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Subject to Change by Rudy Yniguez: Use your computer to burn records and cassettes onto CDs

March 12, 2002

The beauty of having an album collection is I can take those records I had previously put on cassettes, and put them onto compact discs by using my computer and stereo system. This is how I do it.

To do this your computer must have a sound card and a CD burner. If it has a burner it surely has CD-burning software.

To get the sound from your stereo to your sound card, buy an adapter that takes the stereo RCA plugs and converts them into a single, eighth-inch, stereo mini jack. Take the signal that would go to a cassette recorder, and using the converter, plug it into the computer sound card input, not the microphone input.

You must also have a lot of room on the hard drive where you plan on storing the recorded music because uncompressed sound files need about 1 megabyte of disk space per minute of music.

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The sound file will be "uncompressed" until you compress it, or encode it, which some recording applications can do "on-the-fly." What that means is the application takes the music and while recording it, it changes it from what's called a WAV file and compresses it into an MP3 file. Because your computer has to work harder to do anything on-the-fly, I think it's better to record the music as a WAV file and later encode it as an MP3.

The application I use for recording is PolderbitS, a $12 piece of software from a developer in Holland (www.polderbits.com). I use Polderbits to record the whole album or cassette tape, edit the file into individual tracks, name them and save them.

PolderbitS has other interesting features.

Once all of the songs are recorded onto my hard drive, I use Nero Burning Rom (www.nero.com) to record them onto a blank CD — still as WAV files. Although the computer I bought came with Roxio's Easy CD Creator 4 on it, I got too many "buffer underruns" to find it entirely useful. A buffer underrun occurs when the hard disk cannot transfer data fast enough to keep up with the CD burner. I use Roxio for ripping only, that is, the quick copying of songs from a CD onto my hard drive. It does that exceptionally well.

With Nero you set the burn speed at the maximum rated speed your burner can handle. If the blank CD cannot handle the burn rate, Nero automatically reduces the speed. The other thing I do with Nero is eliminate the two seconds between songs. I prefer the next song to start immediately.

I made lots of "coasters" with the Roxio software, but none with Nero.

After burning the CD, I'll keep the songs I like most on my hard drive, and erase the rest. I use a free application, CDex, to convert those songs from WAV files into MP3s. I keep songs on my computer as MP3s because MP3s are compressed and take up less hard disk space.

Besides being free, I use CDex to encode the songs at a higher playback rate than the apparent Internet standard of 128 kbps (128 kilobytes per second playback rate). There is some discussion about which playback rate makes an MP3 equal to CD quality. Some say it is 128 kbps, others say 160 kbps, while some say 192 kbps. I encode at 256 kbps, and CDex allows for encoding as high as 320 kbps. The larger the transfer rate, the larger the file.

There is lots of other software out there that will allow you to do all of this. I have my own preferences. There are also other music file formats other than WAVs and MP3s. One is Microsoft's proprietary music file, WMA, but I avoid it because of the limitations with the format and I don't like Microsoft.

For blank CDs, I've used three brands: Imation, Maxell and Prime Peripherals. The Prime Peripherals, almost without exception failed to record at anything but the slowest speed.

The Maxell and Imation worked well.

For making CD labels I use CD Stomper Pro software and blank labels (www.cdstomper.com). I buy the labels in packs of 300. For CD holders I buy the soft plastic clamshell type (www.buycshell.com) in boxes of 100.

Now you, too, can have your favorite yesteryear music on today's preferred playback medium.

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