Recording Analog Media to Digital

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Have an employee who's father just passed away. He was a great musician and recorded a bunch of music on tapes. Now my co-worker wants to save them digitally so she can keep them safe. I know there are lots of ways to record tapes and such to digital music files, so what's affordable? What's the best way to do it? What do I need to know folks?

I'm not an expert but I've done this in the past by connecting a tape player to an interface device and recording on Garage Band on a Mac. There are lots of other and cheaper ways to do it and I'm sure you'll get some excellent advice on this forum. Here's a link to a wiki how page https://www.wikihow.com/Transfer-Cassette-Tape-to-Computer. There are commercial organisations that will do the conversion for you but of course the price will depend on the length of time of the recordings - twenty hours of music would be more expensive than a three minute track. My point is regarding the quality of the digital recording. If this is a way of preserving some treasured music then you would want to make the digital recording as close to the original as possible. To do this you'll need a tape machine that produces a good output signal and a quality computer set up too. You will also have a decision to make on whether or not to 'improve' the original sound. Older tapes can end up sounding muddy or slightly distorted if the tape has been physically damaged. You can correct this digitally but you run a risk of changing the original recording and perhaps giving it a sound that was not intended by the musician at the time. Hope this helps. One positive thing though is that doing this digitally means you can listen to the music and if you don't like what you hear you can easily adjust it until you get the sound you want.

I use software called Magix Audio Cleaning Lab, it's extremely versatile.
In your colleague's case I'd probably look on Fiverr and find someone to do it.

Digital is only temporary; what is she gonna do after the Apocalypse when the computers don't work?
The only surefire way to preserve music is to press it on to vinyl. Wink

@Fuzzy I have a half-written SF story about a bunch of spacefaring monks who are dedicated to hollowing out asteroids and encoding the World's digital information on the insides, chipping out ones and zeroes, bit by bit...

You can do that with any cassette player with at least a headphone out, line out is even better. If you can take a line out of your player into the line in of a recording interface, you'll get the best quality. But one other thing to consider is that back in the day, people would often record things with Dolby noise reduction. If you have access to a "hi-fi" cassette player, (ha ha! hi-fi) you can experiment with which Dolby setting sounds best and it could help you not have to try to reduce the noise after you've recorded it to your computer. You'll still need to edit the file(s) though because you'll want to eliminate all the dead space and likely will need to segment out each different song into its own file. You'll want to do that in some kind of sound recording software like audacity or the like. And to make them universally playable, you'll probably want to convert them to mp3.

Not sure what you mean by affordable. If it was me, I would connect my Focusrite audio interface to the tape output, and then run the usb into my DAW. Is that what we are talking about here? Val, you are funny with your Hi Fi talk!

@headfirstonly I read a similar story once, it was written by an infinite number of monkeys. Wink

If those tapes are cassettes it will be more simple. If by chance they are reel to reel you’ll need more info about the format and tape speed and such.

That's a fascinating concept, @headfirstonly.

I haven't done this in quite a while but I'll offer what I know here. The analog (tape) must pass through a digital converter (sound card) before it can be recorded to digital. You'll need connectors that convert a single phono plug into a single quarter inch (TS size or guitar instrument size). You need two, one for left and one for the right. On my external soundcard, I have TS inputs so I can plug those lines right into the input of my soundcard. From there it is simply of matter of playing the tape and setting input levels. If you only have an onboard soundcard the problem goes beyond the scope of what I can offer because I haven't that in several years. I don't remember much about onboard soundcards anymore. Those onboard soundcards were never intended for professional audio recording and mainly serve as a playback function.

https://www.frys.com/product/8990963?store=27&source=google&gclid=EAIaIQobChMImrTqyLOu3AIVhEOGCh3psg...

