From Digital Audio Recording to Audio CD: Part 1 - Audio into Audacity

Audacity Logo headphones It starts with the audio recording you made after you said, “Hi Mom, I want to interview you about your memories about Grandma and Grandpa.” It ends with your burned Audio CD.

This multi-part how-to series focuses on using Audacity and iTunes – two freely available pieces of software – to work with your recording and then create an audio CD.

Part 1: (You are here!) Getting your audio into Audacity, whether by opening a digital audio recording made elsewhere, or using Audacity to record directly to your computer.
Part 2: Making minor edits to increase sound level.
Part 3: Exporting your recording to a file format that iTunes can use and creating an Audio CD.
Part 4: Dividing the audio into sections based on topics of discussion using Audacity’s Label Tracks.
(note: I may expand sections if any one of them gets to be too long. This section will be updated as I go.)

Part 1: Audio in Audacity

I love Audacity. It’s open source software (freely available, or volunteer a payment to support the effort). It’s cross-platform; it works on Mac, Windows, and Linux.

Screenshots shown here will be Mac based, but the instructions work for Windows and Linux, too. 

Do you need Audacity? Download Audacity from The page will direct you to choose the Audacity version for your operating system.

A note about release and Beta. Audacity is open-source software, meaning that there are a group of dedicated software developers that work together to create and modify the application. Version 1.3.0 was released in late 2005, with incremental improvements with each release—the most recent, as of this writing is 1.3.12. Please don’t let the word “Beta” be off-putting. I would not recommend working with the 1.2-versions of the software.

Also download the LAME Library for MP3, and download the FFMPEG software library—these libraries make it possible for Audacity to work with additional file formats. On the download page (direct link to Audacity’s Windows, MacOS pages), scroll down a bit and look for the “Optional Downloads” heading; the first subhead, “Plug-ins and Libraries,” has download links for each library.

If you are working with an already existing file, keep reading. If you’re going to try your hand using Audacity to record directly to your your computer, skip down to the next section.

Audacity, Step-by-Step: If your audio file already exists…

Have you transferred your file from your recorder to your computer? Do so. Most recorders allow you to plug them to your computer using USB. Follow the instructions for your recorder to transfer the file to your computer.

Once your file is on your computer…

  1. Launch Audacity. 
    An empty project window appears. 
  2. image (Click to enlarge)
  3. Choose File > Open from the menu.
    A file location dialog box appears.
  4. Navigate in the dialog box to locate your file.
    Select it and click the Open button.
    An import progress bar appears as Audacity imports the file. When the import is complete, the progress bar disappears and your recording appears as a waveform.
  5. image (Click to enlarge) (If your recording is in mono format, you’ll see a single waveform. If your recording is stereo, you’ll see a double-waveform.)
    Now that you’re started, it’s a good time to save your Audacity project file.
  6. From the menu, choose File > Save.
    A dialog box appears.
    Navigate to the location you wish to save your file, give it a name, and click Save.

Next, we’ll look at a couple of basic ways to edit your audio file—amplifying audio that’s not loud enough, and getting rid of noise.

Audacity, Step-by-Step: Recording a file directly in Audacity

Before you launch Audacity, first get your audio equipment all connected with your computer.

Connecting your audio device to your computer

Instead of doing a specific step-by-step for this part, I’ll walk you through the general what to do first. The specific steps will vary depending on your equipment

For this example, I plugged a microphone into a USB audio device, which I plugged into the computer.

image A note about USB audio devices: This equipment category will take a microphone or analog audio signal in one end and the other end connects to your computer’s USB port. If you wish to convert audio from cassette or vinyl, this type of device is for you. Also, if you already have a microphone, this kind of device will allow you to use it to record directly to your computer. The other type of USB device you may wish to use is a USB microphone. Sound goes in one end, and it plugs into your computer’s USB port. See the USB Device  and USB Microphone  pages of my Equipment store to see actual models.

I launched my computer’s System Preferences. (MacOS: System Preferences; Windows: Sounds and Audio Devices control panel)  This particular device comes with its own driver. I clicked through to ensure that it was connected correctly, then went back to the main System Preferences. From there I clicked the Sound system preference

System Preferences (MacOS)

Here’s how to see the Sound preferences on Windows:


The Sound system preference appeared. I clicked the Sound Input pane. There’s a small window that lists all possible options for sound input.


In addition to the regular Line in and Digital In, the USB device was also listed in the window.

I clicked the name of the USB device to select it.

System Preferences after selecting USB Device

Now that it was selected, I conducted a test to see whether the computer was receiving sound signal. The sound level indicators in the lower part of the dialog box responded when I spoke into the mic, so I knew that the computer was receiving the audio signal.

Watch the movie to see what the test looks like.

[note: if you are reading this using a feed reader (Google Reader, Feed Demon, Bloglines, NewsGator, Net News Wire, Cyndicate, NewsCrawler, etc.), the above movie will not appear. Please click through and visit this actual post and view the movie. Have troubles viewing the movie? Please let me know in the comments.]


