Author Topic: Converting Audio Cassettes To Digital  (Read 1618 times)

Malcy

  • This is a Post Office isn't it?
    • Twitter
Converting Audio Cassettes To Digital
« on: January 15, 2021, 10:02:40 PM »
I have loads of old audio cassettes that have radio shows, freestyles, live performances etc that i want to digitise. I looked at getting one of these tape to mp3 converters but they all look so cheap and flimsy and lots of reviews warning that they are shite in terms of sound quality and chewed tapes which is what I thought they would probably be like anyway.

It's looking like my best option is to use an old cassette player and plug in a conversion lead to my laptop and use something like Audacity to record the audio that way. Does anyone have any experience doing this or can recommend a good player that I can use?
« Last Edit: January 15, 2021, 10:17:09 PM by Malcy »

PlanktonSideburns

  • let me play for you the song of my people
Re: Converting Audio Cassettes To Digital
« Reply #1 on: January 15, 2021, 10:04:50 PM »
im doing just that with one of these going straight into a computer sound card:



using reaper, but audacity would do exactly the same im sure

sounding great to me

PlanktonSideburns

  • let me play for you the song of my people
Re: Converting Audio Cassettes To Digital
« Reply #2 on: January 15, 2021, 10:06:55 PM »
dunno your budget, but im using this, and the preamps are clean as hell

https://www.gear4music.com/Recording-and-Computers/Behringer-U-PHORIA-UMC202HD-USB-Audio-Interface/1WMW?origin=product-ads&gclid=CjwKCAiAl4WABhAJEiwATUnEF_wAj_7qazcOlC_AnBb0PbiFz7bMINvecNq6ZWM1_uQuqO24m-9JvxoCEZ0QAvD_BwE

so its

tape>>>>that thing>>.>>usb to computer

id say its worth investing in something like that with proper mic preamps rather than some sort of cable, as the signal out of the tape deck is not going to be mega strong

Sebastian Cobb

  • bad opinion haver
Re: Converting Audio Cassettes To Digital
« Reply #3 on: January 15, 2021, 10:11:54 PM »
Yeah, get an old tape deck. Some might need some belts replacing.

Any modern system is going to be a cheap Tanashin or worse, a clone. Some of them don't even have stereo heads.

Malcy

  • This is a Post Office isn't it?
    • Twitter
Re: Converting Audio Cassettes To Digital
« Reply #4 on: January 15, 2021, 10:12:55 PM »
dunno your budget, but im using this, and the preamps are clean as hell

https://www.gear4music.com/Recording-and-Computers/Behringer-U-PHORIA-UMC202HD-USB-Audio-Interface/1WMW?origin=product-ads&gclid=CjwKCAiAl4WABhAJEiwATUnEF_wAj_7qazcOlC_AnBb0PbiFz7bMINvecNq6ZWM1_uQuqO24m-9JvxoCEZ0QAvD_BwE

so its

tape>>>>that thing>>.>>usb to computer

id say its worth investing in something like that with proper mic preamps rather than some sort of cable, as the signal out of the tape deck is not going to be mega strong

Thanks, not really got a budget although unemployed so have limits but I'm wanting to invest in various bits and bobs of equipment this year so that could be a possibility. Would it matter what tape deck I used if I had that machine?

notjosh

  • Golden Member
  • *****
Re: Converting Audio Cassettes To Digital
« Reply #5 on: January 15, 2021, 10:13:44 PM »
I got one of those USB ones. It's fine for getting a listenable file, but not good enough quality for archiving, and the levels on mine are always going up and down.

Have been looking into getting a refurbished tape deck recently for proper archiving, but haven't managed it yet as I've been looking for a portable one that also has a speaker (so I can listen to my story books in bed like I'm still six years old) and they're harder to find.

I did swap a couple of e-mails with an eBay seller who restores old players and sounds like he knows what he's doing. Might be worth a look:
https://www.ebay.co.uk/usr/retroreilly

PlanktonSideburns

  • let me play for you the song of my people
Re: Converting Audio Cassettes To Digital
« Reply #6 on: January 15, 2021, 10:14:38 PM »
i guess youde want a decent sounding tape deck AND a decent thing to record it with

though i imagine most old tape decks are going to sound good

my nad one was like 20quid from cash converters

Malcy

  • This is a Post Office isn't it?
    • Twitter
Re: Converting Audio Cassettes To Digital
« Reply #7 on: January 15, 2021, 10:16:18 PM »
Yeah, get an old tape deck. Some might need some belts replacing.

Any modern system is going to be a cheap Tanashin or worse, a clone. Some of them don't even have stereo heads.

I'm sure family have some knocking about in cupboards and things. Might have a root around at the folks over the weekend.

I got one of those USB ones. It's fine for getting a listenable file, but not good enough quality for archiving, and the levels on mine are always going up and down.

Have been looking into getting a refurbished tape deck recently for proper archiving, but haven't managed it yet as I've been looking for a portable one that also has a speaker (so I can listen to my story books in bed like I'm still six years old) and they're harder to find.