Update: I just checked the back of one of my computer and can clearly see there are other inputs outputs available. I think it is possible that one of those connections is a line connection or easier said I think it may support stereo input. That means that a phono to 1/8 size (earbud size) connector could be used to connect to an onboard sound card. I think they call in "line" input. So you would need a cable that can convert two phono input into 1/8 stereo output to connect to the line input of your sound card. Sounds confusing, I know, but that's all I got. My comments are all based on getting the tape on the computer. Once you establish that requirement you can manipulate the data (recording) with software and transfer the data to a media format such as CD or MP3 etc. Good luck!

Update 2: I too have an interest in converting some of my old cassette tapes to digital. I made a big effort to find the equipment I need to accomplish setup but sadly I cannot locate the box that has all my old mixer and analog gear (drum machine, external devices). My intention is for my own use but if my testing had proved to be successful I would be open to making an offer to do the job. Make no mistake about it...it is work converting analog to digital and that takes time = money. I did that for free for a few people a long time ago as a learning experiment. I would not do that for free anymore and would expect to be paid to do the work. Looks like I have to buy the connectors again so I'm already in the hole before I even start. It's just that if you are doing it for somebody else, it takes a lot of your time, and time is money. I simply feel that I should get paid for my time and use of my equipment. All that said I'm not looking for a job. My real interest is converting my old tapes to digital as I have several boxes of tapes...have no idea what is on most of those tapes as they are not labeled. Pretty sure they are from my 4 track days and probably just the stereo mix.

@jcollins If they're 4 track, I hope they're only stereo mix. Otherwise you'll have to find a 4 track so you can play them back. Stereo only plays 2 tracks.

Converters from RCA [2 male plugs] to 1/8" stereo [1 male plug] are common and cheap. Walmart has for $5. They will plug directly into the line in jack on your pc. Some computers have jacks that can be either headphones out, line in, or mic in. Then it's a matter of setting up recording software so you get decent levels - loud enough to capture the information, but not so loud that the signal clips or distorts.

Time is always an issue. It will take [length of tape] plus set up and editing time. Fortunately, you can walk away/ work on something else for much of the playback time.

@iveg You're right and if I turn the tape on the other side it would get a backward playback, and in reverse. Smile
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Update 3: I have successfully, or rather I am currently transferring audio from cassette to my computer. There is a line input on the internal soundcard and I have a cable that converts phono pair to 1/8 stereo output jack. I had to go through my internal sound card because I don't have the TS cable adapters I mentioned above. Further, because of the workaround with two sound cards, I cannot monitor the incoming audio signal by ear. I can see it recording but I cannot hear what is being recorded until I actually stop recording, and then play it back on my computer. Yeah, it's a hassle but if you copying a full tape you can just let it roll all the way through and do your editing later. It's annoying but it is one way I figured out how to get it done with the equipment I have on hand. I need to buy two adapters that connect RCA (phono) to TS (instrument) cables before I can monitor my input. If you are wondering about my cassette player it does not have a headphone out, sadly.

@iveg Good point about checking for clipping as my first try was the wrong input and the input was totally blown out. That's because I plugged into the mic input instead of the line input. You definitely do need to make sure it is the correct input. I'm just repeating because even if you do lower the mic input it would be recording in mono and we don't want that as the source is coming in on two channels. Currently copying another tape I'm quite sure it is stereo material and being recorded in stereo. This tape only says "Steppin' Out", which is one of my songs, but I have no clue what else is on that tape. I know there is something on there because the tape was further advanced than one song, and I rewound quite a bit. I have no idea what's on that tape except for that song, and I don't even know what version as that song made it into a professional recording studio around 1991. Thanks @Adnama17 your topic inspired me and now I know what it takes to get the process of converting analog to digital on my system. @iveg is right2, you only need that Walmart cable to make that happen. Once you get it on a computer it's almost done. I'm going to go check the tape I am recording and maybe find something I haven't heard in 25 years....yep...it's possible.

I appreciate all the input! I haven't had a chance to wade through it all yet, but I'm excited to see what I can figure out for my coworker. I was trying to find something I can give to her and she can do it herself. I have the gear, but not the time.

And yeah, @headfirstonly, you need to write that story, if for no other reason than I want to read it. Smile