that many people want to do with the CD-burner on their computer
is create audio CDs from their library of cassette tapes, 8-tracks, and
vinyl (LPs). While it's relatively straightforward to copy audio CDs or
create compilation CDs from tracks from other CDs, it seems scarier to
make CDs from other media. I'm not a pro, but here are some tips that
I've learned the hard way.
An aside: you may want to take a look at
David Pogue's 2007 New York Times article The Sermon on the
with information on digitizing audio tapes, vinyl records,
videotapes, and film. (Free, registration with the NY Times required).
In July 2008, PC Magazine published a short article on the subject, which is a good
have a CD-burner (or DVD-burner) on a PC or Mac, and are relatively
familiar with burning an audio CD... I'm not going to focus on this end
of the process... instead, my emphasis is going to be on getting
burnable audio files onto your computer from your tapes and LPs.
that you have
an audio system-- a stereo, with a turntable and a tape-deck. Further,
I'm assuming that your tape-deck or stereo has a set of output plugs--
either Tape Out plugs on the back of a tape-deck, a line-out plug on
stereo, or (worst-case scenario) a headphone jack. If you can't get an
audio signal out of your system, you can't record anything into your
comfortable enough with your computer and with software in general that
you can experiment... you're probably using different hardware than I
used, and different software. As a result, my instructions and
illustrations won't exactly match what you'll see in real life. Be
prepared to experiment! Feel free to e-mail me with questions, if
stuck... but I can't guarantee that I can help!
thing you'll it is to be able to connect your audio components to your
computer. Obviously, this is going to be easiest to do if your audio
equipment and computer are reasonably close to each other-- at least in
the same room. There are a lot of variables here, so bear with me.
First, start at the audio-end.
Does your audio gear have
so, perhaps the easiest thing is to go from your tape deck's Play
or Line Outor Tape Out plugs
to your computer.
Typically, these so-called RCA plugs .Your computer
uses a 1/8"
Mini-stereo plug in the sound-card's Line-In
or Mike-In jack.
So get an adapter cable-- Radio Shack, or most stores that sell audio
or electronics parts or equipment will have these. You may also
need to get an extension cable to stretch this further. (Make sure it's
If you don't have a separate
deck, but have a stereo receiver, connect to the Tape Out
Don'tconnect directly to your
turntable. Turntables require pre-amps to boost and equalize the
signal from the cartridge, and won't record properly if connected
directly to your computer. Instead, get the signal from your turntable
after it has been boosted and equalized through your receiver--
either directly from the receiver, or through your tape deck. I
prefer connecting to the tape deck, as that way I can make CDs from
both tapes and vinyl LPs with a single connection. (Yes, if you have a
separate pre-amp, you can use this to boost the turntable's signal)
If you want, while you're
cables, pick up a pair of RCA-Y-connectors ... get
male plug to two female plugs. Plugging these into your
tape-deck's Line Out connectors will let you leave the tape deck
plugged into your stereo receiver while plugging into your
computer as well-- this not only saves time and hassle if you do
this often, but lets you use your home stereo to monitor the
your tape deck built-in? If so, it probably doesn't have separate
outputs. Better one-piece units will still have a Line Out
maybe a pair of RCA plugs, or maybe a single 1/8"
Again, get the appropriate cable, with optional extension to connect to
your computer's Line In plug. Worst case scenario--
a headphone jack, probably a 1/8" Mini plug, possibly a 1/4" Stereo
plug. I say worst-case, because the signal is amplified, and you'll
need to be careful not to overdrive your sound-card's input, causing
distortion in your recording.
a Walkman-style portable tape player? Again, you're best-off if
there's a Line Out plug, but if not, you can connect from the
headphone connector-- with care during recording.
you'll see several 1/8" Mini connectors, either on
the sound card on the back of the computer, or on the body of the
case... most times, you'll have a cord going from one connector to your
computer's speakers, but it's not always clear which one to use. You
have four (or more) plugs:
speaker out: for plugging in speakers,
a relatively low-powered audio-amplifier on the sound card. This is
also used for plugging in a headphone.
line out: for connecting to an
stereo system or to speakers with their own amplifier. (On
higher-end sound cards, you may have two outputs-- for front and
rear pairs of speakers).
mike in (aka mic-in): this is for
plugging a microphone into the computer; it expects a higher-level
signal than the line in circuit. It can be used in a pinch, but you
may have to adjust levels when recording.
line in: this is for sending an
signal into the computer from audio-gear: home stereo, mixing
board, etc. This is the one we're looking for.
be identified with icons: a picture of speakers, a picture of a
microphone, and maybe an image with an arrow pointing in, and one
pointing out... these could refer to Line In and
Line Out. For
better or worse, it may take some experimentation to find the right
place to plug the cable into your computer.
sound-quality of your recordings is limited by the quality of your
computer's sound card. This can be a relatively crappy component,
especially if built-into the motherboard of desktop PCs or notebooks.
An alternative is a USB sound device, which can provide a cleaner,
better quality way to get sound into the computer. Moreover, some
recent Mac models had sound outputs but no built-in sound
Two examples of USB sound devices are the Creative
a US$149 external sound unit (PC-only) If using this, connect the cord
from your stereo to the Extigy's
Line-In plug on the front of the unit. Simpler and more affordable, but
still offering good sound quality is the US$35 Griffin
Technology iMic. Despite its Apple-influenced
name, it works
with both Macs and PCs running Windows or Linux. Note if using an
reasons that I don't understand, this unit has icons that work
backwards from what I would expect. Plug in to the
labelled with a speaker icon, not the microphone icon.
Other gear that can be (optionally) used: the ART USBPhonoPlus
(US$129) adds a pre-amp to a USB music interface, letting you get good
results plugging in your turntable. Or the ION TTUSB
(US$99) is a complete turntable with USB output, to plug into your
computer for recording; line input jacks let you plug your tape
recorder or other sound source into it as well.
Notebook users wanting to improve on the sound quality of their
built-in sound card may want to check out Creative's Sound Blaster X-Fi Xtreme Audio Notebook SB0710EF
(US$79)- it's Windows only and requires a recent-model notebook with an
ExpressCard slot, not the older PCM-CIA slot.
If you've got your audio gear
wired up to your
computer (one of these ways!) it's on to Part 2: Getting set on your
computer. There are two versions of this- one for Windows
one for Mac