Performancing Metrics

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Saving Your Media (Part 1)

     So, you have a pile of old VHS and audio cassettes stored around the house, filled with all sorts of things from music you used to listen to, to the piano recital your daughter had ten years ago.  All of these precious memories, stored on magnetic media, are slowly deteriorating over time, and each time you go back and view them, you destroy them just a little more.  Such is the price of our old storage methods.
     Honestly, though, they say that burned CDs and DVDs aren't much better in the end, lasting even less time if left to the elements, dying after about fifteen years on average.  But the great thing about those digital formats that magnetic media don't have, they are easy to copy.  If you need to make a backup of a CD, you just put it in the drive on your computer and use your favorite media program to rip it to your hard drive.  And, with all the new flash media that music and videos are getting stored on, like iPods® and Zunes® , these digital formats can outlast most of us.
     So, in this first post I'm discussing the first and easiest step to updating and preserving your personal home media.
     Today's discussion is about transferring audio from anything that has a headphone jack to a computer.  So this one technique will work for a turntable, a cassette player, and even those pesky miniDisc players that were digital but still couldn't transfer back to a computer.
     Here is the list of hardware and software you will need to be able to complete this project:
  • A music player for what you need to update, in my case, a boombox stereo with a built in cassette player.
  • A stereo plug cable with two male ends>
  • And finally, a computer with a sound card(some laptops have the line in port you'll need, but not all, so you should check the symbols on yours if you are using a laptop).
  • The Audacity software program, available free for download at
  • The LAME MP3 encoding library. This can be downloaded at want the one that says Lame_v3.98.2_for_Audacity_on_Windows.exe).
     So, once you have all your equipment gathered, you will need to install Audacity.  This is a simple click through installation, with nothing really complicated to get you started. Once you have installed Audacity, you'll want to install Lame.
     Lame is something of a funny requirement.  There are legal issues surrounding Audacity directly using Lame in its code, but it can use Lame as a secondary library.  So you have to take the extra step the first time you try and export to mp3 to link Lame to Audacity.
     So once you have this all set up, look over to the right of the volume sliders in Audacity.  This little drop-down menu is the input selection menu.  For what we are doing, the only option listed here that we are concerned with is Line-in.  Select that one.
     Then we get to work with the hardware.  First, make sure your media player has power, then plug the stereo cable into the headphone jack.  Then, take the other end and locate the line-in port on your computer's sound card.  It should look something very similar to this...
Take careful note of the symbol above or next to the jack, it should show an arrow or something similar pointing into the center of the little picture.  Now just take the cable and plug it in. Now everything should be set up for recording.  Now we switch gears and start playing with the software.
     Now, one of the great things about Audacity is that it is set up like most recording devices.  So, when you're ready to record your music, just hit the record button in Audacity, then hit the play button on your music player.  Make sure that the music player is at a medium to low volume for best results, this way you don't end up with what they call 'artifacts', or extra noises that ruin the quality of the song.  When the song is over, just hit the stop button.  Then make sure you save your work to Audacity's native file format.
     This is all for this part of the series, as it would make this article amazingly long to add in the details of how to work with your recently recorded audio.  So, be ready for next time, we'll finish this then.