Summary

Your choice of input and output devices for your sound card has a profound influence on the quality of the sound you hear and record. By the standards of home stereo systems, computer speakers tend to be mediocre in quality, but the best can produce reasonably good sound. For the best possible sound, you can connect your computer to your stereo. To do so, you must have a spare input on the stereo or use a switch box, and you might need to debug a ground loop problem.

For most people, input isn't as important as output, but for some purposes, input is indispensable. Microphones vary substantially in quality, but even many low-cost microphones are adequate for tasks such as voice annotation and Internet telephony. For recording music, you probably want to use your sound card's line input jack to connect to a stereo system. As with output to a stereo, ground loops can be a major problem in such a connection, and you might need to use a switch box to share a single tape deck output between a cassette recorder and your computer.

• Ground loops As mentioned earlier, turntables often include grounding wires to prevent ground loops. Be sure your grounding wire is connected to an appropriate point on your stereo.

• Media defects Vinyl records are well known for their defects, which cause "pop" or "snap" noises. The best way to eliminate such defects is with an editor such as Sound Studio or Broadcast. You can use these editors to zoom in on the point of the defect and replace it with silence. Most such defects are so short that you never notice the silence in their place. Some Windows programs can automatically remove these defects, but I'm unaware of any Linux programs to do this task. I've been unimpressed with the results of automatic defect removal programs that I've tried.

• Cartridge choice If you want to convert a collection of LP, 45 rpm, or 78 rpm records to CD, you probably want to use the best equipment possible. One of the most important characteristics of audio reproduction using vinyl technology is that of the cartridge—the part of the turntable that reads the record. These days, you're unlikely to find a good cartridge in your local Radio Shack store. Instead, you must shop at a specialty audio store. On the Web, Audio Advisor (http:/www.audioadvisor.com) is one such retailer. Cartridges range in price substantially, but as a general rule of thumb, expect to pay $100 for a good one, or substantially more if you want the best possible reproduction.

Transferring music from records to CDs can be a time-consuming process, particularly because you shouldn't use your computer for anything else while doing the recording, lest you introduce gaps or noise from dropped samples. Nonetheless, if you have a cherished collection of music on vinyl that's not available natively in CD form, this transfer can be worthwhile.

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