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Transferring Cassettes to Digital?

Discussion in 'Recording In Progress' started by Telecaster88, Dec 2, 2020.

  1. Telecaster88

    Telecaster88 Tele-Holic

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    Hey, I'm looking to convert a bunch of old (mid-80s to mid-90s) cassettes of band stuff to digital. I know there are those Walkman-like USB converters, but just wanted to check the flock here for their advice on best ways to do this. The converters I've seen online all look like cheap import stuff that I'd be hesitant to stick a thirty year old cassette into. Anybody have experience with these, or any advice or thoughts they could share on the subject?

    Thanks!
     
  2. srblue5

    srblue5 Tele-Meister

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    I borrowed one of those USB converter machines once to convert some cassettes. It worked well enough for my purposes but I've heard that some of those machines result in a clicking sound on the mp3 transfer. The one I borrowed didn't but I don't think they make that one anymore.

    A few years after I converted those tapes with that machine, I rediscovered a lot of prerecorded cassettes at my parents' house so instead of buying one of those machines, I bought a cheap Walkman copy for $20 less, plugged an auxiliary cable from the headphone output on the Walkman to the input of a digital recorder (like a Sony data recorder or, more recently, a TASCAM DR05), played the tape while the digital recorder was recording, and then edited it (EQ, pitch, etc.) on Logic or Garageband. It's a fair bit of work (though probably not that much more than using one of those converter machines) but it worked well, although since then, I have inherited an actual tape deck from my parents and have been doing the same transfer process albeit through an amplifier's headphone output jack. Sounds a little better, depending on the quality of the tape.
     
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  3. telemnemonics

    telemnemonics Telefied Ad Free Member

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    I have a decent cassette deck since I have that pesky pile of cassettes, but i need a converter.

    A mic pre interface has a line input to run the cassette deck output into, but I need a mic pre interface.
    They start around $99?

    This of course assuming you have a computer capable of storing music files, maybe running garage band or the like.
     
  4. backporchmusic

    backporchmusic Friend of Leo's

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    I'm wanting to take old 4-track cassettes and digitize them by individual tracks, so I can remix and re-engineer some of it. I think I will likely be waiting until I find a friend with a Tascam 464 mk II with the heads lined up just right...
     
  5. blowtorch

    blowtorch Telefied Ad Free Member

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    I've got one of those gadgets, just never have used it yet.
     
  6. sudogeek

    sudogeek Tele-Meister

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    I did quite a few several years ago. I used cassette deck -> Soundcraftsman stereo equalizer: line out -> mic/line in on laptop -> Audacity using a cable with dual RCA male plugs to mini-DIN, like this:

    upload_2020-12-2_17-50-9.jpeg

    No interface per se (except the sound card) and it actually worked pretty well. The pre-EQ was very useful to brighten up the sound and reduce low freg “wobble” and other tape artifacts.

    For LPs, I used an ION USB turntable which also worked well but needed a bit of boost and some EQ in Audacity. There’s a couple of software packages like Spin Doctor, which are pretty good at removing hiss and pops from LPs or tapes recorded from LPs.
     
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2020
  7. Peegoo

    Peegoo Poster Extraordinaire

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    A computer with a soundcard will do it for stereo cassette tracks. Use a line out from a cassette player to the soundcard line in. Start your software recorder and press the play button on the cassette player. Check levels and adjust gain. When everything is adjusted and working great, rewind the tape and restart with the sorfware recorder running. It will probably record it as a WAV file. You can convert it to MP3, AIFF, etc.
     
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  8. telemnemonics

    telemnemonics Telefied Ad Free Member

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    Seems there are many grades of converter, and a computer might have a card for music recording or a cheap converter for essentially dictation or zoom/face time.

    For certain those devices with cassette player and converter all in one with have a crappy converter, which is why I figured that an audio interface was the way to go for me, since I'd have other uses for the device I need to purchase.
    My old cassettes are not going to be released as albums though!
    Just a curio to be able to hear that old stuff I recorded long long ago.
     
  9. WalthamMoosical

    WalthamMoosical Tele-Holic Ad Free Member

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    spendy solution--My wife needed to do this cassette-tape conversion recently, and I needed an excuse to buy a Focusrite interface. Turns out some Mac laptops don't have input jacks; you can only use the built-in microphone or else a USB-based thingy, so I decided to get a decent one ... it will probably serve me in my teaching A/V needs too. Pretty sure she just used Audacity for the software.
     
  10. Blrfl

    Blrfl Tele-Afflicted

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    I've just wrapped up converting the things in my collection that I want to save. Most of it was recorded in the 1980s; a handful that I inherited from my parents go back to about 1970 and have early family chatter on them.

    If you have an audio interface, a decent cassette deck and a copy of Audacity, that's pretty much all you need. Most cassettes aren't going to challenge an inexpensive audio interface, so if you don't have one, something in the $100 range will do fine. Getting hold of a decent cassette deck is the hard part. A lot of cities have a couple of stores that carry used HiFi stuff, and you may find decks that have been cleaned and serviced. You could probably buy one, convert your stuff and then sell it back to them for a little less than what you paid.

