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8 easy steps to a digital music collection

You eventually parted ways with your Saturday Night Fever disco threads, bid adieu to your Farrah Fawcett poster and cut your mullet. So why is your music collection stuck in the seventies?

For under $500 you can store your entire record and tape collection on a device smaller than a pack of cigarettes that enables you to instantly locate and play any single or album of your choice, at home, in your car or on the fly.

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If you thought iPods and other MP3 players were only for hooked-up, text messaging teens, think again. This is the future of your music collection we're talking here. Records warp and wear out, tapes stretch and break, but digital is forever, at least if you remember to back up your hard drive.

"You can gain an incredible amount of flexibility and longevity by moving your music to digital," according to Ben Sawyer, co-author of "MP3 Power!" "The reason you would do that with LPs is because there's really no other way to preserve a lot of that collection.

"We're not talking about the Beatles' White Album; if you have the Beatles' White Album, chances are you probably have it on CD, so rip the CD. But let's say you have an eight-track or cassette or LP that you never expect to see published again, especially in digital form. You want to get that into digital form."

James Kim, senior editor of, says digitizing also makes better use of your out-of-control CD collection.

"With 500 CDs sitting on a shelf, I do not want to go looking for a particular song. If I have it all within the same interface broken down by album or artist, I'm going to be listening to those tracks more often and more easily," he says.

Converting from vinyl or tape to digital is not rocket science (this article will get you well on your way). But there is a time factor involved in converting from analog to digital: You're going to need to play those oldies in real time as opposed to copying (or "ripping") digital audio data from a CD. Plan on spending a day or two getting the bugs worked out.

"The first thing you will need is patience," Sawyer says. "It's not something that you're going to get done in an afternoon. I suspect it will take you a weekend for a novice to do one song. But once you do it and you've got a system down that you like, I think the following weekend you could probably do several albums worth."

Here's how to update your music collection to digital in eight easy steps.

1. Start with clean media
If you haven't cleaned your turntable stylus or demagnetized and cleaned your tape heads and rollers since the Nixon administration, do so first. The cleaner the analog sound in, the better.

2. Check your computer's capacity
The raw digital file from a single three-minute song can run to many megabytes (MB) in size. Don't freak; we're going to compress it later. But you'll need to make sure you have a lot of memory on your computer and a good chunk of available hard drive space.

"It's just like editing large photos; you're not going to get very far without that because you're going to have to hold it both on your hard disk and a decent amount of it in memory, especially if you plan on editing it," says Sawyer. "I would recommend you have at least 128MB of RAM on your computer."

3. Locate your sound card and audio input ports
If your computer is fairly new, chances are you already have a good sound card and stereo audio input ports. If not, Sawyer recommends a midrange sound card such as Sound Blaster by Creative.

4. See the cable guy
No, not the movie; you'll need to get a cable from Radio Shack or other electronics supply that connects the (usually RCA-size) "audio out" port on your stereo to the (usually headphone-jack size) "audio in" port on your computer. Important: Make sure you get a stereo, not monaural, cable. Also, make sure the cable reaches from your computer to your stereo; a portable boombox or a handy laptop are popular solutions.

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-- Posted: Feb. 22, 2005

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