Ripping analogue recordings using GarageBand and iTunes

In common with many people, I’m in the process of digitising my music collection – and my collection is not small. At last count I had something like 250 compact discs (CDs), 500 CD singles and a couple of hundred compact cassettes and MiniDiscs as well as some vinyl, a few VHS cassettes and digital versatile discs (DVDs).

Of course, ripping CDs is no big deal – iTunes takes the pain out of that for me (I rip as 192kbps MP3s – maybe not the ultimate quality, although good enough for most people’s ears) but the analogue content is not so easy. Over the last week or so I’ve worked out a method to rip from analogue sources, using standard software on my Mac… this is how it works:

  1. Firstly, open GarageBand. I’d never used this package before but it’s amazing – only a few years back this sort of application would have cost thousands (and I’d have been mixing using a standard mixing desk and recording to MiniDisc, not a computer). GarageBand looks scary at first, indeed I originally used iMovie to record my analogue feed and then transferred that to GarageBand but that step is unnecessary – simply create a new real instrument track and set it to record as you play the analogue source through the line in jack on the computer.
  2. Using GarageBand, edit the recording to cut out unwanted sections, adjust volume levels, etc., then view the Podcast track and add episode artwork and other information. You can also add markers for chapters within the recording.
  3. Set the audio podcast settings to Higher Quality in the export preferences. Optionally chose a Composer Name and Album Name in the general preferences (these can be changed later in iTunes).
  4. Once the recording is complete, save it, and then either select Export Podcast to Disk… or Send Podcast to iTunes from the Share menu in GarageBand (the result is the same – an MPEG 4/AAC file with an .M4A extension – but depending on the menu item selected it will either be in the chosen folder on the disk or within the iTunes Library).
  5. Open the recording in iTunes and edit the ID3 tags using Get Info option on the File menu.

That’s all that’s required for an AAC recording, but if you want to convert to MP3 (unfortunately this means double compression, leading to further clipping and a slight loss of quality), check that the advanced preferences in iTunes are set to import (yes, import – even though the conversion is an export process) using the MP3 Encoder at Higher Quality (192kbps). Finally, select Convert Selection to MP3 from the Advanced menu in iTunes. You can also use a similar method for Apple Lossless, AIFF or WAV conversion.

There are a couple of extra points to note: whilst AAC supports markers for the chapters added on the Podcast track these will be lost as part of a conversion to MP3; and GarageBand recordings are limited to 1999 measures (1 hour, 6 minutes and 16 seconds at 120 beats per minute) – to capture longer recordings it is necessary to adjust the tempo (beware of the Follow Tempo & Pitch checkbox on each track/region).

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