Convert your music and sound to CD

It is quiet easy to use your computer to record those old tapes and vinyl LP's in your collection to a better CD format. Additionally you can record direct from the radio. This guide will show you how to get it done.

Checklist of what you need to have:

Recording audio with your computer

  • Computer Soundcard with a line-in socket (blue colour): 99% of computers already have a this requirement. If not can purchase a internal soundcard for about $55.00
  • A cassette player or record turntable. As long as they have a line-out socket or a headphone jack, that is fine.
  • A stereo connector cable to connect from the line-in (computer sound card) to the cassette player or turntable output. For most turntables, this will typically be 2 x RCA stereo to 2.5mm lead.
  • Software to record the audio to the hard drive. I highly recommend Audacity, it is free and works for both Mac and PC's (Windows 98 to Windows Vista). You can download the latest Audacity software here.

Notes: Some older stand-alone turntables may produce a lower level output signal that may require you to connect the audio lead to a small pre-amp.

Where to buy a new turntable:

At the time of writing (2008), new turntable units are available from Deals Direct (outside this site) - Australia. They feature a Lenoxx Turntable (33, 45, and 78) with Built-In Amplifier and AM/FM Radio for $60.00 (inc GST Aus).

Get recording with Audacity

Once you have setup and connected your equipment, you can install and setup the Audacity software. If you not download this software yet then get the latest free Audacity software here (outside this site) (for Windows 98, 2000, XP and Vista). There are version for Macs, as well as Linux / Unix. After the download, install Audacity by running the installer program. This will install Audacity with all that is necessary for our guide.

The Audacity program allows you to either; 1) record live audio through a microphone or mixer, or 2) digitize recordings from cassette tapes, vinyl records, or mini-discs. You can use Audacity to record via the computers sound card microphone input or line input.

Testing all is ready with a simple sound test

Now set the turntable or stereo to produce some audio sound, and see if you can hear the sound coming out of the computer speakers. If you can, then you are ready to go!

NOTE: if you have no sound in the computer speakers, then bring up the Windows volume control (Start - Programs - Accessories - Entertainment - Volume Control) and make sure that the line-in control is not set to 'mute'.

Volume Control Dialog

If the 'line-in' control does not show on the Volume Control, go to Options > Properties, and check that 'line-in' is selected as one of the items.

Setting the Audio record level (input level meter)

You need to set the sound level correctly to prevent audio clipping (too loud) . To adjust the input level, connect your sound source to your soundcard and run the Audacity sound editor (outside this site) program. Set the input selector on the Audacity toolbar to 'line in', and the volume about mid-point.

Audacity Toolbar Input Controls

With audio coming from the your sound or music source, click the Audacity 'record' button on the toolbar. You should now hear sound coming from your computer speakers and now the Audacity input level meter at the top right will show activity with the sound level (see below).

Audacity Input Level Meter

Check that sound is registered in both the left and right inputs (if you're recording in stereo). Note that you may need to change the Audacity settings to stereo if you're recording from a stereo source. Using the Microphone socket of your computer sound card will result in a mono recording, so using the sound card 'line-in' is preferable.

Problem = No Sound? Check that the Audacity input selector is on 'line in' and that the Windows volume levels and select control are correct for the 'line-in'.

Adjust the volume levels such that the loudest parts of the music (or sound) cause the input level to remain just below (left) of the 0 mark. Adjust the level to be about -2 to -5 as per the 'input level normal' picture on the above right.

Click the 'stop' button on the Audacity toolbar and close the test audio track by using the Audacity menu File > Close option.

Creating your Audacity Audio Recording

Start your chosen audio source playing (LP, Radio or Tape), and click the red 'record' button on the Audacity toolbar. You will see the Audio Track display moving on the time line display as the sound is recorded.

Audacity Audio Track Display

You can either record the entire side of tape or LP record as a single file, or record individual tracks as separate files. It is often easier to record the entire side, clean it up using further Audacity options, and then save the individual tracks. You can see where the audio tracks start and end by the visual evidence of silence between your recorded audio tracks.

When the recording is complete (or where you would like it to end), click the 'stop' button on the Audacity toolbar. Now you can save your audio recording project by choosing the Audacity menu option File > Save Project As and give your audio project a file name.

Clean up your recorded Audio tracks

Now you have the opportunity to clean up your recorded audio project - if you so desire. For LP records (or noisy tapes) that have aged, this is worthwhile, as it will improve the resulting sound quality. After this event you will then be ready to burn the result to a CD disk:

  • Select the entire file (Audacity menu option Edit > Select > All) and then choose the Audacity menu option Effect > Normalize (see below).

Audacity Normalize Dialog

  • Using your mouse, drag to select, with a small amount of 'silence', from the beginning or end of the recording over the audio parts you want to keep, and choose the Audacity menu option Effect > Noise Removal. Then click the 'Get Noise Profile' button (see below).

Audacity Noise Removal Dialog

  • Now use the Audacity file menu Edit > Select > All, then choose the menu option Effect > Noise Removal again. Click the 'Remove Noise' button. This option will remove any tape hiss or LP noise that was recorded with the audio track. This noise removal process can take several minutes, so give it time.

The best setting for the 'Less' and 'More' settings is normally the default middle option. For a really 'noisy' audio source, you may want to try moving this slide bar to about 3/4 to the right = 'More'.

  • Choose the Audacity menu option File > Save to save your clean recording.

Saving your individual tracks as WAV files

Now you separate the tracks into individual files. This is quite easy to do.

Open the recording that you have just made (it may already be open) and use the Audacity View > Zoom In and View > Zoom Out menu options to see two or three of the recorded tracks at a time. Drag your mouse over any audio track to select it, and choose the Audacity menu option Edit > Copy.

Audacity select an audio track

Now choose the Audacity menu option File > New to open a new Audacity window, and choose the menu option Edit > Paste. This creates a new audio track with the audio selection you just copied.

If you find you have a small amount of another track (or too much silence) at the beginning or end of the track you copied, you can drag the mouse over the part you want removed and then press the Delete key to remove just that part.

When your audio track is ready, choose the Audacity menu option File > Export As WAV to save this track as a WAV file. This WAV format is commonly used for creating an audio CD.

You may now close the new Audacity window (the single track we just saved), and repeat this process for any other tracks you recorded in the project.

Do you want to save your recording as an MP3 rather than a standard WAV?

To do create MP3 recordings, Audacity requires an extra LAME MP3 encoder - this allows Audacity to export MP3 files. Please download the required Windows Audacity MP3 Encoder (outside this site) here. After you have downloaded the MP3 Encoder, follow these steps:

  • When you have finished downloading the ZIP folder, unzip it and save the file lame_enc.dll that it contains to anywhere on your computer
  • When you use Audacity the first time with the 'Export as MP3' command, Audacity will ask you where lame_enc.dll is saved. Point to the location that saved the lame_enc.dll file

Write your final Audio Project to a CD disk

Finally you may create your new audio CD. Using your supplied CD-burning software program (Nero, Roxio, iTunes etc) to select those previous individual tracks you recorded with Audacity and record the tracks to a CD.

After you play your audio CD disk, you may wish to experiment to change the equalization for a better sound. Audacity offers a an equalizer (menu option Effect > Equalization), do not spend too much time with this as the default recording you made should be an improvement over the original anyway. Audacity will also allow you to change the final speed or pitch of your project. In Audacity use the menu Effects 'Change Speed', 'Change Pitch', and 'Change Tempo'.

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Using a computer to record your LP and Tape collection to digitised Audio CD