Digital Hub

Thanks to the Internet, your radio choices are nolonger limited to the local airwaves. Maybe you want to keep up with the news in your hometown -- now 2,000 miles away. Or maybe you just can't bear to miss a single minute of your favorite trash-talking, hackle-raising, morning radio host -- despite the fact that you have to be in the office by 8 a.m. With a streaming-audio player such as Apple's iTunes or QuickTime Player, RealNetworks' RealOne, or Microsoft's Windows Media Player, radio programs can be delivered right to your desktop.

But like any radio broadcast, streaming audio is a fleeting affair: although players can connect you to live broadcasts from around the world, they don't store that audio on your hard drive. If you want to add your favorite Internet radio program to your iTunes library or listen to it on your iPod, you'll need additional software.

I tested five inexpensive utilities that record streaming audio, as well as any other sound your Mac can play. You can place some of the live sets from a concert DVD onto your iPod, for example, or you can record the soundtrack and explosions of a favorite video game if that's your idea of easy listening. Here's a look at these utilities, and at how to optimize your audio once you have the utility that's right for you.

By the way, the recordings you make are only for personal use. If you share recordings of Internet radio or DVD content, you could receive some legal correspondence.

For the Casual Recorder

If you only occasionally want to record audio, you probably don't want or need complicated features. You certainly don't want to spend a lot of money on the endeavor. For you, there's Ambrosia Software's free WireTap (   ; Mac Gems, January 2004).

Recording with WireTap couldn't be simpler: you just start the audio source and click on the Record button. A second button lets you pause and resume the recording -- great for cutting out commercials. When you're done, you can drag the resulting audio file into Apple's QuickTime Player or iTunes for playback.

However, WireTap's simplicity does have a downside: it records every sound your Mac produces. If your e-mail program chimes during a talk-radio show, that chime will be in your final recording.

For Serious Sound

If you want to be more selective about your sound, you'll need a more sophisticated tool. Two of the best are Rogue Amoeba Software's Audio Hijack and Audio Hijack Pro ($16 and $30, respectively; www.rogueamoeba.com). These utilities restrict their recording to a specific program -- letting you listen to iTunes while simultaneously recording a streaming program through your RealOne audio player. If you don't want to hear the audio as you're recording it, you can click on the Mute button without affecting the recorded sound. And thanks to the utilities' VCR-like timers, which let you start and stop recording at predefined times, you can make sure you never again miss your favorite talk-radio ranter.

Both programs let you remove some of the muddiness associated with Internet audio, as well as make additional bass and treble adjustments as you record. Audio Hijack Pro goes much further by providing a broad selection of audio-processing effects. The Reverb effect, for example, can make Howard Stern sound like he's in a cathedral -- at least from an acoustic standpoint.

Another interesting option for Internet-radio fiends is Bitcartel Software's MusicSafari ($20; www.bitcartel.com). Although it's not as flexible as the Audio Hijack family -- it can't record from non-Internet sources such as DVD audio, for example -- MusicSafari does allow you to record more than one streaming source at a time. (You'll need a fast connection for good results.) You can even use Apple's iCal to schedule upcoming MusicSafari recordings. However, in my tests of its debut release, MusicSafari proved to be a bit rough around the edges, with an unintuitive interface and flaky performance. Still, the program shows promise.

For the Radio Adventurer

Many Internet radio stations stream in MP3 format. You can tune in to thousands of such stations via the Radio button in iTunes, or via Web sites such as ShoutCast (www.shoutcast.com) and Live365.com.

Bitcartel's $15 RadioLover specializes in recording these MP3 stations. Many stations send artist and song information along with their streams. Unlike other recorders, RadioLover uses this information to create separate song files, rather than one long file, as it records. It's a fabulous way to discover new music.

But it's also imperfect: it almost always cuts off the beginning or end of songs. (You can sometimes fix the problem by adjusting the program's recording preferences.) You should also keep in mind that all these songs will quickly eat up valuable hard-drive space -- a typical 5-minute MP3 track will use around 4.5MB.

