Article 1... 3

What is the benefit of a “Digital” Library?.. 3

Making a Digital Library.. 4

How can I build a Digital Library?. 4

What is ripping?. 4

What audio file format should I ripp to?. 4

Article 2... 8

Getting the music on your hard drive.. 8

What program should I use?. 8

How do I “ripp” a CD?. 8

What about ID tags?. 9

How can I best use ID tags to organize my library?. 10

What is a Playlist and how do I make one?. 12

AudioStation Playlists. 13

MusicMatch Playlists. 13

Burning Compilation CDs.. 14

How do I make a compilation CD?. 14

Using MusicMatch.. 15

Using AudioStation.. 17

Article 3... 21

Recording Analog Tapes and Vinyl Records.. 21

What quality should I expect?. 22

What preparations should I take before recording the original source material?  22

Recording a Vinyl Record.. 30

Archiving and adding your recordings to you Digital Library. 31

Noise Reduction.. 33

Article 4... 33

Internet Radio.. 33

Listening to Internet Radio.. 34

Tuning in to Live 365.. 34

Joining Live 365.. 35

Searching for Stations. 36

Preferred Membership.. 39

Personal Broadcasting.. 39

Article 5... 40

Music Distribution.. 40

The Concept. 40

Using a Portable player to bring your collection to your Stereo.. 41

Connecting your PC to your Stereo.. 41

Poor Man’s Music Distribution.. 42

Wireless Music Distribution.. 42

Network Audio Appliances. 43

Turtle Beach AudioTron™... 43

Connecting a Network Audio Appliance.. 44

Windows Media PC’s. 45

Whole House Music Distribution.. 45

Frank’s do it yourself whole house audio.. 45

Wrapping up.. 46

Listing of links to sources quoted in the series. 46

About the author. 47


Article 1

What is the benefit of a “Digital” Library?

If you have ever spent hours searching for a CD, tape, or vinyl album, only to find that the song you thought was on it, isn’t, then you know how difficult it is to try to locate a particular song the old fashioned way.  Or maybe you’ve gone through every storage place in your home looking for that CD to no avail.  Later you find it in your spouses car, or even your own.  Although you listen to music in many places, a CD can only be in one.  And then there is that favorite song on a CD full of garbage.  Why carry a CD of 12 songs when you only want to listen to one of them?  In the past, maybe you made cassette tape compilations to get over this dilemma.  Or at least tried it once or twice to be put off by the fact that it takes at least the length of the tape in time to do so, usually more.  So to make a 90-minute cassette tape of your favorite songs, you spent one - two - three - fours hours, and then on the last song, the tape ran out of room - with only 10 more seconds of that final song to go!  If you’ve experienced any of these dilemmas then read on.  A digital library will help you solve all of the above problems and more. 

 

Here are some of the things a Digital Library will help you do:

·         Listen to the CD your spouse has in the car, because you have a digital copy on your hard drive.

·         Make a copy of the CD so you and your spouse can both keep one in your cars.

·         Make a compilation of all those “one song wonders”, so you never have to listen to the 11 other tracks of junk they put on that CD.

·         Make a compilation CD of your favorite tunes, and create a label immediately.  And if the last song won’t fit, you’ll know before you begin to burn the CD.

·         Never lose a CD again, because if Uncle Harry borrows it and never returns it before going off to Bora Bora, you have a digital copy.

·         Make a birthday, New Year, anniversary, etc., compilation to play at your party.  Fill it with only the tunes you want and then either make CDs or distribute it digitally to your home stereo for playback right from your computer.

·         Select, play, and control your music from anywhere in the house by using a network player.

·         Take your music jogging or on vacation in a device that can hold thousands of songs but weighs less than a portable CD player.

·         Record your vinyl and analog tape collection to digital format – burn them to CD for listening in your car and/or listen to them via your computer.

·         Use the same tools that allow you to transfer your CD’s to hard disk to listen to Internet Radio from around the world.


Making a Digital Library

How can I build a Digital Library?

There are several ways to build up a “legal” mp3 library.  File sharing systems such as Napster and Audiogalaxy, may be a quick way to get a lot of mp3 files, but as the old saying goes, “You get what you pay for”.  Beyond the copyright issues peer2peer swapping engenders, many people are disappointed in the sound quality of the files and find that trying to organize them is a long and painstaking process.  My advice is to use your current CD collection, vinyl albums, and tapes.  While there is some time and effort involved in getting your CD collection recorded to your hard drive, you will have a legal, and if you follow the tips I’ve collected here, great sounding and organized collection of your music.  After you have cataloged all of your CDs, convert your vinyl records and analog tapes to add to your collection of digital music, and then see what files you want to pay for on the Internet vs. acquiring by buying the CD.

 

There are many “legal” and high quality download avenues, such as Emusicâ (www.emusic.com), PressPlay™ (www.pressplay.com), and MP3.COM™ (www.mp3.com) to name a few.  You can find some of my favorites on my LINKS page at the Frank’s Americana™ website (http://www.franksamericana.com).

 


What is ripping?

Ripping is a term for “digitally copying” the audio from an audio CD.  It is similar to copying a file from a floppy or CD to your hard drive.  Programs like AudioStationâ, MusicMatchâ Jukebox, Windows Mediaâ Player, and Real Oneâ all of free versions and are available on the Internet for download.  All of the ones mentioned will allow digital copying and cataloging on your hard drive of CDs you “ripp”.  We’ll talk more about programs for ripping in a minute.

 

One of the other benefits of “ripping” is that if you are connected to the Internet and use a program that is partnered with Gracenote™ or All Music™ CD Database services, the program will also retrieve the track number, album title, artist, track name, durations, and the genre of music from the Internet.  More on how this will help you organize your music collection can be found later in this article.  For now, just remember that whenever you “ripp” a CD, it is best to use one of these services (they are free) so that your music can be organized by Artist, Album, Genre, and Title.

 


What audio file format should I ripp to?

There are many different file formats that can be used to store audio files on your PC.  The one most of us have heard about is MP3, but depending on the program you choose, you will be presented with some other options.  There are also file formats for streaming and compressing video that we will not explore in this article.  Just be aware that you will also see files types like wmv (Windows Media Video) and mov (Quicktime). 

 

Each of these formats uses a codec, which is a small piece of software used to either encode (make) an audio file or decode (play back) an audio file.  The codec converts the audio to the file formats specification. 

 

In Windows XP and 2000 you can find the list of codecs currently installed on your machine by going to the Start à Control Panel à Sounds & Audio Devices à Hardware à Audio Codecs à Properties.  In Widows 98 choose the Start à Settings à Control Panel à Multimedia à Devices à Audio Compression Codecs.  The various audio software programs may install their own codecs and unless you know what you are doing, it is best to leave them alone.  Also note, that many audio programs do not share their codecs with other programs and you may not see all of the codecs installed on your system by going to the listing described above. 

 

Like other pieces of system software, the audio codecs work behind the scene to convert bits and bytes to sound.  The codecs are associated with file formats, and the file formats are what you really need to understand.


Here are the most popular audio file formats for PC audio and a brief explanation of each.

 

File Type

Extention

Description

CD Audio

cda

Developed by Phillips and Sony, the spec calls for stereo audio sampled at 44,100 kHz with a 16-bit word length.  A new standard SACD (Super Audio CD) is now available that can store up to 7.1 channels of music and may use a 96kHz sampling rate.  These SACDs require specialized equipment for playback and are not widely supported at this time.

