You can use Audacity and your computer to record sound from any external device which outputs an audio signal. Although cassette tapes and records (LPs) are the most popular examples, Audacity can be used just as easily to record audio from the following:
- Open-reel tape decks
- MiniDisc (MD) or Digital Audio Tape (DAT) players (if you have a digital sound card, connect from digital out of the player to S/PDIF in of the sound card)
- Musical Keyboards (via headphones-out, line-out or other audio-out, not from the MIDI output – more help on recording keyboards at pianoclues.com)
- Video cassette recorders (VCRs), Personal Video Recorders (PVRs) and DVD players (recording from a dedicated line-out containing audio output only)
- Televisions (via a SCART adapter cable connected to the computer sound card, or through a TV or VCR’s audio out)
- Personal digital voice recorders (DVRs)
- Portable MP3 players (such as iPods)
- Other computers.
Making vinyl to digital transfers is a skill and the more you do the more expert you will become. Consider starting out with some LPs or singles that you care less about and only ever played infrequently. This way you will not need to go back and repeat important earlier transcriptions that you made.
How to connect your equipment
Connecting your equipment
In general, you need to run an appropriate cable from an “out” jack on the external device (e.g. a tape deck, or an amplifier or receiver connected to a turntable) to the line-in port of the computer. You should not connect a standard turntable directly to a computer – see Special note on connecting a standalone turntable below. A typical cable you might use is a stereo mini-jack (3.5mm) to RCA cable.
If your device does not have RCA out, the headphone jack is a good “out” jack to choose, since it will allow you to adjust the output level of the source device. If you choose this approach, the most typical setup is to use a cable with a 1/8 inch (3.5 mm) stereo jack at one end (for connecting to the device’s headphone jack), and an identical 1/8 inch stereo jack on the other end (for connecting to the line-in socket on your computer). If the device you are recording from has a 1/4 inch (6.3 mm) headphone jack, you will need to get a 1/4 to 1/8 inch adapter. Such an adapter is often included free with most new headphones, or can be purchased separately at any electronics store.
Some professionals with high-grade equipment would prefer to use the source device’s “aux out”, “tape out”, “line-out” or “record” output (if so equipped), since that approach bypasses an unnecessary stage of (possibly low-quality) amplification, and standardizes the signal at a fixed (non-adjustable) level of approximately 1 – 1.5 volts, resulting in a higher quality recording. If you choose this approach, you will need a cable that has dual RCA red/white plugs at one end (for connecting to the “aux out”, “tape out” or “record” jack of the device) and a stereophonic 1/8 inch (3.5 mm) plug at the other end (for connecting to your computer’s line-in port).
Here is a typical cable you might use (a stereo mini-jack to RCA cable):
The RCA end might connect to the output jacks in the back of your cassette player:
The stereo-mini end should be connected to your computer’s stereo line-in jack, usually found on the back of desktop machines. The line-in is normally colored blue, but check your computer manual.
You should not generally connect to the microphone (red) port of the computer.
- It will excessively amplify the stronger line-level signals produced by a tape deck or receiver/amplifier. This could lead to damage to the port or to your sound device.
- A microphone port is typically monophonic. If the port is monophonic, then even if you connect a stereo input to it and set Audacity to record in stereo, you will only record “dual mono” which has the same content in left and right.
The are only two exceptions where you should connect to a computer microphone input:
- On some personal recorders, connecting from a low power minijack intended for connection to the microphone input of a recorder;
- On some Macs, or some laptop or personal computers, connecting to a “dual” microphone port which can be switched to line-level stereo. Check your computer manual to see if there is a switch on the computer itself or in the sound card control panel. On some laptops the line-level source is called “mix” or “stereo mix”.
If there is no way to record at line-level, add a line-in by adding a sound card or interface that connects to the computer via USB. Examples of recommendable devices:
- Griffin iMic (standard 1/8 inch input)
- Behringer UCA202 (left and right RCA inputs/outputs)
- Edirol UA-1G (left and right RCA inputs/outputs and digital S/PDIF input)
Special note on connecting a tape deck
If you wish to record from an audio cassette or a reel-to-reel tape deck, you can connect that deck directly to your computer without the need for any external amplifier or receiver. Simply connect the deck’s “line-out” RCA jacks to your computer’s “line in” jack, using a cable described above. You can also connect to the headphones out jack of an integrated cassette deck or to that of an amplifier connected to the tape deck. If you do this (or if the “line-out” volume of your deck is adjustable), it’s best to set that level quite close to its maximum, and adjust the recording level using Audacity’s input volume slider (see below). This helps keep the inherent tape noise to a minimum in the signal sent to Audacity. If the cassette you are playing has been encoded with Dolby ® as denoted by the Dolby Double-D symbol, then you must enable Dolby playback on your tape deck, or the recording of the tape will sound over-bright.
