redline peaks

Switching from XP to Dell laptop running Vista…i am a long-time DIYer and recorded to CDr from my mixer for years. I used A. on XP to edit wav files, ripped from CDs; now i am incorporating a laptop into the studio. An outboard compressor is used to control peaks during recording and the CD recorder had a bit of compression itself, when calibrated correctly.
Primarily i use Audacity for editing, some “beginner Qs” from a hardware guy:

Is it “better” to use A. from imported files than direct recording into the interface?
I recorded directly into A. a few nights ago from Cd recorder outputs into the laptop via, of course, via the mic in which on Vista also doubles as a line in? The input meters on A. were a bit higher than on the output of the recorder.
I set the mic input on the laptop to a very low “5”. From fairly dynamic percussion peaks line level up to around -5db on the recorder, it did redline on A., but thankfully i couldn’t hear any distortion on playback.
I like the idea of not recording CDrs anymore, which were basically my masters, as sometimes they don’t finalize and have to re-record again. I knew you could redline on that, but the drawback i guess was with encoding or something and it wouldn’t finalize. Never had sound issues…
Should i be concerned about redlining during recording when i do not hear any difference? Is it okay to clip the recording a little on A.?

That largely depends on the hardware that you use for recording. With good hardware the recording quality in Audacity can be excellent. Unfortunately the standard audio inputs on most PCs are usually of dubious quality and in some cases atrocious. There is a wide range of sound card upgrades available, ranging in price from around $30 for a USB sound card up to $thousand$.

On some laptops the mic input doubles as a line in, on others it doesn’t and is for microphone input only. Microphone signals are much smaller that “line level” signals and for a “mic only” input it will be difficult to get the input level low enough without distortion (clipping). Also, mic inputs are usually mono (though may still appear as two channels if you set Audacity to record 2 channels) whereas line in is stereo.

Yes you should be concerned. If it red-lines then it probably is clipping/distorting but the distortion may be not quite bad enough to be obvious. For digital recording the recording level should be below 0 dB (not red-lining) at all times. Better to record a little too low than too high. We generally recommend aiming for a maximum level of about half the track height, though with compressors you could go a little higher than that, but always leave a bit of “headroom”.

thanks for the reply- i am having fun integrating the computer into an outboard setup and experimenting with the different settings and set-ups…Thought the biggest change is having something visual…
I am fairly sure any improvements i need thus far in sound goes with the soundcard update…