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Tracer Technologies specializes in Audio Restoration, Audio Enhancement, Noise Reduction and other archiving techniques associated with audio. We'll help you get through this. First, let's determine what you want to archive...vinyl or tape. The process is similar, but in the interest of helping you get the job done, we've split this into two different tutorials.
This page deals with the process of transferring your classic tape recordings to the computer and then onto CD, MP3 or other digital mediums.
We also have a full work dedicated to vinyl record restoration. If you would like to see that, click on the link below.Click Here For Record Restoration Tutorial
First, let's get a few things straight. You are not alone. The idea of taking your favorite tape recordings and saving them to CD is not a new idea. In fact, we've made it our business since 1995. The only thing that's changed since then has been the advent of better and faster technology for accomplishing the task.
Is it easy? Certainly.
Can you do it? Again...certainly.
This is a pretty lengthy document...if you'd prefer to print it out, just Click Here For A PDF Version
Our customers are all of an age where they basically grew up without computers, so we've designed our products with folks just like you in mind. Our software, which does most of the work is designed much like a tape recorder...only much more powerful. This software is a tool, not unlike your first electric drill. It will take you a few minutes to get up to speed and then you'll be productive. In a few weeks, you'll be an expert.
This tutorial will walk you through the entire process from A- Finished CD. It will tell you what you'll need...it will make suggestions that take into account the quality you're looking for and the budget you're looking to hit.
In the end, you'll have a collection of CDs that sound better than the original vinyl they were produced on. Along the way, you'll have a great time reliving the memories those precious recordings evoke.
We'll break this into short chapters. Feel free to print things out and read them at your leisure. And of course, you can always feel free to call us toll free and we'll help with any questions you might have. Our number is 866 260 6376 and unlike most Internet companies today...we actually answer the phones and our emails. Crazy isn't it. People who actually help you before and after you buy our products.
This chapter will explain the basics of the task you've chosen to undertake. It will describe the various components you'll need to have a simple recording system on your PC.
This chapter will tell you what to do once you have the components you need. This will get things wired up and ready to go.
Let's launch the software and make our first recording. This will also help you troubleshoot any problems you might encounter along the way.
Now the fun begins. You've recorded a song or songs to the hard disk...let's start cleaning.
You've cleaned the noise...now let's finish it.
Pretty fun isn't it? How can you make things better? This chapter explains ways that you can make your system better and achieve even more stunning results.
Let's determine what you'll need at the very least to get started transferring your treasured vinyl recordings to CD. At this point, quality is not really the issue...lets' just focus on the basic elements of the recording system and we'll get into more detail further down this list.
A. You'll need a computer. The fact that you're reading this on a computer gives us the important clue that you're probably okay in that area. In the world of computers, faster is always better, but it's safe to say, that if you've bought this computer in the last several years and have either Windows 98SE, 2K, ME, XP or Vista, then one of our solutions will work for you. Computers today are designed to handle video recording and playback...our little audio files will seem like child's play to them. No special graphics or RAM needed...Let's check this off the list. Tracer also offers a great lineup of fast new computers that are custom built for audio, but with your wallet in mind. Just click on the following link if you need a new computer. If not. Read on. I Need A New Computer...Tell Me More.
B. You'll need a tapedeck. Nothing fancy here. Your favorite cassette deck will do. As long as it has a stereo output.
C. You'll need a sound card. Most computers already have a sound card on board. If your computer came with speakers and you hear sounds every time you start Windows...you most likely have a sound card in your machine. They usually have inputs and outputs on the front and back of most modern machines. You'll see a panel that looks something like this:
There are normally 2 or three holes depending on what type of computer you have (notebook, desktop) and what type of sound card you have. Normally 3 holes mean that you have a microphone input (normally pink), a speaker output (normally green) and a Line Input (normally blue). Some notebook computers only have a Mic Input and a speaker or headphone output. If you have the three-holed version, you're okay to get started. You'll need the blue (Line Input) and of course, your speaker or headphone output so you can hear. If you have the 2 holed version, you may need to invest in a better sound card to work with material directly from a turntable. Also, it's important to note that most sound cards that are bundled with computers today are not of great quality. But we're talking basics here, so if you have the three holes, let's move on. If you only have two or want to investigate better sound cards, just click on the following link. Otherwise...let's move on. I Need A Sound Card...Tell Me More.