Special note on connecting a standalone turntable
If you have a standalone turntable, you must not connect it directly to your computer. Instead, you must connect it to an amplifier or receiver with a “phono” or turntable input, or to a phono pre-amplifier – and then record from the amplifier’s “line out” or “tape out” jacks. This is for two reasons: (1) the audio signals produced by a phono cartridge are too weak to record directly, and (2) most records manufactured from the 1950s onwards were produced with a standard type of equalization called “RIAA”, which emphasizes high frequencies and de-emphasizes (reduces) low frequencies. If left uncorrected, this will result in a recording that sounds very “tinny”. All amplifiers containing a “phono” stage will both boost the signal to line-level so it’s suitable for input into a tape deck or a computer, and will reverse the RIAA equalization so that the records sound “normal” again. If you have an integrated “stack system” or “entertainment center” into which you plug your speakers, your record deck is already connected to a suitable amplifier.
If you have a standalone turntable but no amplifier or pre-amp, you may want to consider the Behringer UFO202 or the ART USBPhonoPlus. These devices contain a built-in phono pre-amp and connect to your computer through a USB port. They can also be used to connect line level devices such as a cassette deck.
Special note on connecting a USB turntable
A USB turntable is a relatively new kind of turntable which is designed to connect directly to your computer’s USB port. The concerns noted in the ‘standalone turntable’ section above do not apply here, as the necessary pre-amplification and RIAA equalization are already built into the USB turntable. There are some special playback and recording device settings you need to observe when using USB turntables – see our Wiki article on recording with USB turntables
Special note on connecting a MiniDisc player
Some users find that the line-level output of MiniDisc players is too strong for recording on a computer and causes distortion, since its level is not adjustable. If you are encountering this problem, try connecting your cable to the player’s headphone jack instead. Since the strength of the headphone signal is easily adjustable, you can then reduce the signal level sent to the PC. On most players, this means using the same shared line out/headphones out socket/jack, but choosing the headphones out option in the player’s “Sound Out” Preferences menu.
If you have a digital sound card, connect from digital out of the MiniDisc player to the S/PDIF input of the sound card.
How to set up Audacity
If you are recording from a USB turntable or USB interface, please go to the set up instructions at Recording with USB turntables.
Setting Up Audacity
The Device toolbar is displayed by default in a new installation of Audacity. If the Device toolbar is not visible, click on View > Toolbars > Device Toolbar.
You may want to expand the size of the Device toobar by dragging right on the drag handle.
- Click on the Input Channels drop-down menu and choose whether to record in stereo or mono
- Set the Output Device and Input Device drop-down menus to the built-in computer sound device, or to the specific sound device your cable is plugged into. Do NOT select “Microsoft Sound Mapper” or “Primary Sound Driver” on Windows machines:
- Windows 7/Vista: Choose the line-in option for your connected sound device (for example, “Line-In: Realtek HD Device”)
- Windows XP or earlier or Linux: Select the connected sound device.
- OS X: Select the “Built-in Audio: Line In” input device, or “USB Audio CODEC” if you are using an external USB audio adapter
- If you cannot choose your input source as described above, or if the line-in input won’t record, you can use the operating system mixer device to choose the required input. For instructions, see the further help for Windows, Mac OS X orLinux on our Wiki.
- Decide if you want to “monitor” your recording, that is, hear it played back as you make it:
- Windows or Linux: Try “hardware playthrough”. To use this, open the operating system sound mixer, then the Playback section, then unmute line-in and turn the volume up. You can find the system mixer in the Control Panel atSound on Windows 7 or Vista, or Sounds and Audio Devices on Windows XP. On Linux, you can use ALSAmixer.
- OS X: Try “software playthrough” in Recording Preferences or under the Transport menu
If hardware playthrough does not work, or if the playback and recording devices in Preferences are different, choose “software playthrough” in Recording Preferences. If neither playthrough works on OS X, obtain the free LineIn software playthrough tool from Rogue Amoeba. Note: software playthrough will have a slight delay, and causes some extra load on the computer.
- Set the volume level of your recording input. Click on the downward pointing arrow in the right hand (red) VU recording level meters:
and click “Start Monitoring”. While playing a loud part of your tape or record, adjust the Input Slider on the Mixer Toolbar so the recording meters are almost reaching the right-hand end of the scale. Don’t let the meter bars actually reach the right edge, or the red hold lights to right of the meter will come on, indicating you’ll have distortion in the recording. If the recording level meters are not visible, click View > Toolbars and check Meter Toolbar.