    I'm using a Sony TC-K615S I've had for many years and hadn't seen a tape in over a decade. The belts and pinch rollers were dried up, so I found replacements and installed them, lubed up the mechanicals and it's been mostly good. It is important that the heads and capstan be cleaned frequently with 99% isopropyl alcohol because old tapes (especially old cheap tapes) tend to shed oxide. Do not clean the pinch roller with alcohol; that will just dry out the rubber. So far, mine has cleaned up acceptably with a little water and some time to dry.

    Workflow is like this:
    • Run the tape fully forward and back before digitizing it. I had no problem with a fast forward/rewind cycle; you can do a regular play/flip/play if you have time to kill and are worried.
    • Run the tape through the audio interface into Audacity. If the tape had noise reduction, set the tape deck to the same setting.
    • Save off a separate copy of the unaltered Audacity project for safekeeping.
    • Use Profiled Noise Reduction to sample a quiet part of the track and apply it to everything. That works surprisingly well and doesn't muddy things up.
    • Use Amplify to bring the levels up.
    • Optionally, cut and label tracks and export them to MP3 or whatever format you want.

    The hairy part: Really old or really cheap tapes can stretch and break even if you're careful with them. Most of mine were on high-quality tape and did just fine, as did the handful of commercially-prerecorded tapes I digitized. I had to unscrew or cut open several tapes and transfer the innards to a good housing because the ones they were in had become too tight for the reels to rotate easily. Several were either broken or broke, so there was some splicing involved. I no longer own a splice block and had to improvise. Everything worked out in the end.

    Caveat emptor: About 90% of how good a tape sounds after 30+ years is how well it was recorded and what kind of tape it's on. If your tapes were recorded on a crappy deck or crappy tape, a good deck for playback isn't going to make them sound better. I have a few of those, but they were more recorded for the content than the sound quality.

    Here's a sample, which will disappear in about a month: The Regular Guys, Gone Fishin'. This was recorded from a medium-quality vinyl record on a pro turntable onto a Sony UX-90 cassette on a Tascam 122B (pro deck) with Dolby B and HX Pro in 1987 or 1988. It was played back on my Sony deck and processed as described above. It wasn't a stunning recording to begin with, but it sounds pretty much as it did when I recorded it. This tape also spent a lot of summers and winters out in my cars. They're tougher than you think.

    Long post; hope it's useful.
     
    Last edited: Dec 3, 2020
  11. joe_cpwe

    joe_cpwe Tele-Holic

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    I had good results a couple years ago running my old Pioneer deck thru a two channel Steinberg USB interface into Audacity. Nothing fancy.
     
  12. Ed Driscoll

    Ed Driscoll Tele-Holic

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    I have a Pioneer Elite cassette deck that I purchased in the early 1990s. The last time I used it was about eight years ago, when I digitized the two-track mixdowns of my '80s-era demos and band recordings. I plugged it into the stereo inputs of a portable Zoom H4 recorder, ran off each side of the tapes as WAV files, and then imported them into Cakewalk Sonar to cut them into individual WAV files for each song. As long as the audio isn't too hot going into the recorder, it's a pretty easy and straightforward process. You can use a program like Izotope's RX to clean up a bit of hiss and noise, but don't expect miracles from 35 year old cassettes! :(
     
  13. RodeoTex

    RodeoTex Doctor of Teleocity

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    I already had a Zoom H2n digital recorder so I used that.
     
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  14. Junkyard Dog

    Junkyard Dog Friend of Leo's

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    I just go from the Line Out on my tape deck into the soundcard on my garden variety laptop computer. You can adjust things like sample rate, number of bits, etc. Once you are comfortable with the settings, the process can be automated somewhat so that you press record on the computer, press play on the tape deck, and walk away.
     
  15. rze99

    rze99 Poster Extraordinaire

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    It is time consuming

    Did all mine - loads of demos and rehearsals and gigs - a few years ago over along period of time. Basically when I had the time to baby sit the process while watching a movie or playing guitar.

    I used a Denon cassette deck into small mixing desk and used NCH wave lab (was free then).

    Just wav recordings. Laborious!

    I remastered some using my DAW (Reason) to balance EQ etc. I backed them all up as wavs but they are all on iTunes as AAC files now. A few old band mates freaked out when I sent them DVDs as Christmas presents!
     
  16. BigBillow

    BigBillow Tele-Meister Silver Supporter

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    Man, IDK, things have changed. The quality of cheap audio interfaces are leaps and bounds better then the stuff 15 years ago.

    Provided you have the storage space, a cheap interface can get you 192hz/ 24bit now. Way more info than a cassette needs!!

    If you have a good tape deck, go RCA-out
    to a USB interface.

    Cassettes are rad, it’s a shame they wear out. A clean cassette tape into a good player/ system...is that better than digital?

    Maybe keep ‘em for the next breed of hipsters after u transfer.
     
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  17. Telecaster88

    Telecaster88 Tele-Holic

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    Thanks, everyone! I knew I could count on TDPRI for good advices. I have an old tape deck -- hasn't been plugged in since 2006. I'll see how that's working and get it rigged up to my Focusrite.
     
  18. Old Deaf Roadie

    Old Deaf Roadie Friend of Leo's Silver Supporter

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    I have free & clear access to an Allen & Heath GLD-120 mixing console. I split the stereo to discreet channels & go hard left & right with the pans, then save as a .wav file to a USB stick during playback. Works for all those old LP's, too. After that, it can be reformatted on any number of audio editing apps. I like Audacity for that.
     
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