Optimize Your Recordings

Internet audio is often heavily compressed to allow streaming over slow modem connections. To avoid degrading the sound quality even more, you'll want to encode at a relatively high bit rate -- 96 Kbps for spoken-word programming, and 128 or 160 Kbps for music. If you're recording talk radio, set your software to record in mono rather than in stereo.

Whenever possible, save audio as AAC files rather than as MP3s. The AAC format tends to provide better sound quality than MP3 -- a 128 Kbps AAC file often sounds as good as a 160 Kbps MP3.

Some programs, such as Audio Hijack Pro and MusicSafari, let you determine these settings before you start recording. For the programs that don't, you'll need to use iTunes to encode the audio after you finish.

By encoding the audio as you record, you'll save time and use disk space more efficiently. On the downside, you won't be able to experiment with different encoding settings. To get the most flexibility and to fine-tune your radio broadcasts, first record audio in the uncompressed AIFF format. Then, using iTunes to encode the files, experiment with different bit rates and formats until you find the combination that sounds best to your ears.

Import into iTunes

Once you've recorded some radio favorites, it's time to bring the files into iTunes.

MP3 and AAC Files To add recorded MP3 or AAC files to your iTunes library, simply drag the sound files into the iTunes window. If you've set iTunes to copy files into its Music folder (you can find this option in iTunes' Advanced preference pane), you can delete the original audio files.

AIFF Files To add an AIFF recording to iTunes, you'll first need to encode it. Open your iTunes preferences, click on Importing, and then choose the desired bit rate and format from the pull-down menus. Click on OK. Next, hold down the option key and choose Convert To MP3 (or Convert To AAC) from the Advanced menu. Select the audio file you want to convert, and iTunes imports it, leaving the original untouched.

Trim Your Tunes

If you started recording a bit too early or if your recording ran a little long, you can change the start and stop times within iTunes by opening the Get Info dialog box (under the File menu) and clicking on the Options tab. When you adjust these settings, you won't actually cut off the beginning or end of the song -- rather, you're simply telling iTunes to ignore the rest of the file. To permanently extract this space, you can open the file in Apple's $30 QuickTime Player Pro, which includes useful editing tools.

Movie Magic

Sure, we'd like to shoot gorgeous panning shots like the Hollywood pros. But without expensive camera rigs, dollies, stabilizers, and other moviemaking niceties, we're often left pushing each other around in our office chairs.

However, if you're handy with tools and can follow instructions, film teacher Dan Selakovich has another option: build your own rigs. In his book Killer Camera Rigs That You Can Build, Selakovich offers step-by-step instructions and tons of useful photos for building your own cranes, dollies, mounts, and more -- all from materials you can find at your local hardware store. You can order the book from www.dvcamerarigs.com ($35; on CD, $27). The Web site also includes great examples of footage taken with different rigs, as well as book excerpts and additional resources. -- kelly lunsford

Recording with Hijack

Rogue Amoeba Software's Audio Hijack makes it easy to record streaming audio. Here's how to schedule a new Internet radio recording.

Step 1: Set Up Your Recording

Click on the New button to create a preset for the streaming player whose audio you want to record. You can click on the Timer tab to specify a start or stop time. You can set Audio Hijack to run an AppleScript after the recording is done -- to have iTunes automatically encode the recording in AAC or MP3 format, for example.

Step 2: Begin Recording

Click on Audio Hijack's Record button. As soon as the audio begins to play, Audio Hijack will begin storing it on your hard drive according to your settings.

Step 3: Add the File to iTunes

Once you're finished recording, add the track to your iTunes library. (If you set Audio Hijack to run either of the encoding AppleScripts after recording, this will happen automatically.) Then locate the track in your iTunes library, choose Get Info from the File menu, and use the Info tab to enter the appropriate song information.

recommended for you

Radio Daze

Read more »

Subscribe to the Apple @ Work Newsletter

Comments