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DIY Vinyl Declicker / Rumble Filter In The (Gasp!) Digital Domain

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#1
I've been collecting vinyl since I was a teen in the 80's and really went ape in the 90's when everyone sold off their collections for CD's. Had an ad for years in the local paper under the head "Sanford & Son Vinyl Salvage," and took calls from people enthusiastic for me to rummage through their collections and cherry-pick for $1 a pop. I met a lot of fascinating people this way, including a guy who'd been a Walter Matthau's stunt double for much of his career, with several thousand jazz LP's collected over a lifetime in Los Angeles (unfortunately, two Japanese investors had flown in a few days before and snapped up most of the Blue Notes, but there was still a lot to be found.)

Stick with me - I'm getting to the hardware bit. As a collector, I'm definitely at the low end of the price scale. I don't think I've ever paid more than $15 for a record, new or used, and the vast majority of my stuff was had for $1-5 each through the salvage operation described above, yard sales, thrift stores, or used bins. My tastes are pretty broad - I started as a punk/alternative kid, but later got into soul, jazz, exotica, international, krautrock, early electronic, the more esoteric end of classical, vintage country, etc. Really, the only thing I'm not interested in is mainstream classic rock - I've had enough of that pumped at me over radio to last two lifetimes. Oh, and I'm no fan of modern country, but that should go without saying.

As a result of the above hunter/gatherer methods, I have a lot of records that never made it to digital. Though I've culled out most of the truly thrashed LP's over the decades, I also have a lot of sides that are in less-than-stellar quality. I also enjoy many genres that feature a wide dynamic range. I also enjoy good (read: "transparent") audio. So...

A couple of years ago I saw a thread in the Hoffman forums about the Sugarcube, a $2K device that transparently declicks vinyl. Most of the reaction there was negative, solely because the signal path is digitized, thereby breaking the holy AAA chain. I'm not one of those analog true-believers. I've experimented with some fairly fancy-schmancy turntable and cartridge setups over the years, but I'm not one to make claims about the sonic superiority of vinyl. I like LP's because they have huge cover art, you can actually read the liner notes without magnification, and maybe most significantly, when I have guests over who want to play something, we're not sitting around staring at playlists on screens and dicking around with bluetooth pairing. I also work in I.T. for a living, so at the end of the day, the last thing I want is to be looking at another backlit screen. I should add that with more recent releases, there's also the real possibility the vinyl might actually sound better, even if from a digital master, because the limitations of LP cutting don't allow the mastering engineer to brickwall the mix.

On another thread at Hoffman, I learned of ClickRepair, an application lauded by needle-droppers who digitize rare vinyl (as well as some troubled souls who make digital copies of their bog-standard LP issues for god knows why). This app has a mode that solely focuses on pops and ticks, just the big stuff. That's not a huge task in the digital domain. Clicks tend to be out of phase, so they can usually be identified and then removed by interpolating the removed samples. My compliments to the developer, whose algorithm seems better than most at rejecting false-positive detections, and does it elegantly with minimal CPU usage. ClickRepair does have another mode that attempts to decrackle the lower-level groove noise, but there you're getting into trickier territory ala the much-maligned CEDAR and NoNoise systems, and even the developer admits it's best not to use it unless you have to.

ClickRepair had a real-time version (sadly, no longer available), so I built a mini-PC from a $100 ASUS that's about the size of a thin hardback book. I added a decent USB interface and set up ClickRepair to auto-launch when Windows reboots. This thing sits behind my stereo cabinet and is only connected to audio. When I need to access it for changes or maintenance, I use Remote Desktop via WiFi.

I split the signal coming out of my phono preamp, so that one set goes to my receiver's line input as usual, and the other goes to the analog input on the USB interface. The signal goes into the PC at line level, gets digitized at high res, gets declicked, then gets sent out as high res digital to a digital input on my receiver. I've tried to ensure staying as bit-perfect as possible, save for the declicking, so there's no unnecessary up or downsampling, or additional A/D conversions. The reason I split the signal was that I still had some lingering thoughts about maintaining a "pure" analog circuit for LP's in good condition, but after a couple years of A/B'ing the two, I can safely say the digital route is completely transparent on my system (Gram Slee/Denon/Vandersteen 2CE/Velodyne) and I just leave the declicker on all the time.