D. You'll need our software. Probably the most important part of the equation. We offer several products that work with various versions of Windows and offer features of varying degrees, but for the most part, they all allow you to record your audio from the turntable through the line input on your sound card. After recording, you have a selection of tools to remove noise like clicks, pops, hiss, surface noise, hum, buzz, and just about any other noise you can think of. Then you have a selection of audio enhancement tools...far beyond the equalizers you're used to in the old days for breathing new life into your old recordings. An finally, in most versions of our software, you can then transfer your audio to either CD, DVD or compressed formats like MP3 or WMA. This is pretty important before we go on, so let's pick the product you need. Here are your choices:
Windows 2K, XP or Vista
The easiest product to use
Walks you through the entire process
Has restoration and enhancement as well as CD making (XP and Vista Only) and MP3 support
Designed For A Beginner
Audio Mentor was designed for complete ease of use. It walks the user through every step of the restoration process with complete onboard instructions called Training Wheels. Ideal for the beginner, it will talk you through hooking up your turntable, doing your first recording, restoration, enhancement and even spit out a CD, MP3 or WMA compressed file at the end.
Windows 95, 98SE, 2K, ME or XP
The oldest supported product
Very powerful interface
Allows multiple filters to be applied to multiple files simultaneously.
Ideal for customers with older versions of Windows and slow computers.
DC Millennium is an older product, but is still as powerful as most audio editors on the market today. If you have an old machine, don't want to upgrade, but still want to restore and preserve your recordings, then Millennium may be the ticket for you.
Windows 98SE, 2K, ME, XP or Vista
Very powerful audio restoration and enhancement product.
Designed to be Faster, Easier to use, and more powerful than DC Millennium
The most powerful system available for folks with only 98SE, 2K or ME
9 for download or 9 with 400 page paper manual.
DC SIX was our flagship product up until November of 2007 when DC SEVEN shipped. This product is a Superset of tools designed specifically for audio restoration and enhancement. Of course today, the only reason to buy it is because you want the power and the ease of use, but don't have the desire to switch to XP or Vista and DC SEVEN.
Windows XP or Vista
New Tune Library allows you to track and log every audio file on your hard disk
New Virtual phono preamp gives you the most accurate recordings available
Every feature of the other versions is here, but better, more powerful and easier to use.
CD, MP3 and WMA making included
Only 9 for download or 9 with 400 page paper manual
DC SEVEN is the newest flagship in our fleet of audio restoration and enhancement products. You simply won't find a better solution on this planet for taking your old recordings and transferring them to CD or MP3 minus the noise of age. All of the tools of previous versions are included, enhanced and optimized to be driven harder without generating artifacts. This is one beefy upgrade!
Alright...we've got the basic components together now...let's get it hooked up. Let's not make this job more complicated than it is. You're basically substituting your computer's sound card for a second tape deck. Here are the steps...in no particular order.
RCA outputs of tape deck to Line Inputs of sound card. If you're using a bundled sound card, this is normally the 1/8" blue stereo input we showed you up above. This normally uses a mini jack stereo plug like they use on a Walkman, I-Pod, or portable CD player. You can purchase an RCA right and left to 1/8 stereo plug by Clicking on this linkand adding it to your shopping cart if you don't already have one.
That's it. Nothing too complicated here. Outputs to Inputs...You should now be ready to launch your software (either demo version or purchased version) and make your first recording.
These demo files are designed for a vinyl restoration, but a quick understanding of the tools should make any restoration us do easier. Again, let's not make this too complicated. Remember, we think of your computer like a big powerful tape recorder. It is certainly more than that, but for recording, it's easiest to keep it simple.
You may have downloaded one of four solutions...here are the steps required.
For Audio Mentor...just follow the instructions. Mentor is easy and set up to walk you through the entire process. Make your first recording and then proceed. You won't really need to revisit these instructions until Chapter 6...Expanding your Setup.
For DC Millennium, DC SIX, and DC SEVEN...Though not as easy as Mentor, this is still not too complicated. Just follow the instructions...don't overthink it, don't skip ahead, and you'll be fine.
