Introduction: Extracting Audios From DVDs

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There are many cases where it’s desirable to extract a song or other audio from a DVD. You may have made a DVD of your child’s school concert and want just your child’s performance as a MP3 which you can email to relatives, burn on a CD, or put on your MP3 player or phone, or even use as your phone’s ring tone. You can also extract a sound clip, sound effect, or any other audio from the DVD. Once the audio has been converted into an ordinary sound file it can be used like any other audio on your computer.

There are several methods for extracting an audio from a DVD; this is the simplest method. This tutorial uses freeware programs on a computer with a DVD drive. It has to have either built-in audio (most computers do) or a sound card with the appropriate drivers. Similar methods will work with other computers. It’s certainly possible to use this method to extract audios from commercial DVDs. That may or may not be a violation of the copyright laws where you live.

Step 1: Getting Software

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For this example I’m going to extract a classic comedy quip from the Marx Brothers’s very first full length movie “Cocoanuts.” The movie was copyrighted in 1929 and the copyright has expired, placing this classic movie in the public domain. It was one of the very first sound movies (“talkies”). Considering the fact that the film was made with audio technology barely better than stone knives and bear skins it’s pretty decent quality. One of the most famous scenes from the movie is Groucho (as Hammer) saying, “Now here is a little peninsula and here is a viaduct leading over to the mainland” and Chico replying, “Why a duck?” The exchange appears 47 minutes into the movie.

It’s really simple to extract audio recordings from DVDs. Just play the DVD on your computer and use a program which makes digital audio recordings. This is the digital equivalent of hooking up a cassette recorder to the output of a VCR or DVD player.

My favorite program for watching DVDs on my computer is VLC, it’s an open source program and extremely versatile. It plays almost all digital video and audio files. Audacity is an open source digital recorder and editing studio. Some software DVD players, like certain versions of Windows Media Player, disable Windows’s audio drivers and won’t work with this technique.

VLC and Audacity will work on many different operating systems (Windows, Macintosh, Linux). Each operating system has its own method of controlling audio levels. This tutorial was written with Windows XP, similar techniques will work with other operating systems.

Step 2: Run Your Programs

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Close any programs on your computer which generate audio. That includes web pages, email programs, and any other programs that generate warning tones. If you leave those programs running their sounds can end up in the recordings you create. If there are programs that generate audio that you can’t close, or don’t want to close you’ll have to make your recordings during times when your computer isn’t making any other sounds.

Run Audacity. There’s a pull down box in the middle of the menu (highlighted yellow in this photo, but not in the actual program) that controls which audio source will be recorded. Select stereo mix.

Run VLC. Pull down the Media menu and select “Open Disk”. Typically your DVD drive will be D: although it can vary depending on what mass storage devices and flash memory readers are in your computer.

Step 3: Displaying Both at Once

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If you have a large monitor, or a multi-monitor setup you can have both VLC and Audacity on your desktop at the same time. If you’re multi-monitor deprived you can just open both programs and use Control-Tab to switch between the two programs and anything else open on your desktop.

Step 4: Extract and Save

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Use VLC to play your DVD and search for just before the scene you want to record. Switch to the Audacity window and click record (the red circle icon) a couple of seconds before your audio is about to begin. When you want to finish the recording press stop (the yellow square). At this point you can fine tune the recording in Audacity and precisely set where the clip starts and ends. You can also add special effects like fade in / fade out, normalize, and all of Audacity’s other editing functions. When you’re happy with your cleaned up sound file you should save it. You can select .WAV (Uncompressed large file. The format used for audio CDs. It’s also good for future editing and quantitative analysis.) or .MP3 (lossy compression, used by MP3 players and cell phones.) MP3 uses a very efficient compression (small output files) which makes it extremely suitable for email.

This technique can also be used to record audio from streaming audio and video feeds, including video chats. Instead of using VLC to play a DVD just use your web browser to view the streaming feed as usual and use Audacity to record the Stereo Mix.

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Bio: Writer, engineer, techie. I've been using computers since the original Apple II in 1978 and have always been interested in technical topics. Check out ... More »
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