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Cassette Tape to MP3

By maXimus4444 ยท 42 replies
Jun 21, 2006
  1. whats up,

    i've recently been assigned to convert a large library of cassette tapes into MP3 format. if anyone has any input on conversion utilities and/or hardware, cables, adapters, etc. it would be greatly appreciated!

  2. DragonMaster

    DragonMaster TS Rookie Posts: 327

    Have you already planned which cassette deck and sound card to use?

    If you have a *large library* of tapes to convert, you better go with very good equipment. (Good cassette deck = Minimized wow & flutter, best sound quality, etc. Good soundcard = Low computer noise, good preamps, etc.)

    The only good cassette decks are made by Nakamichi(You might think you have a good one until you hear a Nak), but they stopped producing them so you need to get a used unit that will probably need service. (Suscribe to naktalk mailing list if you think you're going to use one instead. A Nakamichi Dragon will calibrate itself automatically to match each tapes even if they were recorded on different, probably never serviced, machines)

    As for the digital format, at least save your "original recording" to a lossless format before converting to MP3. In a few years MP3 will probably turn obsolete because of it's low sound quality.

    Apart from that, you need a good sound card(M-Audio, Auzentech, Audiotrak),

    editing software (A deck is saving you time here, there are less "corrections" to bring. If you get a new card, there's probably going to be some with it, but what else, you can use Audacity, it's free)

    cables. (Monster Cable isn't necessary and never will be. It's marketing BS. The best is to build cables, but a pair of 3' RadioShack Gold Series RCA cables will do the job.)

    Then, time is needed. (To separate the tracks, etc.)
    There's some sound enhancing software, but use only if the original tape sounded bad.

    More info could help to see if you really need an high-end deck and sound card.

  3. Vigilante

    Vigilante TechSpot Paladin Posts: 1,666

    I agree.

    I use Audacity all the time, but have trouble using LAME encoder with it for MP3, give it a shot.

    At it's most basic, basic level, if you are not going for the high quality as talked about, then you can simply connect the line-out or headphone jack of your tape player, to the line-in or mic of your PC. Likely using just a stereo male-to-male cable with 1/8" jacks.
    Your computer's built-in sound card (or whatever sound card), and whatever tape player you have, with a $4 dollar cable from Radio Shack, and you're in (basic) business. Just set Audacity to record from line-in or mic, and play with the recording levels, test a couple times until you get a good signal without clipping, and record away.

    It's probably also worth noting that some CD/tape home stereos have direct recording from tape to CD. And on top of that, it auto-detects quiet space and auto-creates tracks for you on CD. But of course CD-quality is not great. But then again, it is already BETTER then tape quality. So if worse comes to worse, one of these tape decks with built-in recording could kill two birds with one stone. Because you would have an automatic audio CD of tapes, and then just using your favorite ripping software, create the MP3s FROM those CDs. No direct recording necessary.
    Quality should be fine because, again, CD quality is still already better then tape quality. Depends how much of a perfectionist you are :)

    Have fun with that!
  4. DragonMaster

    DragonMaster TS Rookie Posts: 327

    That's why I suggest a Nakamichi, a couple of their models sound better than a CD, even an LP, and a lot of reel to reel decks. The only thing is that the tapes need to be recorded with one of these decks to sound great. (Probably not the case, but they can play tapes better than other decks)
  5. Vigilante

    Vigilante TechSpot Paladin Posts: 1,666

    ebay here I come.....
  6. DragonMaster

    DragonMaster TS Rookie Posts: 327

    Better get some info first. I bought a deck on eBay that people normally get for $30 @ $120... (Plus it's only giving me problems)

    A problem is that the good models cost big bucks to repair and buy.
  7. maXimus4444

    maXimus4444 TS Rookie Topic Starter Posts: 86

    Well thanks for the input...

    Those Nakamichi decks sound like just the ticket. Are there any models you suggest, because that is the exact kind of quality i'm looking for.

    I'll give audacity a try and see how she fairs.

    Again thank you for your help.

  8. DragonMaster

    DragonMaster TS Rookie Posts: 327

    Well, like I told earlier, a Dragon could be great because it calibrates itself to the tape, and since the old collection of tapes probably aren't recorded with a machine that was serviced every years, a normal deck wouldn't play them properly.

    You shouldn't wait for miracles with this machine since the tapes probably aren't well recorded, but it will still sound better than an ordinary deck. If you look on eBay, this deck sells for $600+ tho. And you can't send them to repair anywhere also.

    They have a couple of other models that may not be optimal, but should work very well.

