Importing Analog Audio to the PC the Easy Way (Part Two)

Last week, we looked at using analog lines to record audio sources to your PC. In such cases, the source you use is usually analog (e.g., a turntable or cassette player) but it doesn't have to be. You can also record audio from other sources (e.g., DVD players) that support analog Audio Out. In fact, I discovered that sound-card Line In recording works amazingly well: I couldn't tell the difference between a professional MP3 rip of a particular song and the version I recorded from an analog-connected DVD. Of course, your results could be different because of several factors, including the quality of your sound card, cables, or source material.

The tools I chose for Part One of this article series were free or low-cost because you don't always have to spend a lot of money to get the job done, especially if, in this case, you want to record only a few analog-based songs. However, if you have different needs, other options and far more professional tools are available. So this week, let's look at other options, some of which are based on reader feedback.

Nik Simpson noted that he recently went through a similar experience recording analog audio so that he could import music from LPs. In this case, the turntable had options for Phono Out and the standard Line Out, so he used the Line Out connection to hook up the component to his PC's sound card. But Simpson says that many turntables support only a Phono Out port, which will require a connection to a receiver/amplifier that can handle phono connections (you can then connect the receiver/amplifier to the PC). Of course, these days, turntables are increasingly rare.

Simpson added another important tip, one that I should have included in last week's article. When you record from the Line In port, be sure to disable anything on your PC that might make a noise, such as an email message or Microsoft Outlook Calendar notification. Otherwise, you might hear the notification sound in your recording.

Stephen Stoops recommended making one large recording for each side of an LP or cassette, rather than several smaller recordings, as I recommended. Live albums, in which there often isn't any dead space between songs, is one situation in which this style of recording is preferable. I recommended individual recordings because of hard disk space limitations and performance: The resulting files can be huge, especially if you're using WAV format, and you'll need a fairly modern PC to make such a recording. But if you are, in fact, recording entire albums and have the capacity, you can save disk space by removing the original WAV files after you convert them to MP3 or Windows Media Audio (WMA) format.

Stoops recommended two commercial software packages that several other readers also raved about: Roxio's Easy CD Creator and Sonic Foundry's Sound Forge 6.0. Easy CD Creator ships in two versions: Easy CD Creator, a basic version that often comes free with CD-RW drives and new PCs, and Easy CD Creator Platinumretails for about $100 (basic users can upgrade for $70). If you want to do analog recording with Easy CD Creator, you'll need the Easy CD Creator Platinum, which includes the SoundStream application that accomplishes this task. SoundStream is particularly good for cassette and LP recording because it includes automatic sound cleaning and pop-and-click removal, crucial features for these types of analog sources. I played around with SoundStream and its Spin Doctor utility, comparing the recordings with the ones I had made last week. Although the quality was similar, readers with extensive LP and cassette libraries will appreciate SoundStream's automated approach. Other nice features include a track splitter, which can auto-detect periods of silence, and auto-stop, which lets you set timed recording or stop recording after a defined amount of silence.

I don't have as much experience with Sound Forge, which is a professional audio editor. However, if your needs go beyond any of the basic techniques we've examined here, and you don't balk at its $350 price, this product is worth looking at.

My experiments with USB-based audio recording were surprisingly poor. I'm sure someone makes a good USB device, but my trusty Belkin Components’ Belkin USB VideoBus II just wasn't up to the task. I tried to use this device in both Windows Movie Maker and Easy CD Creator's Spin Doctor utility, but in both cases the quality of the resulting files was unsatisfactory, with a lot of distortion. I'm not sure why the results were poor; movies I've recorded with the VideoBus device have acceptable sound. I'll keep looking into USB-based audio recording.

I don't have much to say about Macintosh-based analog audio recording because my two Macs—a Apple Computer's 2001 iBook and a flat-panel iMac—lack Audio In capabilities. Interestingly, Apple has corrected this situation with the eMac and the new Power Mac models the company introduced just last week. These products are the first Apple systems in quite some time to include Audio In ports, so other Mac owners will have to purchase some type of third-party add-on. I selected Griffin Technology's iMic, which is supposed to be excellent, but I haven't had a chance to test it. I'll report about this product in the future. The iMic also works with PCs, and I'm interested in getting a handle on USB-based audio recording.

Roxio's Easy CD Creator

Sonic Foundry's Sound Forge 6.0

Griffin Technology's iMic

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