Connecting audio gear to a PC with correct Windows setup
By Les Noise
We get a lot of questions about connecting a phonograph or tape player to a PC and then recording the audio from it. DART CD-Recorder is particularly good for this application as well as DART XP and XP PRO. Here are instructions for how that is done.Here are some of the components you will be working with:
1. The audio equipment, a phonograph or tape player, or whatever, and
How do I record audio to my computer? The whole idea is to play audio into the PC so it ends up on a file on the hard drive. You will need a program like DART CD-Recorder to do this because the Windows system will record up to a maximum of 60 seconds only. Once the audio is recorded to a file it can be manipulated in different ways and can also be recorded to a CD or DVD medium. The sound file is called a wave file and it has the “.wav” file extension. Wave files can become very large depending on what is being recorded and how long the recording is. (note: the rate for audio CD quality is roughly 11MB per minute of sound for a stereo recording at 44.1 Mhz.) If you are recording a radio program for instance and the program runs for a few hours, you can easily fill up the hard drive with the one .wav file. For this article we will only mention .wav files as we know there are other kinds of audio files - MP3, WMA, MIDI, etc.
Pre-amp or no Pre-amp? In order for the sound to have enough volume to record onto the disk file, there needs to be enough signal level in the audio. If the signal level is not enough, then an amplifier must be part of the connection between the audio component and the PC. Some equipment has the amplifier built in while others are dependent on an external amplifier. The first thing that you need to do is to determine if the audio equipment you are using has enough signal level. If it does NOT, an amplifier needs to be added to the setup. A regular Stereo component amplifier can be used or you can use a device called a pre-amp. Turntables are the most likely component needing an amplifier of some sort if one isn’t built in.
Connect the Gear
The first step is to connect the stereo gear to the PC. You need an audio cable to do this and sometimes the cable is called a Y-cable, a stereo patch cable, or other times it is called a RCA cable. The Y-cable has a dual connector on one end used to plug into the audio equipment and the other end has a single, 1/8" inch stereo connector used to plug into the PC “Line-in” plug-in. If you are using a pre-amp, then the audio device is connected to the pre-amp (or amplifier) using dual RCA cables (or patch cables) and then the pre-amp or amplifier is connected to the PC “Line-in ” plug-in using the Y cable.
If you don’t already have a Y-cable, get one. Also get stereo patch cables if you are using a pre-amp. Cables are usually found at most audio or electronic stores. Cable quality can be an issue where poor quality cables can introduce audio noise into the sound signal. It is recommended to use good quality cables.
The PC sound card. All computers have a device called a Sound Card. A sound card is built into all PC systems now and is usually part of the mother-board. The sound card is what converts the incoming analog audio signals to PC digital signals which in turn are used to record the audio onto a disk file. This whole process is essentially done by the PC hardware and the Windows system software working together. In some systems an add-on sound-card has been added to the system for one reason or another. It is a good idea to use the documentation for your PC or Sound card to see where the “Line-in” and “Line-out” plug-ins are located.
The sound card usually has a plug-in called “Line-in” which is what you connect too using the Y-cable from the stereo device. “Line-in” maybe called something different depending on the make and model of the PC or Sound card. So look for a plug-in that is marked and described the same as what we are calling “Line-in.” For instance it might be called “Audio-in.” There maybe other audio plug-ins such as “MIC” (for Microphone) or “Line-out”. You don’t want to use “Line-out” for obvious reasons. Don’t use “MIC” unless it is the only audio input to the sound card. If “MIC” is the only audio input, then we recommend getting a low cost audio card instead of using “MIC” The “MIC” interface is usually a very low quality audio input interface never used for music. Some sound cards also have digital interfaces that can be used if the audio source is already digitized. These audio inputs can also be used but require digital cables and different, special audio components which aren’t discussed in this article. Don’t connect the analog Y-cable to any digital input plug-in. It won’t work.
Lastly, connect a set of speakers to the PC sound card much like the audio device is connected except that the speaker cables are connected to the “Line-out” plug-ins. These plug-ins will generally be found near the “Line-in” plug-ins. Consult the documentation for the PC or sound card to find the plug-in location and label. It might be called “Audio-out” for instance.
Now that everything is connected, you need to get the audio connection working with your PC. That means you have connected the audio component (turntable for instance) to the PC sound card “Line-in” using a Y-cable and the speakers are connected using the speaker cables to “Line-out”. If a pre-amp or amplifier is being used the audio device is connected to the pre-amp with a RCA patch cables and the pre-amp/amplifier is connected to the PC sound card “Line-in” using the Y-cable.
