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Has anyone been successful with transferring audio cassette tape recordings to a digital format? I would like to preserve old cassette tape recordings of my grandparents to some digital format: MP3, WAV, etc... The quality of the tapes are mediocre. I think I can handle the quality restoration but getting the audio from tape to digital is my question.

Below is a list of the hardware that I can work with:

Cassette Deck: I have a Technics stereo cassette deck model RS-B12. It has separate left and right IN and OUT RCA type jacks on the back. In the front it has a headphone phono jack, plus left and right mic input phono jacks.

On the computer side: -I have a Windows Vista PC with no additional software other than what came with the machine from Costco. No sound editing software that I can see. There is no sound card on the PC. On the front panel there is a mini-phono mic input jack and there are several different types of in/out mini-phono jacks on the back. In addition, USB and Firewire.

I also have access to a new (2009) iMac with a mini-phono input jack for a powered mic or other audio source and GarageBand that has come with the computer. In addition, USB and Firewire.

What are my options for getting these cassette recordings into a digital format? Whats the best format? What sort of wires would I need and will I want to utilize the USB or Firewire or can I simply use the audio inputs on the PC (or Mac) to receive the audio stream?

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7 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Use a 3.5mm stereo > RCA cable from the RCA out of the cassette tape deck to the Line In jack of the sound card.

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Select Line In as source for your recordings.

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Then grab Audacity and record/cut your tapes. keep the the results in a lossless format (e.g. WAV - or compressed as Monkey's Audio or FLAC to save space) for further processing before converting to MP3.

Note: Audacity requires LAME MP3 Encoder for mp3 conversion.

Note: this would not be a fully digital remaster as you're still using an analog tape player.

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Thank you for this and thank you to everyone who responded as well. I am going to radio shack to get the proper cables and will give this a go! –  Electric Automation Sep 21 '09 at 15:20
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I've used an older Creative Audigy sound card for input on a PC, but the issue is probably more to do with your software. Try downloading Audacity. You can use it to save your recording from the audio in and edit the files into individual tracks. I've converted several old cassettes with it and am pretty happy with the results. You'll probably need a RCA to 1/8" plug stereo Y adapter for your audio cord.

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My low-tech solution would be to plug the RCA cables into the microphone port on the computer using an adapter, and then using GoldWave / Audacity to record the input. The format of the sound is then up to you.

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If you really want to create the best quality in your rips, you should search for companies that do this specialized work. They may have the best cables and best equipment, avoiding interferences in your analog-digital conversion.

I'm telling you this because when we record from our simple laptops that usually have onboard soundboards, because of soundboard proximity to other laptop components, you could introduce some "interference noise" in the conversion. Can be loud or you can even notice, but it exists.

However, if you just want a good conversion, you may be fine with your setup. I've been using Audacity for these conversions. They have a really good wiki entry explaining how you can achieve great quality.

My final advice: convert your cassetess to a lossless audio format (like FLAC) and keep your archives in this format. Save the project in Audacity project format; export the final editions in wav and convert your wavs to FLAC.

Then, use the FLAC's as the base format to create your mp3 or aac files to listen in mp3 players and such. Don't directly convert your cassete to mp3, since it's a lossy format and all efort in preserving the best quality would be wasted. DVD's and hard disk are more cheap then toilet paper nowadays.

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They don't have that soft touch, though ;) –  ldigas Sep 21 '09 at 14:48
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I know very little about Macs, but on the Windows machine, you can use a free tool like Audactiy to record sound from the line-in jack.

You'll need a converter cable to get the output from the cassette deck to the 1/8" input jack. They have both 1/4" to 1/8" cables, and also dual RCA to 1/8" cables.

On some cards, the line-in jack is a light-blue color. If it doesn't have one, the mic jack can be used, but I'm not sure if that will cause problem.

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+1 for Audacity. I did this on a Mac using Audacity. Added filters too to remove hiss using Audacity. –  Xetius Sep 21 '09 at 14:39
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I used a Roland Edirol UA-25 to interface the cassette deck of my stereo to my computer (Mac), but only because I had one (Musician). I could have just as easily have done it using the line in on the standard sound card (usually the blue jack).

I recorded using Audacity to record the audio and also do some post processing. However I could not get it completely hiss free as they were very old recordings of a relative who had passed away, so there was no way to reproduce it.

Fortunately, I work for a very large media company in the UK and their sound department did an amazing job of reading the audio I had recorded and removing more noise than I could possibly using the equipment I had. Admittedly, the sound studios contain millions of £ worth of sound processing hardware and I was very lucky to get this done for free.

If you can afford to get a professional to do this then the reproduction should be much better than you could do on home equipment.

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My Ion TTUSB USB turntable has an aux in which can be used for a cassette deck or other analog input. Many USB/FireWire audio interfaces will also have these inputs, so if you happen to have any of these, they are good alternatives to just plugging into the line in.

Obviously, on the Mac, Garageband is a good alternative to Audacity, easier to use and with some more features. Amadeus Pro is another excellent alternative, with some filters designed to clean up analog audio, removing clicks, pops, hiss. and hum.

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