8 easy steps to a digital music collection -- Page
a jukebox program
A jukebox program performs two important functions:
It converts the raw analog feed from your record, cassette or eight-track player
into a digital file (typically a WAVE file for PCs or AIFF file for Macs), and
it enables you to then encode your new digital file into a space-saving compressed
format. MP3 and Windows Media Audio (WMA) are the most popular for PCs, AAC for
Macs. More about these formats in Step 7.
Jukeboxes allow you to be the
recording engineer without spending years in the trenches. Most programs filter
out hiss, pops and other unpleasant noise from analog sources automatically without
adversely affecting the music. They also automatically record the ID3 (title,
artist, etc.) data from commercial CDs; you'll have to manually keystroke that
information from your vinyl and tape collection into your jukebox program however.
In all likelihood, you already
have a jukebox program loaded on your computer. If not, they range from free shareware
to under $50 for one suitable to this project.
Information and downloads
for Musicmatch, iTunes (Mac and PC versions), RealPlayer and other popular jukeboxes
are available at CNET
6. Digitize your vinyl or
It would be nice to think that this step would be as
simple as pushing "Record," but it probably won't be. For one thing,
because you're going from analog to digital, the computer may not readily recognize
the beginnings and ends of song tracks as it would automatically on a CD. Plan
to spend a little time learning how to trim your incoming tracks so you can save
them in raw form before encoding.
7. Choose your
Once your raw music is digitized, it's time to
encode it. The most common codec is MP3; the most common setting is a 128 bit
rate. The higher the bit rate, the better the sound quality but the larger the
file size as well. If the bit rate is too low, you will hear distortion in the
highs and lows, and what is called artifacting, a swirling sound most noticeable
in the crowd sounds on live recordings.
"Most people who share music
use the 128 bit rate, that's kind of a sweet spot," says Kim. "I sometimes
go up to 192, but 320 is a little high because it takes up a lot of disk space."
bit about format: Apple iPod, which controls about 75 percent of the hard drive
MP3 player market, only plays its proprietary iTunes and MP3s. Most other players
support a variety of PC formats that include MP3, WMA, ASF and Ogg Vorbis.
says that while MP3 remains the king, some newer formats produce better sound
and take up less disk space. The key: Have your player(s) in mind (below) before
choosing your encoding format.
7. Play your "new"
music on your device of choice
Ah, back to the music! You can now
rip your new digitized collection to a CD, download it to an MP3 player, or leave
it on your computer and play it from there; any number of wireless network devices
such as the Apple AirPort Express with AirTunes or the Squeezebox by Slim Devices
wirelessly access your computerized music library and play it through your home
stereo or home theater system.
Confused about what type of MP3 player --
flash, hard drive, microhard, ultracompact -- to buy? "I would say a hard
drive player," says Kim. "You get much more value out of the 20-, 30-
40-gigabite players. They're the best for people who want to archive their collection
because you'll probably not run out of space and they have a lot more features."
are at CNET.
8. Back up your collection
Now that your collection exists in digital format, it would be a shame to lose
it, right? Audiophiles with large collections often archive their tunes on a hard
drive from an older computer. Another trick is to save your music files to CD
as data, not audio, files. This saves on the space requirements, since most computers
today would load and play those data files as MP3 audio tracks.
hold on to those original raw digital files. You'll lose something in the encoding
that you'll never get back if you want to reuse a track.
you're going to want to do is listen to your MP3 afterwards and decide whether
you like it or not, because if you don't and you want to do a higher bit rate
or change a process on it, you're better off doing that with the original raw
feed first. You don't want to get rid of your original raw feed until you listen
to your MP3 and say, yes, I'm satisfied."
Cost for the whole shebang?
It could run from zero to about $500, or the cost of roughly 30 CDs, depending
on what you need:
Bottom line: Don't
let your valuable vinyl and tapes go the way of the dinosaur. Digitize now before
it's too late. You can do this. But should you get stuck, ask any teenager for
Jay MacDonald is a contributing editor based in Mississippi.