January 2006 Issue  Volume 7  Number 1


There's Gold on Those Old Tapes: Recording and Editing Digital Audio Files with GoldWave

If you want to use your computer to record, edit, and play back digital audio files, but think that you cannot master the complexity, read on. This article is for you--the average computer user who wants to use his or her PC as a digital recorder and editor. You are probably already playing audio files on your computer using programs like Winamp, Windows Media Player, or RealPlayer, so you are already somewhat familiar with the process. Using your desktop PC or laptop to record audio is not rocket science, and it does not even require the latest hardware platform or operating system. Another piece of good news is that you will not have to break the bank to add this capability to your set of skills. All you need is a computer that is equipped with a standard sound card and digital recording software. You also need to be slightly familiar with the hardware of your PC--more accurately, the jacks on your sound card--so you can plug in microphones, speakers, headphones, patch cords, and other connectors. But you have probably already worked with this basic technology with cassette, reel-to-reel, and minidisk recorders. In this article, I describe the GoldWave sound editor, an inexpensive and fairly accessible software package.

I learned about GoldWave from a trusted source, Tim Cumings, the audio engineer and onetime web master for the Visually Impaired/Blind User Group (VIBUG) in Boston. VIBUG meets at the National Braille Press, and the group was originally founded by the legendary Boston Computer Society. The Vibug web site <www.vibug.org> contains a lot of useful information, as well as audio recordings of past meetings and demonstrations that were all recorded using GoldWave.

The GoldWave digital audio editor is a product of GoldWave, a small, privately owned, Canadian corporation located near St. John's, Newfoundland, and sells for less than $50. The software runs on the Windows operating system, and there are versions for Windows 98, ME, XP, and 2000. You can visit the GoldWave web site <www.GoldWave.com> and download a fully working demonstration of the software to try before you buy it. The program is available by download from the web site only. Upon purchase by online by credit card or by mail order, you will receive a "license" to unlock the download.

Just like the familiar analog audiocassette recorders of old, GoldWave lets you record from a variety of inputs, including microphones and auxiliary input using patch cords, and even lets you record streaming audio while you are listening online. If you have always wondered how to make high-quality tutorials with narration plus synthesized speech, this article tells you how to do it. I have used GoldWave to record voice and music and to convert vinyl record albums and cassettes to digital audio files. In this article, I cover the basics of GoldWave, and explore a few of the advanced features and special effects.

System Requirements

What hardware do you need to get started? Not much, according to the company. Basically, you must have a computer or laptop computer with one of the supported operating systems, which is easy, since GoldWave supports everything from Windows 98 to XP Professional. GoldWave also requires an industry-standard sound card. You also need headphones, speakers, a microphone, and a patch cord or two. With this basic kit, you can record from almost any source and store and edit it digitally using your PC.

According to GoldWave, the minimum system requirements are

  • a Pentium-based PC or compatible
  • Microsoft Windows 98, ME, 2000, XP, or a later version
  • 128 megabytes (MB) of RAM (256 MB recommended)
  • 10 megabytes of hard disk space
  • a mouse
  • a sound card with a Windows-compatible driver

Types and Sizes of Files

Digital audio files are similar to document, spreadsheet, database, or other files that are stored on your computer. But instead of containing text or graphics, these files contain audible content, such as voice, music, or other audio information. There are many different types of audio files, but I focus on only two of them in this introductory article, Wav and MP3. These types of files are playable on virtually any device or computer.

The Windows Volume Control

Before I discuss GoldWave, I need to explain the Windows Volume Control. As with a conventional tape recorder, the Windows Volume Control plays an important role in both recording and playing back audio by managing all input and output levels of the sound card. Since this is the master volume control for the Windows operating system, programs like GoldWave, Sound Forge, and other audio software rely on it to set recording and playback levels. The Windows Volume Control can be found on the Start Menu. Press Control-Escape to go to the Start Menu, arrow down to Programs, and press Enter. Then arrow down to Accessories and press Enter. From there, arrow down to Entertainment and press enter. Finally, arrow down to Volume Control and press Enter. If you do not find the Volume Control under Entertainment, look for it under Multi Media. You can also access volume control settings from the Options menu from within GoldWave itself, but in this article, I focus on making audio settings via the Windows Volume Control. This approach will assist you with GoldWave and will also pay off when you run other audio applications.

