How to Convert a Cassette Recording to a Digital Audio File
I have a house full of dusty old books that nobody reads and cassette tapes that nobody listens to. The tapes are everywhere, and the last time I even noticed them was when my nephews came over and the little one began to play with some of the tapes that were lying around.
What do I have on the tapes? Some are just data files. I used to have an apple computer that stored data on a radio shack cassette recorder. I actually still have that apple computer. I just haven't used it in years.
Others are tapes of songs. Songs off the radio. Songs that people I know sang at filksings. Songs that I wrote the words to and then got somebody else to sing. Should all that go to waste? Can't any of it be salvaged?
Any bit of information stored in one way can theoretically be converted to a virtually identical bit of information stored in a different way. The different methods of conveying information are functionally equivalent. The only question is how.
I've read up on this issue, and here is a digest of what I've gathered. You can convert from analog to digital using equipment you already own. It isn't expensive, and it is not hard.
How to find your "Line-In" Jack
The experts advise not to plug your cassette recorder directly into your microphone jack on your computer, because it might damage your sound card. Instead, they say that you should plug into your "Line-In" jack. But what is a Line-In jack, and how do we recognize it?
Typically, there are three 3.5 mm jacks all in a row. One is for the mike, and it is sometimes color-coded red. One is for the line-in, and it is sometimes color-coded blue. The third is for the earphones, and it can sometimes be color-coded in green. In addition to color coding, there are also symbols to identify which jack is which. The mike symbol looks like a mike. The earphone symbol looks like earphones. The line-in symbol looks like... well, a line coming in. It's hard to describe, so I'm posting pictures.
How to Find the Line-In Jack
A sound card with more than three jacks
A Laptop Often has no Line-IN
Laptops with no Line-Line
Typically, today's laptops come with no Line-In jack. My newest laptop clearly has a soundcard that would have accomodated a Line-In, because there are three little circular holes in a row, at the front of it just right for 3.5 mm jack plugs to fit into. But while two of them are marked with the symbols for mike and earphones, the third is unmarked and plugged in with plastic so that nobody can use it. I think that was mean spirited of the manufacturer.
Luckily, one of my older laptops -- one I hardly ever use -- does have a Line-In.
What To Do
If you have a Line-In jack on your computer, you can turn your cassette recordings into digital recordings without any special hardware. All you need is:
- your old cassette deck,
- a stereo audio cable that ends on both sides with a 3.5 mm male connector,
- your computer with its built in soundcard
- the free audacity software that you can download here
Once you have assembled all of the above, here's what to do:
- connect one end of the audio cable to the headphone or line out (AUX) jack on your cassette player .
- connect the other end of the audio cable to the line-in jack on your computer's soundcard.
- Open your Audacity window, click on "Edit" and then "Preferences". Use the device selector to choose the line-In as your input. Use "Channels" selector to pick from mono or stereo recording.
- Press "record" (a red circle) in your Audacity window.
- Press play on your cassette player. (if you reverse the order of these two steps, you might miss some of the tape's content, although typically there is a leader.)
- After your tape has ended, press stop (a yellow square) in Audacity.
- Select Export and save as a wav file.
Audacity Free Download: Sound Editor
How to plug in to line-in jack
How to Turn Cassette Tape into MP3 Using Windows Movie Maker
How To Convert Analog to Digital using an External Sound Card
If You Don't Have a Line-In Jack
If your computer does not have a Line-In Jack, and you don't want to take the risk of plugging directly to the mike jack, then you might need to purchase some additional hardware to stand in for the Line-In Jack. You might want to get something like the Xitel INport Deluxe, which is basically something to plug your audio cable into as it comes out of your cassette player, and then get another cable to plug in from there to your mike jack. Or, you could use an external sound card, and follow the method outlined in the video I've embedded here.
External Sound Card
Converting Is Familiar -- We've Done It Before
For most of us, the process of converting is a familiar one. We've seen the Line-In jack before. Line-In used to be called AUX IN and Line-Out used to be called AUX OUT. And we used them when we were converting our reel-to-reel tapes to cassette. Earlier still we used them when converting gramophone records to reel-to-reel.
The march of progress is unstoppable. However, the more things change, the more they remain essentially the same. If you don't allow yourself to be intimidated by the novel external appearance of things and the fancy new names that old familiar items have been given, you will manage to find your way back to familiar ground. Is it really necessary to change the method of storing data every ten years or so? No, I don't think it is. But even if we can't prevent it from happening, we can still manage to salvage most of our years of accumulated knowledge and experience.
Now, if I only knew how to convert ASCII files on cassette to text files on a present day PC!
(c) 2009 Aya Katz
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