Originally published at: http://www.howtogeek.com/177084/how-to-digitizebackup-cassette-tapes-and-other-old-media/
If you have some old cassette tapes lying around, it’s a good idea to digitize and back them up before they decide to show their age and stop working. In this guide, we’ll show how to convert your old collections to digital files, and the best practices for doing so.
Can you do an overview on VHS Tapes?
I'm interested in digitizing them, if there is a program that will allow you to insert menus, chapters and burn to DVD or .iso with minimal loss of quality that would be much appreciated!!!
Your best bet is a video capture USB device. Those work pretty well.
You should not use the microphone jack on your sound card if the line in is present. The microphone jack amplifies audio, including noise and can cause distortions. Some recording programs even change the ranges on the microphone jack. The line in jack is designed for device to device recording.
@RustyGates I'll probably do a guide on digitizing VHS tapes relatively soon, keep an eye out.
@ACF I had always thought the same thing, but the audiophiles I consulted suggested the mic jack. I suppose they would both produce pretty similar results. Seems like solid advice though, thanks for the tip.
Audacity has some stellar noise-reduction abilities. It would have been neat to have at least a mention or link on some common post-processing for cassettes. Noise-removal and Normalize would be two that someone can start with.
Thank you. I have been adding Audacity every time I install an OS but I haven't used it much. Now to dig out my remaining tapes and convert them. I have one question. I used to rip all my albums to tape to prevent them getting scratched in day to day use. A common mistake was to crank the input volume up to make tape playback louder. That would "saturate" the tape. In other words the tape could only take so much signal input before it ran out of headroom. Anything over that would be cut off/lost. The lower strength signal would be boosted up to near the same level as the highs. The resulting playback would sound 'flat' and lifeless. Dropping the input would improve the playback with not much change in volume. In your article you say to set the input all the way up. Does that make a difference when done in this manner? Sure wish I still had my reel to reel and other toys to try this with!
As a HiFi Geek since the beginning of Phillips cassette times, I only can recommend an ancient machine for final playback called Nakamichi "Dragon". The reason is simply to explain: Dragon can run either Dolby B and C when source was noice reduced and can run any kind of prerecorded Azimuth-head adjustments ever made during the recording of your source tape on hand. Any further feature of that mentioned machine is a closed loop speed controlled motor which performs at reference speed level without minimum flutter etc. Major problem might be to find a friend who still owns such a beast but if you detect one, I only can recommend it as the ultimate playback device backing up unique music data for ever
I got the best results by putting the input up, but you may want to experiment with it. A lot of it depends on your playback device. For example, handheld cassette players can't output the sound very loudly, so the softer parts may not sound right if you don't have your input cranked. Cassette decks have much more powerful amps built in, so you could probably get away with a lower input. I'd just try both and see which one sounds better.
@ACF Right on with line-in use. I've used both mic-in and line-in and the mic-in "clips" the tops and bottoms of the waveforms producing distortion. Also, you have a much finer volume setting range when using line-in. I have a lot of old music and preaching audio cassettes that I am digitizing - I use an old Radio Shack Realistic SCT-34 Stereo Cassette Tape deck. It has line-in and line-out RCA jacks on the back for either recording or playback. It's a small easily transportable deck that works surprisingly well for either recording to tape or digitizing from tape to my PC.
@korbinbrown the "audiophiles" you contacted were obviously not audiophiles. If your audiophile friends suggested ever using the mic jack for dubbing cassettes, they need to turn in their cards.
There are two problems with using the microphone jack (the pink jack on most PC's)
As a long time live audio engineer, I completely disagree with ever using the mic port on a PC for anything other than VoIP or on-the-spot spoken recordings (lectures, meetings, etc.)
First, the pink jack is monophonic. Recording to that input will give you the equivelant of a 1950's desktop radio.
Second, The voltage level between microphones and line-level devices is very different. A consumer line level device puts out 0.3 to .4 volts at the optimal level .A dynamic microphone generates something like 1 to 2 millivolts, or .002 volts. So a line level audio source is at least 200x more powerful than a microphone level source. This means that the preamp requirements for the two devices are very different, and a cheap microphone preamp is not suitable for line level sources.
Now the rub: laptops rarely ever have line-in jacks. Rather than plug in to the mic-in jack, hop over to Amazon and pick up an inexpensive USB sound card. I suggest something like the Behringer Audio Interface. It's only about $30, and it's purpose built for recording from professional mixers.
In fact, I strongly recommend an external interface if you're going to do any serious recording. The audio interface built in to any PC has to contend with a lot of electrical noise, and I have yet to meet an on-board sound card that has a decent amount of headroom.
I would strongly recommend revising this article and changing your references to the microphone, stating that you should only ever use the blue line-in jack for recording. The mic jack is for cheap, headset microphones, not for recording music.
The correct way to do this is to set the input so that the loudest part of the recording NEVER lets the input meter on the computer touch the top of the scale. If you ever "peak" the input, reduce the level, go back, and start your recording again.
It's okay to have the volume a little low: in this case, you can always go back and use the Normalize tool to peak the recording. Do this, then use the Noise Reduction tool to get rid of the background hiss.
In fact, getting audio levels right is a whole article by itself. However, in brief, you need to understand something called dB and how digital dBs are different than analog dBs.
The short version is this: in analog recording, 0 dB is the optimum level. When the audio gets much above 0dB, you will start to get distortion. When it gets too low, the background noise will creep in and make your recording sound terrible. Ideally, your audio will hold a steady level of around -10 to 0 dB, with occasional peaks that never exceed around +6 dB.
However, computers all use digital signals. In the digital world, 0 is the absolute loudest you can go! So your "reference" level should take this in to account. If you're using a cassette deck with meters on it, adjust your computer's recording level so that the meter on the computer is at around -10 dB when the tape deck is reading 0. This will give you some headroom for the peaks in your audio.
After recording your song, you still need to clean it up:
- Set the maximum level in the song with the Normalize tool.
- Use the noise reduction tool to clean up the hiss.
- After that, crop the file, removing the blank sections at the beginning and end.
OK, this is going to sound odd and Luddish, but is there a way to do the reverse, i.e. transfer computer audio to a cassette tape? Call me a purist but I've been feeling nostalgic for the old Sony Walkman as of late, rather than the very closed-source iPod that you can't even change the batteries on. They still sell blank audio cassettes at Staples and whatnot, so I was wondering if there is a way to go "back to the future" and convert all my playlists to mixtapes. I know it's possible to make CD mixes, but going back even further would be a cooler challenge. (Eight-tracks are probably not possible, but that's fine.) After all, you never know when Elon Musk will finally release the Tesla DeLorean EMC-2, and you find yourself in need of some Leona Lewis to go along with ol' Huey. ; - )
You're nostalgic for the Walkman, but haven't ever recorded to a cassette?
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