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Making Sound

In this section we describe the nuts and bolts of working with audio, including the equipment you'll need, where to get your sounds and how to put your sound on the computer.


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etting sounds from a tape, record, CD player, or microphone onto your computer requires not only sound itself, but a number of applications and equipment, including:

  • Computer Equipment,including connectors and sound cards.

  • Sound-processing software that allows you to play, compress and edit your sound files, and:

  • A sound source.

Computer Equipment
To create your own digital audio files, you'll need a way to get sounds into your computer. Obviously you'll need a computer. But not just any computer, you need an audio/video equipped Mac or a PC with a sound card, and you'll need connectors to plug into your computer from your stereo or sound source. You'll also need at least 8 mb of RAM, and applications to play, compress, and edit your sound, as well as speakers, so you can hear the sound.



A good sound system to start off with is one that includes a microphone, a MIDI instrument source, speakers, a sound card, and a computer with a CD-Rom drive.

Connectors
If you have a Mac 68040s or 486 Windows machine or higher, you most likely have audio in and out connections on your computer.

Determine what type of audio-in connection your computer has (most of them use standard mini plugs—the same plugs that most cassette decks use) by looking at the back of your computer console. Power Macs have built in analog audio jacks which use mini phone jacks, which also use mini plugs.

Check what kind of audio-out connection your tape recorder or other sound source has (usually an 1/8" mini plug) as well.

Once you've found your audio connection and your stereo, you need to purchase a wire that connects the two together. This wire is called a patch cord, and you can purchase one at Radio Shack or a similar electronics store. You plug this wire or connector into the audio out socket on your computer sound card.

Computer speakers are attached to the speaker outlet on the back of your computer with a mini-plug as well.

Sound Card
If your PC computer doesn't have an audio input, you'll need to buy a sound card that has stereo in, stereo out, and mic in connection. Sound cards use form synthesis or wavetable synthesis to translate digital data into analog sound, so you can "see" the sound wave on a graphical editing program.

Scads of sound cards exist; before purchasing a sound card, think about what type of sound you'll be creating and find the one that best suits your needs.

Two good choices for sound cards are the Guillemot Maxi sound Pro 64, which is designed for musicians and gamers, and offers many options for creating sound effects—and the Sound Blaster from Creative Labs which is one of the most popular sound cards.

When purchasing a sound card, make sure you choose one that supports MIDI. Most of them do, but there are still a few that don't. MIDI support is a feature you'll need if you're serious about sound and it gives you the option of creating and listening to MIDI as well as audio, files.

Interface Cards
To create professional-sounding sound for a corporate home page or a musician's Web site, you might consider getting a professional audio interface card. These cards allow cleaner signals with a greater frequency response. In other words, your sound will sound better. Interface cards connect into NuBus, PCI or TDM slots in the back of your computer. NuBus, PCI and TDM slots are all buses. A bus is an apparatus that helps the computer transmit data from one part of a computer to another, from an outside source (such as a speaker) to the computer.

Microphones
Macs and some PCs are shipped with a small microphone. Although the microphone that comes with a computer works fine, you won't get professional-sounding sound with it. You may hear crackling noises with a cheaper microphone—similar to the sound you hear when the antenna falls off your TV.

You can purchase a microphone at an electronics store for under $30. These microphones certainly won't give you studio quality sound, but you'll get decent sound, and studio quality microphones can cost up to $2000.

Sound-Processing Software

Audio Players
Some computers come with audio players. Audio players are applications that allow you to listen to sound files.

You can easily determine whether or not you have an audio player by double-clicking or opening up a sound file. If you have an audio player, it will open and the sound will play.

You can also check to see if you have an audio or "Media" player in a Windows-based PC by searching under Program Accessories, and then under Entertainment. In a Macintosh, check for the Apple CD Audio Player, or another sound application, within the Apple Menu. The Apple CD Audio Player only plays music CDs inserted into the CD-Rom and isn't the true audio player needed for work with sound for Web sites.

Graphical Audio Editors
Graphical Audio Editors allow you to slice, dice, mix around, speed up or slow down the sound. We discuss the editing process in greater detail in the Editing section.

Graphical Audio Editors visually display the waveform of the audio file.

In the graphical representation of sound waves, the horizontal access represents time—the length of the sound clip. The vertical access represents the volume of the sound. Higher peaks indicate louder sounds. You can change the sound by visually manipulating the sound waves with this type of editor.

Compression Applications
Compression applications condense sound files so you can use them over the Web. Sounds work very much like images over the Web; the larger the sound file the longer it will take to download. Compressing files naturally takes away some of the quality of sound, but without compression it could take more than 40 minutes for a 10-second clip of music to download. Geo is a sound compression technology designed specifically for Web use, so it might be a good choice.

Sound Source
Before you start editing and recording sound, you need a sound source. You can choose to make your own sound, download the sound, purchase a CD-Rom or hire someone to create the sound for you.

If you make your own sound, you'll need some additional equipment:

  • A MIDI instrument, such as a MIDI keyboard or a built-in MIDI instrument on your computer. Many newer computers include some sort of instrument set, which contains representations of actual sounds from instruments such as a clarinet or a piano. You can obtain any sort of sound, including sound effects, from an instrument set, such as a MIDI keyboard or guitar, an audio card or QuickTime 3.0. If there isn't some kind of sound source on your computer, you'll need to get one. Since QuickTime 3.0 is a free download, and it contains a General MIDI instrument set, it might be a good choice. However, you can get better sounds and more flexibility with an audio card, it'll just cost more.

  • A MIDI recoding device that turns physical MIDI instruments into MIDI files. You simply attach a MIDI device onto an actual instrument, such as a flute, and record the sound from that instrument as a digital file.




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