First, we should now have our hardware wired into our computer so we're ready to test.
A. Launch the software demo or purchased version. Click through the various help windows, intro stuff and you should be staring a blank workspace that looks something like this:
Important: DC SEVEN will bring up the Tune Library and ask if you want to fill it up. For now, let's just cancel it. DC SIX and Millennium will just come up blank.
Now we simply click on the Record button. This is the Red Circular button in the top row of all programs. It is with the other transport controls and looks like this:
Clicking on this Red Circular button will launch the Record Window. This has gotten more feature heavy from Millennium to SEVEN, but for the most part, it does just about the same thing. Click on it now.
This is the Record window and hey, look at that...it's sort of like a tape recorder...these guys weren't kidding. You'll see VU meters on the left that are sort of similar to those found on a tape deck, you'll see Pause, Rec and Stop buttons...nothing too science fiction here. So let's make a recording. First, we want to check the levels and see if your sound card is reading the audio coming in from your turntable. Start your turntable playing through your preamp system...make sure everything's plugged in and turned on. Hit the Pause button beside the record button. This will turn on the VU meters and make sure we have sound. (again, just like your tape decks in the old days. You hit Pause and Record to turn on the meters) In this case, you only need to press the pause button.
If you have levels in the green anywhere from -20 up to the bottom of the yellow on the VU meters, you're good to go and ready to record. Press the record button and record a song.
Once you have levels and are recording, record a song and then hit the Stop button. You're almost there. Just hit the Save button and give your new song a name. It will now save the file to your hard disk and draw it on the screen for you. If you have levels barely touching -50 at the bottom of the VU meters or no movement at all, you'll likely need to adjust your levels. This is accomplished using the mixer software application that is provided by Windows and your sound card. To access this mixer with a standard bundled sound card, just go to your systems tray (show below) and double click on the little gray speaker icon that should be there. It looks like this:
This speaker icon will launch your sound card's mixer, but you're not quite there yet. Most sound cards have 2 mixers onboard. One sets the volume on output through the speakers and the other launches the recording mixer. We want to make adjustments on the Line Input of the Recording mixer.
Normally the mixer that opens by default is the Playback mixer, so we're going to have to click on Options/Properties (shown)
And then Recording Mixer
Keep in mind that this example is a standard sound card and Windows XP, which is still the most common Windows available. The most important thing is finding the Recording Mixer...whether you're in a different version of Windows or have a different sound card mixer.
The mixer will look something like this:
We want to keep audio playing and find the Line In. Make sure that it is selected and turned up. The example above shows a common sight with the Mic Input activated. You need to click on Line In and turn it up. The software can stay active in Pause record, so keep that window up while you make adjustments on your mixer until you have levels in the green. It should look like this.
Important Note About Levels- Digital recording is not like analog recording as far as level meters go. In the old days, we always let our level meters dance in the red to get the best recording level we could. We were trying to compensate for the noise threshold of tape and cover that hiss that was an understood constant. We no longer need levels of this magnitude. If you have levels at -20, no big deal...it's plenty to get an accurate recording. Green is good, yellow is okay, but not the best, and red is distortion. In digital recording, avoid high levels. Remember, we're going to be enhancing this audio with a full array of enhancement tools. If you record with too much level, any enhancement you do will simply throw your wave recordings into distortion. Leave some headroom and we'll adjust levels at the end of the process to make them perfect for your CDs or other recordings.
If you still can't get levels. Make sure you know where the problem lies. Start with a simple recording...skip the turntable, preamp, etc. and plug a CD player with known line level output into your sound card. This will tell you if in fact, your sound card is okay. If you get levels, investigate the cables, preamp and turntable.
Don't get too frustrated...remember the best part about Tracer. You can call us and we'll help you. 866 260 6376 will get you in touch with us and we usually answer all phone calls from 9:00 to 5:00 EST Monday through Friday. If those hours don't jive with your schedule...no big deal, send your questions to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll help you. We will get you working, so don't sweat it. This is supposed to be fun.
Once you have levels and are recording, record a song and then hit the Stop button. You're almost there. Just hit the Save button and give your new song a name. It will now save the file to your hard disk and draw it on the screen for you.
Let's move on to the fun stuff...
