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8 easy steps to a digital music collection -- Page 2

5. Download 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.

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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 download page.

6. Digitize your vinyl or tape music
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 encoding format
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."

A 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.

Kim 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." His recommendations 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.

Sawyer says 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.

"One thing 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:

  • Cabling, $30

  • audio card, $70-$150

  • jukebox, free to $300

  • additional memory, $50-$120 for 128K

  • MP3 player, $150-$400

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 help.

Jay MacDonald is a contributing editor based in Mississippi.

PAGE 1 | 2 
-- Posted: Feb. 22, 2005

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