    What's your budget?
  9. Ruben

    Ruben TS Rookie Posts: 100

    I think it all depands on:
    -who commisioned this work
    -how much you gonna spend on the stuff
    (i.e. how much they gonna pay you)

    Spend money evenly between things. I am sure cassette deck matters but I doubt there is only one brand worth looking at. Make sure it has line out a least, many cheap casette players do not have it at all, and you end up using headphone socket, which is usually very cheap. Also if you buy 2nd hand and can't service it yourself not a good idea. Then you better off buy something brand new so that you do not have to worry.

    As for sound cards I would defenitely look at X-Fi for they are good quality and come with noise removing software exactly for tasks like this one.
    But even USB Live card for my laptop came with some gap sensing software so that you can easily automate the process. It is 24 bit card, too.

    Yeah, I think if you are not paid thousands for this project you could get either this or that X-Fi I mean if it is within your budget get X-Fi Elite Pro (analog to digital conversion done with the same ADC that is used in ProTools systems used profesionally)

    If you want to go full size pro look at M-Audio or EMU cards. Don't get Auzentech card mentioned above. This is home theater card, poor analog capabilities.
  10. DragonMaster

    DragonMaster TS Rookie Posts: 327

    Feature-wise, Creative is excellent. But for sound-quality, they're not the best out there.

    Recording tip : Record the tapes at least at 24bit 96k and convert them to 16/44.1 or 16/48 afterwards. Software conversion is apparently a lot better to keep details in the sound.

    Sadly, a lot of analog-crazy people say that it isn't the case. An high-end Technics can beat a low-end Nak by a little bit, but high-end models are hard to beat. Probably because they patented everything to optimize tape playback and recording.
  11. maXimus4444

    maXimus4444 TS Rookie Topic Starter Posts: 86

    I already have an Audigy 2.0 ZS. I'm not a sound card guru but i think this card will do the job. If you don't think it will let me know and I'll be glad I swapped it out before the conversion.

    I have approximately $500 to spend on this project. And if the sound card is up to par then all i have to worry about is the deck and the conversion software, correct?

    i appreciate all the info
  12. DragonMaster

    DragonMaster TS Rookie Posts: 327

    If you have one I say you should keep it.

    If you plan to do much conversion an M-Audio Audiophile 192 is a better choice, but right now it reduces your budget for the deck a lot. Spending on software isn't worth it considering that Audacity already exists. (Also, if you find out that the plugin you would need to clean the audio for example isn't available, you could just process the audio later)

    I just asked for deck suggestions, telling it shouldn't cost $500 with service.
  13. Sharkfood

    Sharkfood TS Guru Posts: 1,019

    That card is more than adequate for recording analog, casette tape audio. Overkill, actually given the recording medium.

    Correct. You only need a tape deck, proper adapter to hook-into your soundcard's line-in (a couple bucks at Radio Shack), and software- which Audacity is free and full featured.

    Of course, the biggest expense will be time.. having to babysit a bunch of cassette recordings. hehe.
  14. DragonMaster

    DragonMaster TS Rookie Posts: 327

    Just need to calibrate the line-in to the deck's max output to prevent clipping once, and use a timer to time when the side of the tape should have finished to record. I like SoundForge for this, you can set a record timer, but it costs a LOT of $$$.

    After that, there's the track separation and naming...

    maX, I start getting some suggestions, but I would need to get more. Do you have future plans to use it for recording?

    As long as you're not digitalizing tapes made with a good cassette deck. (Over 90% of the tapes on this planet aren't...)
  15. Vigilante

    Vigilante TechSpot Paladin Posts: 1,666

    Just about ANY for-PC sound card is going to introduce "some" noise in the signal, because of their noisy little amps.
    Again, I wouldn't go overkill on this, given the quality in a tape. So I'd say your current sound card is just fine.

    What you want to do is be sure to use line-level signals. Meaning a tape deck with line-out and your sound-card's line-in. This should give the cleanest and best signal.

    Going from a tape deck headphone jack to a sound card's mic-in would be terrible. Or any other combo. Line-level is best. Audacity is really simple to get to use, really simple to set your recording levels. And if you record a little weak, it can quickly amp it up to the highest it can go without clipping.

    It would seem your only expenditure would be a decent tape deck. And a single cable from Radio shack.
  16. DragonMaster

    DragonMaster TS Rookie Posts: 327

    Seems like people have different opinions on mediums.

    Here's what I got from one member of the mailing list I asked a suggestion for(I can't copy the exact content of the mail tho) :

    "If he wants to listen to great analog, then getting a Nak and listening the tapes on it is the best option. If CD is good enough for him, then an old "nakered" Sherwood will do the job. For better sound, a Nakamichi with adjustable azimuth could do. But, it would be wasted."

