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  Normalize (?) dadiOH's dandies
Recording Vinyl or Tape to MP3

The question mark is there to indicate that not everyone agrees about whether or not this should be done. But before we get into that, let me explain what "normalize" means...

"Normalize" means that the sound level of the file(s) are increased or decreased to a pre-determined point. The result is that all your MP3s will have about the same sound level which means you won't have to be constantly be adjusting the volume control of whatever player you use to listen to them.

That sounds good, right? So why wouldn't you want to do this? Well, suppose you have an album of several songs. Some of those songs are purposefully softer than others in the same album to give an effect. If you make them all the same volume, that effect will be lost.

There are two ways you can normalize a file. The first way is for a program to read the file and to find the sample with the greatest volume (the "peak"). It then raises everything by the maximum amount it can without clipping the file. The other way is for it to determine a median point.

There are also two times when you can normalize:
1. When you are making the wave (anytime before you encode it).
2. After you have encoded the wave to MP3.

The first way used to be about the only way possible. The problem with it is that it is irreversible...screw up and the only way you can fix it is to rip/record the wave again. Most rippers and wave editors will let you normalize the wave. If you do it this way, remember that your goal is to have them all at a similar volume. I'd suggest that you not try to get them at maximum volume...you can always turn up the volume a bit you know...maybe shoot for the low 90s so there is a margin for error.

Doing it to the MP3 is somewhat less precise...you'll still have a bit of volume variation...but it is reversible. It is what I would suggest you do.

MP3 Normalizing Programs
The most flexible is MP3Gain. Another good one, MP3Trim, will only do peak normalization but it has the added benefit of letting you trim off parts of the file....very handy if you download a file from a live performance and don't really want to listen to 45 seconds of applause. The free version will do files of up to seven minutes in length, one at a time. The Pro version lets you do any length in batches (drag & drop the files to the interface).

Alternatives to Normalization
If you use Winamp, there are numerous plug-ins that will maintain a level volume from file to file as you play them (some also include sound enhancements to increase the stereo effect). They do so by "compressing"...raising the volume of the quiet parts and lowering that of the high parts. This sort of compression is non-permanent, only happens when you play the song with the plug-in active. You can save the output, though, using Winamp's built in DiskWriter.

A couple that I have used and like are RockSteady and Compressor & Wider (increases stereo too). Still another is TomSteady. Even if you normalize your files, it is worth using one of these to further tweak the volume.

The stereo enhancement is well worthwhile too...it generally makes the sound much better even on PC speakers. I particularly like Wave Surround for Winamp...it's the best ten bucks you'll ever spend. I generally use it and Compressor & Wider at the same time. To do so, you need a "DSP stacker" to let you use two such plug-ins at the same time. I use MuchFX.

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