Option-Click: Sweet Streams

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Freecorder, a free Windows stream ripper, capturing a DVD sound bite to MP3.

One of the handiest audio utilities is a stream ripper, a little program that captures the digital audio coursing through your computer and saves it to a file. I use stream rippers to capture sound bites from DVDs and encrypted movie files, musical excerpts from Web audio players, and voices from ancient speech synths (see emusician.com/tutorials/emusic_free_speech). I've also used them to mix multichannel MPEG soundtracks into editable stereo WAVs. Not only is stream ripping faster than loading the original file into an editor, but sometimes it's the only way to gather material for fair-use educational purposes.

On the Mac, I use Ambrosia WireTap Studio (ambrosiasw.com), which offers basic stream ripping for free. Rogue Amoeba Audio Hijack (rogueamoeba.com; $32) provides many more features at a modest cost. On Windows, my go-to stream ripper is Applian Freecorder (freecorder.com; free), which runs as a browser toolbar. (For more about David Battino's work, visit batmosphere.com.)