Turn Your LPs or Cassettes into CDs

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If you're like most people, you've spent years building your music collection. From Elvis on vinyl to Kiss on eight-track to Men at Work on cassette, you bought tons of tunes before digital was an everyday word and before you'd even heard of compact discs. But now that CD is the de facto format for music, many of those gems you bought years ago just aren't available on disc. And even if they are, you already bought the music once, so why spend $18 to get something you already have?

Thanks to your Mac, you don't have to. If you have a CD burner, either built in or external, you can use it and your Mac to record, eliminate unwanted noise in the recording, and transfer the music to CD so you can listen to it in your car, at the office, or anywhere else you like to play CDs.

A few different programs are available to accomplish this task, such as the free Coaster (http://www.visualclick.de/coaster.html), $30 Sound Sculptor II (http://hometown.aol.com/sculptorii/index.html), or $35 Sound Studio (215/482-6664, www.felttip.com/products/soundstudio/), or CD Spin Doctor or AudioScribe, which are included with popular CD-burning programs.

But if you have more than a couple of records or tapes, you want the easiest, fastest method and the best-quality digital recording, and you're not on an audiophile's budget, we suggest you use BIAS's Peak LE to transfer the analog recording to your Mac, Arboretum Systems' Ray Gun to remove unwanted noise, and Roxio's Toast 5.0 Lite or Toast 5.0 Titanium to burn the music to CD.

What You'll Need

A Y-cable, which has two stereo RCA plugs on one end and a 1/8-inch stereo minijack plug on the other. Y-cables are available from most electronics stores for about $5.

Your turntable or cassette deck stereo component. If you're using a turntable, you'll also need a stereo receiver or preamplifier (available at most electronics stores for about $50).

Records or cassette tapes.

A soft cloth or device designed for removing dust and dirt from record surfaces. You may also consider replacing the phono needle.

To get the best sound from cassette tapes, consider buying a tape head cleaner or even a new, inexpensive tape player if yours is old and dusty.

An inexpensive USB audio input device or a PCI sound card if your Mac doesn't have a Sound In port, as is the case with many of the newer Mac models. See step 1 for suggestions.

Plenty of hard-drive space, since CD audio takes up about 10MB per minute. A typical album will eat up between 400MB and 700MB.

BIAS's $99 Peak LE (800/775-2427, www.bias-inc.com).

Arboretum Systems' $99 Ray Gun (800/700-7390, www.arboretum.com).

A CD-R or CD-RW drive.

Roxio's Toast 5.0 Lite (which is included with Peak LE, and a version probably came with your CD burner) or $99 Toast 5.0 Titanium (408/635-7694, www.roxio.com).

The Step-by-Step

1. Set Up Your Hardware. Connect your turntable or cassette player to your Mac. You'll need a receiver or preamplifier if you're transferring records, and an add-on sound-input device if you have a newer Mac.

How you set up your turntable or cassette deck with your Mac will depend on your Mac model and the type of media you plan to transfer.

You'll transfer audio to your Mac via the computer's Sound In port. If your Mac lacks a built-in Sound In port, as is the case with many of the newer models, other low-price options include Griffin Technology's $35 iMic or $99 PowerWave (615/399-7000, www.griffintechnology.com), both of which connect via USB. Alternatively, you can install a PCI sound card such as Creative's $100 Sound Blaster Live (800/998-5227, www.creativelabs.com) or M-Audio's $230 Audiophile 2496 (626/445-2842, www.m-audio.com).

If you're recording from a cassette deck, you can insert the end of the Y-cable with the two RCA plugs directly into the output on the back of your component and then plug the minijack end into your Mac's Sound In port (most likely indicated by a microphone icon).

If you're recording from a turntable, however, you'll need an additional item. Because most turntables lack built-in amplification, you'll need to plug the turntable into a stereo receiver or preamplifier. Then run the Y-cable from an output port (such as Tape Out) on the receiver to the Mac's Sound In port.

