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Do you want to listen to your old music cassettes or vinyl records on your iPod or PC? Well, there’s a easy way to convert all of your precious LPs to MP3 using the free Audacity software!
We have covered Audacity before, to record audio files or create your own MP3 ringtones. Now let’s see how you can use it to convert your audio cassettes and LPs to MP3 files. This article assumes you’re using Audacity on Windows, but you can also do this on Mac/Linux.
What You Need
1. Computer with a sound card. Check that your sound card has a LINE IN jack (generally blue), and ensure that you have the latest drivers for your sound card.
2. Cassette Deck/Turntable. This is your audio source. You can use a tape deck, or an amplifier or receiver connected to a turntable. Whatever you use, the audio source should have RCA LINE OUT jacks (preferred) or at least a stereo-mini headphone jack.
Clean the audio head and pinch roller of your tape deck with a clean cloth dabbed in alcohol. Also, forward and rewind your unused cassettes to remove residual moisture and ensure smooth playback. If using records, clean them to reduce clicks.
3. Audio Cable. One end of your cable will be a stereo-mini. Depending on the jack you use on the audio source, the other end should be either RCA or stereo-mini. Use a cable with gold-plated jacks for best results.
1. Download and install Audacity 1.3 (Beta). We use the latest Beta version as it has better noise removal features.
2. Download and install the Lame Encoder. This is required for exporting to MP3 format.
1. Connect your equipment
Connect the deck’s LINE OUT or PHONES jack to the LINE IN jack on your computer using your audio cable.
2. Setup Audacity
Start Audacity, select Edit-Preferences. In the Audio I/O section, set both playback and recording devices specifically to the sound card in which your cable is plugged. Do NOT use Microsoft Sound Mapper on Windows PCs.
Start playback from your audio source and adjust the volume level in Audacity. Click the down arrow next to the microphone icon and select Start Monitoring. While playing the loudest part of your audio track, adjust the input level slider on the Mixer Toolbar such that the meters almost reach the right end of the scale. If they actually reach the end such that they “˜hold’, reduce the input level to avoid distortion.
Create a new project by selecting File-Save Project As. Start recording with the red Record button and start playback from your audio source. Use the blue Pause button between tracks or sides. When finished, press the yellow Stop button and save your project using File-Save Project.
You will probably have unwanted noise in your recording, such as background hum, tape hiss, or vinyl record clicks. For removing noise, select the beginning of your recording where the playback has started with the hum and hiss, but the music is yet to start. To select, simply use the mouse to click and drag at the start of the track.
Select Effect-Noise Removal, and click Get Noise Profile. Now, select the entire track by choosing Edit-Select-All, and choose Effect-Noise Removal again. Set the Noise Reduction (dB) slider to around 10 to 20 depending upon the level of noise in your source, set the other two sliders in the middle, and click OK. You can review the result by playing the track, using Edit-Undo and trying with different noise samples and slider levels.
If you are using vinyl records as your input, you may want to try using Effect-Click Removal to remove unwanted clicks. Always feel free to experiment and undo as needed to get the best results. When you are satisfied, use File-Save Project to permanently save your edited track.
To export a single audio file, use File-Export As.
Most likely, you will have multiple tracks or songs in your recording, and it makes sense to export them as multiple files. Ensure you have all the tracks recorded, using the Fit Project button on the Edit Toolbar. The number of ‘boxes’ or ‘balloons’ should correspond to the number of tracks. Using the zoom controls, click in the gap between songs, choose Tracks-Add Label at Selection. Name the labels as per your song titles.
Select File-Export Multiple, choose MP3 Files as the Export format. Click Options to use the built-in presets to select the quality of the MP3. Higher quality produces larger MP3 files. You can repeat the export several times with different options and check the results. You can also specify metadata tags to make it easier to organize your tracks in iTunes.
That’s it, you’re done! You can discard those cassettes/LPs or gift them to your Grampa, now that you’ve got your favorite oldies music on your iPod. Let us know which record or tape albums you created in the comments! If you’re familiar with some other tool that can be used to convert LPs to MP3 please share it with others in comments as well.
(Note: Some images are taken from the Audacity 1.3.7 Beta Manual, available under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license.)