Wave

wav

A Microsoft format that is a one to one copy of the audio on a CD.  The file header of CD Audio is the only information removed when CD audio is “ripped” to your hard drive.  Wave files can be recorded at various bit and sample rates.  For CD quality audio use 16bit / 44.1 kHz.  The MS standard does allow for some tag information to be saved in the file.  Very few programs access this feature.  AudioStation, AudioSurgeon, Sound Forge, and Cool Edit are ones that do.

MP3(MPEG Layer 3)

mp3

Developed by the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany as part of the MPEG video standard.  The audio portion was quickly seized as the de-facto standard for compressed audio files.  MP3 uses perceptual encoding.  The encoder analyzes the audio, and removes sounds that you would not normally hear.   For example, when listening to a loud passage in a song, audio information for instruments that are inaudible in the background is removed.  That is why you will hear the term “lossy” compression applied to MP3 and WMA files.  The inaudible information is permanently removed from the file and can never be recovered.  Fraunhofer has a patent on the technology and software programs must pay to use the decoder and encoder.  Recently an open source foundation called L.A.M.E. (LAME Ain’t An MP3 Encoder) has developed an encoder that is being widely used by software manufacturers because it does not require the encoders portion of the royalty.  Don’t be put off by programs using the LAME encoder, as many audiophiles believe that it produces a more natural sounding compressed file.  You can find more info at http://www.mp3dev.org/mp3/.  Information on the Fraunhofer codec is available at http://www.iis.fhg.de/amm/

MP3PRO

mp3

A new perceptual encoding scheme developed by the Fraunhofer Institute to counter the smaller file size of the Windows Media format.  MP3 pro files compress audio by a factor of twenty, so CD Quality audio files can be encoded at 64/kbps.  A MP3PRO file can be played back on the older MP3 decoders, but they will not sound as good as when played back on a decoder developed for MP3PRO.  You’ll find more info at the Fraunhofer site mentioned above.

Windows Media

wma, asf

Microsoft quickly realized the potential benefits in developing its own proprietary format for compressing audio.  The Windows Media formats have evolved since Windows 98 and are widely accepted and used for both streaming media (asx & asf) as well as for storing digital music on your computers hard drive (wma – Windows Media Audio).  Like MP3, Windows Media formats employ “lossy” compression techniques.  The Windows standard also includes the ability to digitally lock an audio file so that it can be used on only one computer or for a limited amount of time.  This feature, called DRM (Digital Rights Management), can also be applied to files that you “ripp” to your hard drive.  In most players it is an option called Secure Files.  Unless you are a musician preparing original files for the internet, you should insure that this feature is turned off.  Windows Media 9 for XP and Windows 2000 is in beta testing right now and promises even smaller file size as well as a lossless encoding scheme with file sizes smaller than wave files.

Real Media

rm, ra, rmj

Real Media was the first company to push video and audio streaming via the internet.  Their encoders and players (decoders) are quite good, but are very proprietary and like Fraunhofer require royalties.  Very few player other than RealOne will be able to play files encoded in this format.  Like WMA, Real Media files can be secured with DRM copyright management.  And like MP3 & WMA, Real Media files employ “lossy” compression.

 

Below is a breakdown of the most popular file formats and the benefits and disadvantages of each:

 


File Format

Size in Megabytes for a 3 minute song

Pro’s

Con’s

When to Use

Wave *

 

30 megabytes

True one to one copy of a CD track - no quality loss.  Best for archiving of vinyl and tape recordings or for recording original music.

Large file size, ID tags not supported in most players.

For original and archival material not on CDs.  Vinyl and tape recordings to hard disk.

MP3@ 160kbps *

3.1 mb’s

CD quality at 1/10 the files size, Full ID tag features for organizing, your music.  The largest available number of hardware and software players and recorders.

“Lossy” encoding – (some redundant parts of the WAVE files are eliminated and can never be recovered) Slightly larger file size than WMA and REAL

I recommend this format for all material already saved on CDs.

MP3Pro@ 64kbps

1.6mb’s

Smaller file size for similar quality when compared to MP3 160kbps

“Lossy” encoding, smallest number of software / hardware programs and devices that support format

Material already saved on CDs.

WMA @ 96kbps

2 mb’s

Smaller file size for similar quality when compared to MP3 160kbps

“Lossy” encoding, only Artist, genre, album, track number, and year are saved in the file.  Not compatible with some hardware / software programs and devices

Material already saved on CDs.

Real @ 96 kbps

2 mb’s

Smaller file size for similar quality when compared to MP3 kbps

“Lossy” encoding, smallest number of software / hardware programs and devices that support format

Material already saved on CDs.

 

I use and recommend ripping your tracks to 160kbps CBR mp3 format.  Although many people swear by WMA, the Microsoft format, because of its smaller file size for comparable quality, I have found many CD burning programs and cataloging programs don’t provide full functionality for WMA files.  MP3 has many “freeware and shareware” programs that are available to help you use and organize your collection.  I just haven’t found that level of support available for any other format.  And personally, I like the sound quality vs. files size, of MP3 encoded at 160kbps.  It is a personal choice, and regardless of what format you use, and what bitrate you decide to encode your files in, the majority of benefits I will describe here are available. 


Article 2

Getting the music on your hard drive

What program should I use?

This is a question that will give you a different response from any two individuals you ask!  I can say that I have tried at least 90% of the programs out there, big, small, and in between and for my purposes have settled on two programs that I have purchased in order to get the full functionality each offers.  They are AudioStation, by VoyetraÒ, and MusicMatchÒ Jukebox by MusicMatch.  You can download free versions of these programs at their respective web sites:

http://www.voyetra.com        - AudioStation 6

http://www.musicmatch.com -  MMJB 7.2

 

I also have loaded on my machine the free versions of WMP 8, QuicktimeÒ, and RealOneÒ to stream video and play any secured material I have downloaded that uses these formats.  Another must have is WinAmpÒ (www.winamp.com).  WinAmp is free, small, and takes the least amount of CPU power to utilize.  It is very customizable, but doesn’t catalog or organize your files.  It is best used for playback of downloaded mp3s or mp3 based Internet Radio stations.


How do I “ripp” a CD?

To “ripp” a CD to your hard drive, you’ll need to install one of the players mentioned above and register with the music catalog service it uses.  This is usually GraceNote™ (formerly CBBB) or All Music™.  During the program installation you will be asked if you wish to use the service of “XXX” to find track names, artists, etc.  Answer yes, and then follow the program’s instructions. 

 

Next set up the jukebox program’s Recording preferences.  The preferences will usually default to whatever format the company making the player is pushing (WMP defaults to WMA, MMJB defaults to MP3, RealOne to Real Jukebox format).  In each program there will be a way to choose your own preferences.  Some of the preferences to examine are:

 

·         File Format (wave, MP3, WMA, RJX)
I recommend MP3

·         BitRate (160kbps, 128kbps, 64kbps, etc. – or in some programs, CD Quality, Near CD Quality, etc.)  MP3 encoders also allow for both CBR and VBR (variable bit rate) encoding.  CBR (constant bit rate) keeps the bitrate you choose constant throughout the recording.  The VBR format tries to determine the most important bits to record and assigns a higher bitrate to what it deems the most essential parts of the file.  I have found many programs and especially network and portable players do not do well with VBR recordings.  The symptom must often heard is a “chirping” sound.
I recommend 160kbps CBR (Constant Bit Rate).

