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Converting to MP3: How To Use Audacity, the Free Audio Editor

Article by Acy Duryea

I consider myself to be just Web savvy enough to be dangerous — I’ve managed to figure out the basics of programs as intimidating as Photoshop and Access. But while graphics and databases weren’t totally outside of my comfort zone, audio engineering definitely was.

I know I’m not alone in wanting to get my audio cassette and vinyl album collections onto MP3s and CDs. Whether it’s in the interest of both preserving them or for wanting to listen to them no matter where you go, there were only two ways do it: by yourself, or by paying a studio what it would cost to replace each recording with a CD.

My research indicated that doing it on your own isn’t quite as intimidating as it sounds (if you’ll pardon the expression) either financially or logistically. It turns out that there is hardware that can make your cassettes and albums digital at a reasonable price, with the help of an audio software program that’s at the most reasonable price of all — free!

The software is called Audacity. It works with both Windows and Macintosh, and it’s open source, which means that you shouldn’t be paying for it unless it’s part of a conversion kit. Here’s how to use Audacity:

The audio cassette conversion kit that I ordered included a pre-configured version of Audacity. But since I’m converting my vinyl records as well, I decided that one audio editor is enough (even if it is free) and downloaded the current version.

Audacity advises that if you want to want to be able to convert your recorded files directly into MP3 format, there’s something else that must be downloaded: the LAME codec, which is also free. It’s best to install Lame first: That way, after you install Audacity and it asks where the codec is, it won’t have that far to look. You will also be asked to create or designate a folder where the files should be stored.

The most important thing to remember about Audacity is that once it’s set up, it must always be closed before you plug your converter into your computer’s USB port (not a hub). Then you open Audacity and check its preferences. Under Devices, your converter should be in the Recording dropdown menu, and the Channels dropdown menu should be set at 2 for Stereo. Now you’re ready to start recording!

Just start playing the LP or audio cassette in your converter, then click on the Audacity red “record” button. A red line will begin to move across your computer screen, leaving a pair of blue squiggles in its wake. They should reach, but not quite touch, the top bottom of their lanes for the best sound levels.

Click on the square yellow button to stop, on the green triangle to hear what you’ve done. And congratulations — you’re on your way to making your audio cassettes or LPs easier to preserve and lot more mobile as MP3s!

About the Author

You can find more information on how to use Audacicity, plus inexpensive hardware for converting to MP3 or CD from an audio cassette or LP to at Converting To

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