Windows Audio Setup
Next, get the setup to work with audio played out of the speakers connected to the PC. You will notice we haven’t even mentioned the DART software. That’s because we want to get the basic sound system working first before introducing the DART software into the picture. Without the sound system working properly, DART WILL NOT work no matter what is tried. Get the sound system working first.
The PC sound controls. There are two audio control settings that need to be made to get the sound into the Windows system. The two settings are “Line-in” activation and “Line-in” and “Line-out” volume level selection. These settings must be made for Windows to play audio from an external source and for DART CD-Recorder to record the audio to a disk file. On the Control Panel there is the “Sounds and Audio Devices” icon. Open it and select the “Volume” tab. Select “Advanced” and then “Options.” Under “Options” select “Properties.” Then Select “Recordings” and then “Line-in” must be selected. This activates the use of the “Line-in” for playing and recording sound. Finally click “OK” at the bottom of the panel. Now the “Recording” control panel will be displayed and here you need to select the volume level under “Line-in” The Volume control must be turned up enough so that the incoming sound can be heard which in turn will allow the sound to be recorded to a disk file. Turn up the Volume control and make sure “Muted” is NOT selected.
In short the path to the Line-in and Volume controls is:
Windows Settings → Control Panel → Sounds and Audio Devices → Volume (tab) → Advanced (button) → Options (menu) → Properties → Select Line-in and volume level
It will be useful to have the volume control accessible from the Windows desktop, so on the “Sounds and Audio Devices” control panel where you selected “Advanced,” check the box “Volume control on the task bar” A speaker like icon will appear on the lower right side of the desktop task bar which will allow you to control the volume from the desk top and to launch the volume and record control panel directly from the desktop. To review, make sure “Line-in” is selected and make sure the Volume control is turned up for “Line-in”. Without these settings DART CD-Recorder or DART XP or DART XP PRO will not be able to record audio to a disk file.
Test the Sound System First
Before recording to a file using DART CD-Recorder, it is advised to test the sound system independently. Make sure the volume controls for both “Line-in” and “Line-out” are turned up and not muted. Make sure “Line-in” is selected in the Record control panel under “Options” menu and “Properties.” Then start playing music and make sure you can clearly hear the audio out of the speakers connected to the PC. If you have external speakers connected to the audio system, turn them off so as to make sure you can hear the audio coming out of the speakers connected to the PC sound card. Go no further until this setup is working. Make sure the Windows Volume controls (“Line-in” and “Line-out” volume) actually raises and lowers the volume of the audio coming out of the speakers connected to the PC. Go no further until this setup is working. Adding DART CD-Recorder to this set up to make the audio be heard will NOT WORK. The basic sound system setup needs to work first before DART or any other audio software is added into the mix.
Some sound cards do not pass audio input to audio output without software activation. In this case, then launch DART CD-Recorder and enter record pause mode before setting the volume levels from the Windows Record panel.
One more comment. The various Windows systems and versions present slightly different choices when working with the Sounds and Audio Devices, Volume, and Record control panels. This article used Windows XP Home edition settings and controls. There should be enough similarities to make the correct settings in the different versions of Windows using these instructions.
Recording Sound on your PC with DART
Now that the audio setup is working correctly, launch DART CD-Recorder or DART XP or DART XP PRO and use DART to record the audio onto disk files. After launching CD-Recorder, click the RECORD button situated at the bottom of the File Panel, or click the vinyl album icon situated on the Toolbar. Next, Select the name of the new recording; or pick one of the existing names, and click the Overwrite button. Next, Set the record mode (number of channels, sampling frequency, sampling resolution). Next, Click the PAUSE button to enable the volume meter(s). Start the audio device from which you wish to record, and adjust the output level while monitoring the level display. Next, Rewind your source, press the RECORD button, and start the audio device. The available disk space and the current length of the recorded material (both in bytes and seconds) are displayed in the lower part of the Record dialog. Last, When the recording is complete, click the STOP button or press ENTER.
You can try these instructions right now using DART CD-Recorder. Just download DART CD-Recorder from the web site and install and it will be useable for 30 days for free!
Some common problems that are encountered at this point when the basic sound setup is not working are:
1. The Windows Volume property does not have “Line-in” selected. Make sure “Line-in” is selected. (This is THE most common problem.)
In the next article we’ll discuss how to record audio using DART including some very important settings to use to optimize audio improvements with old recordings. If the initial recording to the disk file is not done correctly the chances of improving the sound is greatly reduced.
Let us know if this article is helpful or if there is some other topic you would like us to discuss related to what our products do. Email us at Les Noise