Try to aim for a maximum peak of around –6.0 dB (or 0.5 if you have your meters set to linear rather than dB). Tip: enlarging the Meter Toolbar by clicking and dragging helps with this task.
- If the Mixer Toolbar Input Slider does not control the input level correctly, or is greyed out on maximum, use the input slider in the operating system mixer device to regulate the input level. For instructions, see the further help forWindows, Mac OS X or Linux on our Wiki.
Basic Recording, Editing and Exporting
Step 1: Recording
Create a new Project by clicking File > Save Project As.
Adjust the input signal level as explained in the previous tutorial under Monitoring. Remember that it is good to aim for a maximum peak of around –6.0 dB (or 0.5 if you have your meters set to linear rather than dB).
Start your recording by pressing the red Record button from the Transport Toolbar, then starting the player. You can pause and restart the recording between tracks or sides with the blue Pause button, which keeps your recording on one track within Audacity. This is the easiest way to record into Audacity, because having just one track on screen allows you to split the recording up into the different songs or sections using “labels”. See the tutorial: Splitting a recording into separate tracks for more on this.
An alternative to using the Pause button is to Stop the recording at the end of the first side, then use Transport > Append Record (or shift-click on the Record button, or use the keyboard shortcut SHIFT+R) to continue recording on the existing track.
If you do want to start new tracks for sides of the tape or LP on a new track in Audacity, then press the yellow Stop button to stop recording, get the LP or tape to where you want to go to, then press the red Record button in Audacity and start the player. The recording will now restart on a new track.
Step 2: Removing any DC offset (if present)
DC offset can occur at the recording stage so that the recorded waveform is not centered on the horizontal line at 0.0 amplitude. This can be caused by a faulty sound card. If this is the case with your recordings use the Normalize effect to remove any DC offset. Put a check mark in “Remove any DC offset…” but leave “Normalize maximum amplitude…” unchecked at this stage (since amplitude adjustment is normally best done as the last editing step).
Step 3: Editing, Noise Removal and Click Removal
When you have finished recording, press the yellow Stop button and save your recording into the Project you started by using File > Save Project. Now the data is safe, you can edit it in Audacity if you want to (for example, cut redundant pieces out), or come back to it later by re-opening the saved Project file with the File > Open command. See Editing: Cut, Paste, and More for help with editing.
You may also want to remove steady noise such as tape hiss or vinyl roar using Audacity’s Noise Removal, and clicks from records using its Click Removal.
Removing clicks and pops is recommended when recording vinyl, as any loud click will interfere with maximizing the volume of the recording – the Amplify effect can’t tell the difference between music and clicks. Select the entire track by clicking on the Track Control Panel or choosing Edit > Select > All then choose Effect > Click Removal. The default parameters in the Click Removal dialog will detect and remove most clicks, so try this first. If you find that it did not remove certain clicks or pops, select those regions in turn and apply the Click Removal effect, adjusting the parameters until it is successful. See this page on the wiki for more details on using the Click Removal effect.
Linux users may be interested in trying Gnome Wave Cleaner which is free and open source.
Mac and Windows users may be interested in trying Brian Davies’ Click Repair software. It is not free, but has a 21-day free trial period so you can try it out and see if it is worth it to you.
Noise Removal is tricky to get right. You need to be prepared to experiment with the effect so that it removes as much noise as possible without damaging the sound you want to keep. It is more effective at removing cassette hiss than “vinyl roar”. See this page on the wiki for more details on using the Noise Removal effect.
Step 4: Adjusting amplitude
As a final step, since you were careful not to record too loud it is likely that your recording is not as loud as possible. To correct this you can use the Normalize effect.
- Choose Edit > Select All to select all the track.
- With default Tracks Preferences, you may not need this step – all the audio in the project is selected if you choose an effect without first selecting any audio.
- Choose Effect > Normalize….
- Accept (for now) the default choices in the Normalize dialog and click the “OK” button
- The volume is normalized to -1 dB, so leaving a little headroom below the maximum possible 0 dB level.
Note that Normalize defaults to retaining the existing balance between stereo channels. However basic consumer-level equipment can often record with channels unbalanced. To correct unwanted volume differences between left and right, uncheck “Normalize stereo channels independently”.