The declicking is excellent. I run the app at the lower end of its scale (a setting of 4 out of 14), and even with that, your average thrift-store LP with a huge gouge across the side plays noiselessly, with no artifacts or tampering with transients. I do still clean dirty thrift finds (once!) so as to not gum up my stylus, and because dirt tends to be more low-level crackle, as opposed to the pops and ticks being addressed by the software. With declicking, I can hear reverb tails again. Quiet passages remain quiet passages. There's no longer a metaphoric drunk guy over my shoulder randomly whacking the table while I'm trying to listen to the set.

After a year or so, I got ambitious and added a freeware app called Equalizer APO to the PC. It requires some futzing and some knowledge of working with digital audio, but it allows me to do some cool stuff in the digital domain. For example, I can sum all bass frequencies below 100 Hz to mono, which effectively eliminates things like groove noise and turntable rumble, which are out of phase. Most LP's are summed even higher (140 Hz) when cut, but I chose a little lower pole out of caution and because my turntable's very quiet. I also set a rolloff at 15 Hz so that record warps don't agitate my subwoofer. I can also sum both channels completely to mono for mono LP's, though I'm still looking for some type of physical control that would allow me to switch between mono/stereo without having to remotely access the PC's desktop. Note that if you're declicking, it's better to do any mono summation after the declick process because the software's detection works better when it can compare both channels, even with mono LP's.

I put a copy of the freeware recording software Audacity on the mini-PC, which has the unique feature of being able to record from the sound interface's output (rather than just the input) meaning that it's very easy to make a declicked, bass-summed digital recording of an LP while I'm listening to it.

So this little setup is unlikely to set the vinyl enthusiast world afire, but for someone like me with a big collection of rare birds, some in sketchy condition, it's the best audio investment I've made. In daily listening, I often go back and forth from my streamed digital collection to LP's and forget which one I'm listening to.
 

Theo

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#4
put a copy of the freeware recording software Audacity on the mini-PC, which has the unique feature of being able to record from the sound interface's output (rather than just the input) meaning that it's very easy to make a declicked, bass-summed digital recording of an LP while I'm listening to it.
Why do you want to listen in real time? Why don't you just digitize it, store it and listen to the file from the PC?
 

Wombat

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#5
Spontaneity vs the laborious process of recording all of the vinyl in real-time?
 

Theo

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#6
Spontaneity vs the laborious process of recording all of the vinyl in real-time?
You may still record it when you play it. So you can listen in real time when recording, then, you're all set?
 

Robin L

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#8
I've been collecting vinyl since I was a teen in the 80's and really went ape in the 90's when everyone sold off their collections for CD's. Had an ad for years in the local paper under the head "Sanford & Son Vinyl Salvage," and took calls from people enthusiastic for me to rummage through their collections and cherry-pick for $1 a pop. I met a lot of fascinating people this way, including a guy who'd been a Walter Matthau's stunt double for much of his career, with several thousand jazz LP's collected over a lifetime in Los Angeles (unfortunately, two Japanese investors had flown in a few days before and snapped up most of the Blue Notes, but there was still a lot to be found.)

Stick with me - I'm getting to the hardware bit. As a collector, I'm definitely at the low end of the price scale. I don't think I've ever paid more than $15 for a record, new or used, and the vast majority of my stuff was had for $1-5 each through the salvage operation described above, yard sales, thrift stores, or used bins. My tastes are pretty broad - I started as a punk/alternative kid, but later got into soul, jazz, exotica, international, krautrock, early electronic, the more esoteric end of classical, vintage country, etc. Really, the only thing I'm not interested in is mainstream classic rock - I've had enough of that pumped at me over radio to last two lifetimes. Oh, and I'm no fan of modern country, but that should go without saying.