    What I have to say : Suppose we consider a Nak better than digital audio(True with most, but anyways), you're going to get an excellent digital result. When you've been asked to convert these tapes, people asking you for this job would probably have waited to hear a cheap cassette deck sound, so there's no problem. Anyways, you probably copy a bunch of commercial or cheap recorded cassettes so, then, the medium itself isn't pretty good and don't consider what he says, a Nak is going to be a good option for your job.

    I think I've found a good well-maintained Nak for less than $250.

    Also, do you have any maintenance tools for a cassette deck? (Important to keep sound quality) You need an AC-powered demagnetizer and something to clean the heads. (Not rubbing alcohol) Demagnetizing and cleaning should be done every 10-15 tapes. -> This kind of maintenance is something about no one knows about and makes cassette decks look bad.
  17. N3051M

    N3051M TS Evangelist Posts: 2,115

    Ahh.. spoken like a pro :D.

    Its true, i dont think much consumers knows about this (even if some tape deck manufacturers put it in their manuals) but recording studios, and those who do sound their whole life (both profession and hobby) would know its vital to keep a head demagitised as much as possible (reduce unecesary noise and such).

    The audigy sound card is good, but as said not the best, but will do the job nicely.

    I think Vigiante said it all. Focus your budget on the tape deck. Must have a line out- either stereo RCA or 3.5 stereo is good, Digital I/O or S/PDIF etc are better (keeping digital signal the better..)

    One note is that when you visit your local electronics shop, do make sure your not only grabbing the cheapest cable of the bunch (depending on your transfer method and medium) but also quality wise, and the connector itself. That said, you should'nt grab the most expensive one also.. just a decent one (gold plated always good... :D). It'll help reduce crackling and other noise/interference also...
  18. DragonMaster

    DragonMaster TS Rookie Posts: 327

    One of these: (They look like a quite decent DIY pair of cables)

    With this: (Pricey, but if you have the 2 ZS Platinum you don't need it.)

    Or there are some RCA to 1/8" stereo cables like this :
    but I seriously don't trust Monster brand cables. (I tell you, start yourself an audio company making things like this and you're going to be rich in no time! Like $300 CD demagnetizers(CDs can't magnetize), CD flasher, green CD marker, $60 power outlets, $300/foot speaker cable. I'm sure that all of them are produced for under $15.)

    The only problem is to get them. eBay is the only place, and the only demagnetizer that really works costs $60.
  19. N3051M

    N3051M TS Evangelist Posts: 2,115

    wow.. thats a first.. although minidiscs use magnetoptical media... the magnet just acting to focus the laser more precise and therefor giving nearly the minidisc the same data space as a normal 12cm cd...

    gee.. and i dont think we have that brand here (maybe an imported cheapo equivelance.. :D). I use my own brand: The soldering kit.
  20. DragonMaster

    DragonMaster TS Rookie Posts: 327

    OK maX, I found someone with an excellent (no need for repair) $220 deck.

    It doesn't have auto-azimuth (one channel might be louder than the other when recording, you could adjust it with the computer manually with the screwdriver anyways), but about all the other Nak features.
  21. DragonMaster

    DragonMaster TS Rookie Posts: 327

    Also, even if it costs a lot, you have an excellent cassette deck after that. If you don't want it after having done the job you could sell it to me. (I have two low-grade Nakamichi)
  22. Vigilante

    Vigilante TechSpot Paladin Posts: 1,666

    Don't tell me you still have tapes? Tisk. They need to die.
  23. CrossFire851

    CrossFire851 TS Rookie Posts: 766

    I haven't read the other post, nor do I have time right now.

    What you can do is use a tape player, and the headphone port you can plug in a mini jack cable with RCA ends on it. Then plug it into your computer's input. you may need a new sound card ($30). Then with the software others have recommed (assuming) you have a tape mp3.
  24. DragonMaster

    DragonMaster TS Rookie Posts: 327

    What about iPods? Sounds worse! (Than tapes on a good cassette deck, even CD is worse. Nakamichis are used for masters sometimes, even the top models beat a lot of reel to reels, which are often used as master tapes even today.)
  25. N3051M

    N3051M TS Evangelist Posts: 2,115

    Yep, i guessed you've missed a bit.. headphone jack aint the best form of transfer, since its not the original signal but usualy an amped signal.. what dragon's doing is trying to find a decent casset deck for max..

    At least ipods, if given the correct AAC media and encodeing gives much better audio than cds.. and heck better than mp3 or minidiscs...

    although one would miss the joys of true analogue.. if only it could be played accurately and clearly..
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