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Saturday, 30 June 2007

Another Art Form

The last couple of cold and wet weekends have been spent immersing ourselves in a rather different art form, music. Over 30 plus years together we have acquired a pretty extensive library of music on vinyl disc, cassette tape, CD and lately a few MP3’s on computer hard drives.

Much of the older parts of our collection is on vinyl LP’s which are seldom played, partly because we have only one set up capable of playing this older form of recorded music and partly because it’s too easy and convenient to use the more modern formats. Yeah, laziness is an excuse!

Seriously though, buying a new stylus for our old NAD turntable is now very difficult if not impossible, which means that there is a finite limit on the life of a big part of our music library. To lose the ability to play so much great music would be a great shame. To replace it all would be almost impossible and most certainly unaffordable. So, the need to find a way to convert it to a current format became important!

The first task was to acquire the appropriate leads and plugs to connect our Rotel amplifier to the line in socket on the computer. After a bit of experimenting and replacing a few wrong bits, we had the sound signal going where it was intended but no means to record it. A bit of searching around on the web and we came across a great piece of open source software called Audacity.

This neat program does a great job of recording from the sound card’s “line in” to the PC’s hard drive, writing the recorded digital output in its own .au format. If necessary, the recorded music can be edited to remove clicks, noise or change equalisation using Audacity’s large collection of tools, filters and editing features.

The next step involves exporting the recording or sections of it to WAV, MP3, OGG or one of a host of other available formats, depending on your needs. We wanted to move parts of our collection onto standard audio CD’s, which would be playable on various players around the house and in our cars. For this purpose we chose WAV as an intermediate format. There is some loss in quality involved in going via the compressed MP3 format. Most CD writing software, Nero for example, or even Microsoft’s current versions of Media Player can write a standard audio CD from both WAV and MP3 formats. We used Nero because it came with the CD / DVD writer on our PC and works fine.

It is going to take a lot of time before all the good stuff has been converted but we are pleased with the results so far. We now have about 3,5 hrs of “new” music on CD as well as in MP3 format and it sounds pretty decent.

An interesting highlight, if you can call it that, was seeing the price tags still attached to many of the LP’s selected for conversion. A double LP titled “The Great British Breakthrough,” with 25 tracks from the likes of The Dave Clark Five, The Hollies, Cilla Black, Manfred Mann, the Swingin’ Blue Jeans and others cost R6,75! A recording of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 played by the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Mstislav Rostropovitch cost R3,99! The blank CD’s we are putting this music onto cost around R4,50 each. That’s progress, or is it?

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