As a result of the above hunter/gatherer methods, I have a lot of records that never made it to digital. Though I've culled out most of the truly thrashed LP's over the decades, I also have a lot of sides that are in less-than-stellar quality. I also enjoy many genres that feature a wide dynamic range. I also enjoy good (read: "transparent") audio. So...

A couple of years ago I saw a thread in the Hoffman forums about the Sugarcube, a $2K device that transparently declicks vinyl. Most of the reaction there was negative, solely because the signal path is digitized, thereby breaking the holy AAA chain. I'm not one of those analog true-believers. I've experimented with some fairly fancy-schmancy turntable and cartridge setups over the years, but I'm not one to make claims about the sonic superiority of vinyl. I like LP's because they have huge cover art, you can actually read the liner notes without magnification, and maybe most significantly, when I have guests over who want to play something, we're not sitting around staring at playlists on screens and dicking around with bluetooth pairing. I also work in I.T. for a living, so at the end of the day, the last thing I want is to be looking at another backlit screen. I should add that with more recent releases, there's also the real possibility the vinyl might actually sound better, even if from a digital master, because the limitations of LP cutting don't allow the mastering engineer to brickwall the mix.

On another thread at Hoffman, I learned of ClickRepair, an application lauded by needle-droppers who digitize rare vinyl (as well as some troubled souls who make digital copies of their bog-standard LP issues for god knows why). This app has a mode that solely focuses on pops and ticks, just the big stuff. That's not a huge task in the digital domain. Clicks tend to be out of phase, so they can usually be identified and then removed by interpolating the removed samples. My compliments to the developer, whose algorithm seems better than most at rejecting false-positive detections, and does it elegantly with minimal CPU usage. ClickRepair does have another mode that attempts to decrackle the lower-level groove noise, but there you're getting into trickier territory ala the much-maligned CEDAR and NoNoise systems, and even the developer admits it's best not to use it unless you have to.

ClickRepair had a real-time version (sadly, no longer available), so I built a mini-PC from a $100 ASUS that's about the size of a thin hardback book. I added a decent USB interface and set up ClickRepair to auto-launch when Windows reboots. This thing sits behind my stereo cabinet and is only connected to audio. When I need to access it for changes or maintenance, I use Remote Desktop via WiFi.

I split the signal coming out of my phono preamp, so that one set goes to my receiver's line input as usual, and the other goes to the analog input on the USB interface. The signal goes into the PC at line level, gets digitized at high res, gets declicked, then gets sent out as high res digital to a digital input on my receiver. I've tried to ensure staying as bit-perfect as possible, save for the declicking, so there's no unnecessary up or downsampling, or additional A/D conversions. The reason I split the signal was that I still had some lingering thoughts about maintaining a "pure" analog circuit for LP's in good condition, but after a couple years of A/B'ing the two, I can safely say the digital route is completely transparent on my system (Gram Slee/Denon/Vandersteen 2CE/Velodyne) and I just leave the declicker on all the time.

The declicking is excellent. I run the app at the lower end of its scale (a setting of 4 out of 14), and even with that, your average thrift-store LP with a huge gouge across the side plays noiselessly, with no artifacts or tampering with transients. I do still clean dirty thrift finds (once!) so as to not gum up my stylus, and because dirt tends to be more low-level crackle, as opposed to the pops and ticks being addressed by the software. With declicking, I can hear reverb tails again. Quiet passages remain quiet passages. There's no longer a metaphoric drunk guy over my shoulder randomly whacking the table while I'm trying to listen to the set.

After a year or so, I got ambitious and added a freeware app called Equalizer APO to the PC. It requires some futzing and some knowledge of working with digital audio, but it allows me to do some cool stuff in the digital domain. For example, I can sum all bass frequencies below 100 Hz to mono, which effectively eliminates things like groove noise and turntable rumble, which are out of phase. Most LP's are summed even higher (140 Hz) when cut, but I chose a little lower pole out of caution and because my turntable's very quiet. I also set a rolloff at 15 Hz so that record warps don't agitate my subwoofer. I can also sum both channels completely to mono for mono LP's, though I'm still looking for some type of physical control that would allow me to switch between mono/stereo without having to remotely access the PC's desktop. Note that if you're declicking, it's better to do any mono summation after the declick process because the software's detection works better when it can compare both channels, even with mono LP's.