The Windows Volume Control lets you set volume levels for speakers, microphones, line inputs, and other audio sources that are supported by your sound card. It breaks down into two basic sections, one for playback and another for recording. When you start the Windows Volume Control, you are placed by default in the Playback Volume Control section. This allows you to adjust the balance and volume level for each device, including the master volume for the system, wave device, CD audio, microphone, and line input. There is also a check box to mute or unmute each device. Use the Tab key to move through this dialog box, and you will find the various controls and their balance, volume, and mute settings.

The first control in this dialog box is the Playback Control. This is the master volume control for your sound card. It controls the overall level of volume for speaker and headphone outputs. You can use the Arrow keys to make small adjustments in the system's volume and the Page Up and Page Down keys to make larger adjustments. Make sure that the Playback Control is set to 100% and that the balance is set to 50%. If you check the Mute check box, you will set your sound output to zero. Now, use the Tab key to move from one control to the next until you reach the end and then cycle around again to the beginning.

Setting Volume for Recording

The next step is to set the volume for inputs, such as microphone and line in. To do so, press Alt-P to bring up the Options menu. This menu has three choices: Properties, Advanced Controls, and Exit. Arrow down to Properties and press Enter. This brings up a combo box that lets you choose the mixer device and to adjust the volume for recording and playback. The Mixer Device is just another name for the sound card. If you have more than one sound card installed in your system, you will find multiple entries here. But if your system is of a standard configuration, there should be only one mixer device or sound card installed. Press the Tab key to move to the next control, which is a series of radio buttons that let you select either playback or recording settings. You can use your Arrow keys to select from Adjust Volume for Recording or Adjust Volume for Playback. Arrow down to Adjust Volume for Recording and press the Tab key to move to the next control. This places you in a list view, containing the following entries: What You Hear, microphone, line in, S/PDIF input, TAD in, and auxiliary. Depending on your sound card, you may have more or fewer objects in this list.

For the purposes of this article, I discuss only the microphone, line in, and "what you hear" objects. Use your Up and Down Arrow keys to move through the list until you hear "line in." Then, press the spacebar to check this control. Make sure that all the other objects in the list are unchecked and then press the Tab key to move to the OK control and press Enter. Now use your Tab key to move through this last dialog box, making certain that the volume level is set to 100% and that it is checked. The final step is to press Alt-F4 to quit the Volume Control, which exits and automatically saves any changes. Now you are ready to run GoldWave and to create your first audio file.

Recording Your First Audio File

The first step in recording a file is to start the GoldWave program. GoldWave can be found by going to the Start Menu, arrowing to programs, pressing Enter, arrowing to the GoldWave entry in the list, and pressing Enter. This will open the GoldWave submenu, which includes the actual GoldWave program, help file, manual, and setup program. Arrow to GoldWave and press Enter to start the program. When GoldWave is installed, it places an icon on the desktop, so you can launch it from there, as well as with fewer keystrokes.

Once GoldWave is started, the first step is to make one small adjustment to the GoldWave configuration. Do so by pressing the F11 key, which takes you to the Control Properties screen--a multipage dialog box with several tabs: Play, Record, Volume, Visual, and Device. Press Control-Tab until you hear "Record Tab." Then use the Tab key to move to the Unbounded radio button, a three-state button that can be set to Unbounded, Bounded to Selection, or Bounded and Looped. Set this button to Unbounded, which will allow you to make recordings of any length, limited only by the amount of hard-disk storage space on your computer. Tab to OK and then exit this dialog box. Now you are ready to begin your first file.

GoldWave obeys many of the Windows standard keyboard shortcut commands, such as Control-S to save, Control-O to open a file, and Control-N to create a new file. Once GoldWave has been started, press Control-N to start a new file and then answer the questions in the dialog box.

