Recording sound from computer

January 24, 2017
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Want a secret? Your computer can be treated just like a tape recorder.
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Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983

T e c h n o f i l e
Recording sound on your computer, Part 1: Hook it up to your receiver as if it were a tape deck

June 8, 2003

Recording sound with a tape recorder or VCR is easy. You put a tape in, press the record button and that's it. But to many users recording on a personal computer is a mystery.
What's up? Why does this have to be so difficult?
It doesn't have to be. In a special three-part series, I'll explain the secrets of using your computer to make audio recordings. You'll find out how to make recordings from a cassette deck, an AM-FM tuner and a record player. You'll find out how to make audio CDs out of your old cassettes or LP records, too.
Let's start with a little secret. Most computer users don't know this. Nobody ever tells you this at the store.
Ready? It's this simple: Your computer can be treated just like a tape recorder.
Like a tape deck or VCR, your computer has "input" and "output" connectors. The basic idea is simple, whether you're connecting a cassette deck or a computer. You plug the "output" side of one device into the "input" side of the other.
Windows PCs have at least two audio jacks - small holes where connectors plug in - on the back of the computer. (Apple Macintoshes sometimes have the same connectors as Windows PCs and sometimes don't. Mac users should see the companion article running on Wednesday in the Technology section for specific help geared to Mac OS X users.)
One of the jacks on the computer will be the "input" connector (where the sound goes in, naturally) and one will be the "output" connector (where the sound goes ... um, out. Whew!).
Some PCs also have a "mic" connector (pronounced "mike, " for "microphone") so you can plug a microphone directly into your computer, as long as it has the right connector. Many computers also have a jack for headphones.
Look at the back of your computer. You'll a few tiny holes for audio connections. These connectors could be set back into the plastic case of the computer or they might be lined up on what looks like a chromium-plated strip. These are the computer's equivalent of the connecting jacks on a tape recorder or VCR, and they work exactly the same way.
These are "mini" jacks, the same size as the headphone or earphone jacks on a portable music player. The jacks on the back of your other components, called "RCA" jacks, are much larger.
To connect your stereo receiver to your computer, you'll need a cable with left and right RCA plugs on one end and a stereo mini plug on the other. Radio Shack sells this kind of cable, as do many stores that carry hi-fi and video equipment. (If you tell a store assistant what you want to do - such as, "I want to connect my stereo receiver to my computer's sound card" - you'll be steered to the proper cable quickly.)
Now take a look at the back of your stereo receiver. (Or the back of your amplifier, if that's what you have. Just make the mental translation as we go along.)
Nearly every stereo receiver has connectors for a tape deck. That's what you want to look for.

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