I put a copy of the freeware recording software Audacity on the mini-PC, which has the unique feature of being able to record from the sound interface's output (rather than just the input) meaning that it's very easy to make a declicked, bass-summed digital recording of an LP while I'm listening to it.

So this little setup is unlikely to set the vinyl enthusiast world afire, but for someone like me with a big collection of rare birds, some in sketchy condition, it's the best audio investment I've made. In daily listening, I often go back and forth from my streamed digital collection to LP's and forget which one I'm listening to.
This is great. I was in a similar situation, doing a little bit of disc to digital, usually of LPs in dire condition. Used click repair a lot. Also used the pencil tool in Audacity for the really hellatious pops. Making a real time click repair is a great idea for those who still listen to LP s and don't want to put up with surface noise anymore.
 
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#9
So, the key to the whole thing working is no longer available??
Well....it's tricky. The developer of ClickRepair announced awhile back that he would no longer be distributing or supporting the real-time version, only the file-processing version. The speculation is that he may have exclusively licensed the real-time code to another company, though again, that's pure speculation. However, as some on the Hoffman forum have noted, if you purchase a license for the current, file-based ClickRepair product (I think it's around $40), and could then somehow track down the old installer for the real-time version by travelling Way Back in internet time, it will work with the current license. Note that the developer does not offer any support for the real-time version, will not offer you a link, period. The last thing I want to do is suggest anything that would be detrimental to the developer, as the ClickRepair product is fantastic and very fairly priced.

There are other products that do click/pop repair in real time, such as Izotope Declicker. These run as VST's rather than standalone apps, requiring a free VST host program to use them in real time. I found that the Izotope product could be tweaked to very similar transparent performance as ClickRepair, but it requires a little more CPU juice, and thus a more modern mini-PC than the bargain one I purchased. My mission when building mine was to keep costs low in case the whole effort was a bust.
 
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#10
Spontaneity vs the laborious process of recording all of the vinyl in real-time?
Right. As I mentioned, these days one of my primary attractions to LP's is that guests can thumb through them and play what they like.

I do make digital copies of some things for listening when I'm away from home, etc.
 
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#11
After seeing what can be done with vinyl processing in the digital domain, a longer-term project is to eliminate the phono preamp entirely and have the same mini-PC apply the RIAA curve in the digital domain, to (theoretically) improve FR accuracy and stereo separation, and to allow for switching curves for say, old Decca LP's or even 78's. This is not solely a software-based solution, however. First, you need a USB interface that can handle a significant amount of gain without adding noise or distortion. Some have reported success with prosumer interfaces designed for microphone input, such as Focusrite and Presonus. Second, some moving-magnet phono cartridges like my Shure V15 are picky about the impedance and capacitance they see when plugged into a device. Getting it wrong means an inaccurate frequency response going in (usually treble rolloff and/or upper mid peaks), which sort of defeats the purpose of the project. USB interfaces, whether consumer or pro, don't present the same impedance as your typical phono preamp. It might be as simple as some homemade cartridge-loading plugs, but I'm less knowledgeable on general electronic principles than I am on the computer side of things.
 

gene_stl

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#12
At AXPONA last year I spent considerable time listening at the Sugar Cube (Sweet Vinyl)demo suite and was very favorably impressed with its ability to remove clicks without changing the sound of the music. I also like their design aesthetic.

However their pricing seemed ridiculous to me. This is the 21rst century regardless of how you reckon decades and they start at $1500 for a pop and click remover and go up to $3500 for a preamp digitizer system. For LP vinyl. Really?? Maybe if you are the Liberry of Congress or a professional archivist or something similar where somebody else is picking up the tab and its tax deductible. I can just see myself "Honey I am going to buy a black box for $1500. It does nothing else but remove pops and clicks."

