Many modern PCs have sound cards that are capable of recording music from an external music system. All you need is a suitable cable to connect your record player to the audio input on your PC and some free software with which to make the recording.
But things aren't always so straightforward. The recordings may be damaged, with records scratched and tapes producing an annoying hissing sound. Paying for specialised recording software can be worthwhile in such cases, as they will help you clean up the tracks.
Once you've converted your old records and tapes into a digital format, you can burn them to CD or add them to your Windows Media Player or iTunes library.
There's a major market for gadgetry devoted to reclaiming your old music collection. ION is probably the best known manufacturer of such products. As well as the basic USB turntable shown above right, it offers versions that have built-in iPod docks and that can record directly to an SD Card.
But the concept of recording from an external device isn't limited to plugging in your old record player or a modern day USB-compatible one. The sound card and headphone jack on your PC can be used to record external sound sources of many types.
There are digital instruments designed for this specific purpose, emulators such as the Yamaha Tenori-on and the Korg Kaossilator, and plug-ins for an iPod should you want to make and record digital music on the go.
So while you may not have a yen for reviving old music, there's plenty of potential for using your PC to create some that's new.
Digitise vinyl records
Step 1. Download the 30-day trial of Magix Audio Cleaning Lab from magix.com/uk. If you buy the full version, you'll also get a copy of Magix's Music Editor for performing more detailed editing. But we'll concentrate on the Audio Cleaning Lab here. Install and launch the software.
Step 2. The interface is fairly straightforward. The top half displays a timeline for the audio file you're working with; the bottom half offers tools for cleaning up your recordings. Here, you can choose to import an existing audio file, record music from vinyl or tape or copy files from an audio CD.
Step 3. Connect your record or tape player to the mic-/line-in connector on your PC. Click the Record icon to bring up the Recording dialog box. Here you'll find the basic controls needed to start recording, along with an indicator that warns when the volume of the recording is too high or too low.
Step 4. Start playing a song - but don't press Record just yet. You may find you need to use a pre-amp to boost the audio signal. If your music system is already using an amplifier, however, you should be able to adjust the recording level simply by turning the volume up or down.
Step 5. Another option is to use your PC's own audio controls to adjust the recording level. Click Level Control in the Recording window to view the controls for your PC's audio hardware. We'll use our PC's line-in connector for this recording. Tick the Select box under Line In and adjust the level until the Recording window shows it as Optimal.
Step 6. Before you start recording, click Advanced to display the full range of recording options. We're recording some 12in vinyl singles. Select Vinyl from the ‘Recording source' drop-down menu. If you want to record an album, there's a handy option to ‘Save automatically into individual files'.
Step 7. If you want to copy your records and then burn them to CD, select Wave under ‘Capture format'. This is the best file format for creating audio CDs that will work with any ordinary CD player. However, .wav files can hog disk space. Compressed MP3 files are a better option for storing large collections of music.
Step 8. Next, click ‘Sound card settings'. Magix records silently by default, choose ‘Monitor input signal' to alter this and make it easier to stop or start recording in the right place. Note that this can introduce a bit of feedback noise into the recording, depending on how your sound card is set up, so you may prefer to do without it.
Step 9. You can now press Record. We've recorded the 12in version of ‘Chain Reaction' by Diana Ross. The song starts just before the three-second mark on this recording, but unfortunately there's a loud scratch at the one-second mark and some general hissing before the song comes in. Let's start by getting rid of those flaws.
Step 10. Using the Zoom tool on the right of the timeline we can focus on the first few seconds of the recording. Now select the Scissors tool and click on the recording just before the scratch and again just before the song starts. To remove this portion of the track, hit Delete on your keyboard.
Step 11. This old record still has a bit of crackling and hissing on it that needs removing. Click Cleaning to display the various noise-reduction filters that are available. Options include the ‘de-crackler' and ‘de-hisser' - the information box in the right panel provides an explanation for any that aren't obvious.
Step 12. Novice recorders can select ‘Set automatically' and let the software apply filters as it sees fit. More advanced users can take the ‘Step by step' approach, adjusting each filter individually. The best option is probably to use the ‘Choose preset' drop-down menu, which includes a number of suitable filter combinations.
Step 13. The next step is Mastering, which improves the overall quality of the sound. This can be complicated, but presets are available. There are equaliser settings for use with both turntable and tape equipment, as well as settings for specific types of music - such as the Dance option that we've selected here.
Step 14. Cleaning Lab lets you record multiple songs and store them within a project file. When you're ready to create an audio CD, click Export. You can also use Cleaning Lab to create audio DVDs and podcasts, or for converting your music into file formats you can store on your PC or portable media player.