The last few issues I’ve written about how to actually create CDs. This month, let’s address the number one question asked of me: how to get either LPs or cassette tapes onto CD using your Mac.
The good news is that chances are you have almost everything you will need already to do it, and what you don’t have can be easily bought at Radio Shack or the Internet.
The bad news, though, is the sound of your CD recorded from the LPs or cassettes will only sounds as good as the source material. If your record is really scratchy your CD will be, too. Thankfully, there are some programs out there that will help you clean up the sound somewhat. Just remember the old rule or recording, though: crap in is crap out. (As crass as that may sound, it is nonetheless true.)
Let’s pretend for a moment that we want to do this on the cheap. Here’s how you will want to do it.
First, you will need to make a quick run to Radio Shack or your favorite electronics store and pick up a cable with a mini-phone jack (3.5mm) on one end and a pair of RCA jacks on the other (see picture). If you’re not sure if you’re getting the right one, look on the back of any stereo or VCR and you will see an RCA plug. Get the cable that fits that. Chances are, one will be red, the other white (left and right). The other side of the cable is the mini-phone jack. This is the same thing as a headphone plug, or the Microphone that may have come with your Mac. If you’re still unsure just tell the salesman what you want and let him get it for you.
The first step is connecting the tape or turntable (record player) to your Mac. With a tape player, this is simple. Simply use the cable you just got to connect the RCA plugs on the tape deck to the sound input jack on the back of your Mac (where you plug in your microphone). With a turntable, you will need to use a stereo pre-amp, such as your home audio amplifier. To connect the Mac, simply plug the RCA plug into the “Tape 1 Record” RCA plugs on the back of the amplifier, and then insert the mini-phone jack into the back of the Mac.
Once you have the physical connection between your source player and the Macintosh, it is time to sit down in front of the Mac and play with some software.
The first thing you will need is a program to get the sound from your cassette or LP into your Mac. Sure, you now have a connection between the two, but you have to let the Mac know there will be music coming into that port.
You will need some software at this point. Jump on the web, and download the following two programs. (Note: other programs will work, and may even work better, but I found that those on a limited budget will find these two programs easy to learn and use, and they both get the job done.)
Ultra Recorder http://members.aol.com/EJC3/Ultra.html will let us actually record the music coming into your Macintosh. This is a $20 shareware product, which you can use just fine until you pay for your shareware fees. I found that the longer the song, the more memory you will want to give Ultra Recorder. In fact, if you’re on a Mac with very little memory and you plan on creating a lot of CDs (or MP3s for that matter) you will want to get some more memory for your Mac ASAP. Virtual Memory is not recommended, as some audio applications do not like it.
The next program you will want to download is SndSampler 4.0. http://www.geocities.com/SiliconValley/Garage/9373/SndSampler.html This is the program you will use to clean up your music. (Debra Power did the review for My Mac back in November 1998, which you can view at http://www.mymac.com/mymac/archives/nov_98/sndsampler.shtml) Like Ultra Recorder, SndSampler is shareware and will set you back $20. Both programs are well worth the $20 shareware fee, and compete in features and ease-of-use with commercial programs costing five times as much.
Another program you can use to get the sound into your Macintosh is Adaptec’s CDSpinDoctor, which comes with Adaptec Toast 4.0. If you’re going to be creating a lot of CDs you really should purchase Adaptec Toast 4.0. It is well worth the money. CDSpinDoctor will let you take audio from your cassettes or LPs right into your Mac. If you already have this program, I still suggest downloading Ultra Recorder and comparing the two, and use the one that works best for you. (While I like CDSpinDoctor, it keeps crashing on my Mac, whereas Ultra Recorder does not.)
One more step to go before you begin recording your music. Take a trip to the Monitors & Sound control panel, click on the Sound button, and change the Sound Monitoring Source to Sound In. If you are using a pre-amp, adjust the sound level now so that it doesn’t play too loudly and that your audio source won’t suffer clipping from input overload.
You now have the tools to record music from an LP or cassette onto your Mac! Both Ultra Recorder and CDSpinDoctor will let you save the imported music into AIFF format, which is the format used on audio CDs.
This is a (very) simple explanation on how to get sound into your Macintosh. Of course, once you get the sound into your Mac, the possibilities are endless on what you can do with it. You can change almost everything about the music with SndSampler or any other music editing software. Using an MP3 encoder, you can convert your sound/music into MP3 format to play in SoundJam or another MP3 player. You could record yourself on a cassette player, bring it into your Mac, convert it into a QuickTime movie, and post in on a website. Your only limit will be your imagination.
We are at the stage where almost anyone can afford to create CDs very inexpensively. Macs of all varieties are getting cheaper in price, CD Burners are at an all time low, and blank CDs are much cheaper than a Zip disk. All told, if you’re a music lover, now is the time to take the CD creation plunge. You knew it would be fun. Did you know it could be so easy?