Digital audio such as MP3 is excellent for music storage and playback when you have a computer or digital player handy. Sometimes, however, you may want to take your music with you and all you have is a humble cassette player or, at best, a MiniDisc player. In this article we explain the process for getting your music out of your PC or MP3 player and onto MiniDisc or cassette.
The Analog Method
Using your PC sound card or MP3 hardware player to play your MP3s, you can record them onto either a MiniDisc or cassette recorder, and the process is quite straightforward.
Step 1 – the cable
To connect your recorder to your PC or MP3 player, you will need a stereo lead with the right connectors on each end. These are available from electronics shops such as Jaycar for a few dollars. If you are using a portable device such as a Walkman or MiniDisc, then you will need a minijack cable, also known as a 1/8in jack cable.
If you are using hi-fi equipment to record your music, then you will need a minijack to RCA cable. Given that each of these cables costs so little, it is recommended you get one of each in case your needs change down the track.
Step 2 – connecting the player to the recorder
Plug one end of the cable into the audio inputs of your recording device. This is usually marked “line in” and coloured red. Then plug the other end into the line out of your sound card, which is often coloured black or green.
Step 3 – setting the record volume levels
Before you begin recording, it is a good idea to test the signal first. Try playing some music from your PC or MP3 player and listen to it through your recorder, either with headphones or speakers. If your recording device has input level indicators, make sure they keep out of the red zone. Once you’re happy with the volume levels, it’s time to set up a playlist in Winamp or whatever player you are going to be using.
Step 4 – setting up a playlist
If you use Winamp, simply open it up and load enough songs into the playlist to last for the duration of your blank media – be it cassette tape or MiniDisc. You can drag and drop onto the playlist from Windows Explorer, or use <L> or <Shift>-L to load files and folders, respectively. You can see the total duration of your playlist in the bottom right hand corner of the Winamp playlist window.
If you are using another software or hardware player, you will need to go through the equivalent process and load enough music to fill your tape or disc.
Step 5 – recording the music
Now you are all set to go. Simply hit record on the recorder and play your MP3 files. If you are using a PC you should make sure that you don’t try to perform any CPU intensive tasks while you are recording, otherwise your MP3 files may stutter and skip. If you use desktop theme sounds, you want to be doubly sure that you either disable them first or leave your PC alone while you are recording. The last thing you want to hear on your holiday driving tapes is your PC beeping through your favourite tunes!
Also, if you are using a MiniDisc and you would like track indexes to be inserted between the songs, then you will need to insert two seconds of silence between each song in the playlist. To do this, simply use a silent audio file of two-second duration for every second file in the playlist. You can create this file easily with CoolEdit, WaveLab or any other audio editor - remember, it doesn’t have to be an MP3 file. A WAV, AIF or any other format will suffice.
The Digital Method
Unless you have a very good quality sound card, you will get much better results using a digital transfer method. Of course, this is only an option for MiniDisc players. The process in the same as that outlined above, except that a digital cable is used to connect the devices. Bear in mind that few sound cards offer the required digital output, although this feature is not restricted to expensive sound cards. SO it may be worth investing in one if you plan on recording to MiniDisc regularly. If you have a DVD player that supports MP3 playback and has an optical output, this will also do the trick.
There are two types of connectors available for digital audio devices – optical and coaxial. Cables for these can be purchased from electronics stores, but be sure to check that both your recorder and player support the same format, as these cables are a lot more expensive than the minijack cables used in the analog method! Note that you can buy a combo cable with both coaxial and optical connectors (see figure 5), but this will not allow you to connect a coaxial device to an optical device; the two cables are simply moulded together.
Once you have the right cable, you can go through steps 3 to 5 above to finish the recording process.
If you would like to have your MiniDisc display track names automatically, you will need to download a piece of specialised software such as MP3-2-MiniDisc, which is designed to do just that.
This piece of freeware not only transfers your tracks with song names, it will also create MD labels. You can download MP3-2-MiniDisc here: