Back in the 70’s and 80’s, when you wanted to hear music on demand, you took a cassette tape, popped it into the boombox or cassette player, and pressed the play button. More often that not you had to wait for your song to come up as they were queued. Sure, there was a fast forward button, but more often than not it was anyone’s guess where fast forwarding took you. After Side A, there was Side B. But if you wanted to listen to Side A again, you would have had to rewind.
Ah, those good old days with the cassette tape. While a lot of component players still have cassette tape decks, you realize that the medium is going the way of the technological dinosaur, and the cassette tapes you have will not last forever either.
The best thing to do is burn your cassettes to CD.
Still not convinced you should do this? There are other reasons. You might have some rare songs in those cassettes. Some of the songs you have in your cassette tapes may no longer be in circulation or hard to find, or maybe you recorded that music during an awesome concert in your youth.
You might also want to preserve your other memories. Maybe some of those cassettes have more than music in them. Maybe a segment of you and some friends fiddling around with the tape recorder, or you secretly recording your sister singing or some other precious family moment saved in sound. You must preserve those precious bits of the past before it is too late.
First, you must remember that transferring your old cassette tapes to CD will not improve the audio quality. The audio quality will remain the same. And remember that the information on cassette tapes degrades over time, just like VHS tapes.
If you think copying your cassette tapes over to CD is a complicated process then you are wrong, it’s even simpler than converting VHS to DVD.
What you need
Aside from your computer you will need:
1) A cassette player to play the tapes
2) A 3.5mm stereo patch cable to connect the cassette player to your soundcard
Note: If you will use your stereo you may have RCA audio plugs behind the unit and you need a “Y” cable that goes from the RCA ports in your player to the stereo inputs in your soundcard. If you are using a Walkman or another type of tape deck player, you will need a stereo to stereo patch cable.
3) Audacity – An open source program that lets you record and edit audio. If you want the music stored as MP3 files you also have to install the LAME MP3 encoder.
First, download the Audacity program. This is a free program compatible with multiple operating systems so it should not matter if you have Windows, Mac or Linux installed. It’s worth mentioning that while those mentioned platforms have their own recording software, Audacity offers more options when it comes to recording and editing.
After you have installed Audacity select the Preferences option under the Edit menu and set the number of channels to two. This is so you can listen to your converted music files in stereo, although the music on the cassette tape was only recorded on one channel.
The next step is selecting the bit rate for your recording. Bit rate determines how much data the information in your audio recording will have. That choice depends on two important factors; the material being recorded and the quality of the recording on the tape.
If the recording is mostly human voice – by this we mean like a radio program, a lecture or you and friends trying out a new recorder – a bit rate of 24kbps (kilobits per second) should suffice. The human voice covers a relatively narrow audible frequency range and anything less than the suggested bit rate will make the voice in the sound file sound thin.
If the recording is mostly music then the higher bit rate of 128kbps is recommended. The frequency range of musical instruments covers a range beyond that of human speech and needs more information to reproduce more precisely.
If the recording is very poor in quality a lower bit rate might just do the trick. What this does is help exclude some of the unnecessary information during your recording process like background noise and static, making it easier to clean up the audio during editing.
While 256 kbps is close to CD quality it’s best to keep away from it. Remember we have already said moving your cassettes to CD will not improve the sound quality and you will just end up getting a larger file size of the same sound fidelity.
Preparing to Record
Once you already have everything you need attach the cassette player to the soundcard using the patch cord. The soundcard is what let’s your CPU play music, so most PCs today ought to have one in the back. If you cannot find any, the soundcard will be built into the motherboard. Plug the cable into the MIC input of the soundcard, this is usually the pink circle.
If your computer has a Microphone input in it, try using this one also and see which captures the sound better.
Start Audacity and make a few test recordings to adjust the volume levels either on the tape player or your computer. You have to adjust the volume because if it is too loud your soundcard may not accurately copy the audio from the tape and leave the out the louder parts of the file.
Copying to your Computer
Once you’ve had the volume sorted you can now begin the transfer process. Start recording on Audacity and press PLAY on your tape player. Your computer will immediately start recording the sound being input into it. After the tape has stopped playing you can end the process and save the resulting audio file.
After this it’s time to face the music. Listen to the file and edit it, try removing various noises and background noises if there are. It is also advisable to “cut up” the entire recording into several parts – for example by song if it is music or by segments if it is voice clip. This is so that you will not have to listen to the entire thing to get to a song you like and also for easy navigation later on.
Always keep an untouched original recording of the audio file. Sort of like a template from which you can copy and build on and keep improving. Once some changes are made and carried over and you find out you don’t like them it would be a waste of time to start over again.
Also, just because you now have audio files of the data that once was in your cassette tapes does not mean you now have a reason to get rid of them. Keep the tapes around, not necessarily in sight, just in case you have to do some things over again.
Burning the edited audio to CD
After you have recorded the music from your cassette tape and edited and cleaned it up to your satisfaction then you are ready to burn it to a CD. There are many programs that allow you to do this so looking for one should be no problem. If you have an iPod chances are you have iTunes in the PC and if you are using Windows you might also have Windows Media Player, both of these programs also let you save data to your CD.
Sit back and enjoy the music
So as you can see the process is really simple and straightforward, although much of it involves trial and error. But remember, to get the best results you have to give it your best shot. So once you’re done, sit back, relax and enjoy your old music, or other recordings. The best part of it all is that there’s no more waiting for your song to come up, no more hit-and-miss fast forwarding and rewinding the entire thing after.