Also you can only buy their products from Music Direct. That kind of marketing from a small company immediately disqualifies them with me. I don't see the value added for me for that kind of channel. If I can't buy direct from them after I financed getting myself to AXPONA to hear them there won't be a deal. It says they don't have the resources for proper customer service or worse they aren't interested in developing them.

Perhaps if I had a lifetime and ginormous collection of records like @billybuck I wouldn't even flinch about all the above. But I like his solution.
Can the OP mention the pricing on deClick. Hard to see on their web page.

I have a number of vinyl records I like to listen to. But when I go to Half Price books to hunt for CDs I don't even look at their large LP displays.
 
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patient_ot

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#13
I've heard a Sugarcube'd needledrop, quite a bunch of them in fact made with several thousands of dollars of associated equipment. Very cool device, but unless the record was never released digitally or the digital version was completely botched, I found very few needledrops I outright preferred to a good CD or lossless digital version made from master tapes. I see no point in archiving my entire LP collection, as I'd just rather listen to the records in real time.
 

scott wurcer

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#14
When I rip vinyl I use ClickFix (free CoolEdit/Audition plug-in only) in one at a time mode. It is based on a well known paper on forensic audio restoration and gives incredible results. This technique is tedious and not for everyone but the result is unsurpassed by any other tools. I could post some pics that would dazzle you.
 

Ivanovich

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#15
When I rip vinyl I use ClickFix (free CoolEdit/Audition plug-in only) in one at a time mode. It is based on a well known paper on forensic audio restoration and gives incredible results. This technique is tedious and not for everyone but the result is unsurpassed by any other tools. I could post some pics that would dazzle you.
Please do.
 
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#17
That's basically what ClickRepair is doing in real time, though one-at-a-time tools like ClickFix are probably superior for needle drops, where you're really intent on fine-tuning repairs and avoiding false detections. When you use ClickRepair in its non real-time, file processing mode, it allows you to get much more aggressive with your repairs, and some users have noted that at its highest settings, it can falsely detect certain types of synths or trumpets as clicks.

in the real-time mode, CR isn't getting that deep into the processing- it's just looking for the low-hanging fruit. I've never had problems with false detections, and I listen to a lot of jazz and '70s electronic.

As mentioned previously, I've culled out most of my truly thrashed LP's over the years, but this week I had a chance to see what my declicking setup could do with some really damaged sides. I answered a "free" post on Craigslist and ended up with about 400 LP's (most of which remain in my car's trunk and will promptly be donated to a local charity shop). I pulled out a few interesting sides, some of which were stacked, without sleeves, in a laundry basket that looked like it had been sitting in a barn for a few decades. These were way beyond the capabilities of a record vacuum, with caked-on mud and mold, so I just washed them like dishes in the sink and let them air dry. On visual inspection, these are the kind of records you'd turn down for 25 cents. Scratches and hacks clearly visible across the entire surface, some gouges, etc.

Playing them through my declicker setup was surprising. All were absolutely listenable and quiet, though I did toss a few with exceptionally deep gouges that caused skips. In relative terms, I'd say most sounded equivalent to your average "VG+" condition side.

A favorite of the batch was a 4-LP Motown hits box (sans box) released in 1972 that uses the mono mixes from the original 45's, as opposed to the stereo, remastered versions found on most modern reissues. IMO these songs deserve to be heard in all their original midrangey, mid-fi glory.
 
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#18
When I ripped my vinyl I used Exact Audio Copy to record and de-click the WAVs, one click or scratch at a time. :p Hell of a job, with some records taking a whole evening, but very satisfying in the end. EAC is a free application, of course...
 
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#20
Nope... I’ve never used Audacity for anything. It really is in EAC. I’ll try to unearth an old Windows-PC tomorrow to see if I can find out how it worked - it’s been ten years... There is a function somewhere in the right hand part of the menu bar where you can record WAVs.
 
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