Clean up audio of your old records

Software: `Soundsoap' lets vinyl lovers wash the hiss and pop out of tunes once in digital format.

March 06, 2003|By Craig Crossman | Craig Crossman,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

One day I walked into a record store and there were no more records. I remember that day quite clearly. When I asked some teen-age clerk behind the store counter where I could find any 45s or long-playing albums, I got a strange blank stare.

Have you seen The Time Machine? My record experience made me identify with that character who came from a past century. Like him, I am from a past century and so are many of you!

The end of the 20th century was the end of vinyl and for many, even tape recording. But there are still a lot of us time-travelers out there who own vinyl record collections, audio cassettes and yes, even 8-track tapes. Despite the resurgence of record players among some audiophiles, the difficulty of obtaining phonograph needles and the like these days makes it in one's best interest to convert them into a digital format to make them last forever.

Converting old vinyl records requires some hardware and software. Connecting a record player to your computer is fairly straightforward. If your turntable is hooked to a stereo amplifier, take the output from the amplifier to your computer's stereo sound input. Depending on your make, model and platform, that is located on either the sound card or the computer's back panel. Once the physical connection is made, you'll need some kind of recording software.

There are many titles to choose from and you can find many free, shareware and commercial titles. Then what you will need is something to help clean up the sound on older recordings.

After all, vinyl records' audio has things like hiss, clicks and pops. These are little distortion noises that begin to appear after you play a record over and over again. Needles made little scratches, dropping the needle made little pits that result in popping sounds, plus dirt and dust add their own distinctive distortions.

Some say those sounds add character to the recording, like scratches on a movie film. Still, you want the best possible sound and that was how it sounded when it was played the first time.

One of the easiest ways to digitally "wash" your recordings is to use special software designed to clean things back to their original pristine condition. One such program is SoundSoap from Bias (www.bias-inc.com). SoundSoap lets you instantly reduce most any of the common types of noise and distortion found on old vinyl recordings. This includes tape hiss (from cassettes and 8-track tapes), clicks, pops, scratches, hum, rumble and buzzing.

Running SoundSoap first displays an easy-to-understand control panel with two large knobs and a Wash Window that displays before and after results. By turning the Noise Tuner and Noise Reduction knobs, you can tune in any offensive noises you want removed. A Learn Noise button lets SoundSoap automatically profile any noise in your recording and adjusts the Noise Tuner and Noise Reduction knobs to their ideal settings for you.

The Wash Window display lets you see how much noise is being removed. Its split before-and-after image lets you see just how much your sounds have been washed.

Other buttons let you remove rumble, remove hum and let you select the frequency range of the distortions to be removed. A Mode selection lets you listen to the original sound, how it sounds with the distortions removed, or just listen to the distortions themselves.

You can also use SoundSoap to clean up your current digital recordings.

SoundSoap is available for Windows XP and Macintosh OS X at www.bias-inc.com for $99.

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