The New File dialog box asks you a few questions about the new file that is being created. The first question is if the new file will be mono or stereo. Stereo files take up two channels and twice as much disk space as do mono files. As in all dialog boxes, use the Tab key to move from one field to another. Use Shift-Tab to move backward through the dialog box. The next question asks what sampling rate you want to use. The sampling rate tells the computer how many snapshots per second to take of the sound source--the higher the sampling rate, the higher the sound quality of the file and the more storage space that is used. The sampling rate can be a number between 1,000 and 192,000. For high quality, use a sampling rate of 44,100, which is known as CD quality. If you are not fond of numbers, you can choose the sampling rate from a series of preset rates. The following list, from the GoldWave documentation, shows the various sampling rates and their uses:

  • 8,000: telephone quality
  • 11,025: low-end radio quality, good for voice
  • 22,050: radio quality, good for music and voice
  • 44,100: CD quality
  • 48,000: DAT quality
  • 96,000: DVD quality
  • 192,000: high-end DVD quality

The last setting in the dialog box is the file length, in hours, minutes, and seconds. You can record files for a maximum of 99 hours. You do not have to enter the length of the file because you checked the Unbounded box in the Control Properties configuration screen, which allows you to record until you run out of disk space or press the Stop Recording button. To finish, tab to the OK icon and press Enter. Now that you have defined the file, the next step is to plug in an audio source to begin recording.

For the first example, connect the line outputs of a stereo cassette deck to the line input on the sound card. To do so, I used a patch cord with two RCA plugs on one end and a stereo 1/8-inch mini-phone plug on the other end. I plugged the RCA plugs into the line outputs of my Yamaha stereo cassette deck and the other into the line in of my sound card. This procedure allows you to make digital copies of stereo and mono cassettes. It will also let you quickly copy Talking Book cassettes that are recorded in the standard four-track format of 15/16 inches per second, but more on that later.

GoldWave Tape Transport Controls

So far, you have adjusted the Windows Volume Control to make the line-input device active and told GoldWave to create a new file with Control-N. GoldWave is now waiting for you to plug in a line source or a microphone and begin recording by pressing the Record button. Like an analog tape recorder, GoldWave offers controls to play, record, rewind, fast forward, pause, and stop, all of which are performed using the standard Windows function keys. Once you have defined a new file with Control-N and have plugged in a line source or microphone, you can just start recording by pressing Control-F9. To stop recording, press the Control-F8 key. It is that easy.

Here are some more transport controls. To play back the recording, press the F4 key, to rewind the currently loaded file, press F5, and to fast forward, press F6. To pause a file while it is being played, press F7. To pause while making a recording, press Control-F7.

Saving Your Work

Now that you have recorded a file, use the File menu to save it. Press Alt-F to go to the file menu, arrow down to Save, and press Enter. A dialog box now appears that asks for the file name, file type, and directory in which to store the file. To simplify matters, type in C:\TEST or c:\test (you can use upper- or lower-case characters) and then press the Enter key. Admittedly, this will save the file in the root. But there is not enough space in this article to teach a course on file and folder management. If the thought of saving a file on the root of your hard drive sends you into fits, and you know how the Save dialog box works in most Windows applications, save the file in a new or existing folder. Suffice it to say that the Save dialog box lets you save on any drive, folder, or subfolder on your computer.

Congratulations! You have just saved your first file with GoldWave. The name of the File is Test.wav, and it should be in the root of your C drive; that is, if you typed the full file name of c:\test.

Now, play the file by pressing the F4 key. If you want to stop the file anytime during playback, press the F8 key.

You can modify the file by adding a special effect. Press Alt-C to go to the Effects menu, arrow down to Echo, and press Enter, which will add an echo to your file. If you want to make this change permanent, press Control-S to save the changes to c:\test.wav. If you do not like the echo effect, press Control-Z (another standard Windows shortcut key), and the echo will be erased, and your file will return to the condition before you applied the echo effect.

GoldWave always assumes that the file extension is .wav, so you never have to type it. But you can save and load many different types of files, such as MP3. To retrieve the file, just type Control-O and then c:\test and press Enter. GoldWave will assume the extension .wav unless you specify another file type in the configuration menus.