·          Recording Directory (by default this is usually C:/My Documents/My Music).
I recommend making a My Music directory on your hard drive with the largest amount of available space.

·         Play while recording – I recommend turning this off to speed the time it takes to ripp the tracks.  If this option is left on, the CD will ripp tracks in real time.

 

Here’s how to find the Recording Preferences in the most popular programs:

 

Jukebox

Menu

Format Default

Full MP3 Option

Windows Media Player 8 –

Tools->Options->Copy Music

WMA

$9.95 download

MusicMatch JukeBox

Options -> Recorder -> Settings

MP3

Free MP3 to 320kbps – MP3Pro $19.95 download

AudioStation

Options-> Preferences -> Recording

WMA

$19.95 download

RealOne

CD Player->Save CD Tracks->Change Settings

Real

Player only $29.95 Monthly subscription (which includes full player) @ $9.95 / month

 

Once you have set up the jukebox for recording the process is very simple.

·         Insert the CD you want to “ripp” into your CD drive.

·         Let the jukebox go out to the catalog service and populate the album name, artist, track title, and genre.

·         Make any changes to the information the lookup service provides.  We’ll talk more on this in the next section.

·         Press the Record button.

·         Sit back and watch your digital library grow. J


What about ID tags?

The MP3 format offers the largest number of available fields that are directly saved in the audio file.  MP3 tags can be in either Level 1 or Level 2 format.  Level 1 tags (ID3l1) are stored at the beginning of a file and level 2 tags are stored at the end of an mp3 file.  Level 2 tags store the most information and some of the additional fields include album art and artist URL.  Most current programs read and write both level 1 and 2 ID3 tags.  I recommend saving information in the level 2 tag format if you are given a choice.  WMA and wave files can also save information in the file, but the fields available and standards to write the tags into the file structure are not as standardized as mp3 tags.  Here is a list of the information saved in various file formats by AudioStation.

 

MP3

WMA

Wave

Title

Y

Y

Y

Artist

Y

Y

N

Preference

Y

Y

Y

Genre

Y

Y

Y

Album

Y

Y

Y

Track #

Y

Y

Y

Artwork

Y

Y

N

Promo URL

Y

N

N

Artist URL

Y

N

N

Year

Y

N

N

Composer

Y

N

N

 

You can see that MP3s offer the greatest amount of fields that are saved in the file itself.  WMA and Wave file tag information is saved in the jukebox library, but if you have to migrate to another OS or reformat your hard drive you will lose all that information.  Not so with MP3 files.  You can add the information once and be assured it will be there if you ever have to reinstall the files from a backup.


How can I best use ID tags to organize my library?

If you utilize one of the music catalog services mentioned earlier when you “ripp” your CDs to digital format, most of the information you gather from these web based services will immediately help you find and play any of your tracks, artists, and/or albums.  There are several decisions you should make before getting too many of your CDs into digital format.  The most important decisions involve how you will handle groups with multiple names, groups beginning with “The”, and how broad or specific you want your genres to be.  This subject is very personal and there is no “right” way to do it.  The important thing to do is devise a method that you are comfortable with and then stick to it.  For example, when you ripp a Beatles CD will the artist name be The Beatles or Beatles.  Will you look for Eric Clapton by Eric or Clapton.  Do you want to be able to find all of your Rock songs, or do you want more specific genres like Classic Rock and Country Rock.  As a guide here is what I’ve done. 

·         I remove all the “The”s that GraceNote puts in artist names.  So my artists are Beatles, Cars, Byrds, Benny Goodman Trio, not The Beatles, The Cars, The Byrds, or The Benny Goodman Trio.

·         I search for artists by the first name I know them by.  So Eric Clapton is found under E not C.

·         I break up genres for which I have a lot of music.  So in Rock I have Classic Rock, Country Rock, Alternative Rock, Metal, Rockabilly, Soul, and Oldies, but in a genre like Classical, where I don’t have a large number of files, I don’t sub-divide the genre at all.

 Here is a list of my genres that you can use to generate some ideas on how you can organize your library.  Remember, what works for me may not work for you, so this list is not set in stone.  The important thing is to pick a system and then stick to it.

 
Genre

Artists like

Alternative Rock

Spin Doctors, Red Hot Chili Peppers

Beatlesque

Beatles, Paul McCartney, Badfinger

Big Band

Benny Goodman, Woody Herman

Bluegrass

Doc Watson, Stanley Brothers

Blues

Leadbelly, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGee, BB King

Blues Rock

Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, Stevie Ray Vaughan

Celtic

Loreena McKennitt, Enya

Childrens

Burl Ives, Nat King Cole, Sesame Street

Classic Rock

Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Grand Funk Railroad

Classical

Horowitz, London Symphony

Comedy

Anything funny

Country

Merle Haggard, Tammy Wynette

Country Rock

Byrds, CSNY, Poco

Country Swing

Asleep at The Wheel, Hillbilly Jazz

Dance

Madonna, Brittany Spears, Mariah Carey

Disco

Donna Summer, ABBA

Electronic

Bjork

Folk

Weavers, Burl Ives, Woody Guthrie

Folk Rock

Bob Dylan, Indigo Girls, Jewel

Folklore

Madrigals, Early American Music, Gregorian Chants

Funk

Wild Cherry, Curtis Mayfield, Prince

Fusion

Al Dimeola, Earl Klugh

Gospel

Mahialla Jackson

Holiday

Christmas, Halloween, Hanukah

Hip Hop

Ice T, Will smith

Jam Bands

Grateful Dead, New Riders, Allman Brothers

Jazz

Charlie Parker, George Benson, Miles Davis

Latin

Serena, Lou Bega, Gloria Estafan

New Age

Enya, Enigma, Bruce BekVar

New Wave

Prince, Elvis Costello, Blondie

Newgrass

New Grass Revival, Bela Fleck, Tony Rice

Oldies

Ventures, Beach Boys, Little Anthony

Original

My songs and family recordings

Patriotic

If its patriotic it goes here – Star Spangled Banner etc

Reggae

Bob Marley

Rock

Little Feat, Paul Simon, Sting

Rockabilly

Stray Cats, Danny Gatton

Ska

Specials, English Beat

Soul

Temptations, Diana Ross

Soundtrack

Movies

Speech

Historical speeches

Swing

Nat King Cole, Louis Prima, Frank Sinatra

World

Greek songs, French ballads

My scheme is just that, my scheme.  It is just how I think of music, so feel free to change whatever you like.  There is a standardized genre list for mp3 files.  This is the listing of genres that will be returned to you when you insert a CD and the software goes out to Gracenote or All Music.  I have altered the standards in my library, but you can have excellent results just using the genres assigned by Gracenote.   For instance, Newgrass is my invention, you won’t see it inserted when using the Gracenote or All Music services.  Most programs will allow you to change the genre inserted by the web either before or after you ripp the CD if like me, you decide that General Rock is not how you want to categorize your Eric Clapton songs.

Another thing to note, is that in my scheme the same artist can appear in multiple genres.  The original Little Feat is in Classic Rock, while the modern band is in Rock.  Enya is in Celtic and New Age.  This works for me, but remember, you decide what will work best for you!


What is a Playlist and how do I make one?

A Playlist is basically a roadmap to a collection of digital files stored on your hard drive.  The files themselves do NOT exist in the playlist, but their location is stored in the playlist file.  The playlist itself can usually be opened with a text editor such as Notepad™.   Playlists have various file extensions such as m3u, pls, asx, rjx, etc.  The most popular format for MP3 files is m3u.  The others are all basically the same, but associate themselves with different players and compressed formats.  Here is a brief breakdown:

·         M3U – MP3 file format and players such as AudioStation, MusicMatch Jukebox, and WinAmp 2.8 and above.  Used by most portable MP3 players.

