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Using analog recording
to gather music from all sources

Dale Swafford is the Burner Class Leader and teaches classes on basic CD burning, and burning music CDs for the Alamo PC Organization.

Finished burning favorites CDs from all your personal CDs? Now what? Maybe itís time to explore the world of analog recording. Whatís that you say, what is analog recording? Simply, it is plugging in any analog sound source (radio, TV, phono, tape player, mini-disc, etc) to the sound card in your computer, converting the analog to digital sound in the sound card with an A/D converter, and using CD recording software to save the digital audio as a wav file on your hard disk. Then you can run the wav file through a wav editor to filter and clean up the sound, and burn it to an audio or MP3 CD. You can also use it to record music from Internet radio stations, satellite music channels, and literally any sound source you can plug into your sound card.

So what do you need to work this magic?
First, you need some stereo cords to connect the pre-amp level output on the sound source, with a stereo mini-plug on the other end to plug into your sound card. If recording from records, the phono output must pass thru an amplifier since the phono cartridge has a real low level output. Grounding a phono to the amplifier and to the computer is necessary to eliminate that hum noise. You can also plug into the headphone output on most players, but the aux out or tape out connection on an amplifier will give you cleaner sound. Cassette, CD, and tape players can be plugged directly into the sound card.

A decent sound card is a must. As a minimum, the Sound Blaster 128 which is selling for less than $20. Iím currently using a Sound Blaster Live 5.1 (about $30.) waiting for the Audigy to come down in price. The Live does a good job, but is way too complicated to use. I enjoyed the simplicity of the 128, and in tests, it actually did better than the newer ones. If you have lots of coins, the Turtle Beach Santa Cruz is among the top rated cards. The most important part of the sound card is the A/D (Analog to Digital) converter. This is the component that takes analog sound and converts it to the digital ones and zeros by pulse code modulation. Bad connections or a weak converter will add noise (we call it artifacts) to the digital sound, that require heavy duty filters to remove. So, donít skimp on the quality of the sound card.

A big, fast hard drive is a necessity for working with music. Wav files average about 10 MB per minute, and a CD will hold about 800 MB, and may require scads more considering the Windows swap file and an image file, it doesnít take long to put a hurt on an older hard drive. I feel two 7,200 RPM, (20 & 40 GB) hard drives are better than one 60 GB drive, and make all my petitions 6 GB or less for ease in defragmenting.

Software is real important in analog recording. First off, most burning software will not do analog recording. I use Dart4 for ease of use and excellent sound. Feurio is fast and has a great wav editor. Easy CD Creator5 Platinum has Spin Doctor hidden in SoundStream, and a decent wav editor. ECDC Basic and Nero do not have an analog recording capability. Shareware also has some programs that do analog recording. Audiotools and LPRipper are crippleware and cost as much as the commercial programs. The newer MP3 jukeboxes will do analog recording, have filters, and burn audio CDs in addition to encoding/decoding MP3s.

Volume control is critical to a good recording. Plug your music source into the sound card. With the source playing at a comfortable level, you should hear the sound coming from your computer speakers. The source volume level should not be set to a high volume level as it will distort the sound in the sound card. The volume in the computer is controlled by clicking the speaker icon on the systray (lower right of screen). To control the volume for recording, if the burner software does not have a volume control slider, double-click the speaker icon, select Options, Properties. Make sure your sound card software mixer is listed on the mixer line, click the recording radio button, and check the items you want to control with a slider, click OK. The recording level control panel will appear. Minimize it. After you open your software, click the record control to set the volume level for the analog record. Donít set it too high or you will distort or clip the recorded sound and nothing will make it sound better.

While setting up to record, you will have to tell the software what file name to use and where on the hard drive you want it saved. On software like Dart4, you can set the recording resolution to save space on the hard drive if the source is an old mono vinyl record (use 22K, mono, 8 bit). I would definitely record the new wav files to a work folder on the hard disk rather than straight to CD. Listen to the sound of the new file. It may take several tries to get the settings right. Then run the pop and click, noise reduction, and normalize filters on the wav files. From there on, itís just like burning any audio CD. 

There is one more important use for analog recording. If you canít make a decent archive copy of one of your audio CDs, you can plug your CD player into the sound card and make a digital/analog/digital copy. Any sound going thru the sound card is not susceptible to copy protection. Sure, there is a loss of some quality, but it takes a keen ear to tell the difference. Think of analog recording as another tool to use with this wonderful device we affectionately call a CD burner. Have fun.

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