Many fleeting sounds that play on your Mac are worth preserving. Content streaming over the Internet-be it Internet radio, online videos, or an iChat phone call-or even the audio coming from a concert DVD you're watching can have lasting value, but such content is not always easy to capture. Maybe you're making a podcast and would like to include a Skype interview (recorded with permission, of course), or you want to take content from your favorite streaming radio station with you on your iPod. With the help of the right software, you can record and edit audio files and add them to iTunes for future use.
Capture Bits and Bytes
First, you'll need software to record audio. There are two excellent Mac programs that can do this: Rogue Amoeba Software's US$32 Audio Hijack Pro 2.8.1, and Ambrosia Software's $69 WireTap Studio 1.0.6 (version 1.0.1, ). Both allow you to capture audio coming from any program-while excluding sound from other applications or the system-and save it in the format you want. WireTap Studio costs twice as much as Audio Hijack Pro, but it comes with powerful audio editing tools; Audio Hijack Pro requires a separate editing tool, such as Rogue Amoeba Software's Fission (discussed later).
When recording any online audio, you should consider copyright restrictions. While recording and saving audio such as that from radio programs may be legal according to the U.S. Copyright act's "fair use" doctrine, you may not have the right to save-and especially to share with others-certain recordings, such as a single from a band's Web site, for example.
Both Audio Hijack Pro and WireTap Studio work in similar ways. You choose a source (a specific application, or an audio device such as a microphone) and a format (anything from low bit-rate MP3 to uncompressed AIFF or WAV). To save drive space, don't record in a higher quality than the original; in most cases, streaming audio doesn't exceed 128 Kpbs, so there's no need to record larger files (unless you're recording music from a DVD).
It's easy to capture and keep track of recordings with WireTap Studio's floating recording controller and library.The two programs work a bit differently when you initiate a recording, though. WireTap Studio simply has a Record button. With Audio Hijack Pro, you click on a Hijack button and then tell the software to begin recording. (To use this method with Audio Hijack Pro, however, you must install a helper tool; otherwise, you'll need to quit and relaunch the source application when you "hijack" a recording from it.) Both programs let you choose when to start a new file--after so many minutes, hours, megabytes, or gigabytes--and let you set the length of the recording time, though these options are easier to set up with Audio Hijack Pro. WireTap Studio offers both quick recording (where you start and stop manually) and a Recording Sessions window (where you can preset a schedule, and even have your Mac wake up to record something). When recording with either of these programs, you can select a single application from which to record. You can record audio from, say, Safari, iTunes, or even DVD Player (if you want to record music from a DVD you own) while you keep working on your Mac.
However, bear in mind that both programs record all audio from the selected application. So if you are recording a stream from a Web site, audio from other Web sites will be recorded as well. A helpful tip: if you're planning on recording something long from a Web site, use two different browsers (for example, use Firefox for the recording and use Safari for browsing other sites during the recording session).
Once you've finished recording, you need to decide what to do with your audio file. Audio Hijack Pro stashes files in a location you select and keeps pointers to those files in the program's Recording Bin, a kind of library; it can also add files automatically to iTunes or to an iPod. WireTap Studio displays recordings in a Library window (the actual files are stored in a WireTap Studio Library file in your Documents folder). You can click on preset buttons to export files to many locations: a local folder, a network server, an iDisk, iTunes, an iPod, and more.
All About Radio
Thousands of radio stations from around the world stream content over the Internet, providing millions of hours of programs each year. You now know how to capture and record any streaming media; but if you regularly listen to Internet radio, you may want to look at solutions designed for scheduled recording. Ideally, you want not only to record, but to record at the right time to catch your favorite programs.
Do you want to capture your favorite team's game on the radio? Or make sure you don't miss an interview with a band you like? Or record a live concert from a classical music station? Rogue Amoeba's $32 Radioshift lets you find the stations you want, then listen to them with a single click. The program's radio guide lists some 50,000 radio stations by genre and location, and you can save your favorites for quick access. (That's about 25 times as many stations as iTunes offers, most of which are online-only radio stations. Radioshift includes thousands of AM and FM stations that also stream on the Web.)
You can also record these radio stations by subscribing to them, then setting dates, times, and durations for your recordings. Radioshift keeps a library of recordings that you can listen to when you want, edit (with an additional tool), or export to iTunes to transfer to your iPod. Radioshift can even wake up or turn on your Mac to record your subscriptions. You can set up schedules for as many programs and stations as you want, and, as long as you don't try to record from two stations at the same time, everything should go smoothly.
Edit Your Recordings
While you can use these recordings as they are, it's much more useful to be able to edit them, especially if you want to keep some of them; you might want to crop your files to remove excess audio, to split them into multiple files, or to export them to a different format. WireTap Studio includes a powerful editing tool, and Rogue Amoeba also sells the $32 Fission, though a bundle of Fission and Audio Hijack Pro is only $50. Both of these tools offer comprehensive editing features, and make simple editing a task that anyone can accomplish. (The open-source Audacity is a free option, but it's a bit more complex.)
You can trim, fade, split, and normalize recordings in Fission to make them sound better.Editing with these tools is visual; opening a file reveals the content as a waveform. In some cases, you can spot places where programs begin and end from the waveform, noting a bit of silence at that point. Otherwise, you'll need to spend a little longer figuring it out. You can play back the audio in WireTap Studio's editing tool, Fission, or Audacity, then choose an area to trim, crop, or split. All three programs let you save the edited files in their current format, or export them to a variety of formats. Because Audacity has to uncompress an entire program for you to work on it-something that can take a few minutes and lead to a deterioration of sound quality-WireTap Studio and Fission are easier to use, as they work with many audio formats natively, including AAC, MP3, AIFF, and WAV.
As with any files you add to iTunes, you must tag them properly to find them in the future. Start by adding a name, an artist, and, perhaps, an album name (which could be the name of the program, for radio shows), and then add any other tags that will help you sort these files. To help you understand some of the more complex tags, read "iTunes Tags Demystified". Files you record in formats that iTunes accepts-such as AAC or MP3-will work fine in iTunes and on your iPod, so you can listen to these recordings anywhere.
[Kirk McElhearn writes about more than just Macs. Visit his blog, Kirkville.]
This story, "Record Any Sounds" was originally published by Macworld.