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June 16, 2005

Listen to your computer

Listen up. Have you noticed yet that all those traditional sources of audio - the radio, the CD player, cassette tape etc – are being replaced by computers? PCs and Macs and MP3 players like the iPod, iRiver etc not only have taken over from their predecessors, they’ve also extended the utility of audio devices.

More radio stations are using streaming audio to make their shows available over the Internet. The more enlightened, like the ABC and the BBC are starting to make them available as Podcasts, which you can download and listen to at your convenience, or transfer them to your MP3 player.

It seems a wise defensive move, given the existence of hardware like Griffin Technology’s Radio Shark, which not only allows you to listen to AM and FM broadcasts through your PC or Mac, but also gives you the option of scheduling them for recording, or time-shifting them if you happen to miss the beginning, or are interrupted by a phone call. The initial release wasn’t all that impressive, but recent software updates have turned it into a great aid for the dedicated radio listener, at around $120.

Another great source of audio is podcasting, which allows amateur audio enthusiasts to record shows and pop them on the Internet for downloading. While there’s a lot of self-indulgent podcasting out there, there’s a growing number of high-quality ones.

We find ourselves constantly visiting itconversations.com, for instance, to listen to fascinating programs about computers and the Internet.

Last week’s Livewire revealed the increasing number of audio books that are being produced in MP3 format. While existing copyright makes it illegal in Australia to copy those that aren’t in digital format – let’s hope the Government quickly changes that with the legislative review we mentioned recently – it’s quite easy to turn those titles that still come out only on CD and cassette into MP3 files.

The reason you might want to do that is not just because it gives you a backup, but also because MP3 files can be played through your PDA, your MP3 player, and increasingly even your telephone.

Given all those options, it’s much more likely that you’ll be able to enjoy the real benefit of digital audio – the ability to listen to the recorded information when you’re doing other things, such as driving or taking the dog for a walk for instance, without the hassles of skipping or tape shredding etc.

And if you’re one of those people who can’t bear to waste a single minute, once they’re in that format, they can also be speeded up. We have friends who take great pride in the fact that they can listen to Late Night Live or a book they’ve downloaded from audible.com in much less time than would be possible with the original format. They don’t mind at all that the speaker sounds like a harassed chipmunk.

Programs that are delivered only by streaming audio can also be captured and turned into MP3 files with the use of software like High Criteria’s Total Recorder ($US11.95) for the PC, or Audio Hijack ($US16). These programs use drivers that capture all sound from programs like Real Player, Windows Media Player, and iTunes etc.

You could also use them to record audio files you’ve downloaded from audible.com, which would give you a far more versatile file than the restrictions imposed by audible.com’s licensing. You’d have to decide for yourself, of course, whether this represented a misuse of copyright. Both programs could also be used to record Internet telephone conversations.

In each case, the companies offer Pro versions that have more capabilities, but even the basic ones allow you to schedule recordings. The latest version of Audio Hijack works with Tiger.
High Criteria also has some companion products that are worth looking at. Dictation Buddy, for instance, turns your PC into a great dictation tool, particularly when you add the Melbourne-designed VPedal.

BOOKSHELF: With the number of blogs increasing at a phenomenal rate, more people than ever will find themselves dealing with the market-leading Movable Type. The Movable Type 3 Bible, from Wiley, gives you a thorough grounding in the complexities of a blogging platform that on the surface looks relatively easy to master, but repays the effort required to learn about its more powerful features. Increasingly, these books are rendered somewhat out of date with the release of new versions, which this book promises to solve with an update site. Frankly there’s not much there, but there is a link to the author’s site.

Posted by cw at June 16, 2005 10:50 AM

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Comments

About 6 months ago your article in the Greenguide - Bleeding Edge was on Audio Books. I was inquiring if I can view a copy anywhere.You gave the source of a number of audio book companies that operate around the world. I have tried Audible and would like to try some others please. I have have tried Googling without much success. My son is fairly dyslexic as I am and we have been gradually getting through the local Library stocks.

Posted by: Graeme Vessey at February 9, 2007 02:21 PM