I did swap a couple of e-mails from an eBay seller who restores old players and sounds like he knows what he's doing. Might be worth a look:
https://www.ebay.co.uk/usr/retroreilly

Also an option, I'll look into it cheers.

Sebastian Cobb

  • bad opinion haver
Re: Converting Audio Cassettes To Digital
« Reply #8 on: January 15, 2021, 10:29:58 PM »
A good sound interface will improve it, I think nosleep and some others rate the cheap and cheerful Behringer UCA222, although I'd wait for them to confirm, it goes for about £25. I wouldn't have thought (microphone) amplification would be necessary, a tape deck outputs at line level which is what most soundcards would expect.

I keep meaning to pick up something like a Yamaha KX393 - affordable machines but have bells and whistles like Dolby C, HXPRO and auto-bias.

PlanktonSideburns

  • let me play for you the song of my people
Re: Converting Audio Cassettes To Digital
« Reply #9 on: January 15, 2021, 10:31:19 PM »
uca222 looks like it could be a good shout for that sorta thing

Malcy

  • This is a Post Office isn't it?
    • Twitter
Re: Converting Audio Cassettes To Digital
« Reply #10 on: January 15, 2021, 11:20:07 PM »
£21 on Amazon! Good shout.

Re: Converting Audio Cassettes To Digital
« Reply #11 on: January 16, 2021, 06:49:37 PM »
im doing just that with one of these going straight into a computer sound card:



using reaper, but audacity would do exactly the same im sure

sounding great to me

I have that exact cassette deck, gathering dust in the back room somewhere. Used one of these, which I also had lying around, plugged into my computer when I was digitising old cassettes, though:


NoSleep

  • Me and the hedgehog, we bursting the tyres all day
    • Space Is The Place
Re: Converting Audio Cassettes To Digital
« Reply #12 on: January 16, 2021, 07:26:36 PM »
The two most important things to make sure of when transferring cassettes is speed correction and azimuth.

If you're playing back cassettes on the same machine they were recorded on, generally neither will be an issue when you transfer them. But if you're buying a machine to transfer them, then that option doesn't exist.

Azimuth can be dealt with in either of two ways. Either you can adjust the azimuth of the playback machine you are using (adjust the screw at the side of the playback head) or just transfer it and digitally adjust it once you have recorded it.
The second method requires a way to delay the left and right channels (using an audio plugin) of the recording separately so that they are both totally in phase. It really makes a difference in the audio quality, especially for stereo cassettes. With mono recordings it isn't such a big issue; you can simply choose which channel sounds the best, centre it and mute the other one.

Speed might be better dealt with at the cassette source. If you take the case of the cassette player and locate the motor you can find a small circle cut into the cylinder with two pieces of rubber covering it from the inside (just preventing dust from entering). You can push a small screwdriver through this and you'll find a screw that you can adjust the speed with. Obviously you need some kind of reference to determine the correct speed; maybe compare a piece of music where you have access to a digital copy of it, a CD or whatever. You can at least adjust the speed to standard by running a commercially released cassette alongside a CD version of the same.
Bear in mind a lot of cassette players in the UK were sent out running too fast as standard, so that commercially released cassettes would sound "brighter" to the average punter.

NoSleep

  • Me and the hedgehog, we bursting the tyres all day
    • Space Is The Place
Re: Converting Audio Cassettes To Digital
« Reply #13 on: January 16, 2021, 07:30:45 PM »
And obviously don't go straight to mp3. Record them as wav/aiff at 24-bit, do whatever processing you require (like the azimuth trick) then you can bounce/render the result.

If you use REAPER you can even adjust the speed change digitally, but that's going to be some loss in quality; better to do it manually before transferring.

sirhenry

  • That worked out well...
Re: Converting Audio Cassettes To Digital
« Reply #14 on: January 16, 2021, 07:36:35 PM »
Malcy - if you live in Leeds I have a Denon DR-M12HR that you can have for free. It was a present from the College of Music so should be good quality.

If not, posting it is likely to cost more than I can justify, sorry.

Malcy

  • This is a Post Office isn't it?
    • Twitter
Re: Converting Audio Cassettes To Digital
« Reply #15 on: January 16, 2021, 09:20:23 PM »
Malcy - if you live in Leeds I have a Denon DR-M12HR that you can have for free. It was a present from the College of Music so should be good quality.

If not, posting it is likely to cost more than I can justify, sorry.

I really appreciate the offer thanks but not in Leeds. Looks like a great bit of equipment. I'd be happy to cover postage costs etc but I wouldn't want to be sending anyone outside unnecessarily or put you to any trouble. I think some couriers collect from home but not sure as I have never sent anything that way.

And obviously don't go straight to mp3. Record them as wav/aiff at 24-bit, do whatever processing you require (like the azimuth trick) then you can bounce/render the result.

If you use REAPER you can even adjust the speed change digitally, but that's going to be some loss in quality; better to do it manually before transferring.

