The basic recipe for digitizing audio on your computer is:
- Computer with an audio input
- Audio/Sound Editing software
- Audio Cable
Hook it up, start the software, and begin recording.
Oh, how we wish it were that simple. You could use a setup like the one pictured above – connect a tape player to a digital audio recorder, then transfer the resulting file to a computer – but what if you don’t have access to a digital recorder?
As we said in the Audio Recording section, some people will be starting with an existing recording of a sound or a piece of music, such as on a CD or audio tape. The process of making a digital version of something is known as digitizing. Technically, you can only digitize something that is in an analog form, such as a tape or an LP record. A CD is already in a digital form so you actually can use a program like iTunes to transfer the digital bits onto your computer. In this case iTunes is actually transcoding the CD into a compressed audio format such as AAC or MP3 (you would set this in the program preferences).
To digitize, you need a computer with sound inputs. Sound inputs and outputs are usually built right into the computer or they could be on a card that is installed in a slot inside a tower computer. If you have an existing recording such as an audiotape or phonograph record, you will have to make a connection to your computer. We talked about audio recording with a USB headset microphone in the recording section, and there are similar devices for taking analog audio into a computer such as this USB Audio Interface device from Behringer. Once you have connected your analog devices in this way, you would use a program like Audacity to make the recording.
Computers with mini input jacks (3.5mm or 1/8″) still exist, but USB has become a standard way of connecting analog sources. Below are a couple examples of analog sound inputs/outputs.