2 Install and Set Up Your Software. Now install Peak LE and Ray Gun, and configure Peak LE to receive the audio signal. Also make sure your media is recorded in the proper format for burning to CD: 16-bit, 44.1kHz stereo AIFF.

Note: After you've installed the Peak LE software, be sure to download the latest update to prevent data corruption or loss (http://www.bias-inc.com/downloads/updates/).

In Peak LE, choose Record Settings from the Audio menu, then click on Device And Sample Format in the resulting window. From the pop-up menu on the left, select Source (A). Since you'll be recording using your Mac's sound input, choose Built-in (B) from the Device pop-up menu and Sound In (C) from the Input pop-up menu. (If you're using a different device for sound input, such as the iMic, choose its name from the Device pop-up menu.) Select On (D) from the Speaker pop-up menu so you can hear your music as it's being recorded.

Next, go back to the pop-up menu on the left and choose Sample (E). Make sure that Rate is set to 44.100 kHz (F), Size is set to 16 bits (G), and Use is set to Stereo (H).

3. Record Your Music. Now that your system and software are set up, you can start digitizing your record or tape collection. It's simplest to record each album or tape onto your hard drive as one large file.

Before recording, prepare your analog equipment and media to capture the best-quality audio by cleaning it or replacing the phono needle on your turntable.

Open the Record dialog box in Peak LE by clicking on the Record button (A) in the tool bar or pressing Apple-R.

Based on the space available on your hard drive, you'll now see how many minutes and seconds you can record (B). Make sure the window indicates that it will record at the audio CD standard--16-bit 44100Hz Stereo AIFF File (C).

Now click on the Record button (D) in the Record window, and press the Play button on your tape deck or put the needle down on your record. You'll see the waveform being recorded in the Audio Source Display area on your Mac, as well as moving, colored input lights on the bottom of the screen.

Once you reach the end of the side, click on the Pause button (E), turn over the record or tape, and click on Pause again to continue capturing the entire album to a single file.

When it's finished recording, click on the Stop button (F) and save the file.

After you've saved the recording, you can delete unwanted blank space created before the music started playing or while flipping your record over by highlighting the space and pressing the delete key. However, don't delete silent spaces between songs yet.

4. Eliminate Unwanted Noise from Your Recording. Using the Ray Gun plug-in, you can clean up the sound on your tapes and LPs by removing many of the hissing and popping sounds associated with analog recordings.

Note: To avoid conflicts, be sure to remove the Ray Gun demo version that comes preinstalled with Peak LE in the Peak Plug-Ins folder before installing the full version of Ray Gun.

In your new file, highlight a section that has hisses or pops. Then from Peak LE's Plug-Ins menu, choose Premiere (Premiere format audio plug-ins are the only kind supported by the LE version of Peak) and select Ray Gun 1.2.0-pr.

Now with the Ray Gun interface open, you can begin modifying the sound on your recording. Start with one of the presets found in the pop-up menu at the upper left (A) and then play around with the sliders to get the desired results for different recordings. Generally, the higher you drag the sliders for Noise Reduction (B) and Pop (C), the more you'll reduce any noise. But you'll also lose more dynamic range and overall sound quality, so listen carefully to find the perfect balance.

The Filters section (D) is good for cleaning up sound from tapes that have been copied many times and have acquired lots of hiss and noise.

To audition the highlighted area of your recording once you apply your Ray Gun changes, click on Play (E) with the various fixes turned on. Once the music sounds right to you, go back to the pop-up menu, click on Save, and enter a name for your new preset. Toggle the In/Out button (F) to hear the music with and without the changes you've made.

Now click on Cancel (G), select the entire file you want to fix, and relaunch the Ray Gun plug-in. Choose the preset you created from the pop-up menu, and click on Apply (H).

Remember, all of this is nondestructive editing, so if you don't like what you did, you can simply undo it.