·         PLS – Typically associated with WinAmp versions below 2.80, but they can usually be read by other jukeboxes.  Used by some portable players.

·         ASX – A Windows Media playlist format that can be read by most jukebox programs and players.

·         RJX – Real Jukebox format that is not transportable to other players.  Used by very few portable players.

 Basically if you have an option, choose to save your playlists in m3u or asx formats.  Here’s what a typical m3u file looks like:

  D:\My Documents\My Music\New Grass Revival\New Grass Revival\When The Storm Is Over.mp3

D:\My Documents\My Music\Tape & Vinyl MP3\Sunburst - wave.mp3

D:\My Documents\My Music\Alison Krauss & Union Station\New Favorite\Let Me Touch You For Awhile.mp3

E:\My Documents\My Music\Downloaded mp3\Press Play Hits\Keep My Love There (while I’m gone - for Christy) - Claire Lynch.mp3

D:\My Documents\My Music\MP3\Seven.mp3

D:\My Documents\My Music\Various Artists\Frank’s Bluegrass #5\If Your Ever In Oklahoma - Clair Lynch & The Front Porch String Band.mp3

D:\My Documents\My Music\Country Gazette\Hello Operator, This Is Country Gazette\Highland Dream.mp3

As you can see, the m3u file is just a text file giving the drive and directory path to the song.

Playlists are one of the most useful and powerful tools that you gain when you convert your collection of music to your computer’s hard drive.  Your playlist can vary in length from a few songs to make a compilation CD, to hundreds of songs to play for an all day party. 

With a playlist you can:

·         Create a list of songs in a specified order for playback on your computer, portable player, and/or network player.

·         Easily change the songs in a playlist and the order in which they will play.

·         Start your compilation CDs as a playlist.  Listen to the track order, etc and make any changes before burning your CD.  Even use the playlist as a copy of the CD you’ve burned.  It can be used on your computer’s jukebox, portable player, or network player.

·         Make party sets and time them for specific events.  For instance, create a 59-minute playlist that you start at 11PM on New Years Eve.  When the music stops you know it’s 11:59 – time to watch the Times Square Ball fall!  You could even record an announcement telling all your guests that they have one minute to go!

AudioStation Playlists

Making a playlist is easy.  In AudioStation, click on New Playlist, name the playlist file, and then either drag files into the right pane, or scroll through your Title, Albums, Artists, Genres, or even other Playlists and use the Send To button to add them to the playlist.

MusicMatch Playlists

In MusicMatch Jukebox the playlist window is on the top right, and you can drag files from the library, or right click on a file and add it to the current playlist window.

There are times when I just don’t know what I want to hear specifically, or when I feel that I keep adding the same songs to my playlists over and over again.  That’s when MusicMatch’s Auto DJ™ feature comes in handy.  Here’s what it looks like:

In this example I asked the program to give me one hour of songs that have a genre of Bluegrass, and are by either Mark O’Conner or Mark Schatz.  After clicking on the Preview button in the lower right, I am presented with a list of songs MMJB has found.  If I want to accept the picks, I would click on the Get Tracks button, or I could refine or add to my search criteria.


Burning Compilation CDs

How do I make a compilation CD?

The programs I have suggested will all burn a compilation CD of the tracks you have stored in your digital library.  You will need a CD Recordable drive and blank media in addition to the jukebox player and stored songs.  If you have developed a system for finding your music, as I suggested earlier, then finding the songs to add to the CD should be no problem. 

AudioStation and MusicMatch also have a tool, which will level the volume of the tracks to a consistent loudness.  This feature is very useful when combining songs from different CDs.  Basically applying “AutoGain™” or “Volume Leveling™, will keep you from reaching for the volume control every time a new track plays.  Commercial CDs are recorded at different volumes, and although the songs from a single CD will sound balanced, when you combine songs from multiple CDs they often have wide swings in the volume between tracks.  AutoGain and Volume Leveling are available in AudioStation’s and MusicMatch’s full (read – paid) versions.  This feature alone is usually worth the price of the upgrade from the free version.  In addition, the free versions of many programs limit the speed your CD recorder can burn a CD.

Using MusicMatch

Here’s what you need to do using MusicMatch Jukebox:

·         Open MusicMatch and maximize the Library View.

·         Select songs that you wish to add to the CD from the library by dragging them to the Playlist window.

·         After you have selected the songs you want on the CD, click the Burn button located at the bottom of the Playlist window.

·         Notice that the jukebox calculates the amount of time used and the time remaining.  You can always go back and add more songs, change their order, or if you have too many songs for the size of blank CD you are using, remove songs.

·         You will also be presented with some options the first time you burn a CD.  These options can be changed at any time, by pressing the Options button on the top toolbar and then selecting Settings.  Here’s how they look in MMJB:

·         Your CD Recorder and maximum speed will be selected.  The first time you burn a CD MMJB will want to do a test burn to determine the max speed.  Go ahead and let it do it if you aren’t sure your CD Recorder is reliable.  If you have made CDs with it before, skip this step and select Write Only. 

·         I recommend you also select Close CD after burn.  This closes the CD session and insures you cannot write any more data to the CD.

·         If you have an old system, P1 or very slow Celeron, and experience “Buffer under runs”, then try selecting Cache to hard disk.  This option creates an image of the CD on your hard drive and then writes the image to CD. 

·         Once you have everything set – hit the Burn button.

·         After your CD is completed you will be given an option to create CD and Jewel Case labels.   I advise that you do NOT use CD labels.  Why – well after many CDs were played in my car’s multi-CD changer, it only took one to render the CD player kaput.  Two weeks and $200 later, I had a replacement CD Changer, because they found pieces of a label jammed in the mechanism.  Make labels for your Jewel Cases and use a Sharpie permanent marker to give the CD a title.  Put that title on the Jewel Case and you’ll be able to place the right CD back in its case.  I’ve taken to using paper cases on my CDs to save space in the house and car and I insert the front cover label into the paper sleeve.  You can also use one of the CD cases available to store your burned CDs and place the front cover label in the sleeve behind the CD.   

Using AudioStation

Here’s the same process using Voyetra’s AudioStation:

·         Select the tracks you wish to burn and using the Send To button, select CD Recorder.

·         Note that you can select to make an Audio or Data CD, or just print a label.  Choose Audio CD.

·         On this screen you can select:

o        Track at Once – Automatically inserts a two second audio silence between tracks.  This option is fine for most audio CDs.  Again, I recommend you select Close Session.

o        Disk at Once – Use this option for Live recordings or Theme recordings like Abbey Road or The Wall, where the original tunes are meant to flow right into each other.  You can select the amount of time the CD will use to PreGap (buffer) the transition.

o        Use AutoGain – As we discussed earlier, if you are selecting songs from different CDs use this option to insure that the volume between tracks stays consistent.

·         This screen allows you to change song order using the up and down arrows, and / or deselect songs if you have chosen more songs than will fit on the CD format you have inserted.  Note that Cherokee is De-Selected as it would cause the CD to have more time than is available.

·         On this screen you can determine to Test CD Creation or Write the CD.  You should leave the cache settings and speed as is unless you have problems burning the CD.

·         Simply press Create CD to start the burn process. 

