Sidebar: Should You Convert?
Converting old cassettes into digital files is a great way to preserve precious memories and rare musical recordings. However, not all tapes deserve the time and effort it will take to digitize them. If you own an old cassette of an album that’s available on CD, you’re probably better off just buying the CD or downloading it from iTunes. It will likely sound superior to anything you could create yourself.
If you’re planning to transfer old bootlegs to CD, you may want to make sure someone else hasn’t already done the work for you—from better-quality and lower-generation sources, no less. Before you press the record button, search http://db.etree .org to see whether your show already exists out there. You may save yourself quite a bit of time and effort—and other bootleggers will thank you for not adding inferior recordings to the trading pool.—JONATHAN SEFF
Sidebar: What about My LPs?
If you’ve been collecting music for a long time, you probably also have crates full of records collecting dust—and possibly warping—in the attic. Unlike tapes, many records have never been released on CD, so you can’t just go out and replace them with digital copies. But you can bring your record collection into the digital age just as you can with cassettes—as long as you keep a few caveats in mind.
The Right Connections In many cases, you can’t just connect a record player to your Mac and begin recording LPs. That’s because most LPs use an RIAA curve—a mathematical formula that lowers the audio’s bass levels and raises its treble to maximize recording space and counteract the noise made by the stylus touching the grooves.
To hear your music as it was intended, you need something that can reverse the RIAA curve during playback—either a record player’s built-in amplifier or, if it doesn’t have one, an external piece of hardware called a preamp. If your record player doesn’t offer a built-in amplifier, you can typically purchase a basic preamp—which can then output the audio signal to your Mac—for under $100. Another option is to purchase Griffin Technology’s iMic or PowerWave audio inter-faces. These USB-based interfaces include Final Vinyl, recording software that can reverse the RIAA curve without requiring additional amplification hardware.
Removing Noise Another difference in the process of digitizing cassettes and records is the type of repairs they may need. The most common issue with cassettes is analog tape hiss. But with records, the stylus’s physical tracing of the grooves often results in clicks and pops, which appear as tall, thin spikes on a waveform. These problems require an entirely different solution. Luckily, there are filters that can take care of clicks and pop as well. CD Spin Doctor, for example, is particularly good at tackling these audio flaws. It includes both De-Crackle and De-Hiss filters, specifically designed for transferring records.—JONATHAN SEFF
Sidebar: Editing Audio in Amadeus II
You may not be able to turn back the hands of time, but with Amadeus II’s diverse collection of editing tools, you can at least recapture some of your audio’s youthful vigor.
In the main editing window, Amadeus II displays three waveforms for your audio. The top waveform serves as a navigation guide and displays the entire recording. The center and bottom waveforms represent the left and right channels of a stereo recording.
To find the precise spot you want to edit, you may need to zoom in on the waveform. You can do this with the Zoom tool in the lower left corner of the document window, or by pressing Command-G to zoom in and Command-shift-G to zoom out. Another way to hone in on a waveform is to scrub the recording—slowly playing the audio backward and forward until you find the exact spot you desire. In Amadeus II, you can press the right and left arrows on your keyboard to play half-second chunks of audio. Pressing the down arrow during playback will slow the audio.
To divide a long recording into several smaller pieces, simply place a marker between each segment and then go to Selection: Split According To Marks.—JIM HEID
Sidebar: Magnetic Makeovers
If you’ve put Amadeus II through its paces and your audio still sounds dull, you may need some more help. CD Spin Doctor, SoundSoap, and GarageBand all offer powerful audio filters that can pump new life into your old recordings.
One thing to keep in mind, though: don’t overdo it. If you apply too much sonic sweetening, you’ll end up with an artificial, overprocessed sound. When you’re performing fine audio adjustments, it’s a good idea to save multiple versions of the recording so you can compare results and choose the version that sounds best.
CD Spin Doctor To reduce unwanted noise and sweeten your sound, open the Filter drawer in CD Spin Doctor. Here you’ll find sliders for removing clicks and hiss from your audio. The Exciter control boosts audio’s high frequencies, while Sub-Bass boosts low frequencies. The Wideness setting simulates a broader left-right stereo field.
SoundSoap This software does an excellent job of scrubbing away the scratchiness from an old recording. Just click on Learn Noise, and SoundSoap detects and filters out the noise patterns in the recording. You can also use the program to reduce the hum and low-frequency rumble that can plague any recording.
GarageBand You can perform many audio-editing and -optimizing tasks using GarageBand. It applies filters nondestructively, which means it never changes the original audio file. This gives you the freedom to experiment without fear of messing up. Just double-click on the audio’s track header, click on the Details triangle, and start playing around.
Try the Equalizer option for adjusting bass and treble, the Compressor for adding sonic punch, and the Gate for removing noise and hiss from quiet portions of the recording. And for a concert-hall effect, try adding some reverb.—JIM HEID