Step 5: Exporting
When you are happy with your editing, you need to export the recording as an audio file such as WAV or MP3 that you can either play on your computer media player (e.g. on iTunes or Windows Media Player), or which you can burn to an audio or MP3 CD. See the About WAV, AIFF, MP3, Audio CDs and MP3 CDs below about the difference between audio and MP3 CDs. To export a single audio file, use the File > Export… command. If your recording contains multiple tracks or songs, you may want to export these from your Project as separate audio files. This would be necessary if you wanted to burn a CD with separate CD tracks corresponding to each track in your recording. To prepare your recording for export as separate audio files, see the tutorial Splitting a recording into separate tracks.
If you are planning to burn a CD with your exported files you should ensure that you use the export format 16-bit PCM stereo WAV, this should be the default if you have not changed it. Also ensure that your Project Rate is 44.1kHz (44100 –see the box in the bottom left hand corner of the Audacity window).
About WAV, AIFF, MP3, Audio CDs and MP3 CDs
WAV, AIFF and MP3 are the most common formats for exporting. WAV and AIFF files are of identical quality to the original recording, but take up 10 MB or more of disc space per minute. If you want to burn an “audio CD” that will play on any standalone CD player (note these only give you 74 – 80 minutes’ playing time), export your recording as a 44100 Hz, 16 bit stereo WAV or AIFF file. See: Audio CDs.
If you want your exported audio file to be smaller (you’d want to do this for example if you wanted to make it available on the internet), you can export as MP3, at the expense of losing some of the audio quality of the original. You can also burn the MP3s to a “data CD” or “MP3 CD” which will give you (at Audacity’s default MP3 export settings) over 11 hours’ playing time on the CD. Note you can only play these kind of CDs in computers, MP3 CD players (including some newer automotive players), or some DVD players. Generally, you will see an MP3 logo printed somewhere on the device if it is MP3-capable. Note that most players manufactured prior to 2005 will not be able to play MP3 CDs. To export as an MP3, you first need to add the LAME encoder to your system and show Audacity where it is.
Splitting a recording into separate tracks
The following tutorial demonstrates one method for dividing a recording into separate songs for export in preparation for burning those tracks to an audio CD. Others may recommend slightly different methods. It is worth going through this tutorial as it introduces the basic concepts of identifying and marking the boundaries between songs, and using labels to identify songs in support of the Export Multiple command.
Live recordings versus studio recordings
Sometimes songs on live recordings flow together. If you want to split a live recording into songs but want to maintain an uninterrupted flow from song to song on the CD you need to have burning software that is capable of burning a CD in “disk-at-once” (DAO) mode, and is capable of setting the “gap” or “pause” between tracks to 0 seconds.
Step 1 – Remove unwanted audio from the recording
- Set Snap To: Off in the Selection Toolbar
- Click the Skip to Start button
- Zoom in until you can see from the start of the track to the start of the music
- Click and drag from the start of the music to the start of the track
- Click on Edit > Remove Audio > Delete
Similarly, remove unwanted audio from the end of the recording and from the middle (between sides 1 and 2 of the LP or cassette). Note that later in this tutorial we will be using the Analyse > Find Silences command to identify spaces between the songs, so when you are editing the transition between side 1 and side 2 be sure to leave 2 or 3 seconds of silence, similar to what you would find between songs.
Save your work! Click on File > Save Project
Step 2 – Label the Songs
Mark the first song
- Click the Skip to Start button
- Click on Tracks > Add Label at Selection. or use shortcut CTRL + BA new label is created in a new label track underneath the audio track. The contents of the label are selected and ready for editing. If you need to play the track to decide where to place the split points, you can use “Add Label at Playback Position” instead (directly underneath “Add Label at Selection”, or use shortcut CTRL + M).
- Type the title of the first song
Mark the rest of the songs
- Using the selection tool, click near the beginning of the second song
- Repeatedly click the Zoom In button until you can see just the first few seconds of the song
- Click as closely as possible to the start of the song
- Click on Tracks > Add Label at Selection.
- Type the name of the song into the label
- Repeatedly click the Zoom Out button until you can see the start of the third song
- Continue in this manner adding a label to mark the start of each song
Step 3 – Maximize the volume of the recording
If you did the original recording properly and avoided clipping, the recording is probably not at the maximum possible volume. In order for the CD to be burned at maximum volume and thus match other CDs in your collection we need to fix this.
- Click on Edit > Select > All, or use shortcut CTRL + A
- Click on Effect > Normalize…
The default choice in this dialog is to amplify to a maximum of -1.0 dB. The maximum setting is 0 dB, but this setting provides a little headroom as some players can have playback problems with audio at 0 dB.