Making sure Audacity is set to receive audio signal from your audio device

Now it’s time to make sure that Audacity’s settings will receive input from the equipment you just plugged in and tested for the computer operating system.

Note: Why do this twice? First, you want to make sure that the sound goes into your computer properly. Then, once it’s there, you need to make sure that Audacity is “listening” to the right source for recording.

We’ve done part 1 of the procedure outlined in this diagram:


Now on to part 2, Audacity’s Preferences

  1. Launch Audacity.
    An empty Audacity project window appears.
  2. Go to Application preferences.
    On the Mac, select Audacity > Preferences.
    On Windows, select Edit > Preferences.
    The preferences dialog box appears. The top item in the list of panes is Devices.
  3. If Devices is not showing, click the word Devices.
    The Interface, Playback and Recording preferences appear, as shown here.
  4. Locate the Device menu in the Recording section.
  5. Select your recording device from the pop-up menu.
  6. Click OK.

You’re through connecting your equipment to your computer and ensuring that both your computer and Audacity are receiving the audio signal from your device.

Working in Audacity to create your recording

You will next confirm that Audacity is receiving audio signal, and record your audio.

  1. In the Audacity project window, click inside the Record meter area. Speak into the microphone.
    Audacity Project window with Record Button and Record Meter area labeled
    (Click to enlarge)
    A red sound level indicator appears in sync with your voice, telling you that Audacity is receiving signal from your device.
    Record Button and Record Meter detail
  2. (The sound preview is a toggle. Clicking in the level area activates it; clicking again deactivates it. Also, the pop-up menu next to the microphone icon has an option to Start Monitoring or Stop Monitoring)  Now that you know that Audacity is receiving sound signal, it’s time to start recording.
  3. Click the red Record Button in the Control Toolbar.
    Audacity creates a new track and the sound wave appears in the project window as you continue to speak (or interview someone).
    The Audacity project window during recording
    (Click to enlarge)
  4. When you are finished, click the Stop Button (Yellow square)
  5. Save your project.


Extra: A word about the most common digital audio file formats

Here, for your reference, is a list of common audio file formats. Wherever possible, use an uncompressed format. If you must use a compressed format (because that’s the only way the device will save the audio), record using the highest possible quality setting; as soon as you transfer the file to your computer, convert it to an uncompressed format by opening the compressed file in Audacity and then saving the project. When you’re through working with the audio file, export it using an uncompressed format.

  • WAV file. Uncompressed file format (yay, uncompressed! We likes it, we does!). The portable digital audio recorders I recommend here record audio in WAV format
  • AIF file (or AIFF). A MacOS-based uncompressed file format (Yay uncompressed!). I may use AIF in this example to hold some metadata about the recordings when we export them to iTunes.
  • MP3. Compressed, lossy format. Not good as a recording format (if your recorder records only in MP3, select the highest quality possible). A format suitable for delivery of audio on the web. Have a recording in MP3? Convert it to WAV.
  • AAC (or M4a). Another compressed, lossy format that’s superior to MP3. Is a native format used by the Livescribe Pulse Pen, and is used by iTunes, iPod, iPhones. Have AAC? (compressed) Convert it to WAV.
  • WMA. Windows Media Audio. Proprietary (Microsoft) lossy, compressed file format. Many of the Olympus digital voice recorders with internal memory record in the WMA format. If you have one of these, record at the absolute highest quality possible, and convert your file to an uncompressed format right after you transfer it to your computer. Have WMA? Convert it to WAV.
  • .AU file - the native file format used by Audacity. Work in Audacity’s native format, export to AIF or WAV.


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Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on April 29, 2010 in • AudioAudio: SoftwareHow-To
4 CommentsPermalink

« Previous Digital Death Day | From Digital Audio Recording to Audio CD: Part 2 - Basic Audio Edits Next »


A fabulous beginning.  Even I, who have an adversion to reading and following instructions, said I grok it —- I get it.  You are a natural teacher with a gift not only of clarity, but the ability to make the novice say,
“I think I can do this.”  Thanks and thanks and thanks.

Joan Hill  on 05/05  at  06:31 AM

Great posts! Very clear directions.

J.M.  on 05/06  at  09:56 AM

This is a great lesson for audio recording, etc.  I want to stop everything I’m doing and re-do some interview recordings.  I didn’t know about the USB audio devices.  I’ll have to study that more.. I have previously played old audio tapes on my tape recorder and recorded the sound with a USB microphone placed a foot or so away from the tape recorder speaker.  Better than nothing!  Lots of things to learn!!
  Keep up the great work.  Thanks!  Donna

Donna Wendt  on 05/10  at  03:21 PM

There are likely to be some readers, like me, who have recordings made in the days of cassette players. May I recommnend that you do 2 things:
1. Make it clear that these instructions apply only to interviews recorded with a digital recorder.
2. Supply instructions on how to convert a cassette recording to a digital recording (either on one’s own, or by hiring someone).

Jane Neff Rollins  on 05/18  at  02:18 PM

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