Photo by aneye4apicture

Today’s idea is based on an idea I had about three years ago – about making it easier to convert your vinyl collection to digital files, so that you can listen to them on an mp3 player.

Flatbed vinyl scanner
The idea is very simple. Rather than play the record on a turntable and convert the audio to an mp3 file, you would simply place the record on a flatbed scanner, take an ultra-high resolution image of each side of the disc, and then a piece of software would analyse the grooves from the visual data, and reconstruct it as an audio file.

Given the technology, it’s easy to imagine that the software could be smart enough to distinguish between a groove and a scratch or a bit of dirt (ie: distinguish signal from noise), and make sufficiently intelligent decisions to restore the waveform accordingly.

In fact, there’s no reason you couldn’t pretty much have completely noiseless vinyl rips, with tracks separated where there’s silence between songs, and the software able to recognise and add metadata to the tracks based on its reading of the catalogue number engraved on the record by the playout groove.

There are reasons you can’t already do this:
First, scanners are the wrong size. They’re designed for documents.

Second, the image resolution and the lighting would have to be particularly good to get sufficient detail for the software to be able to interpret the shape of the engraved waveforms in the disc’s surface.

Third, the recording industry would probably find something to get cross about.

You can already do this
I mentioned this once at an academic conference, and there were some American researchers who had built something similar, but it was the size of a house, and could process about a record a week.

But theirs was to do with what they called ‘audio archeology’ – looking for clues about the past embedded in old recordings, and using electron microscopes to give data analysis of particular moments within recordings.

In fact, they didn’t seem particularly interested in listening to the music for pleasure at all.

Record-scanning for the masses
My idea is somewhere more sensible between that massive extreme – and not being able to do it at all. I genuinely believe that it’s already technologically possible to have a consumer device that can handle the high-resolution imaging that could scan records.

It might not immediately be a cheap consumer device, but for someone with a fair few records, it could be well worthwhile.

The writing of the software would be a comparatively trivial task (though I wouldn’t be able to do it).

Of course, the first thing you’d need is for the scanner to be able to take a 12″ record. The upside is that such a scanner would also be able to handle most documents as well.

Why this would be important, rather than just cool
To this day, the vast majority of records ever released have never been issued on CD. Many of them already no longer exist as playable master tapes, as magnetic tape decays over time.

But to be able to take a record and extract the sound off it without dragging a needle through the grooves, bouncing it off the bits of dirt and subjecting it to wow and flutter, you could actually analyse and restore a piece of thrift store vinyl to its studio quality – or very nearly.

And of course, you’re not restricted to albums here. 78rpm shellac discs, 7″ singles and even old flexidiscs that came with the NME or Mad Magazine would be fair game.

You make one of those bad boys, and I’ll buy one.

Table of contents for 30 Days of Ideas

  1. The other way of following first
  2. Now we’re up and dancing
  3. 30 days of ideas – 01: Keymash
  4. 30 days of ideas – 02: Radio Alerts
  5. 30 days of ideas – 03: Only Famous (a romantic comedy)
  6. 30 days of ideas – 04: Modcasts
  7. 30 days of ideas – 05: Numberless Calendar
  8. 30 days of ideas – 06: SpringCleanr
  9. 30 days of ideas – 07: Street Gallery
  10. 30 days of ideas – 08: Smart Business Cards
  11. 30 days of ideas – 09: Recordings in Concert
  12. 30 days of ideas – 10: Vinyl scanner
  13. 30 days of ideas – 11: Photo Stack-and-Scan
  14. 30 days of ideas – 12: A Box of Cool
  15. 30 days of ideas – 13: Karaoke-Tube Celebstar Idol
  16. 30 days of ideas – 14: I Made You A Tape
  17. 30 days of ideas – 15: Newspaper download codes
  18. 30 days of ideas – 16: Pebble Splash
  19. 30 days of ideas – 17: Digital radio, somewhere useful
  20. 30 days of ideas – 18: Public domain music collection
  21. 30 days of ideas – 19: Blog cast-list automator
  22. 30 days of ideas – 20: The Retirement Pile
  23. 30 days of ideas – 21: Nationalise EMI
  24. 30 days of ideas – 22: The Stainless Steel Rat (the movie)
  25. 30 days of ideas – 23: WordPress Bandcampify template
  26. 30 days of ideas – 24: Rollercoasters as public transport
  27. 30 days of ideas – 25: Next-gen personalised music radio
  28. 30 days of ideas – 26: New Music Trust
  29. 30 days of ideas – 27: Tamagotchi Gardening
  30. 30 days of ideas – 28: Charity shop clothing subscription
  31. 30 days of ideas – 29: ‘Now Playing’ social music app
  32. 30 days of ideas – 30: House of Spare Ideas
  33. Mixtape for You by Ray Kuyvenhoven
  34. What can you do in 30 days?