Alrighty...we just made our first recording. It should look like this:
This is a healthy recording. Not too robust, so we have room to enhance without distorting, we have a stereo file and we're looking at the system in our one screen Fast Edit Mode. Seeing sound is a great thing. Not only can we adjust and edit with our ears, but now we can see things that we may have not easily heard in the past.
So, this is recording. Not too bad, eh?
Now let's start using the tools. For that, we're going to start with a known file, rather than the one you just recorded, so just go to the file menu and click on File/Open Source
Now we want to open an audio file to start the demo.
After DC SIX Opens, just click on File, then click on Open Source. You’ll see a Window that looks like this:
Next, open the Demo1 Wave file by double-clicking on it.
Remember, this demonstration is applicable to DC Millennium, DC SIX or DC SEVEN, they may all not default to the correct directory. If your computer doesn’t automatically open to this “Wavefiles” subdirectory, no worries.
In that case, simply click on the arrow pointing down just under the Open menu bar and beside the My Documents entry and navigate to C: (or whatever your main drive letter is) –Program Files-Diamond Cut Productions- Whichever product you have- Wavefiles and you’ll now see a screen that looks just like the one above. It should have a wave file in it called Demo1.wav
After you’ve opened the file, your DC SIX and Millennium should look like this:DC SEVEN launches in a single screen Fast Edit mode, but you should still see the waveform in the window. It will probably be blue rather than black, but no big deal.
Now we’re going to activate the transport system so that you can hear this file.
The transport system has 3 buttons that we’ll worry about right now. If you’ve ever worked with a standard cassette tape recorder, these will all seem very familiar to you.
This is the Record Button, we've already dealt with it in our first recording.
This is the Stop Button
This is the Play Button
Listen to this file by either clicking the Play button or hitting the spacebar – Ouch, this file is full of clicks, hiss, low frequency noise, etc.
It’s a mess. Stop the playback when you’re done listening. You can do this by either hitting the space bar again or by using the Stop button.
Now for the fun part.Click the Filter Menu and choose EZ-Clean. The filter looks like this:
Important Note: DC Millennium does not have EZ-Clean.
You can skip the easy clean tutorial on move on if you're using Millennium.
Notice that there are only three sliders: one for scratches or clicks, one for crackle (or small clicks) and another for hiss or other continuous type noises.
We are simply going to listen to the audio and move these three sliders as we listen. Move each slider to approximately the settings shown above. We don’t need to be perfectly accurate, just set them similar to what you see. When you move these sliders to the left, the filtering becomes more aggressive.
Now click the Preview button and you’ll start to hear the audio.
Listen for a second or two and then click the checkbox labeled Bypass. This “bypasses” the filter and stops the filtering. You are now hearing the original music without the filters in place. Note the large amount of clicks and hiss.
Uncheck the Bypass box to start filtering again.
What a relief! That’s much better isn’t it? But, you can do better yet.
Move the Hiss slider a bit farther to the left until you get all the noise out. Remember, moving the sliders to the left, makes them filter more, so just slide them until you are happy with the result.
Want to have some more fun?
Click on Keep Residue. This filter lets you hear the noise that the software is removing…some times, it’s easier to hear what you’re taking out than hearing what’s left. This can be a useful tool when you’re close to finished and want to make sure you’ve removed only what you want to remove.
Now note the Hum filter on the EZ-Clean screen. If you live in the US, you’ll check the 60hz box to remove power line hum. If you live in Europe, you’ll check the 50hz box. There are many other tools to remove larger amounts of hum in our software, but this one is quick and easy.
Now, stop the preview by clicking on the Cancel Button in the Preview box. Click on Run Filter and you now have a destination file that is fully cleaned! Could this possibly be any easier? Note how visually different the before and after files are.
Hit Close on the EZ Clean. You begin to see what “noise” actually looks like.
Please continue on with the Easy Restoration guide below. It starts your education on how to use individual tools and goes into more depth on the overall concept of the software.
Since EZ-Clean is so easy, you don’t really get a feel for the overall program. This chapter assumes you will use individual tools and will perform a restoration in a series of steps. You work with our products by choosing filters to apply to audio. Some of the filters remove noise and others enhance the audio though they are all referred to in this guide as filters. You choose a filter by identifying the type of noise you want to remove and then selecting the filter that removes that type of noise. Make sense so far, right?
