Music can make your heart sing, it’s the food of love, it lightens the very soul. But not if your poor old scratched and battered vinyl has more snap, crackle and pop than the Rice Krispie leprechauns themselves. If that’s the case it’s more likely to drive you to distraction and beyond, into, erm, even more distraction. And a distracted soul just ain’t good (a quote from some erudite philosopher, we’re sure).
Luckily, in these high tech days there’s an affordable solution, namely the Magix Audio Cleaning Lab, which can be employed to tidy up the sound of your old vinyl. The program performs a number of other functions as well, which we’ll come to shortly. Essentially, it’s a music manipulation suite with three main menus – import, edit and export – which are used in that order. Unless you happen to working with a Frank Zappa album, in which case you can probably begin the exporting first, directly via the channels of your mind… man…
It’s possible to import music files from your hard drive (WAVs, MP3s, WMAs or AIFs), take tracks directly off a CD, or import from an external source via an audio cable which is provided in the Deluxe package. This links the line out on your tape or record player with the line in on your sound card – then you can stream music directly from your hi-fi into the program.
We set the cable up linking the amp on our hi-fi to our sound card, then tested Audio Cleaning Lab by recording an old and scratched 45rpm single. It worked just fine, first time. All you have to do is set the recording level by listening to the loudest part of the record and then adjusting a slider to make sure it’s in the green. Then, with a simple click, the song is whisked down onto the hard drive with no fuss.
The real work is done in the editing section of Audio Cleaning Lab, which offers the user two banks of controls, one for cleaning the sound and one for mastering. With our old scratchy record sound, the cleaning section was of most interest, and it features four slider controls; the declicker (gets rid of clicks and pops), the decrackler (eliminates crackly interference), the denoiser (gets rid of loud humming or buzzing sounds) and the dehisser (which eliminates hiss).
Using this we got good results from our test song; it did indeed clean matters up considerably. The initial sound was of a very poor quality, but after manually tweaking the sliders for a couple of minutes, a pretty listenable piece of music was produced. There are also wizards that will make the adjustments for you, but while these did improve the sound somewhat, we found they weren’t as reliable as the good old human lughole.
The mastering bank of controls was useful for livening up dull recordings via a compression feature (ideal for muffled-sounding cassette tapes). It also boasts controls to fiddle with the stereo image of a song, along with equaliser features to make tracks sound more poppy, techno and so forth. You can even apply effects to specific sections of a track, which can be handy when treating a particularly trashed part of a vinyl recording, although it must be said that the interface is a little clumsy when it comes to working with these details.
Once you’ve finished the editing process, you can export the final product to a file or burn it onto a CD; the program even deals with CD track markers automatically. There’s another wizard here to make this process as painless as possible and a thoughtful extra in the form of a CD cover designer is bolted on.
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