Tales Of Woe And Analog-To-Digital Conversion

It’s eight o’clock on a beautiful Sunday evening. I worked a long day, time to relax.

And by “relax” I mean “work on dubbing a VHS tape to a DVD via a VCR/HDD/DVD combo unit I bought last week, while copying a new record to my hard drive via a USB phono-preamp, followed by copying an obscure ambient audio tape to my computer via the same device. I’m also ripping a concert DVD to my hard drive so I can convert it to audio and then into individual MP3s.

Sometimes I wonder why I can’t just stream shit like everyone else.

A few weeks ago I was a guest on a yet-to-be-released podcast. We were talking about records, and the host explained why he liked to buy new albums on vinyl. He said prefers the physicality of the format and the fact that it strips away a lot of the extraneous extras found on today’s deluxe editions and other releases. It provided an intimacy in the medium that was lacking in other formats as well. He was erudite as fuck.

Then he asked me why I collect records. I thought about it long and hard. Then I told him that it was the only way to listen to rare and hard-to-find Pet Shop Boys and Depeche Mode singles.

I felt kinda stupid.

I’ve been writing an MP3 blog for over ten years now, and an overwhelming number of songs that I’ve posted to that site have been ripped directly from my turntable. And when I was first starting out with it, I had a hell of a time getting it to sound “good enough.” First I was working with a shitty portable turntable, then a shitty standard turntable, then a shitty DJ turntable, all before finally lucking into a used Technics SL-1210 that I’ve stuck with for over six years now. Along the way I also experimented with over half a dozen different needle and cartridge combinations and audio interfaces that work to get the audio from my turntable to my hard drive.

I don’t even want to begin to think about how much I’ve spent on all this, and the time I’ve dumped into trying to get it all right and working properly. Shit, I still don’t think I have it right. Pull up any recording from my turntable and I’ll point out 20 problems with it. The stereo still isn’t properly balanced, there’s too much surface noise, the bass can sometimes be too muddy, and so on. But I’ve resigned myself to most of these problems. Besides, with the amount of music I share online, someone else would’ve told me my rips still sound like shit by now.

By comparison, audio tape has been relatively easy. I’m only on my second tape deck, mostly because I didn’t want to haul my old one across the ocean when I moved to Japan from Pittsburgh. The only thing that keeps me from dubbing more tapes to my hard drive is the undeniable fact that tapes suck. I only really buy them today if I see something exceptionally odd or out there, such as the ambient electronic jazz funk tape I’m listening to right now.

Copying video has been another beast entirely, one that I still haven’t even come close to mastering. I first gave it a go several years back. A friend of mine came into possession of the laserdisc edition of The Godfather Saga, which takes all three Godfather films and edits them together into one long massively massive epic of massiveness. I bought some dinky RCA-to-USB external capture device and gave it a go. I never could get the damn thing to work on a consistent basis. I was able to copy a few things; my original VHS tape of the Moroder cut of Metropolis; a video yearbook from my high school, but not much else. The audio and video kept going out of sync. I gave up.

But then a family medical medical emergency resulted in my getting a half dozen or so strange VHS tapes, including some that I was highly interested in seeing. (Yes, I realize this is the kind of problem that only I would find myself in). At first, I was only going to buy a standard VCR to watch them with and leave it at that, but then I discovered that VCR/DVD/HDD dubbing machines were fairly common here. So went on a quest to find one. A few days and a few Hard-Offs later, I was in luck and scored this.

This beast allows for dubbing of DVD to HDD, VHS to DVD, VHS to HDD, HDD to DVD, and even DVD/HDD to VHS for some reason. The interface was a little tricky to navigate at first (Japanese only of course) but with the help of Google Translate and my boyfriend I was soon able to get the thing up and running, and within a few days had already dubbed a couple of tapes to the device’s internal drive for later burning to disc. I thought this would be easier than figuring out how to hook up some kind of hardware solution to my aging PC.

These tapes are really out there and I want to share them with you all. I’m dying to upload them to YouTube and write about them more. Just one problem, I can’t get the damn videos off of the tape deck. Any DVD I rip using the device only seems to work on that device. My PC won’t read them and neither will my Blu-ray player or even my old PS2.

Why? I have no clue. Turns out finding online English technical support for a 10+ year old piece of Japanese tech isn’t exactly easy. So I’m left banging my head against the wall trying to figure it out. Apparently this thing can read and write DVD-RAM, so I’m going to give that a go tomorrow. The dubbing deck cost me over a $150. I spent $10 today on the apparently useless DVD-Rs. I’ll probably spend $10 more on the DVD-RAM discs. Assuming they work (I’m not assuming that) then this will actually be the cheapest hardware dubbing/ripping solution I’ve ever been fortunate enough to stumble upon, and one of the easiest. Keep in mind that, at $170 and over five hours of frustrating trial and error, this has neither been cheap nor easy. It’s just a testament to how hard my other ripping and dubbing endeavors have been.

Which takes me back to the question I was asked a few weeks back; Why do I do this?

I don’t know?

I guess it just boils down to the fact that I believe that everything should be available easily and digitally. And if the copyright holders and publishers of my favorite forms of media aren’t going to provide me with digital copies of the music/movies/whatever I love, then I guess I’m going to go out of my way to make it myself. To be honest though, I don’t even know if I would want said songs and movies if they were available digitally. I do in some cases for sure. When that Dead Or Alive box set with damn near every remix and B-side imaginable was released, I jumped on it. Same for Bowie re-issues and other re-releases by high-profile artists I adore. Their songs are like Pokemon and I want them all.


But this strange Japanese electronic ambient jazz tape? I probably wouldn’t have bought it if I had come across it on CD. Because there’s no mystery to it then. It’s easy to get. Easy to listen to. When I discover a strange analog artifact, I imagine that I’m the very first one to uncover it and encode it for the digital age (which is rarely the case). Tell me I can get it on iTunes for $10 and I’ll pass. Tell me that I have to spend twice as much as that to get it on a cassette tape, dub it to my hard drive, edit the uncut WAV file into individual MP3s, tag them, and then drop them into iTunes? Well, then I’m game.

I still feel kinda stupid. But that tape? It turned out to be dope! So maybe I’m not that stupid after all.


3 Responses to Tales Of Woe And Analog-To-Digital Conversion

  • Ken Murphy says:


    The issue with the dubbed dvd’s not playing on anything else may be because the dvd needs to be ‘finalised’ before it’s compatible with other dvd players.

    I’ve had a couple of dvd recorders hooked up to my tv over the years and on both of them if you wanted the dvd’s that were made with them to be viewable on any other device you had to finalise or close them, otherwise they wouldn’t work.

    I think this was to allow you to keep recording onto them until they were full or until you were done with them, then you finalise them and away you go.

    Just a suggestion. Love the blogs!

  • Noah Ramon says:

    “Which takes me back to the question I was asked a few weeks back; Why do I do this?”

    FWIW, whyever the reason, we’re really grateful for all that you do?
    (Like, seriously, I owe you so many thanks for that whole “Band’its At Ten O’Clock” post – “All People Go Mad” and “Independence Day” alone are just frickin’ amazing.)

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