Windows Sound Recorder (WSR)
is a simple, crude, and useful tool that will allow you to record WAV-format
files for use on the Web, in Powerpoint, in videos, etc. (see Sound
File Formats for a discussion of WAV and other sound formats). It
won't do a lot, but it's free - it's built into all versions of Windows. Find it
in Program Files/Accessories under Entertainment or MultiMedia (depending on
which version of Windows you have). It goes without saying that you'll need a
microphone or other sound source, and speakers, to record and play back your
WSR will record up to a minute or so, but works awkwardly beyond that. If you intend to record larger time periods than that, it's best to record it in pieces and merge the results into one file. If you're recording long performances of live music or other performance that can't be divided, or just want to convert a song on CD, WSR is not your tool (see Software for other suggestions).
After opening WSR, set your sound quality through Properties (click on "Convert now." Select from the three quality presets using the chart. For most applications, Radio Quality is fine.
The controls work just like a tape recorder - the red button is record, the square button stop, etc. If you stop recording, pressing "record" again will append the new recording on the end of the first, creating a new file. Be sure to save early and often - this is not one of those nice Office applications that provide for auto-save and auto-recovery!
If you record several pieces and wish to combine them, open or record one, then select "Insert File..." from the "Edit" menu. You can browse to the second file, and it will be added on the end. Be sure to save the new combination with a new name if you want to keep the others intact. "Mix with File..." takes one file and combines it over the top of a second, so that both play back at the same time - handy for adding background music. However, some experimentation is required, since there is no way to adjust the sound of each source file after they're combined!
If you need to change the volume of a file, you can do it instantly from the "Effects" menu in set increments. "Effects" also provides some other simple effects, such as echo, changing speed, or reversing the sound. There is no "Undo," so make sure you keep track of your original file in case you change your mind!
Although WSR doesn't provide much ability to edit your sound, you can do some things. "Copy" places a copy of the entire sound clip in the clipboard, which can then be pasted over the top ("Mix") or at the beginning or end ("Insert") of your file. You can also delete a portion at the beginning or end. Position the slider at the exact instant you want to remove, and then select "Delete Before Current Position" will remove all sound from the beginning to the slider, and "...After..." deletes from the slider to the end. It is not possible to remove a portion in the middle of a file, though you can splilt the file into two pieces using the above method, and then reassemble them with the offending middle part removed from the beginning or end of one of the pieces.
Of course, since this is a crude environment, you have to keep track of what is saved where, and what each contains, yourself. It's easy to save a change over the top of something you needed to keep! Don't forget to rename before saving if you'll need the original version later!