Thanks, I wasn't aware of the speed difference thing. Think this is all going to keep me busy this year!

sirhenry

  • That worked out well...
Re: Converting Audio Cassettes To Digital
« Reply #16 on: January 16, 2021, 09:52:44 PM »
I'll see what it will cost tomorrow. For some reason I've always assumed you're in Glasgow, but if you PM me a postcode I can find the best price for getting it to you.

Sebastian Cobb

  • bad opinion haver
Re: Converting Audio Cassettes To Digital
« Reply #17 on: January 17, 2021, 12:30:29 PM »
How do you accurately set azimuth without visualisation equipment to see things are in phase and possibly a simple signal like a reference tone?

NoSleep

  • Me and the hedgehog, we bursting the tyres all day
    • Space Is The Place
Re: Converting Audio Cassettes To Digital
« Reply #18 on: January 17, 2021, 01:55:44 PM »
The easiest way, if you're doing it manually, is to use a high quality prerecorded cassette as your reference while you're doing it. Stick your best headphones on and slowly adjust the screw. You should hear the mix "centre" as you find the sweet spot; everything will sound bright and solid, too. When it's out you will hear it sound skewed to the left or right and slightly muffled.

Another way to do it is to send the left and right channel to a mixing desk (or a DAW) and pan the two channels to the centre so that you're listening to both channels but in mono. Now if you make adjustments, you can clearly hear the phasing caused by the azimuth being out. When you have it right the signal of the two channels should sound solid and clear in comparison to otherwise (not easy to make a mistake here).

I've used this method on standard cassette players (that play in one direction). I don't think you will have the option to try it on a machine that has one of those rotating heads where it plays both sides of the tape. EDIT: see next post.
« Last Edit: January 17, 2021, 02:10:31 PM by NoSleep »

NoSleep

  • Me and the hedgehog, we bursting the tyres all day
    • Space Is The Place
Re: Converting Audio Cassettes To Digital
« Reply #19 on: January 17, 2021, 01:58:42 PM »
This guy shows how to adjust a reversible head (albeit he doesn't do it by ear):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YhvqOtWwQ1E

NoSleep

  • Me and the hedgehog, we bursting the tyres all day
    • Space Is The Place
Re: Converting Audio Cassettes To Digital
« Reply #20 on: January 17, 2021, 02:09:12 PM »
If you have a three head system, do the playback head as I described above first, then adjust the record head while listening to the playback head while you record something (that sounds useful for making these adjustments; probably something mono played to both channels equally would be ideal).

Malcy

  • This is a Post Office isn't it?
    • Twitter
Re: Converting Audio Cassettes To Digital
« Reply #21 on: January 29, 2021, 09:51:06 PM »
Thanks everyone for the suggestions and tips. Have managed to do a few test converts using the Denon deck from SirHenry (thanks again) and got the Behringer UCA222 which had the bonus of meaning I can now easily listen to my turntable through headphones which is a big plus.

I found some old stuff I had recorded at college so might get round to finishing them some 18 years later! Also just got a pile of tapes from my Gran's house containing family playing piano and who knows what else which I'm going to go through over the weekend.

Plenty to keep me busy which is great, you're a smashing bunch.

JesusAndYourBush

  • Earnest silky coconut shell
    • http://www.google.com
Re: Converting Audio Cassettes To Digital
« Reply #22 on: January 31, 2021, 10:54:54 AM »
A year or two ago I transferred 1300 cassettes over the course of about 13 months.  A right ballacher but it's something I'd been wanting to do for a while.

For some reason which I forget, when I first attempted to transfer audio to my first pc in 2000 the signal from the tape deck was unacceptable - either it was much too loud or much too quiet, can't remember which - so I'm using a minidisc recorder as a 'pass--through device' - basically it's set up as if I'm transferring cassette to minidisc, with record pressed on the minidisc recorder, but with the output of the minidisc going to the pc.  (First thing I did was test to see if the outputted audio was subject to the minidisc's ATRAC encoding, and it isn't, so that was good.)

The two most important things to make sure of when transferring cassettes is speed correction and azimuth.

I'd say the most important thing is to make sure the levels aren't too high.  So much audio I download has the levels set too high - so when you open it in an audio editor the wave is just one big flat line.  The absolute most important thing when transferring audio is - don't have the levels set too high.  When transferring something, always transfer a little bit first, ten seconds to a minute is enough, then open the wave in an audio editor and have a look.  If it's too loud (the peaks shouldn't be reaching the top and getting flattened, that's called 'clipping') then lower the levels and perform another check.  If you end up transferring something and it gets louder part-way through - re-transfer the part that's too loud.  Don't just reduce the volume afterwards and hope nobody notices like so many people do, if the levels are too loud it's ruined and can't be unruined.

NoSleep

  • Me and the hedgehog, we bursting the tyres all day
    • Space Is The Place
Re: Converting Audio Cassettes To Digital
« Reply #23 on: January 31, 2021, 12:39:54 PM »
It goes without saying that you need to check the incoming audio levels for any kind of audio recording. Number one rule for digital recording is never touch 0dB.

Tags: