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Capture sound off computer

We like to think that we are in total control of our computers, but we really aren't. We see things on our screen, but we can't save or print them. And then there are the sounds our computers make that we can't save so that we can play them back at another time or burn them to a CD. But fortunately for us, there are some products out there that give us back at least some of that control.

Most of us are familiar with screen-capture utilities that let us take "snapshots" of the entire or any portion of the screen and either save them to disk or send the image to a printer. What you may not be so familiar with are two software utilities that let you do the same basic thing with sound.

Anyone who uses their computers to play live audio streams using RealPlayer, Windows Media Player and a variety of other similar products knows there is no easy way to capture the live audio stream and save it to disk. In fact, there are many applications that generate some kind of sound with no facility to capture the audio. Until recently, the only way to capture the audio was to literally plug an audio recording device into the speaker outputs.

So let me tell you about two capture programs, one for the Mac, the other for Windows. Both basically do the same thing: They let you capture any audio your computer generates and lets you save it to disk. As with most any application, each has its own feature set to enhance the basic ability. So as not to be redundant, I'll describe the basic feature set of the program known as WireTap Studio from Ambrosia Software.

WireTap Studio ($69) is designed to run on the Macintosh OS X operating system. After installation, you just select from a pull-down menu the name of the application whose audio you want to capture. Or just select "Mac Audio" as a general catch-all. Once intercepted, it redirects the audio into WireTap Studio's recording facility. You can turn on the recorder at any time, capturing only the audio you want and then save it to disk in a variety of audio formats such as mp3.

The captured file can then be burned to a CD, or played in any software audio player like iTunes or any hardware audio player like an iPod. You can also save your captured audio sounds directly to Apple's iDisk, e-mail them, wirelessly transmit them to a Bluetooth device, even download them directly to an iPhone.

It's ideal if you have a favorite game sound you want to play over again, or if you want to capture the audio from your favorite DVD movie or music player.

WireTap Studio also comes with a built-in timer so that you can begin and end any audio capture at any specific time or length and duration you want. This makes it ideal for unattended recording. The included wave form editor lets you visually fine tune the audio portions you want to save or edit. WireTap Studio also maintains a library of all the sounds you have captured so you can revisit them whenever you want.

If you're looking for a similar product on the Windows platform, check out High Criteria's Total Recorder. Total Recorder comes in a Standard ($17.95) and Professional ($35.95) Edition. Check out High Criteria's Web site for a complete listing of features associated to each version.

It should be noted that many software audio products purposely do not let their users record their output because the audio is copyrighted. The purpose of this column is to merely inform you about the availability of these programs.

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On the Web: www.ambrosiasw.com/utilities/wiretap and www.highcriteria.com.

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