Quickie convert old analog audio to a CD the EZ way!
by Robert Du Vernay

A friend asked me about saving some old reel-to-reel audio recently. This lead to a discussion of sorts, and this little write up. First I said, you certainly can do it, and you already have all the necessary toys to it. . .

Now there are some caveats! The SOURCE material, i.e. the quality – state of, is paramount. Does the tape recorder still work? You did clean the heads thoroughly; is the machine in good working order? Do you have a computer with a sound card or audio capture capability? OK!

How are you going to connect the reel to reel to your computer? Teak has those big plugs, so go down to the Dollar store and gets the necessary cables to get from the tape recorder to your computer’s input (Stereo Micro phone in or LINE IN, or Left/Right Audio In). Yes I know the recordings are mono, but let’s use all we have!

So now you have the reel to reel connected to the computer via some cabling, this is good. Now, look at your “Program” list and see if you have ROXIO, NERO, Sony SOUND FORDGE, DIGITROPE or any other audio capture software. Nothing! Well go out on the internet and find a freeware audio capture program. Whatever you actually use you must invest the time and read the instructions! Of the ones mentioned above, the basics of running a capture session are very simple. Beware, we are dealing with a FEED into a computer, so do start with the volume levels on the low side; you can burn/damage things if you get too anxious.

Set up the connections and play some of the SOURCE material through the computer, and LISTEN! It won’t get any better, believe me. Unless you are willing to invest some more TIME and perhaps cash. The audio stream you are hearing can be recorded directly to your HD (hard drive) by the press of an electronic button. All the mentioned programs have levels(s), you can allow the program to set the levels automatically or you can manually adjust.

Play with the set up, make a 15 minute recording to the HD and when you have it, stop your capture. You will now have a WAVE file (.WAV), which is what you just captured…it will have a name something like filename.wav! Magic! Copy that filename.wav file into another place or give it a new name like, COPY OF filename.wav. This gives you a fall back/recovery position. Now, we have a bit of data (audio recording) which you can play, manipulate, whatever! Capture and digitization is a real time process, so always make a backup copy (you never work with the original, never, never, never).

The difficult part of this process is editing your captured audio stream! filename.wav now has to be EDITED! Depending on what software you have, and your talents as an editor will greatly influence the final resultant AUDIO file….we are shooting for and Audio Interface File ( .aif ) which most of us know as a Computer Digital Audio or CDA. CDA is a format which is exclusive to CD/DVD rom media. You have the ability to cut the audio stream into segments, label, rearrange, convert to other formats, and you can and certainly may wish to CLEAN UP and remove pops, hisses or whatever else you wish.

There is NO free ride when it comes to editing, audio or video! You have to learn how to use the tools you have! Take your practice filename.wav and message it, chop it, twisted or whatever you feel is appropriate. Take it to the final conclusion of burning a CD or just convert to an MP3, your call, but do it all the way through. All the products mentioned above, provide you with the basics of audio editing. Sound Forge is the most powerful of the lot, but it is also the most expensive. Give your NERO or ROXIO a try.

Listen to what you ended up with! Can you live with it? Every time you run that REEL of tape, it stretches! The older the tape, the greater the stretch. This is why I said, do a 15 minute segment and play with that. I would also add, when you put up the next reel of tape, do another sample, or you may wish to sample further down the reel, especially if the original source recordings were made over an extended time.

Anyway, I hope this helps remove some of the mystery: no free rides, you gota read-the-directions, please.

Robert Du Vernay is a HAL-PC member and the Chief Instructor who conducts the Basic 101 presentations on each 1st Saturday. He can be reached at rpd@hal-pc.org.