·         After the CD burn is complete, you will be presented with the option to create labels.  As stated earlier, I recommend creating only jewel case labels.

·         Here you can choose paper size, add an image to the Front Cover, and print the track listing.

Other programs you may use will have different names and screens, but the options shown here are fairly consistent.

Article 3

Recording Analog Tapes and Vinyl Records

Would you like to record your favorite old LP's and analog tapes to your computer for use in Digital Music Library?  Once recorded and added to hard drives music library you can also make audio CDs for playback in your car stereo as well as data CD’s to back up and archive your original analog recordings.  This involves recording the LP or tape to the computer's hard drive using a stand alone software wave editing program such as Voyetra’s AudioSurgeon™, Sonic FoundryÒ’s SoundForge™ Studio 6.0, or Cool EditÒ 2000 and your soundcard’s line input.  Several Media Player software packages also offer the ability to record analog sources as part of their built-in programs.  MusicMatch JukeBox and Cakewalk Pyro are two packages that offer this capability.  If you want to try your hand at Noise Reduction, Cool Edit and SoundForge professional packages offer the greatest assortment of tools, albeit at a higher cost.

Before you dive right into this, be aware it takes time and effort.  For that reason I suggest you confine yourself to:

·         Personal recordings on tape – old bands, your kids first laugh, etc.

·         Tape recordings of special events from the radio / TV – that 1966 live concert you taped on your old Dokorder Reel to Reel etc.

·         Vinyl Records no longer in print – You looked but there is just no CD available.

I’d work through your collection in that order as well, as tape is the most fragile of all the mediums.

The free version of AudioSurgeon can be found by browsing to:

 http://www.voyetra.com -> Support -> FTP File download -> AudioSurgeon 5

or by going directly to: ftp://ftp.voyetra.com/pub/voy/asurgeon/asurgeon.exe

To record an analog tape (or other analog source) to your hard drive you’ll need:

          

What quality should I expect?

The first goal of transcribing an analog medium to digital format is to preserve the best possible copy of the analog source.  If your audio tape has hiss, you will be recording the hiss in the digital file.  Likewise, on a vinyl record, you will be recording all the pops and crackles that exist on the original record.  While all the programs I suggest below do have tools to remove pops and crackles as well as tape hiss, 60 cycle hum, etc. you should always save a pure unfiltered recording of the original.  This becomes your MASTER recording and you should cut this to CD and label the CD as a MASTER.  Later, you can bring the pure file back into your computer and try the various tools for removing unwanted noise.  If you find, as I do, that removing the noise also removes too much of the original high frequencies (such as cymbals), you still have the original digital recording to return to and you can try again, or like me, decide to live with the noise.  If your goal is to produce a better sounding copy of the original, be prepared for a lot of experimentation with the filters and transforms available. 

What preparations should I take before recording the original source material?

Remember the old adage – “Garbage In – Garbage Out”.  That being said, there are some simple common sense techniques you can use to achieve the highest possible fidelity on your old analog mediums.  Below are some of my tips for getting the most out of your analog recordings.

Vinyl Records:

·         Get them clean!  A diluted solution of soupy water and a soft chamois cloth can be used to gently wash away the years of accumulated dirt and grime from a vinyl records surface.  Remember, less is better.  Don’t rub too hard and don’t use too much soap.  Allow the record to air dry completely, and DO NOT let it dry in the sun!  Another technique is to use the record cleaning solutions and soft brushes still available in audio stores and Radio Shack.

·         Clean or replace your phono cartridge stylus!  There are soft brushes available, but you can also use a camels hair brush such as the ones women use to apply makeup.  Remove the cartridge from the tone-arm and turn it over so that the needle is pointing up.  Gently stroke the brush towards the front of the cartridge only.  This is very important.  NEVER stroke the needle in the direction of its stem.  You WILL bend the needle stem if you do! 

·         Clean your turntable mat with an anti-static solution safe for rubber and / or vinyl. 

·         Insure that your turntables belts are in good condition and if your turntable has an adjustment for fine tuning the speed, make sure that it is adjusted properly for the speed of the records you wish to record.

·         Adjust and balance your tone arm to the recommended weight specified by the cartridge manufacturer.  Adjust the anti-skating mechanism on your tone-arm to the manufacturers specs.

·         If your records have known skips, you can temporarily overcome the skipping by increasing the tone-arm weight.  You can do this by adding weight a ½ gram at a time to the counterweight setting of the tone-arm or by placing a penny on top of the cartridge head if your tone arm cannot be adjusted.

Analog Tapes:

·         Clean the tape heads with a Cue tip and head cleaning solution available at Radio Shack.  Rubbing alcohol can be used in a pinch, but it does leave a slight film on the head.

·         Clean the rubber rollers and capstan with a special cleaning solution for rubber surfaces.  Alcohol will dry out rubber, so only use alcohol to clean rubber parts in an extreme emergency!

·         De-magnetize the tape recorder heads using a specialized tape demagnetization tool.  Keep the tool FAR away from any tapes!

·         Fast forward and then rewind the tape before beginning the recording.  Tapes stored for a long time can stick and this insures that the tape is freely moving inside the tape holder.  As a side note - always store tapes vertically.  Never store any tape, cassette, reel to reel or VHS on its side.

 Special consideration for Reel to Reel Tapes: 

·         If you have reel to reel tapes you may want to purchase a new “take-up” reel to insure that you don’t get the squealing noise produced when the tape rubs against the take-up reel.

·         Reel to reel recorders also can have their heads adjusted up/down to insure that the stereo channels are properly tracked.  To do this you need a specialized tape that produces the tones needed for adjustment.  Ideally you would use an oscilloscope, but I have used my ears to make this adjustment.  Tapes made on different machines may not track properly on the recorder you currently have.  You can try to compensate for this by adjusting the heads for the tape.  This begins to get very complex, and if the tape is something really special, you may want to consider having it transcribed for you by someone with the proper equipment.

How do I record analog tapes to my computer?

Windows Mixer
NOTE: to use the Windows mixer click on Start à Programs à Accessories à Entertainment à Volume Control.  When the Windows mixer opens click on Options – Properties à Recording

 


Cakewalk Pyro

Cakewalk offers a combination media organizer and audio editor.  It’s recording features make it convenient to record vinyl or tapes, split long recordings into individual tracks, and perform basic noise reduction.  It’s use of the windows explore makes navigation easy to learn and it can ripp CD’s and create data and audio CD’s.  If you don’t expect to have a lot of material and like the idea of using Explorer rather than a distinct music library, it is a choice worth considering.

Here’s what recording analog looks like in this Pyro:

·         Note how to find files from different artists I would have to navigate to multiple folders.


MusicMatch Jukebox

MusicMatch does not have a audio editor or noise reduction transforms.  You can record and set levels using your soundcard mixer. 

Cool Feature - Delayed Recording feature works much like a VCR.  When used in conjunction with Line In recording you can record, as an example, an interesting radio program scheduled for a time when you will not be near a radio.