Some consumer-level turntables, tape decks and/or amplifiers may well record stereo channels with a stronger signal in one channel than the other, which you will probably want to correct. In that case, check the box that says “Normalize stereo channels independently”.One problem when copying records is that a loud click in one channel can cause Normalize to create an unwanted change in the stereo balance. In that case you should consider removing the click before the Normalize step, using Click Removal.
Step 4 – Export
Congratulations, you are now ready to export the tracks.
- Click on File > Export Multiple
- Choose the Export Format from the pop-up menu:
- for CD burning choose 16-bit AIFF if you’re using a Mac, or 16-bit WAV if your using Windows or Linux
- for loading into an MP3 player, choose MP3
- for loading into iTunes/iPod you can export as WAV and use iTunes to convert the WAVs to AACs or MP3s
- Click the Choose… button and pick the place where your exported tracks will be saved.
- Under Split Files Based On:
- Labels should be checked
- Include audio before first label should be unchecked, as there is no audio before the first label
- Under Name Files, Using Label/Track Name should be checked
- Click the Export button
- Metadata Editor will open, where if you wish you can enter information which is common to all the tracks to be exported (for example, Artist Name and Album Title)
- Click the “OK” button in the Metatdata Editor, not the “Save” button
Metadata in this context refers to information stored in the audio file such as Artist, Album and Song Title. While this is widely used with MP3 files, it is less useful for AIFF and WAV files. To avoid having the Metadata Editor pop up for each track you are about to export, click on Preferences, click on the Import / Export tab, and uncheck Show Metatdata Editor prior to export step.
A progress dialog might appear if the process takes more than a second or two. When the process is finished a confirmation dialog will appear listing the files that were created.
The tracks are now ready to import into the CD burning software of your choice.
Remove the “silence” between songs
Of course, the space between songs is not really “silent” – it contains vinyl surface noise or cassette hiss. Using standard editing techniques you can select and delete these portions of the recording, then insert whatever gap (silent portion) you want when burning the CD.
If you will be listening to the songs primarily on a computer or MP3 player you may prefer to have some silence at the end of each song. In this case select the silent portion then click on Edit > Remove Audio > Silence Audio. Now you can edit the length of the silent portion to your taste. Alternatively you can delete the silent portion, then click on Generate > Silence and specify exactly how much silence you want.
Avoiding a sudden cut-off of vinyl surface noise or cassette hiss
Both of the above techniques will result in the vinyl surface noise or cassette hiss suddenly stopping, which some listeners may find annoying. You can avoid this by putting a quick fade-out at the end of each song. You can do the fade-out after the music ends (in effect fading out the noise), or you can fade out the last second or so of the song if that works with the music. Experiment and listen to the results to decide what works for you and for the music you are working on.
Burning music files to a CD
It is important to burn an Audio CD (Music CD) and not a Data CD. A data CD will play happily on your computer but is extremely unlikely to play in a standalone CD player.
Audio CDs always contain high quality uncompressed PCM stereo audio at 44100 Hz sample rate, 16-bit sample format. So to burn an audio CD, export the file(s) you want to burn as a 44100 Hz 16-bit stereo WAV or AIFF file.
In order to burn an Audio CD you will need a CD burning program. Most computers already come with media player software that can burn CDs. For example, you can use Windows Media Player built into Windows or iTunes built into Macs. In either of these programs, drag the files you want to burn from the location you exported them to into a “playlist” ready for burning.
You can also use a standalone burning program like CDBurnerXP, Nero or Toast to burn your exported files. In this case, open the files from within that software.
Don’t forget to select the setting to burn an “Audio CD” or “Music CD” as explained above.
By default, many CD burning programs add a two-second gap between CD tracks as part of the standard for Audio CDs. So be aware of CD track gaps when placing labels between album tracks for Export Multiple and consider deleting excess silences between tracks.
However most CD burning programs have an option to burn the CD with no gaps between tracks. This is useful for recordings such as live concerts, allowing the CD to play continuously if the player supports gapless playback while still permitting skipping to individual CD tracks. If burning a gapless CD, you will need to place the Audacity labels exactly where you intend the burner to mark the track splits.
Some CD burning programs (for example, older versions of Windows Media Player) have no option to burn without gaps. Gapless burning is also only available if the optical drive supports Disc-At-Once (DAO).
Detailed instructions in the Audacity Wiki
There are more detailed instructions in the Audacity Wiki on burning CDs – see: How to burn CDs.
See also the two sections at the end of the Wiki article on “Splitting recordings into separate tracks” which discusses Gapless Burning and provides extra notes on burning to CDs.