Reel-to-reel to digital

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Reader Tom Wright seeks a tool to help him make the transition from analog audio to digital. He writes:

I have a large collection of reel-to-reel tapes that I would like to transfer to my computer. I tried Griffin Technology’s Final Vinyl software, but found that it didn’t recognize blank space, with the result that I got a single file of six hours of music. Editing such a file is too time-consuming to contemplate. Do you know of any software that will recognize blank space to make file separations such that separate songs, albums, or classical music pieces could be easily transferred to new, smaller folders or music libraries?

Sure. You can approach this a couple of ways. You can use an application that, while it captures audio, attempts to create separate song files when it recognizes gaps. Or you can capture everything in one long file, as you’ve done, and then use a program to automatically chunk it into pieces after the fact.

Rogue Amoeba’s $32 Audio Hijack Pro can record audio from any source, including the Mac’s internal sound as well as audio you bring in from the outside via an audio input source (the Mac’s microphone port or a USB audio interface, for example). It includes a Silence Monitor feature that seeks out gaps and creates a new audio file whenever it finds one. You can customize the Silence Monitor so it looks for particular audio levels (-30dB for example) and gap lengths (1.5 seconds, for instance).

If you have a copy of Roxio’s Toast Titanium, you can use its CD Spin Doctor II to do something similar. Like Audio Hijack it will record audio from an input. It can’t, however, split it on the fly. Instead, it saves it as a single file and then you ask it to define gaps based on where it detects silence. You can adjust split points and add your own. From there you can export the tracks to iTunes (exporting it as in AAC, MP3, or Apple Lossless format) or send them to Toast for burning to CD. CD Spin Doctor II isn’t the most accurate tool I’ve used for detecting gaps after the fact, however.

A more accurate tool is Rogue Amoeba’s $32 Fission. Unlike Audio Hijack Pro and CD Spin Doctor II, Fission won’t record audio. Instead, it’s the tool to use when you already have an existing audio file—much as you do with your six hour reel-to-reel recording. Just open the file in Fission, choose Tools -> Smart Split, and Fission will guess where the gaps lie (and its first guess is usually pretty good). If the guess isn’t so good, adjust the Length (length of gap) and Sensitivity (volume determined to be silence) sliders and new suggested split points will be added or subtracted. When you have the split points you want (you can add some of your own if you like), click the Split button and Fission creates split points. You can then export the files in a variety of audio formats.

Finally, you could opt for a full-blown audio editor that has an option to create markers based on audio gaps. The audio editor I’d suggest is HairerSoft’s $40 Amadeus Pro. It’s a terrific multitrack editor that, like its predecessor, Amadeus II, includes a Generate Markers command that can be used to search for silences (you can configure the gaps’ minimal length as well as maximal level). Impose this command and the program creates markers where it believes gaps lie. You can adjust the position of these markers as well as create your own. Once you’re satisfied with the split points choose Sound -> Split According to Markers and the program does as you ask, letting you choose the audio format you’d like to save the files in.

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