Digital audio

2nd February 2001 at 00:00
All it takes is one computer with a sound card, speakers and a fast internet connection, and any classroom in the world can listen to Seamus Heaney reciting his poetry, hear the voice of Florence Nightingale, or tune into thousands of radio stations, some of which have decades of archived broadcasts.

Digital audio is an under-used classroom resource, but the internet has made it easy for teachers to create sound archives.

Unlike video, digital audio needs only one computer, from which any number of pupils can listen, and it comes with a effective user interface. Sound files on websites are usually compressed files, such as MP3 or WMA, which you can copy (copyright permitting) and save to your computer - just as you might copy and save pictures - or they are streaming audio. This is a file format that lets you listen without making a copy in your computer's temporary internet folder.

Finding the section you want on a digital sound file is child's play, as is moving to the start or end of a file, marking a section, copying it and then compiling it with other clips.

Not all sound files are compressed, but software that does this can be downloaded free from the internet. Compression typically reduces a 10MB file to 1.5MB for FM radio sound quality. Speech survives double the compression without measurable loss of quality.

The internet is one source of digital audio, but so are everyday school events. Connecting the recorder to your computer with an inexpensive patch lead allows you to copy sound. With the help of software (try shareware at www.cooledit.com for around pound;20), audio can be cleaned-up, edited and compressed, then loaded o to the school's server so any class can use it at any time.

More straightforward would be a device such as Iomega's portable digital audio player, which allows you to record about 70 minutes of speech, in compressed format, on to a 40MGb removable storage disk. A USB connection makes transferring files from the portable player to the hard drive easy.

Contacts * www.realplayer.com Free download needed for listening to streaming and compressed audio files. RealPlayer's internet radio tuner gives you access to 2,500 stations. Plays WMA audio files, as well as MP3s.

* www.microsoft.comwindowswindowsmediaendownloaddefault.asp Free download for listening to WMA audio files.

* www.apple.comitunes Apple's cross-platform version is free to download and includes an internet radio tuner and software for basic audio tasks.

* www.musicmatch.com Popular software for compressing, burning (copying) and compiling audio files. Easy-to-use, free, or for pound;30 get an upgrade with improved processing speeds.

* www.cooledit.com Shareware (pound;30 after free, 30-day trial) for compression, burning, compiling, and editing audio files.

Hardware * www.iomega.comuk HipZip portable digital audio player, pound;289 inc VAT. Removable storage disks, which also store data, pound;11 each.

* www.coomber.co.uk Coomber Electronics for patch leads and headphone sets that allow six students to listen to one computer.

Websites

* www.bbc.co.ukeducation 20cvox Oral history.

* www.ngsw.org National Gallery of the Spoken Word, the first large-scale spoken word repository. This is where you'll find Florence Nightingale.

Debbie Davies


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