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Transfering Audio Cassettes to a CD-R Disk

By Tom Cumming

 

Cassettes can be transferred to a CD-R disc using a PC with a CD-writer and
a sound card. The general process can be described:

1) Connect your Cassette deck to your PC's sound card.
2) Using sound-editing software, play the record and tape into the
computer.
3) Split the sound files up into smaller files, one for each CD track, if
necessary.
4) Burn these files onto a CD-R disc using a CD writer and CD burning
software.

I will now explain each of these points individually:


1) Connect your Cassette deck to your PC's sound card.

Compared with even Vinyl, the sound quality of audio cassettes leaves a lot to be desired, so it pays to give some attention to the quality of the cassette deck you are using. The best type of cassette deck to use are hifi-seperate cassette decks (the good old fashioned "stack" hifi tape deck, a black or grey box about 40cm wide.) If you have one of these, then that is excellent. What you need to connect it to your PC is a lead with two RCA/phono connectors on one end and a 3.5mm stereo jack plug on the other (the same kind of jack that is often used on personal stereo headphones.) The RCA/phono ends go into the tape deck's "play out" connectors. The red is the right hand stereo channel, the white (or sometimes black) is the left. The other end goes into your PC's sound card's "line in" connector - on colour coded systems, this is pale blue coloured.

If you do not have a hifi-separate type hifi, then the next best way is using a mini or micro-sized hifi system. These will normally have a "line out" connector on them somewhere, and the leads and connections will be the same as for the above. However if you do not have a "line out" you will need to use the headphones connector, so you will need a lead with either a 3.5mm stereo jack plug on each end, or a 3.5mm stereo jack plug on one end and a 6.25mm stereo jack on the other, depending on whether your hifi has a 3.5mm or 6.25mm headphones socket.

If you do not have a hifi of any description, then you will need to use a portable machine. Try to avoid battery-powered machines if you can. The connection will probably be the same as above: either a 3.5mm or 6.25mm stereo jack plug at one end and a 3.5mm stereo jack at the other end. However, if the portable machine is not a stereo machine, you will need a lead with a mono 3.5mm jack or 6.25mm jack, which then seperates this into two identical stereo channels.

Your local hifi store or electronics store should be able to sort you out with all the leads, or if not, try........http://www.maplin.co.uk

I would suggest that you do not just buy the cheapest leads: Better quality leads will make a subtle improvement to the quality of the recording and are less easily damaged.

Once you've connected everything up, it's worth giving the cassette deck a once-over before you use it. When was the last time you ran a head cleaning or demagnatising tape through it, for instance? If you give the answer most people give (err, I cannot remember) then it might be a good idea to do this now. If the tape deck has a speed control, make sure it is in the central (normal) position. If your tape deck has any noise reduction buttons such as Dolby B, C or HX pro, make sure they are set according to what it says on the tape (if it does not say, then turn them all off.) Similary, if the deck has a tape type selector, set it to Type 1 or normal or ferric tapes, or type 2 or high for metal tapes.

Before recording, with your finger or a pen or pencil, wind the cassettes past the "lead-in" bit at the start of the tape, so that you do not get 10 seconds of blankness at the beginning of each of your recordings. The "lead-in" is the "dummy" bit at the start of the tape that is a different colour, often pink.


2) Using sound-editing software, play the record and record into the computer.

You will need some wave sound editing software to do this. I find that the Creative Recorder utility that comes bundled with the Sound Blaster Live! series of sound cards is pretty good for this, as are Goldwave http://www.goldwave.com and Polderbits http://www.polterbits.com. The wave editor that comes with some versions of Nero Burning ROM is pretty good as well. Or alternatively you may have another program that came with your sound card. First, you need to tell your computer to record from the line-in. To do this:

a.Double click the yellow speaker in your task bar;
b.Goto options/properties;
c.Click "recording";
d.Make sure "line in" is ticked in the box below;
e.Click OK.
f.Make sure the "line in" slider is selected and slid up (I normally find it needs to go right the way up, but this will depend on you rsound card), and everything else is slid right down and muted, except, if you have one, a slider called "recording control", which is the master slider that governs them all.
g.Minimise but do not close the mixer: you may need it later.

Now, start up your sound editing software. You need to insure you record in the correct format, and this is PCM, 16-bit, stereo, at a sample rate of 44100Hz. In most software this is found either in the options menu or by going to file/new.

Now, click record, and start playing the tape. I would recommend that you just do it for a minute or so to test the connection. If you find it is distorting, then go into the mixer again and lower the recording volume. Similarly, if it sounds hissy and wishy-washy, you may need to increase the recording volume. Note that if you've connected the tape deck up using a headphones jack, then the volume control on the tape deck will also affect the recording. It is a good idea to experiment with which volume control combinations give the best results. For example, I've noticed that some cheap portable machines emit a slight humming sound in the background, that the volume control does not affect. If you have the cassette deck's volume up high, it will not affect it, but if you put the PC's volume control up high, it will magnify it.

Once you've done this for the whole tape at the correct volume, save the file.


3) Split the sound files up into smaller files, one for each CD track.

This will vary from one sound editing suite to the next, so you will need to refer to the documentation for your sound editing software for this. At this stage, if you've got a suitable program, you could also "de-hiss" it, to remove some of the horrid hiss-like sounds that cassettes always have. I know Goldwave is pretty good at doing this. If you don't mind your CDs being written as all one track, you can leave this stage out.


4) Burn these files onto a CD-R disc using a CD writer and software.

This will also vary depending on your CD burning software, but the two most common ones, Nero Burning ROM and Easy CD Creator, it is simply a case of (a) creating a new audio CD and (b) dragging and dropping the .wav files onto the new CD window in the order you wish them to be played. Refer to your CD Burning software instructions for more information on this.


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