In just about every case when clicks and pops are present, we want to remove them first. Trust us, this is the right first step whenever you get clicks and pops on records or other recordings.
To remove the clicks, we’ll choose the EZ Impulse filter. Clicks are short noise impulses so it makes sense to use this filter. We’ll continue using the demo1.wav file. Make sure that your top wave file is highlighted in yellow.
To choose the filter, click on the Filter menu item and choose EZ-Impulse Noise. You’ll see the filter open like this:
The EZ Impulse Filter Appears
Note that the filter takes up only a portion of the screen. You can still see part of the waveform and all the menus and icons. You can move this filter window around on your screen and position it wherever you want. Just grab the title bar at the top of the filter window and drag it around. Try it now.
In the filter window, you will see several features. First, you’ll notice sliders that control various filter parameters. These sliders can be adjusted while you listen to the audio as you did with the EZ Clean filter, so you will instantly hear the result of any changes you make. Our sliders are labeled Scratch and Crackle in this filter.
Next, you’ll have Radio buttons that control other aspects of the filters. Again, you can change them while listening, so you’ll hear the results instantly. The radio buttons in the Impulse filter are Speed and Accuracy.
In every filter, just like our EZ Clean demo, you will have a Preview button. This is the most important button here. This button will start the audio playing while the filter is processing it. You will hear the results of the filter instantly. This makes for easy adjustment of the filters.
Also in every filter, you will have a Bypass checkbox. This takes the filter in and out of the audio stream instantly. When you listen to a filter being applied by the Preview button, you may want to be able to compare the processed audio to the original audio. Clicking this checkbox will bypass the filter and you’ll be hearing the original audio. Unchecking it will instantly put the filter back into the signal path. This way, you can “fine tune” even subtle effects with the software.
Lastly, every filter will have controls for Presets. A preset is a saved group of settings for this filter. Go ahead and drop down the Preset box now – it’s the white box at the bottom of the filter. Click on some of the presets and watch the sliders as they move to good starting points for common tasks. You can tell a lot by looking at the name of the presets. Now select the preset labeled Default. This one is already set up with good settings for our Demo1 file. Every filter will also have a Save and Delete button that allows you to save your own presets under any name you want – and delete them too!
You’re probably ready to try this filter by now, but there is one more thing that is common to each filter that you should know. Hit F1 now on your keyboard. Notice that our online Help comes up with information on this specific filter. This context sensitive help is available for each and every filter.
Put the Help screen away and let’s clean some audio. If you’ve already been listening to this filter, then shame on you for jumping ahead. Simon has not said click the Preview button yet. As punishment, please go back to page one of this tutorial and start reading again. We’ll wait for you here.
Welcome back. Now let’s get started by clicking the button labeled Preview. You will hear the audio as it is being filtered. You will still hear the low frequency rumble and the hiss, but the clicks should be gone. Let it preview all the way to the end of the file.Notice that once it reaches the end, it will automatically start over at the beginning. This is called Looping and is automatic when you are previewing with a filter (though it can be turned off in the Edit/Preferences screen).
Let’s just confirm that the clicks are gone. To do this, check the Bypass box in the filter while it is still previewing. Now the filter is bypassed and the clicks will once again be audible. Listen for a while and then uncheck the Bypass box. Now the filter is again doing its job and the clicks are no longer heard.
It’s time to learn how to adjust a filter. While you are previewing, move the two sliders to the bottom. This makes the filter less aggressive and it will filter less. Notice that the clicks return as the sliders are moved down. Moving them back up results in more and more of the clicks getting removed. All the filters work this way – you just adjust them while you listen. As you might expect, if you move them too far up you’ll make the filter too aggressive and you’ll get distorted, stuttering or otherwise bad audio – just move them up enough to get the desired result. Set them both at 50.
Now click on Cancel in the Progress window seen here or just click the Preview button again:
This stops the preview from playing. By Previewing, we have adjusted the filter and confirmed that it is doing its job.
The next step is to click on the Run Filter button. This takes the filter just as you have set it and applies it to the demo1 file and creates a new file in the lower window. This new file has been run through the filter and has the clicks removed. At this point, click on Close in the EZ Impulse filter window since we’re now done with it.
