Audio - Amping up Winamp

If you aren't already using Winamp, you can install the latest version directly off this month's cover CD.

RIP INTO IT

One common gripe among new users of Winamp is the need to use a separate program to convert MP3 files to .wav, so you can then edit the track or create custom audio CDs. This is actually something that Winamp has long supported, and it's quite easy to do.

With Winamp open, press + - this brings up the preferences window. In the left window choose Output and in the right window select Nullsoft Disk Writer plug-in v1.0(x86). Now press Configure and select the destination directory where you want to save your output .wav file. Click OK, then Close and press Play. You'll notice it appears as though the track is playing, but there is no sound; the track is writing as a .wav to your hard disk. Once you've finished decoding, remember to go back into Preferences-Output and select Nullsoft waveOut plug-in v2.02(x86) - you'll not hear a sound from Winamp again until you do!

PLUG ME IN

Sound plug-ins can be found at www.winamp.com. This extensive range of audio plug-ins is freely available to download and can do everything from automatically mixing in tracks from your playlist to applying sound effects to anything you play through Winamp (DSP/Effects in Preferences). Let's have a look at the equally popular visualisation plug-ins, as these are just as readily available and as broad in variety. For the sake of ease, I'll explain how to use Winamp's default visualisation plug-in.

In Preferences, select Visualization in the left window pane, and Advanced Visualization Studio in the right. You can tweak more advanced plug-ins to your tastes by pressing Configure. This aside, all you need to do now is press Start; in the case of this particular plug-in, you should see a new window appear with some nice graphics that will throb to your track. Some visualisation plug-ins are so complex that they even require you to have a 3D graphics card installed.

BEAUTY IS ONLY SKIN DEEP

Skins change the look of Winamp and in some cases even add functionality. Bring up Winamp's skin browser by holding +. Here, you can browse through any skins already installed, set your skins directory location and even randomise which skin will be used upon play.

If you're already connected to the Internet, downloading a skin is a cinch. Click Get more skins in the bottom right of the skin browser and your Internet browser, such as Netscape, will fire up and automatically go to Winamp's skins homepage. Click on Download once you've found one to your liking and Winamp will automatically change to your newly downloaded skin. You can also do this from the often overlooked Winamp minibrowser, as seen in FIGURE 2. The minibrowser is great for simple browsing while you're listening to tracks. To enter a URL, click on the minibrowser and press +.

THEY SCREAM, YOU STREAM

Here's something to try: from the minibrowser, select SHOUTcast and your browser should automatically go to www.shoutcast.com. SHOUTcast is Nullsoft's (the makers of Winamp) network of streaming audio - basically MP3 radio on the Net! Of course, the faster your Internet connection speed, the better your results - but this is a really nice feature and is definitely a taste of things to come. All kinds of music can be streamed and they cater for varying connection speeds. The Web page interface is simple and you are guided through the process well.

Should you hear of a more local or another audio stream that takes your fancy, chances are that you can use Winamp for that, too. In Winamp's main control window, press + and you will be asked to enter an Internet location - for example www.server.com/file.mp3.

You may have noticed I use keyboard shortcuts, a complete list of which can be found by right-clicking in Winamp and going to Nullsoft Winamp then Keyboard Shortcuts. Winamp's strengths lies in its ability to change both its looks and features to suit your needs - it's totally customisable and definitely worth a tinker.

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