Business-like, isn't he?



Burning CDs from LPs and Tapes

by Alan Zisman (c) 2003

Part 4: Making the recording

    Note: The previous two sections had separate Mac and Windows pages; this time around, I've just produced a single version-- using the Windows SoundForge XP software. You may be using a different program on a Windows system or on a Mac; in that case the specific command-names and dialogue boxes will look different. But there will be enough similarities that hopefully this will prove usable. If you have any questions,, feel free to drop me a line.

    If you've been following this series of tutorials, you've connected your audio equipment to your computer, set your control panel or system prefence for recording, gotten a better recording application than what came with your computer, and set test levels for a recording. You're ready to go! But before you do, remember to clean the LP and the turntable's stylus, or clean and demagnetize the playback head of your tape deck. Perhaps get a new turntable stylus if you really value the music.

    What not to do!

    You may want to press record on your computer software, start up your LP or tape, check your levels, and then go away until you've finished recording one side of the LP or tape (about 20-45 minutes worth of music). After all, you can always cut and paste to individual tracks later. This will work, but it turns out to be a very inefficient use of your time. Your software takes a long time to process large files. Using SoundForge XP 5.0, for example, I recorded a 45minute  file containing 18 songs. It took about 6 minutes for the software to process the file when I tried to select and cut out one 3 minute tune, in order to paste it as a new, separate track. As the file got smaller and smaller (as I removed each song individually), it took less and less time-- but there was a lot of time wasted after I had the whole thing recorded.

    Here's a tip suggested by reader  David Bentley of  Walnut Creek, CA, USA. He says:

    " The trick is to start at the end.  Then it takes Sound Forge very little time to rework the remaining parts of the file.  If you need something from the middle, first delete whatever follows it (or cut & paste that to another file),  then cut off the part you want, which is now on the end!  If you want, of course you can always use undo to restore the file to what it had been, and this will probably be faster too as it is adding things to the end, and doesn't have to shuffle huge amounts of information forward to eliminate the gap.  I think that is what takes all the time."

    -- Thanks David!... but reader Charles Angelich suggests a further step (along with other useful suggestions that have been implimented in this tutorial). He rightly suggests duplicating the large file, and working on the duplicate. That way, if any mistakes are made, the original recording will still be intact.


    Best, in my experience, is to record each track on the LP or tape individually, saving it before going on to record the next track. Once it's saved, you can clean it up later, but get each track recorded and saved individually first. Try something like this:

    • Click the Record button on your software (often an icon of a button with a circle or square on it). Here's the screen you'll see in SoundForge XP 5.0:

    Sound Forge recording window

    • With the software recording, scoot over to your audio equipment and start to play the desired track. Try to start a little before the exact starting point; it's easy to edit out the junk later, but you've wasted everything if you miss the first few seconds of the track.
    • Go back to your computer, and check that the levels are OK while you're recording.
    • When the track ends, go back to your audio equipment and pause or stop it.
    • Go back to your computer and click the button to stop recording. On SoundForge, you should then click the Close button. You'll see something like:

      Sound Forge sound spectrum

    • Save your sound file. If you're planning to burn an audio CD, save in an uncompressed format such as Wave (*.Wav for Windows users) or AIFF (for Mac users). If you're wanting to rip MP3 files, your sound application may give you the option to save directly as MP3... but don't do this if you want to make an audio CD-- though you may be able to convert these MP3s to CD Audio, you'll be losing some sound-quality in the process.
    • If you're planning to make an audio CD, a good idea is to start your filename with the number of your track. In order to easily have your computer sort the tracks in the proper order, for numbers 1- 9, use '01', '02', etc... that way, '02' will be sorted prior to '10' or '11'... so call your first track something like '01 I Love My Dog.wav' or  something similar.
    • Once you've saved your track, you may want to record and save the next track, and continue that way until they are all recorded, cleaning up all the tracks at the end. Or you may want to do a bit of processing on each track after it's recorded. Either work-flow is fine. In any event, take a look at the picture of the sound file above. Note the quiet in the first 10 or 11 seconds of the track. I can highlight and delete it-- but I would suggest listening to it first, in case there is some quiet instruments leading into the main sound. Delete the unneeded portion, then listen again-- most software includes an Edit/Undo if you cut out too much.
    • Go to the end of the track, and again, listen... there's probably some that you can remove in the same way.
    • If your recording levels were low, you can boost the volume. In SoundForge XP 5.0, there's a Process/Volume menu item which gives the following:

      Sound Forge Process/Volume dialogue

      If nothing in the picture of the file is selected, the volume boost will apply to the whole file. If a section is selected, only the selection will be boosted. When you boost the volume, however, you also boost the background noise. And if you recorded with your levels set too high, you may hear audible distortion. In this case, lowering the volume will simply give you quieter distortion. Better to re-record, with your levels adjusted to a more optimal setting.

    Most of your software will have lots more bells and whistles you can play with, but personally, I'd recommend using as little as possible, to get as clean a recorded sound as you can. Even software that promises to remove pops and scratches when recording old LPs does so by altering the sound of all the music. You may be better off keeping the scratches in the recording.

    When you've got a set of usable recordings, you're ready to burn them to CD.  The software that came with your CD burner will do fine for this, though deluxe commercial versions will again offer more features.  For example,
    Roxio Easy CD Creator Pro or Platinum editions, unlike the Basic version that is often packages with PC CD-burner hardware, includes a SpinDoctor module which includes features to remove clicks, pops, and hisses, and normalize (balance) levels between tracks recorded from different sources. Mac users can get similar SpinDoctor features from Roxio Toast Titanium . These are not (legally) downloadable, but can be purchased online (US$99).

    Last updated: July 7, 2003

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan