What are your levels like? It might not be as bad as you think… You can quickly check the peaks (after recording) by running the Amplify effect. For example, if Amplify defaults to 6dB, your current peaks are -6dB and that’s OK. You can optionally apply the Amplify to normalize (maximize) the volume or you can cancel if you just want to check.
Anything between -3dB and -6dB is ideal. You want a good signal for a good signal-to-noise ratio, but you don’t want to get too close to 0dB, because if the signal “tries” to go over 0dB, the analog-to-digital converter will clip (distort).
Some records are louder than others and some songs are louder than others. (But, note that the peaks don’t correlate very well with perceived loudness, so don’t be surprised if a quiet-sounding record has some high peaks.)
I wouldn’t worry too much unless your peaks are down around -12dB or less (more negative), and that may be OK too… You can amplify digitally after recording. If your peaks are somewhere around -20dB or so, then I’d be looking for a different interface. But, -12dB might be acceptable.
The danger of the signal being too low is that the resolution is reduced, and when you boost the signal after recording you are also boosting any noise present. But analog vinyl doesn’t have that much usable resolution to begin with (due to surface noise) and most of the noise you get it from the vinyl itself, so boosting the gain doesn’t improve the signal-to-noise ratio. Higher electrical gain only helps if you can boost the signal without boosting the electrical noise. …What I’m trying to say is, recording vinyl at -12dB might not sound any worse than recording at 0dB.
NOTE - If the highest peak in the recording is a loud vinyl “click”, your peak reading isn’t meaningful.
- Are there any good quality alternative phono to USB audio capture cables that work with Audacity that anyone could recommend?
I can’t personally recommend anything but [u]here is an example[/u] of an audio interface with line-level inputs and adjustable gain. You generally find these audio interfaces at places that sell musical instruments and sound equipment, rather from “computer stores”. Most of these things have 1/4-inch TRS jacks, so you need an adapter cable for RCA “phono” plugs. Most also have XLR microphone inputs, so make sure you get one that has line-inputs (at least 2 for stereo) or switchable mic/line inputs.
If you have a component turntable with a magnetic cartridge, you can also get interfaces with a built-in phono preamp (and RCA connectors, and maybe adjustable gain). Then you could bypass the rest of the hi-fi system (if you wanted to).
In most cases, the line-input on a regular soundcard in a desktop/tower computer will work. But don’t buy a “USB soundcard”. These are like laptops with only mic-in and headphone-out.