easy part in my experience.
For the purposes of this review, Channel D's Rob Robinson kindly loaned me his TC Electronic Impact Twin and some nifty converters to allow my Rega P3 to connect to the Twin's front-mounted Neutrik combi jack/XLR sockets (these converters also supply resistive loading for my Denon 103 phono cartridge), and also to convert the 3.5mm jacks around back to standard RCA outputs which I connected to my Leben CS-300XS integrated amp. The Twin connects to your Mac via FireWire and performs the all-important task of taking the analog signal from the turntable and converting it into digital bits that your Mac will recognize (there are no phono inputs on a Mac). Since I'm going to use Pure Vinyl's RIAA EQ to unpack the digital signal, I do not need a phono stage in the loop. This is an important point—the idea that RIAA Equalization is best handled in the digital domain is something that Rob Robinson believes in wholeheartedly.
The physical connections are a snap, and the software side of the Impact Twin is also fairly basic and Channel D provides an instructional PDF to assist in this setup. If you've ever used a USB DAC, you can easily handle this task.
I'm going to glaze over I mean gloss over the myriad setup options offered by Pure Vinyl and get to ripping but if you are interested in all that Pure Vinyl (PV) can do, head on over to the Channel D website. I will mention that I used Pure Vinyl's RIAA correction set to the Standard RIAA Curve but there are many more pre-RIAA curves available (over 60) for 78s and mono records and more. I also chose to rip and save to the default 24/192 resolution because it sounds best, to me. Since you can also rip to 16-bit and 44.1kHz, 88.2kHz, or 96kHz, Pure Vinyl allows even those who doubt their ears the ability to rip to an inferior format (smile).
Pick a record, put it on your record player, open Pure Vinyl, click "Record", and once you've selected your preferences (I went with the defaults) and entered the Artist, Album, and Label information, click "Record". If you allow Pure Vinyl to auto-sense the needle drop (Recording Trigger in PV parlance), you just need to drop the needle and recording will start. If you opt for a manual approach click "Record" and drop the needle. If you selected the "Enable Recording Trigger" option, Pure Vinyl will pause recording at the end of side one when you lift the needle and automatically ready the second side of your virtual vinyl while you flip the real thing. Click "Click When Ready to Continue Recording", drop the needle and PV begins recording side 2. When its done, lift the needle and click "Stop Recording". That's it! You've just ripped a record. Simple, no?
There are essentially three options for playing back your virtual vinyl. The simplest is to drag and drop or load the entire .CAF file into PV and just play away. Another option is to create "iTunes Bookmarks" which creates virtual track markers so you can play individual tracks in Pure Music which uses iTunes for music library management. The third option is to "Render" the tracks which creates individual files for each song. Channel D recommends saving rendered tracks in Apple Lossless format and again you have the option of saving to any of multiple bit/sample rates from 16/44.1 to 24/192. Rendering the tracks also applies RIAA compensation (or whatever EQ you specified) to the saved file so you can play it back as a normal music file in any media player whereas the first two options require Pure Vinyl/Pure Music for playback.
Creating HD Digital Masters
What is a Digital Master Copy? This question bears more thought and space than is appropriate here but to my mind a good-sounding record is about as good as analog gets short of the analog master tape. Of course tape to HD digital (PCM or DSD) can sound great too as long as the transfer doesn't muck things up. But a good-sounding record can sound pretty damn good. And if we can digitize this, we have created what is for all intents and purposes a digital master that is, and here's the part that raises all kinds of problems, infinitely reproducible. My rips of The Doors' self-titled first album, The Stooges Funhouse, Robert Pete Williams' outstanding collection from The Legacy of the Blues Vol. 9, Bob Marley's superb-sounding Trench Town from Tuff Gong, and Jimi Hendrix's live version of "Gloria" on 12" 45rpm from Polydor sound pretty freaking amazing as vinyl rips. I would be hard-pressed to tell the difference between playing back the vinyl version and the 24/192 rip blindfolded.
Just for fun, I also converted the master rip of the The Stooges Funhouse to 16/44.1 to see if I could hear a difference. And I could. The CD-"quality" version sounded less open and airy, harsher and more congested and something like cymbals sounded flatter with 16/44.1 as compared to 24/192. The HD version also sounded more like vinyl. Again, you can rip to whatever format you'd like and if your ideas tell you that 16/44.1 is good enough, then good enough is what you'll get!
I actually enjoyed reading how Channel D talks about the importance of higher bit depths and sample rates and suggest you give it read. To paraphrase, "it sounds better!". And if you dare peak at your vinyl rips in a program like Audacity, you'll see plenty of musical information above the 20kHz CD limit (if you ripped to anything above CD-"quality").
More on Pure Vinyl's Features
Pure Vinyl can do a lot more than make an excellent-sounding HD digital copy of your LPs. The associated manual is 47 pages long and includes sections on Editing your rips to remove pops, an adjustable low-cut rumble filter, why you should enable "Sloppy Cueing" (exactly why you think you should), function as a Virtual Line-Level Preamplifier for additional line-level sources (if your attached device can handle it), connect a turntable and let Pure Vinyl handle RIAA in the digital domain, and you can even overlay custom artwork over your virtual vinyl!
A Powerful Tool
One of the most impressive (and fun) features of Pure Vinyl is the interface which makes me miss my records less. While I find the physical act of playing a record to be worth the effort and an enjoyable event in and of itself, Pure Vinyl is obviously a powerful tool for those serious about ripping their vinyl as well as for those interested in leveraging its built-in RIAA and other EQ compensation that occurs in the digital domain. To find an equal phono preamp with 60 or so pre-RIAA curves is no mean feat and its going to cost you a heck of a lot more than Pure Vinyl's 279 smackers.
Considering the task of ripping vinyl occurs in real time, the old maxim—do it once, do it right —applies and with Pure Vinyl you can rest assured you're doing it right.