 Here’s what it looks like in MMJB:

 


Recording a Vinyl Record

The output of a typical vinyl record turntable is extremely low and lacks the R.I.A.A. equalization compensation needed to restore bass frequencies to the vinyl recordings' output.  When turntables were in use, a phono preamp was built into the preamplifier section of the receiver.  With the advent of CD technology, many modern receivers lack a phono input.  In such cases the soundcard's Line In will not "see" a hot enough signal to make a good recording and you will get a very “thin” sounding recording.  A solution for this is to connect your turntable to a standalone phonograph preamplifier, available from many Internet audio accessory vendors.  Radio Shack stores are good local, although you may have to order it as many stores don’t keep these in stock.  You can order directly on-line from http://www.radioshack.com


Tip: If you record the whole side of a tape with SoundForge or Cool Edit, you can break it into individual tracks more efficiently by starting at the end of the file and working back until you see the first point of silence.  Select / highlight the audio from the end until the first point of silence and use the cut command to remove it from the original.  Now open a new 44.1 kHz – 16 bit file and paste the audio you cut into the new file.  Name this file and save it.  Now when you go back to the original, the file will end on the next to the last song.  Continue the process until all the individual tracks have been cut and saved.


Archiving and adding your recordings to you Digital Library

I am going to assume that you are not going to try and de-hiss or de-pop your recordings, although I will give some tips on doing that in the next section.  For now, lets assume that you are satisfied with having recorded the analog source to your hard drive and have cut it into tracks and created an audio CD of the tape or vinyl record.

After I make the audio CD in AudioSurgeon, I immediately place the CD back in the drive and let it open AudioStation and then go out to the GraceNote where typically it will not find any information on the CD you created.  AudioStation, Pyro, and / or MusicMatch will list the tracks and time but leave the Artist, Album Title, and track titles blank.  I enter the information and then submit it to the online service, so that any time I place that audio CD back in the drive, the online service returns the Artist, Album, and track titles I have entered.  When I enter the Album name I also use the catalog number that is found on the vinyl records cover.  Here’s an example:

In addition, now that I have cataloged the new CD with them, the information is ready to be placed in my ID3 tags when I ripp the CD in compressed format to my hard drive.  I now print a CD cover listing the CD title, Artist, and track names and place the CD in a CD binder for safe keeping.  I have the MP3 tracks on my hard drive to listen to or to compile another audio CD from.  If you own a digital camera, you can also take a picture of the front and back cover of the album.  With a little photo manipulation you can then add the photo to the ID3 tag of your MP3 files.  I resize the photo down to 200 * 200 pixels for this. 

Now my digital library also includes a photo of the original cover art as well as the recordings themselves.

So I now have an audio CD, and the tracks on the audio CD have been ripped in MP3 format with all the needed information to my digital library.  But I still have the huge wave file on my hard drive.  Unless you have unlimited hard drive storage you are going to want to remove this big file from your hard drive so you can repeat the process with another record or tape.  Use Roxio Easy CD Creator, Nero, AudioStation or MusicMatch’s DATA CD mode and create a data CD of the original wave file.  If you did take the extra step of shooting a picture of the album cover, add the original photo to the data CD as well.  Print a label and store it right next to the audio CD you created.  This data CD can be used later if you want to try your hand at cleaning up the audio, but you’ll never have to go through the tedious proves of recording the analog medium again.


Noise Reduction

We’ve covered a lot of ground in this article, and I have purposefully left out Noise Reduction as it is a very broad topic.  AudioSurgeon and the other programs mentioned all have tools to try and eliminate pops and clicks as well as tape hiss.  After you have saved the original file, go ahead and try them out on a copy of the saved file.  Just remember never to change the original file, work with a copy so you don’t inadvertently save the altered version and lose all your hard work!


Article 4

Internet Radio

Well if you have been following the articles to date, and have ripped all your CD’s and recorded all your vinyl records and analog tapes, you might be in the mood for some new music.  If you have a broadband Internet connection your in for a real treat.  Dial-up connections will still bring you a wide variety of music and news, but at a reduced quality.  Welcome to the new media – Internet Radio!

There are several sites that offer directories of Internet Radio stations.  Here are a few:

Live 365 – http://www.live365.com

Shoutcast – http://www.shoutcast.com

Windows Media – http://www.windowsmedia.com

Radio Tower - http://www.radiotower.com/ (requires Real Player or Windows Media Player 7.1 or above)

My favorite is Live 365, because it offers over 45,000 stations to choose from.  Amateur music lovers from all over the globe run the majority of the stations and the diversity and quality of the music offered is outstanding.  Before continuing, I should mention that I am one of those amateur broadcasters.  Frank’s Americana has been broadcasting on Live 365 since May of 2001. 

Listening to Internet Radio

I’m going to use Live 365 has a model to show you how you can listen to a wide variety of quality music even if you are on a dial-up connection.  But you should also be aware that Internet radio can bring you news, sports, weather, and more. I use AudioStation and its free service “Turtle Radio” to tune into my favorite NPR stations from around the world.  Real Audio and Windows Media player also have pre-set radio where you can tune into music or news and their services are currently free.  MusicMatch Jukebox offers a paid subscription to its radio service called, Radio MX and Real Audio has a subscription service that allows you access to major league baseball, golf, and BBC, NBC, etc news. 

Tuning in to Live 365

Get yourself connected to the web, and set your browser to http://www.live365.com

You’ll see this screen:

BTW – you will find a pop-up underneath.  There is a way to make pop-ups and audio ads go away.  It’s called “Preferred Membership” and costs $4.95 per month.  I’ll talk about it more later, but for now, be aware that the Internet is not the free ride that it used to be.  Everyone’s got to eatJ

If this is your first time you’ll see the “Listening Wizard” screens appear, and Live 365 will check your audio configuration.  Here’s what that looks like:

When the wizard completes you’ll see this screen:

If you have installed AudioStation or Winamp choose MP3 player, but if you’re not sure what you have, go ahead and pick the Live365 Player.  Confirm the connection speed the wizard set for you and you’re almost ready to listen to Internet radio.

Joining Live 365

Beginning sometime after the New Year, Live 365 will require that you log in order to listen to free Internet radio.  While I regret that this additional hurdle to listen has been instituted, I can attest to the fact that Live 365 has never shared my email address, and for both financial and copyright legalities, needs to institute this policy.  It’s painless, safe, and affords you many customization options. Just click on the ”Sign Up” link located on the top right of the home screen shown above.  Remember to carefully pick a username, you CANNOT ever change this without creating a new account.  Once you’ve joined up go to the “My Settings” link located to the right o the “Sign Up” link and set your preferences for Ad Content, vote for your “Favorite” station, arrange the sort order of searches, and more.  You can also change your Internet connection speed and player preferences, as well as rerun the Listening Wizard. 

Searching for Stations

Now that you have set up your player, it’s time to use the search window to find the music that you’d like to hear.  We’ll use my station Frank’s Americana, to show you how easy it is.  In the Search window located in the middle of the radio picture type:  Frank’s Americana

You’ll go right to my station listing.

You could have typed “Rock”, “Swing”, “Frank Sinatra”, etc into the search window and come up with a large assortment of stations to pick from.  For now, click on the blue title Frank’s Americana, and you’ll come to my station page.

Now if you click on the yellow speaker icon, you’ll start up the Player window, and the MP3 player you have installed will begin to buffer and play the station.  Make sure your speakers are turned on and your volume is up.  

Note the Green “Add this station as a preset” button and the “Rate this station” window both located at the bottom of the player window.  If you like what you hear, add it to your preset list, and assign the station a ration between one and five stars.

Some other things to note on the Station Page are:

·         Broadcaster Profile – find out about the broadcaster, their station, musical tastes, and favorite broadcasters.

·         Broadcast Schedule – a new feature allows broadcasters to schedule segments.  Click on the tab to see what show may be coming up.

