your analogue audio library
by Alan Zisman
(c) 2002 First
published in The Computer
Paper (Ontario edition), August 2003
like Groove Mechanic simplify shift from tapes, LPs to CDs
If you started listening to music prior to the debut
of CDs, you probably have a bunch of music in pre-digital formats:
vinyl LPs, cassette tapes, and maybe even eight-tracks. If you have a
personal computer with a CD burner, you can make your own CDs out of
this music. Doing this is completely legal; you can make copies of the
music you own for your own use.
Burning digital CD copies of your analogue LPs or
audio tapes is more complicated than simply making a greatest hits CD
from tunes that are already in digital format. It can be done, though,
and it isn't rocket science.
The first step is to get your computer and your audio
gear into the same room. Then you can connect your home stereo
equipment to your computer. You will probably need a few cables, which
can be found at Radio Shack or other electronics stores.
Best is to use a line-out (or "play") jack on a tape
player or "record" jack on a receiver, if available. If not, you can
plug into a tape player's headphone jack, but you'll need to watch
your volume levels carefully. Depending on your equipment, you may
need a cable with either a pair of mono RCA jacks or a stereo 1/8-inch
mini plug--the same sort of plug on the end of most headphone cables
that connect to your audio gear.
On the computer end, your cable will need a stereo
1/8-inch mini plug. Most soundcards have two or three jacks; look for
the one labeled "line-in." It may have an icon showing an arrow
pointing into a diamond shape. In a pinch, check your sound card's
documentation or just experiment.
To reach between your audio gear and computer, you may
need to buy one or more extension cables with a 1/8-inch mini plug on
one end and a jack on the other. (Make sure you get stereo cables: the
plugs have two black stripes on them).
Don't connect your turntable directly to your
computer. Leave your turntable
connected to your receiver (or amp), and either
connect your receiver's tape-outputs or your tapedeck's play (or
line-out) jacks to your computer. I like to connect the computer to
the tapedeck's outputs, as this lets me use the tape deck's level
controls to help in the next step.
Many recent Macintosh models have a headphone-out jack
but no audio input jack. On these Macs, you need a USB audio device
such as the $70 iMic (www.griffintechnology.com). Plug it into a USB
port, then plug the cable from your audio gear into its input jack.
In recording, level refers to the signal strength
coming in. A low level will result in a recording that is barely
audible above the inevitable background noise. If you later boost the
volume, you're also amplifying the noise. A signal that's too strong
will be harsh and distorted. You want a signal that's in between: just
Recording gear uses VU meters to show recording
levels--they are either a pair of flashing lights or gauges with
moving needles. The lower two-thirds of the meter is green; the top
(or right-hand) portion is red for danger. Recording software usually
displays virtual VU meters. Adjust your input signal volume to keep
the signal as high as possible in the green, flashing into the red for
fractions of a second at a time. If it stays in the red for extended
periods, you'll get a distorted recording.
In Windows XP, go to the Control Panel's Sounds and
Audio Devices control panel. (Other operating systems will have
similar ways to set levels). On the Volume tab, click on the Advanced
button. You should see a set of volume controls. Click on Options,
then Properties, and choose settings for Recording, not for Playback.
Make sure that the Stereo Mix is selected.
Keep those volume controls onscreen and visible so you
can use them to control your levels.
Neither Windows nor the Mac come with particularly
usable software for recording. There are a variety of commercial and
shareware products that can be used for recording: CoolEdit and
SoundForge XP are popular on PCs, as is Peak LE on the Mac. The free,
open source Audacity 1.1 is a nice choice for Windows, classic Mac,
and Mac OS X platforms (audacity.soundforge.net).
Any of these will let you record each side of your
analogue LPs and tapes into large digitized sound files saved on your
hard drive--at least once you get optimal recording levels.
Afterwards, you can use the same software to chop up the large sound
files into the individual tracks.
Doing this manually can get tedious fast, however. (A
trick: start at the end of the large sound file, and work backwards,
selecting the last track first, and cutting it out, pasting it into a
new file. This will generally be faster than cutting from the
beginning of the large file).
A better choice is the Windows program Groove
Mechanic, from Delta, B.C.-based Coyote Software (www.coyotes.bc.ca).
You can download a free, 15-day fully functional trial version, after
which it costs US$39 to get a registration code to keep using the
Like the other programs mentioned, Groove Mechanic can
be used to record onto your hard drive, storing the entire side of an
LP or tape as a single large file. Like the other programs, it offers
metering to allow you to find the best level for recording.
Where it really shines is what happens after you've
finished recording a side of an LP or tape.
GM can quickly analyze your recording looking for the
silences that indicate breaks between tracks. If asked, it will show a
list of what it thinks are the tracks, along with the length of each
one. (Check these carefully--on one acoustic recording, it was
confused by quiet sections until I adjusted its default settings,
letting it find all the tracks correctly.) Then it can quickly and
automatically create new audio files, one for each track.
It can also be set to clean up your recordings,
filtering out clicks and pops that are common on old scratchy vinyl
recordings or the rumble and hiss that is on the background of tapes.
I tend to use these filters sparingly, though Groove Mechanic's
filters work well and do less harm to the surrounding music than some
other products. Again, experiment, find what sounds best to your taste.
Once you've got your LP or tape recorded onto your
hard drive and split into individual tracks, you're finally ready. You
can burn them onto a CD or compress them into MP3 or Windows Media
format for a portable music player. Now it's no different from working
with music that is already digitized.