Look at the two waveforms. The top one is called the Source. This is where we normally work on a file, preview filters, etc. The bottom is called the Destination and is the result of our filtering efforts. You can play either one by clicking in the respective window. You have not changed your original file at all – rather we’ve created a new cleaned up version.
Now that we've removed the noise, there may still be several things you want to try before you either burn this to CD, MP3 or WMA. There is a full set of enhancement features provided in all of the products. Like most things...we've improved them over the years, so DC SEVEN will be the best, followed by SIX, then Mentor and finally Millennium. All four products are powerful tools, so you'll have plenty of features in all of them. You can find them in the Effects and Filters menus. They range from simple 10-Band EQs to complex tube simulators and other professional tools. Just like the noise reduction features we've just studied, you have a Preview button to check out the filter, a bunch of presets you can choose and a Run Filter when you're happy with the results. Have fun and make a mess.
Now you've reached the point where you've taken an old recording and breathed new life into it while also subtracting the noise of age and old recording techniques. Depending on the product you've chosen here's how you get to where you want to go.
DC SEVEN- Burns CDs WMAs, and MP3s within the product. Just follow the instructions.
Audio Mentor- Burns CDs WMAs and MP3s within the product. Just follow the instructions.
DC SIX- Can make MP3s using a secondary converter. Follow instructions. Does not burn CDs...you'll need to use Windows Media Player or your standard onboard CD making software. Your software will recognize the .wav files that SIX makes, so all you have to do is tell it you want an Audio CD and point it to your directory of cleaned wave files. It will do the rest.
DC Millennium- Does not make CDS or MP3s. You'll need to download a converter to turn the .wav files it makes into either MP3, WMAs and you'll need to use Windows Media Player or your standard onboard CD making software. Your software will recognize the .wav files that Millennium makes, so all you have to do is tell it you want an Audio CD and point it to your directory of cleaned wave files. It will do the rest.
What we've covered in chapters 1-5 are the basics. It may seem like a lot, but once you've waded through it, it's pretty basic. Probably the hardest thing about the entire process is training your ears to pick the noise you want to remove and using the right tool to remove it. We have some very good educational tools to help with this process as well as lots of things you can do to make your system produce better results. That's what we'll cover here:
Of course, like any tools, there's no substitute for simply using these products and learning by doing. But Tracer also offers a full lineup of DVDs that are basically set up so that it seems like you've invited an expert into your living room to show you around the product. Our training DVDs are fun, they're easy to understand, and they have more meat than a butcher. They're also affordable. For restoration and enhancement, we offer 4 flavors:
Audio: The Movie: This 2 hour DVD explores audio in great detail, but explains the science behind audio without a bunch of mathematics and complex theories. You will have a better understanding of the terms used, understand MP3 and CDs and why things are the way they are. It's a great educational experience for 39 bucks! Want to learn more about it? Click Here
Understanding A Continuous Noise Filter: No one filter is used harder in all of our noise reduction products than the CNF. This tutorial helps you understand how it works and how to get the best results using it. It's only .99 and well worth that price. Want to learn more about this DVD? Click Here
Everyone's Guide To Better Audio Using DC SEVEN: Our latest product is the topic of this 2 hour DVD. You'll see advanced tutorials on all of the new features of the product and also complete 2 full restorations. This is perfect for the beginner or the advanced user to help you grasp the breadth of this powerful product. Only or when bundled with DC SEVEN. Want to learn more? Click Here
The 8-Track Tape Repair Guide Now you can restore and repair your favorite 8-track tapes without fear. We show you how to repair every facet of an 8-track and also keep your player in perfect working order. Only .95 when bundled with DC SEVEN. Want to learn more? Click Here
Torn tape, broken cases, wrinkled tape...tape sure did offer a lot of problems. Let our Tape Restoration supplies come to your aid. Click Here
We offer cases and protective sleeves for your cassettes. Click Here
If you're going to be listening to lots of audio in the coming months...you may want to improve your listening system around the old computer. That cheesy set of speakers that came with your PC is fine for the beeps and boops of everyday life, but for real audio, you can get some pretty cool listening stuff that isn't all that expensive. Click Here To Find Out More About Speakers or Headphones Click Here