Also note that on the top of every page there are additional tabs labeled:

·         Home – go back to the Live365 home Page

·         Listen – see a detailed listing of the first 1,000 stations sorted in the order you choose when you set up your listener preferences.

·         Broadcast – this tab will give you information on how to become a Personal Broadcaster.  Once you sign up as a broadcaster, it gives you control over your station settings.

·         Community – join in forum discussions or enter the Live 365 Chat room to meet other music lovers and broadcasters.  You’ll find me in the Chat room every Thursday evening during my live broadcast, and in the Folk/Blues/Country forum where I am the moderator.

·         Shop – become a Preferred Member and enjoy AD-FREE listening.  Become a Broadcaster or shop for apparel and Internet radio toys and gadgets.

·         Help – everything you need to know about listening and / or broadcasting on Live 365.

Now that you have the idea, go back tot the home page and type your favorite genre into the search window.  You’ll find hundreds if not thousands of stations that play the music you enjoy.  Remember if you are using a dial-up, only pick stations with a 33kbps data rate or below.  Broadband users can get 56kbps/22khz stereo stations that sound as good as a clean FM signal.

Here are a few of my favorite Live365 broadcasters and their genres:

Remember there are over 45,000 stations listed on Live 365 – everything from Arabic folk to Zoot Suit jazz. 

Preferred Membership

Live 365 has struggled to keep costs down and provide free internet radio to listeners for several years now, but with the recent CARP ruling, they are required to make a huge payment to the RIAA through SoundExchange.  The payment is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and is a royalty that will go to the record companies.  Without going into the particulars, traditional radio is NOT required to make this additional royalty payment, but the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 requires it of any digitally distributed radio station.  To find out more go to:

·         Save Internet Radio - http://saveinternetradio.org

In order to pay for this, they have had to increase the number and scope of advertisements on both their website and those imbedded in the audio streams played by Personal Broadcasters.  You can help keep Internet radio alive and eliminate all pop-up and in-stream audio ads by becoming a Preferred Member.  The cost is only $4.95 / month, and if you find you enjoy Internet radio on Live 365 I highly recommend you join the community of amateurs helping to support independent broadcasters and Live 365.  In addition to eliminating advertisements, as a Preferred Listener, your vote for a Favorite Live 365 station contributes $.50 cents of your monthly fee to the station broadcaster of your choice.  Currently Frank’s Americana has two Preferred listeners who have picked my station as their favorite.  That reduces my monthly cost of broadcasting by $1.00 / month.  I have over 1,600 listeners who have chosen my station as a preset, and ten non-preferred listeners who have chosen Frank’s Americana as a favorite.  With just 30 additional Preferred Members choosing me as their Favorite, I can either reduce my cost of broadcasting to zero, or add over ten hours of additional on-line storage to increase the diversity of music playing on the station.  So supporting your favorite broadcaster by becoming a Preferred Member can defray their cost and help them financially be able to improve their station. It’s a good deal all around!!! 

Personal Broadcasting

Do you have a large collection of music on your hard drive now?  Have you always wanted to either share music or a point of view with the entire planet?  If you have, consider becoming a Personal Broadcaster on Live 365.  For $14.95 / month you can become a Premium Personal Broadcaster and have access to all the tools you need to broadcast your opinions or music to the world.  And for ~ $50.00 / month you can store over 14 hours of 56kbps / 22kHz stereo music, available for you or anyone else on the planet with an internet connection to listen to.  I started my station just to listen to the music I wanted to when I was at work.  Quickly I discovered that it was even more fun to share that music and create a unique station that plays the sort of music I always wanted to hear on radio.  Join the Radio Revolution on Live 365, and don’t forget to tell them that Frank sent you when you sign up for Personal Broadcasting.  The referral program is another way Live 365 gives its broadcasters a chance to defray their costs.


Article 5

Music Distribution

In this series I have talked about storing and organizing music files on your PC’s hard drive.  If you have been following along you should have a sizable collection of music stored on your PC.  You’ve learned about organizing the stored music by Artist / Album / Genre / Song Title, and we have discussed creating Playlists.  Last month we talked about Internet Radio and how a cable or DSL connection can bring music from all over the world into your PC. 

I hope that over the last five months you have installed a player, moved your music from CD & vinyl to your PC, created a Playlist, a custom Audio CD, and tuned into a Internet Radio broadcast.  Cool stuff!  Now we are going to talk about sending that collection of music to multiple locations in and around your house.  And we’re going to explore how every location can play a different selection of material at different volumes simultaneously from one PC Music Server.

The Concept

A Pentium or Celeron computer with a good network connection and large hard drives can serve MP3 or WMA files to more locations than you will ever need in a typical home.  Now that you have music organized on a PC why not use that one central library to send music to locations throughout your home.  Turtle Beach™ has a graphic, which I’ve inserted below.  The picture explains the concept better than words.

Using your existing PC, broadband Internet connection, and home network, they have developed a stereo component that requests songs from your PC through a home network, and plays them on your stereo, Home Theatre, or powered speakers.  The Turtle Beach AudioTron™, Sonic Blue Rio Receiver™, and Motorola SimpleFi ™ are just a few of the devices on the market today that enable a music distribution system. 

Using a Portable player to bring your collection to your Stereo

If you own a portable MP3 player or even a DVD player that allows playback of DATA MP3 CD’s you can use the sneaker method of connectivity by loading your portable device with songs from your PC.  Then connect the portable device to your stereo.  Just use the 1/8” to stereo RCA jack connector we discussed in last months article to connect the Headphone or Line Out of the portable device to your Auxiliary or Tape Monitor In on your stereo receiver.  Set up your desired playlist on the portable device and your ready to go. 

Or create an Audio or DATA MP3 CD using the techniques you learned in Article 3 of this series.  If you own a fairly new DVD player, just make a DATA MP3 CD using one of the jukebox programs we have discussed and pop it in the DVD player for hours of music.  Most DVD players will accept an M3u playlist so you can set an order for playback of the music.  At the very least you can make an Audio CD to play on your CD player and stereo.

Connecting your PC to your Stereo

There are several ways you can connect your PC to your stereo, and the method you choose is dependent on several factors:

Poor Man’s Music Distribution

You can bring your PC music to your stereo for as little as $19.95 if your PC happens to be located in a room adjacent to your stereo.  How you ask?  Well the same way you connect your Tape Player or DVD player.  A simple audio cable connection from your PC’s line out to your stereo’s Auxiliary / Tape / CD etc. input.  If your stereo is less than 20’ away you can buy a pre-made cable, typically a 1/8” stereo phone jack to dual RCA jacks.  Drill a small hole in your molding and run the cable directly from your PC to your stereo.  If the distance is greater than 20’ you can still use a cable, but you will probably need to make a custom cable.  Materials for making a cable and the tools necessary can be purchased at stores like Radio shack, or from outlets you can find on the web. 

The down side of this setup is that the music must be started on the remote PC and you will not be able to remotely change the song selection.  To control the volume, you can use the remote control for your stereo system if your system has one.  Otherwise, on older stereos, you’ll have to get up and fiddle with the volume control on the stereo receiver.   Check this months PC World© for more details. 

