Preserve your old home recordings using a standard PC and our guide to converting cassette tapes to MP3
Quick links for Audacity/Cassette to MP3:-
Tutorial 1 – Installing Audacity
Tutorial 2 – Recording
Listening to line in on Windows XP
Listening to line in on Windows Vista
Tutorial 3 – Editing
Tutorial 4 – Installing LAME Mp3
Tutorial 5 – Exporting
When the first PC’s entered our homes in the early 1980’s, sound cards were something of a luxury. Most computers could beep, at different pitches if you were lucky. In modern times however, even budget priced computers can now produce wonderful, CD quality sound effortlessly. What many users do not realise is that most modern PC’s can also capture or record sounds at CD quality too. This means that your PC can be used for capturing and preserving your old cassette tapes. Now those precious recordings needn’t be stuffed away in the attic, they can be enjoyed on your PC or even transferred to CD. As long as you remember to create a backup copy, your old tape recordings can be preserved forever thanks to your computer! In this article, we’ll investigate the hardware and software required for archiving your old analogue memories.
Checking the equipment
Before we can begin transferring your old tapes, there are a few things we need. If you still have an old tape deck in the house, provided it has either a line out connection or a headphone connection then it should be suitable for transferring tapes to your PC. If you don’t have a tape deck any more, there are a number of specially made PC tape decks that have been created for transferring analogue cassette recordings to digital. From the top of the range Ion Tape 2 PC to the retro chique of the (now seemingly discontinued) Plusdeck2C, any of these devices will give excellent results.
If you are using your own cassette deck, your next step is to check the sound connections on your PC. Most PC’s will have at least three; line in, line out and microphone in. The microphone input is generally too sensitive for recording so we will need to use the line in connection. The picture on the right shows an example, though computers vary widely.
Some laptops only have a microphone input, in which case you probably won’t be able to record successfully using either the line out or headphone out from your tape deck. It may be possible to use additional hardware to overcome this problem, but try to use a PC with a line in connection if possible.
Choosing the best cables to use depends on the tape recorder you are using. Check around the back of your tape recorder, does it have two line out/play out connectors that look like the picture shown below?
If so, your choice of cable is easy, you need to buy a “2 RCA to 3.5mm TRS mini-jack cable”. Most computer or electronic stores will be able to supply one. Buying a more expensive, higher quality cable may produce marginally better results, but there is no need to spend a fortune. Realistically, any quality cable will suffice.
If your tape player does not have the line out/play out connectors, you can still use it as long as it has an output for headphones. Choosing the correct cable in this case is slightly more complicated since there are two different types of headphone connector available. The most common headphone connector is the 3.5mm stereo type. This is exactly the same kind of connector as you can find on the back of your PC. If this is the kind of headphone connector on your tape deck, you need a “3.5mm TRS mini-jack to 3.5mm TRS mini-jack cable”.
The other common type of headphone connector is the 6.35mm variety. The tape player shown in the picture above has this kind of connector. It may be possible to buy a 6.35mm TRS mini-jack to 3.5mm TRS mini-jack cable, but it is more common to purchase an adaptor which changes the 6.35mm socket to a 3.5mm one. Most good electronic stores will be able to advise you on the components you need.
Once you have all the necessary cables, you will still need some software in order to capture, edit and save your recordings. If you purchased a dedicated cassette unit for capturing your audio tapes, it may have come bundled with software specially designed for use with the hardware. For the rest of us, we recommend Audacity. Audacity is a powerful, free audio editing program that is ideal for converting cassette recordings to MP3. The software even includes powerful features like noise reduction, meaning your home-made cassette recordings could sound even better than they did before.
Our Audacity tutorials are now available, now you can convert all your old cassette tapes to Mp3 easily!
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