5. Normalize Low Levels. Often, the music you capture to your computer will be very quiet. Normalizing is a good way to fix that problem before burning to CD--and much safer than recording at high volume, which can lead to digital clipping, or distortion, that shows up as static and clicks.

Normalizing is the process by which the software analyzes your entire recording's waveform, takes the highest point, amplifies it as high as it can go without clipping, and brings the rest of the music up proportionally.

In Peak LE, choose Normalize from the DSP menu. By default, the program will choose to normalize 100% (A)--that is, bring the highest point to its maximum safe level. Although there is a slider (B) for choosing a lesser amount of normalization, go with the default and click on OK.

After Peak LE has done all the calculations and processed the sound file, it will redraw the waveform.

Play the recording. If it was originally quiet, it will be noticeably louder.

6. Insert Markers to Distinguish Tracks. Because your album will record to your computer as one big file, you'll need to segment it into tracks that your CD player will recognize.

Peak LE uses markers to denote points of importance in an audio file. In this case, markers will show track breaks on a CD.

With your recorded file open, click near the beginning of the file (A) and select Find New Marker from the Action menu (or press Apple-M) to insert your first marker.

Then click on the triangle at the bottom of the marker (B) and drag it as far to the left as you can to denote where your CD should begin.

Look for flat spaces--that is, areas of silence between tracks--in the waveform of the whole album. Go through the file, find where each song begins, and insert a marker. This tells the program where you want your CD to go to the next track.

Note: You can also insert markers while the music is playing by using the Apple-M key combination. When you do this, Peak LE will add a marker wherever the play indicator is at the time.

7. Get Tracks Ready to Burn. Once you've marked where you want your songs to begin and end, you can choose one of two ways to prepare the files for the CD-burning process, depending on your circumstances.

If you have lots of disk space to spare and you want to make MP3s from your recording before you burn the CD:

Press the tab key. Peak LE will highlight the area between the first two markers, which is your first track.

Go to the File menu, select New, and select Document From Selection (A). Peak LE will then copy the audio from the current highlighted area and paste it into a new document.

Save and name the file, and repeat this process for each song on your album. (To keep the tracks in order, name each one starting with 01, 02, and so on.)

If you want to use the fastest method, take up as little hard-disk space as possible, and don't need to make MP3s from your recording yet:

Press the tab key and highlight a track area as mentioned earlier, but instead of creating a new file, select New Region from the Action menu (or press shift-Apple-R) to create a region.

The Edit Region window (B) will appear, with an option for naming the region--call it Track 01 (C) and each subsequent region will automatically be named Track 02, Track 03, and so on. Click on OK.

Once you've completed this process, save your file.

8. Burn Your CD. Now for the moment of truth--putting your precious music onto CD. Peak LE includes Toast 5.0 Lite, and you most likely got a copy with your CD burner when you purchased it.

If you exported each file individually, simply open Toast Lite or Toast 5.0 Titanium, select Audio, and drag and drop the files into Toast's Audio window. Here you can adjust the amount of blank space before each track for all but the first track, since it must have a two-second pause. (Tapes and records have built-in space between songs, so set the gap for all the other tracks to 0 seconds.)

If you created regions, select Contents from the Window menu. In the resulting window, you'll see each of your regions listed by name and by start time on your disc (A).

Now go to the File menu, choose New, and select Playlist Document (or press shift-Apple-P). Drag the name of the large file that contains all the separate tracks from Contents (B) into your new playlist (C) and click on the Bounce button (D)--this "bounces" your files to Toast.

After a few minutes of processing, Toast Lite will launch. All the regions from your playlist are now shown as separate files, but the names will change, since what is being sent to Toast are just temporary files created by Peak LE (E). You now have the option to burn a disc or cancel the operation--choose Cancel and click on the 2 Sec area next to the tracks, changing it to 0 Sec. Then click on Burn.

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