By Monte FergusonIn this day of digital media it may sound archaic, but there are those
of us who still have older material that we’d like to preserve. Namely
record albums and cassette tapes. (If you’re someone who is under 30 I
will pause while you look up those terms, records and cassette, in a
search engine….. )
The problem is, it’s not so easy bringing older media into the digital
age. The Compact Disc was already a digitized format. Not so with
records and cassettes. For the older material you have to first get the
sound into your Mac. Then you have to find an app to capture that sound,
clean it up, convert it to a digital format, and then store it on your
computer. It sounds complicated, and it can be a chore. But the rewards
are also great. In exchange for your time and effort you can listen to
long neglected music.
Sound Editors vs Vinyl Studio
There are a number of programs that can record, and modify audio files.
They can do the job. But they are not that straight forward to use,
especially for novices. Nor do they make the process easy. I am sure
that they work well but they are a general purpose tool that is really
geared towards sound editing.
Vinyl Studio is a purpose built program. Not a general tool. It was
designed to digitize analog recordings. It doesn’t try to be a recording
studio. It looks at your recordings as a collection of music. Not a big
audio file. From the get go you name the artist and album. After you
finish recording you either tell the program where the track breaks are,
or look them up within the program. Then fill in the name of the tracks,
or songs. Place the track markers, and then save it. Job done.
Vinyl Studio takes a task based approach to organizing its interface.
The initial screen you are presented with is the Record section. New
users will be happy to know that by default the program is set to
display tool tips and suggestions. (The program tells you up front how
to turn them off if they annoy you.) This is a thoughtful way of
learning the program as you use it, rather than having to stop and refer
to the help section. Initially you have to specify where to save your
recordings. Then indicate the name of the artist and album. You can add
other info like year and genre as well.
The Split Tracks section shows you a wave form at the bottom of the
screen. You can manually place markers to indicate track start and end
points. Or, you can try the Lookup Track Listing. If your album is
found, all of the tracks will be labeled and markers in place
automatically. Other options in this section include: Edit Track Details
(should the lookup fail), Scan For Track Breaks, & Edit Album Details.
Edit Album Details is where you can enter more info about the album and
also indicate if it is a album without track breaks.
The next section is the Clean Up Audio Section. This is where the nitty
gritty work gets done. Here you can correct the imperfections in the
source audio file you just imported. There are tools in this section to
remove background noises like hiss an hum. You can also removes pops and
clicks. The remaining sections: Burn CDs & Save Tracks are pretty self
evident. You can choose to export your cleaned up audio to physical
media or save them as a digital file for use with iTunes and an iPod.
My first impression of the program was one of familiarity. Its initial
interface is similar to audio gear I’ve used in the past. That is a
plus. The program doesn’t try to overdo it in the wow factor. It tries
to be familiar and approachable. The built in tool tips and helpful
hints throughout the program are welcome. There are also several helpful
features of the program that ease the recording process. I liked the
fact that the program had a built in timer which counted down after the
needle touched down. I didn’t have to fiddle with starting the
recording. I just hit the record button. Then the program told me when
to drop the needle. There is also a built in feature to stop the
recording after it detects the needle has been raised. I also liked that
the program has, right up front, a line levels read out. You can
therefore adjust the recording level of your source to avoid clipping
yet get the most out of a recording session. A running counter lets you
know how much time has elapsed, as well as how much disk space has been
used by the recording, in real time.
Beyond the initial interface and tools lie some quite powerful and handy
features. The program has automated tools to remove; clicks, scratches,
tape hiss, hum and rumble. Many programs make you go through tedious
steps to remove those audio imperfections. It supports multiple levels
of undo/redo. Very handy when you’re trying out various filters. It
allows for experimentation. Though I have not put it to the test, the
programmers claim that files saved in Vinyl Studio’s internal format
take up half the space of competing programs recordings. Vinyl Studio is
also non destructive. That means any work you perform on a file does not
change the underlying audio until you export it out of the program.
While the program is a solid overall performer, it does have a few
quirks and omissions that may make you pause. The program initially
imports files into a proprietary format. Presumably this allows for the
non destructive editing. But it might be a liability. Plan on exporting
to another format, like AIFF, for archiving purposes. I would also
recommend that you not use the online lookup tools to determine track
breaks and album track listings. I had very spotty results with that
feature. So much so that I got into the habit of manually entering track
names. I wish the filters were not hidden as such. You have to scour the
menus to find them. I also wish the interface was more clear about which
filters were being used or had been applied.
There is a lot of work involved with importing, converting and cleaning
up old analog recordings. The end result can be quite rewarding. But it
demands a certain amount of patience and care. Of course the right tools
make the job more enjoyable.
I have found Vinyl Studio to be a joy to use. It helpfully guides you
through the initial, and hardest phases, of recording and importing your
music. It offers automated tools to aid you in the audio clean up and
export phases. Its built in help system, also located online, is quite
extensive. With a program so thoughtfully laid out you can rest assured
you are bound to be pleased with the results of your hard work.
Posted: Friday, December 3rd, 2010