Wireless Music Distribution

You can also bring your PC music to your stereo by acquiring a RF transmitter / receiver from vendors like X10 and Turtle Beach.  The units sold by these companies are very similar and allow remote control operation of the volume and song selection.  The receiver is connected to your stereo Aux or Tape Monitor inputs, and the transmitter is connected to the Line Out on your soundcard.  The Turtle Beach unit comes with connecting cables and a splitter cable to attach to your soundcard so that you can still connect your PC speakers to the soundcard Line Out.  Additionally you will need a free Serial Port on your PC to connect the Remote Control receiver to your PC.  With the remote control receiver connected, you can select up to 20 pre-configured playlists, radio stations, or Album / Artists / Genre combinations.  You’ll also be able to control volume, and skip forward or backwards within any of the “Favorites” you configure.  If you attended the DACS meeting last month, this was the setup I was using to start and stop the songs I selected.

       

The benefits of this setup are:

The down side of this setup is that the 2.4gHz frequency it transmits on is susceptible to interference from microwave ovens and some portable phones.  The sound quality is also diminished and you may hear hiss and noise at low volumes.

Network Audio Appliances

By far the coolest way to listen to your PC music collection is on one the new breed of network enabled audio appliances.  Manufacturers like, Turtle Beach, Sonic Blue, Phillips, Onkyo, and BOSE all sell devices that can connect to your PC home network.  These units can play your PC’s music collection anywhere in your home that a network connection is available. 

Turtle Beach AudioTron™

There are several manufacturers of Network Audio Appliances.  I’m going to use the Turtle Beach AudioTron as an example for several reasons:

·         I own and use one

·         I highly recommend it for its price / value

Here’s a picture of the unit:

And here’s the units rear panel connections:

Connecting a Network Audio Appliance

If you have a wired Ethernet or HPNA network already installed in your home, and one of the wires you installed is near your home stereo, you are all setup to connect the AudioTron to your PC.  Just plug in the network connection and then connect either the analog or digital out of the AudioTron to your stereo.  There are also PC file share and network configurations that will need to be setup as well, but those configurations are outside of the scope of this article.  All the manufacturers have diagnostic and setup programs available to help you configure your PC and network to allow the unit to share your music collection. 

In order to access your music collection your music server PC will need to be left on, or you can opt to install a NAS (Network Attached Storage) Server.  Either way, the music files need to be on-line in order for the AudioTron (AT) to access and play them.  The AudioTron doesn’t store any of the music internally, but rather, creates a directory of where on your network a particular song file is stored.  When you select a song, the AudioTron reads the location from its memory and goes out over the network to “fetch” it.  The AudioTron then “Streams” the song file across the network connection and handles all the audio decompression and digital to analog conversion.  The actual audio is then sent out either the digital or analog connection to your stereo receiver for playback.  The display on the AudioTron tells you what song is playing and allows you to select songs from your library by browsing through Artist, Album, Genre, and / or Playlists that it has cataloged.  You can use either the included remote control or the front panel buttons to select the music and control the playback volume.  You can also use any web browser to control the AT, so you can start playback of music in the living room from a PC connected to your network in the den.  If you have a wireless network and a wireless network enabled Pocket PC you can use the web browser on your Pocket PC to control the AudioTron from anywhere your wireless network reaches.  You can connect as many AudioTrons to your network as your network has free ports.  You can have one in the den, living room, and your bedroom.  This particular unit even has an alarm clock function.  Several users have created java applets for it as well, and you can also have it display current weather information as well as time.

The AudioTron and other devices in this category will also allow playback of Internet Radio without the PC being on if you have a DSL or Cable router.  I find that I use Internet Radio more often than my PC music library simply because the PC isn’t always on.  Internet Radio is a great wakeup setting for the alarm clock function I mentioned before.

Windows Media PC’s

This year Microsoft in collaboration with Hewlett Packard and other PC vendors has introduced a new breed of PC that is designed to be the brains behind your entertainment center.  These PC’s are equipped with Microsoft products that allow you to send both audio and video content stored on your PC’s hard drive to your TV and stereo.  You will pay for the convenience of having everything pre-installed, but if you have the wallet size and don’t enjoy fiddling with PC and stereo components, this is an easy way to get all the gear you need set-up and ready to go.  Just add a wired or wireless network and you can transmit audio and video to other PC’s and network enabled audio / video devices.

Whole House Music Distribution

At the very high end of the spectrum you can hire a consultant to install and configure a personalized audio / video distribution network.  This can be very expensive in an existing home, but if you are building and / or remodeling your home consider installing cabling while the walls are open.  Even if you don’t buy all the gear to enable whole house audio / video distribution now, having the wiring pre-installed will allow you to add both audio / video distribution as well as home automation and PC connectivity quite easily in the future.  Hi end audio stores such as Tweeters and Harvey’s have recently added all sorts of network enabled gear to their inventories and have specialists who can help you design and install Home Theatre and Whole House Audio / Video distribution networks.  The sky and your wallet are the only limits in this category. 

Frank’s do it yourself whole house audio

For my house I have a combination of all the techniques described above.  Over the last few years I have wired the house with Ethernet cabling, run speaker wire and mounted outdoor speakers with volume controls on both my front porch and rear deck, and added the Turtle Beach AudioTron to my living room stereo system.  My most recent addition is a Pocket PC and a wireless access point.  Here’s a typical scenario of how I use this network of do it yourself pieces.

My music server PC is in the very front of my home and wired with a coaxial digital connection to my Sony receiver in the same room.  I use the analog output of my soundcard to connect to an old power amp which is hard wired to outdoor speakers mounted on the outside of the studio.  So in the front of the house I can be listening to a Beatles album in my studio while my wife is listening to Internet Radio outside in the garden.  Since I have the RF remote control attached to my computer she can change stations and control the volume on the outdoor speakers from the garden as well.

At the same time my daughter can be upstairs in her room and through the wired Ethernet connection to her computer, she can listen to the Dixie Chicks on her PC and speakers.  Later we can have the living room stereo playing a party mix from the AudioTron using the same library of music.  The living room stereo is wired to speakers on the back deck so I can party while I’m cooking.  And with the addition of the Pocket PC and wireless access point, I can control the Audiotron from the rear deck and change the volume and selection of music playing on the living room Audiotron when its time to barbeque on the rear deck. 

Wrapping up

I hope you’ve both enjoyed and learned from this series on Digital Music.  I have covered a lot of ground in this series of articles and I’ve only scratched the surface of what you can do.   As you contemplate how you can implement your own Digital Music Library, remember that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to enjoy a large number of the benefits of storing your music collection on a PC.  I’ve given you some tips, tricks, and ideas, but don’t be bound by what I’ve told you.  Let your own imagination and talent add, subtract, and complement what you’ve learned in this series.  And be sure to let me know what you come up with. 


Listing of links to sources quoted in the series

Jukebox & Audio Editing Vendors

·         http://www.voyetra.com

·         http://www.cakewalk.com

·         http://www.musicmatch.com

Cables & Accessories

·         http://www.radioshack.com

Internet Radio

·         http://live365.com

·         http://www.windowsmedia.com

·         http://www.npr.org

Network Enabled Audio

·         http://turtlebeach.com

·         http://www.sonicblue.com

·         http://www.gi.com/noflash/simplefi.html

·         http://www.x10.com

·         http://www.cedia.com


About the author

Frank Powers has extensive digital music experience working for companies like Voyetra Turtle Beach, Inc and Sam Ash Music as well as composing his own material and running an Internet radio station.  Frank is available for digital music consulting and can be reached by email at: frank@franksamericana.com.  You can find out more by visiting his website at http://www.franksamericana.com. 

He also can be heard on the Internet at Frank’s Americana™ Live365Ò Internet Radio station at http://www.live365.com/stations/fpowers 

©2002 – 2005 Francis A. Powers