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Audio Tape to CD

Replacing the 10 year old multi-disc CD, twin tape deck midi stereo system with a five disc surround sound 'Home Cinema' DVD / VCD / MP3 player with built in multi band FM radio tuner was, I thought, one of the wife's more inspirational suggestions. "Let's just go and take a look at one" she said. "O.K., but we won't be buying one" was my reply, wondering if she had taken a knock to the head or something. It was not untill we were on our way back home, with the said new system in the boot of the car that I found out what was really going on. "You do realise that you can't keep all those cassette tapes in the living room anymore, don't you"!!! Ah-ha, I thought, realising I had no chance of winning this one. Time to give in without a fight, totally powerless. Fancy buying a state of the art entertainment center that can't even play audio tapes. What was I thinking of. So, to date, only 153 more tapes to do. Won't take long now.

Thankfully it is not too difficult a task to convert these tapes into CD's. You can do it using almost any computer fitted with a CD writer and a sound card. With blank discs now available as cheap as 20 pence each or less, and the perspex type 'Jewel Cases' available for approx. 12 pence each it is certainly an affordable proposition. What you will also need is time. However, when at the end of all your efforts you have your favourite music collection available once more, in the form of your own self-made personal CD collection, the time spent will soon be forgotton.

COPYRIGHT: - a quick word here about copyright infringement. To the letter of the law it is of course ILLEGAL to copy any work that is copyright protected. DO NOT be tempted to copy anything that has copyright protection for FINANCIAL GAIN. If you do you will be delt with severely.

That said, making a single backup copy of a tape for your own personal use is not likely to get you into hot water. The enforcement bodies are more concerned with commercial set-ups that make big bucks from duplicating and distributing hundreds or thousands of boot-leg copies of the latest releases.

Hardware: - That said, we now need to know what will be needed to get going. First off of course is a computer. Almost any computer will do this job. You do not need an all singing, all dancing 1200 machine. Far from it. A 400 MHZ processor with 64 MB or 128 MB of ram is quite fast enough. 10 GB or more of available hard disc space will be enough to start off with.

If you do not already have a PC check out the advertisers on this website, the freeads page, or the for-sale columns in your local press for one of similar spec. to this. Any sound card will do the job and can either be built in (to the computers motherboard) or an add-in PCI (PCI = expansion slot) sound card. If your PC does not have sound already you can add a 5.1 sound card plus speakers for less than 25. Next you will be needing a CD writer. Again, if your PC does not have one, you can get one for less than 45. Check out our advertisers or your local computer fair. Always a good source for great bargains and free advice.

So much for the computer, now how about the tape deck. I moved the old (but good) midi system into the computer room, but any reasonable quality personal cassette player will do the job.

Connecting up: - You will now need to be able to connect the cassette player or music systems output to the PC's 'line in' jack. Use the 'headphone out' jack socket (may require an adapter for this) and a stereo jack to jack lead. WARNING- when using the 'headphone out' method of connecting be sure that the volume control is turned down completely BEFORE switch-on. The output voltage from the headphone jack will exceed the line intput jack's voltage considerably, leading to sound distortion and possibly overload of the PC's sound card. Not good !! O.K. so we are 'now wired for sound'.

Software: - surprisingly, this part of your setup is not going to cost an arm and a leg. In fact it may surprise you to find that you may already have all the software you need, at least enough to get you started. Most CD writers are normally supplied with CD creating (burning) software - usually Nero 6, which allow you to capture and burn both regular audio format discs and also MP3 format discs. Also, some PCI sound cards will have an audio recording program such as MusicMatch included with the driver disc. You can download a free version of Musicmatch from their website, however the full version is recommended as it will allow you to record as audio files or MP3, compile and burn to disc, and it is very reasonably priced. Free to download is the very usefull edit and cleanup program 'Audacity' . See the DVworkshop Links page for this and many other useful 'free-bies'.

Settings: - once connected up and with your software installed it is time to get the settings on the PC ready. Firstly though, do check that the volume on cassette player is set to minimum. Boot up the system and then check the Systray in the bottom right corner of your screen. You should find an icon for either 'volume' or 'mixer' or both. If not, click Start > settings >control panel. Select (double click) multimedia. This will bring up multimedia properties. Select the audio tab and tick the 'show volume control on the taskbar' check box. Click on OK and then close control panel. Right click the 'volume' icon and then click on 'open volume controls'. Click Options > properties. Check that your sound card is selected at 'mixer device' and then set 'adjust volume for' to 'recording'. Make sure that 'line-in' is ticked in the 'show volume controls for' panel and then click OK. Now tick the 'line-in' select box, adjust the slider to near to maximum and you are ready to go. Left click the volume icon in the system tray, ensure the mute checkbox is unticked and then set the slider to over half way up.

If you also have a mixer icon in the systray you may find it easier to carry out the above setup from the mixer instead. Either way, you do not have to set up both as changing the setting on one automatically adjusts the other - in fact they are both the same thing.

Select a tape and start it playing. Now slowly turn up the players volume control to bring the sound level from the speakers up just enough to be comfortable. WARNING setting the players volume too high WILL lead to distortion. Leave this set as low as possible and increase as required with the computers volume control.

Recording: - open your audio recording program and adjust the input level to suit, and then re-adjust the speaker volume. Most clean up programs work using WAV audio files, so it is a good idea to record to your hard disc in this format. Set up 2 separate folders within your 'my documents' folder and name them 'raw audio' and 'clean audio', or similar. You can then set the recording program to write tracks into the first folder ready for clean up and restoration work. When cleaned up these tracks will be transferred to the 'clean audio' folder ready for compiling into your choice of artist and tracks, and then writing to disc.

Once you are happy with the levels restart the tape at the beginning and start the PC recording. As each track is done use Windows Explorer to open your 'raw audio' folder and right click the new file. Select rename and type in the track title. Do this as you go to make identifying tracks easier. Double click a track in the Explorer window to play it from the hard drive. If it does not need any restoration work applied to it drag it directly into your 'clean audio' folder ready for burning. If it does require noise removal refer to the DVworkshop Audio page.

Burning:- or writing to CD. Once you have recorded all the required tracks from a tape and removed any tape hiss or noise, it is a straightforward task to write the tracks onto a blank CD using your CD writing software.

First decide if you want an audio CD or would rather make up an MP3 disc. A normal CD will play in any domestic player, but an MP3 CD needs a player that can cope with this format. They are now more widely available than previously, most domestic DVD players - some in car CD players and some personal CD players will play MP3 'tracks' or files. The big advantage with MP3 format is that of capacity. A normal audio disc can hold say 20 tracks of average length (80 minutes or thereabouts), while an MP3 format disc can hold about 10 to 20 albums !! This is done using data compression techniques which result in much reduced file sizes with very little loss in sound quality. So, unless you really need to replace every tape in your collection with an equivalent CD, consider making MP3 discs as a serious space and time saving alternative to burning audio CD's.

Once you have decided between these two types of CD you can make your assembled audio tracks into an audio CD or into a data CD (MP3 disc). It's that simple. Still undecided? Make your first album into both and then compare the playback from each. There's not much in it as regards playback quality. Try it and see !!

Label and Case Insert: - go on. You've got this far. Finish the job off properly. Pre cut self adhesive disc labels are available for pence, and they are easy to design and print. Do get a disc label applicator though. An out of balance disc won't do your CD or DVD player any good. Happy listening.