Converting Four-Track Cassettes to Digital Audio

If you have a stereo cassette deck, you can use it to play four-track audiocassettes, record them digitally with GoldWave and your sound card, and then use GoldWave to adjust the playback rate and save each track to an individual sound file. To do so, connect the line output of your stereo cassette deck to the line in of your sound card using a patch cord. I used a patch cord with two RCA plugs on one end and a stereo 1/8-inch mini-phone plug on the other. I plugged the RCA jacks into the line output of my cassette deck and the mini-stereo plug into the line in of my sound card. The next step is to create a new file with GoldWave's Control-N command. Be sure to specify that the file is stereo and use a sampling rate of 22,050, about half the quality of a standard CD, more than good enough for the job. Tab to the OK button and press Enter. GoldWave is now waiting for the Record button to be pressed.

The next step is to press GoldWave's Record button and then press the Play button on the cassette deck (which is hooked up with the aforementioned twin RCA/mini-phone plug), insert the tape into the cassette deck, and press Play. Then press GoldWave's Record button, Control-F9. If you hooked up the patch cord correctly, you will hear the tape being played back on your computer speakers. One channel will be in forward, and the other channel will be in reverse. When the tape ends, press the Stop Recording button, Control-F8. Then save the file by pressing Alt-F, arrow down to Save, and press Enter. Type in a file name and press Enter.

Now you can work on the file using some of GoldWave's digital editing capabilities. Four-track cassettes are generally recorded at a speed of 15/16 inches per second. When you played the tape back on your stereo cassette deck, it played at 1 7/8 inches tape speed, twice that of a Talking Book cassette. You need to slow down the file to its normal speed. To do so, press Alt-E to go to the Edit menu, arrow down to Playback Rate, and change the rate to 11,025, which is half the 22,050 rate at which you sampled the file.

The next steps involve cutting up this stereo file into two files, one channel per file. To begin, select the left channel and save it as a file. To do so, go back to the Edit Menu with Alt-E, arrow down to the Channels selection, and press Enter. Select the left channel and press Enter. Then press Alt-F to go to the File Menu, arrow down to Save Selection, and press Enter. This will save the left channel in a separate file. Go back to the Edit Menu, arrow down to Channels again, and this time select the right channel. Then go to the Effects Menu using Alt-C and arrow down to the Reverse option. This will reverse the file, and it will no longer be backward. Go back to the File Menu and arrow down to Save Selection and press Enter. Type in a file name and press Enter. Repeat this process with Side 2 of the cassette tape.

Although this procedure may seem complex, it is actually fairly simple. The process involves taking a stereo file and splitting it into two mono files, slowing down the recording, and applying the Reverse function to the tracks that were backward to make them sound normal.

What You Hear

If you want to record live streaming audio from the Internet, such as from an online radio station, web site, or other portal, GoldWave can record the streaming audio and allow you to save the resulting file. First, go to the Windows Volume Control, adjust the controls for recording, and make the What You Hear device active. Then start GoldWave, create a new file with Control-N, and start recording with Control-F9. When you are finished recording, press Control-F8. Finally, go to the File Menu, arrow to Save, and press Enter. Type in a file name and press Enter. Then you are done. Keep in mind that this process will record everything you hear in real time, including the output of your screen reader and speech engine. There are ways to filter out your screen reader and speech engine using the Windows Volume Control.

Some Advanced Functions

There are advantages to recording audio files with your computer. You can clean up the files by removing pops and clicks from recorded vinyl albums. You can filter out hiss, hum, highs, lows, and other noises from files. You can add special effects like echo, reverb, and mechanize. You can even mix two files together for sound on sound.

GoldWave is a powerful audio editing program, and I have only scratched the surface with this introductory article. The software is inexpensive, works well with screen readers, and supports a lot of keyboard shortcuts. You can download a free demonstration of GoldWave from the web site <www.GoldWave.com>. With a little practice, you can copy cassettes to audio files, preserve old vinyl recordings, record streaming audio off the Internet, record using a microphone, clean up old tapes and vinyl albums using filters and noise-reduction plug-ins, and have a lot of fun in the process!

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