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How to Convert a Cassette Recording to a Digital Audio File

Updated on December 7, 2009
Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz has a PhD in linguistics from Rice University. She is an ape language researcher and the author of Vacuum County and other novels.

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?

Cassette Recorder

Image Credit: Wikipedia
Image Credit: Wikipedia

Conversion Experiences

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

The red jack is for the mike. The blue jack is the line-in. The green jack is for the earphones.
The red jack is for the mike. The blue jack is the line-in. The green jack is for the earphones.

A sound card with more than three jacks

Image Credit:http://www.fvdes.com/knowledgeroot/uploads/image/sound_card.jpg
Image Credit:http://www.fvdes.com/knowledgeroot/uploads/image/sound_card.jpg

A Laptop Often has no Line-IN

Image Credit: Polderbits.com
Image Credit: Polderbits.com

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:

  1. connect one end of the audio cable to the headphone or line out  (AUX) jack on your cassette player .
  2. connect the other end of the audio cable to the line-in jack on your computer's soundcard.
  3. 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.
  4. Press "record" (a red circle) in your Audacity window.
  5. 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.)
  6. After your tape has ended, press stop (a yellow square) in Audacity.
  7. Select Export and save as a wav file.

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.

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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    • Aya Katz profile image
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      Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks

      Thanks, am@n for your contribution to the dialogue.

    • am@n profile image

      am@n 7 years ago

    • Aya Katz profile image
      Author

      Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks

      Hi, Jay. Thanks for your comment. Do you have recordings of that music? Right off hand I don't know of any such program, but I have a feeling there probably is one. This is a good topic for a separate hub, and if I get a chance I will research it.

    • profile image

      JAY 7 years ago

      NEED HELP I WAS IN A BAND WHICH DID A LOT OF ORIGINAL MUSIC. BUT NOBODY TOOK THE TIME TO WRITE DOWN THE CHORDS OR MUSIC NOTESIS THERE A PROGRAM THAT I COULD DOWN LOAD THAT WOULD ALLOW ME TO DO THIS.THANKS

    • Aya Katz profile image
      Author

      Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks

      RK Pugal, what you need is "speech-to-text" software or what is otherwise known as "speech recognition". In this case, you don't even have to convert the cassette to digital, just play it for your speech recognition software.

      Here is a link with information about that:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speech_recognition

    • profile image

      RK Puggal 7 years ago

      My problem is related to recorded cassette to text file.

      Can someone suggest how to convert audio cassette to text file. I mean whatever recorded in the audio cassette should be written in text.

      regards.

    • Aya Katz profile image
      Author

      Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks

      jxb7076, thanks!

    • jxb7076 profile image

      James Brown 7 years ago from United States of America

      Great information and well researched - thanks for sharing!!!

    • Aya Katz profile image
      Author

      Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks

      Nets, thanks! I'll take a look.

    • nhkatz profile image

      nhkatz 7 years ago from Bloomington, Indiana

      Aya,

      Here is a free download for a PC that claims it can extract the data contained in an Apple II cassette after that cassette has been converted to a .wav file.

      (It also has various utilities for dealing with certain

      Apple II disk file systems.)

      http://sourceforge.net/projects/ciderpress/

      Nets

    • Aya Katz profile image
      Author

      Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks

      Ngureco, thanks! You bring up two related issues: 1) keeping old things we no longer use and 2) data conversion. In the case of old cassette tapes, the tapes will very surely become useless in our lifetimes, so the only question is whether the information that is stored on them is worth keeping. But, of course, whatever media we convert them to may also become obsolete very soon. Too bad we can't store pure information and forget about a physical medium!

      People in the U.S. get their old baby shoes plated with gold (or is it copper?), so then old shoes can turn to gold!

    • ngureco profile image

      ngureco 7 years ago

      This is very good information but sound like Greek to me. How I wish we can have one single button to press and everything get in place.

      I am sure in a few more decades that music, data files, black and white photos, etc, will turn into gold.

      I have many old things littering around here including those shoes I used in 1965 when I was a baby. I keep wondering whether I really do need those old items if for the last five years I have not used them.

    • Aya Katz profile image
      Author

      Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks

      Shalini, thanks! I think many of us are in the same position when it comes to old recordings. We know we should convert them, but it's so hard to find the time. Here's to all of us getting our music collections in order in the coming year!

    • Shalini Kagal profile image

      Shalini Kagal 8 years ago from India

      I'm bookmarking this - thanks Aya! We've been so lethargic about a lot of our music - there are cupboards full of vinyls, reels and cassettes - this is just the impetus I needed to get going in the new year!

    • Aya Katz profile image
      Author

      Aya Katz 8 years ago from The Ozarks

      Nets, that is an intriguing alternative!

    • nhkatz profile image

      nhkatz 8 years ago from Bloomington, Indiana

      The Apple-free approach: Of course, you don't need a working

      Apple II to read your collection of Apple II cassettes.

      Here is a link to Wozniak's Byte article from 1977 in which he describes the Apple II. (I find the explanation of Little Brick to be particularly nostalgic.)

      http://oldcomputers.net/byteappleII.html

      The relevant part is here:

      ________________________________________________________

      The Apple-II cassette interface is simple, fast, and I think most reliable. The data transfer rate averages over 180 bytes per second, and the recording scheme is compatible with the interface used with the Apple-I. This tape recording method can be used with any inexpensive recorder, but as with any such use of audio media only high quality tapes should be used in order to avoid problems due to dropouts from poor oxide coatings on the tapes. In the Apple audio cassette interface, timing is performed by software which is referenced to the system clock. A zero bit is defined as a full cycle of a 2000 Hz signal (500 us long), while a one bit is defined as a full cycle of a 1000 Hz signal (1 ms long). While reading data, full cycles are sampled, never half cycles, a method which tends to provide immunity to DC offset and other forms of distortion. All the cassette management routines are available to user programs as subroutine calls from assembly language directly, or through hooks in the BASIC interpreter.

      _________________________________________________________

      You've got to admit that 180 bytes/sec is blazingly fast.

      But the upshot is that you could employ the methods of

      this hub to convert your Apple data files into .wav files

      and then write very simple code on modern computers that

      converts them to 1's and 0's.

    • Aya Katz profile image
      Author

      Aya Katz 8 years ago from The Ozarks

      Nets, forever doesn't seem to last very long these days.

    • nhkatz profile image

      nhkatz 8 years ago from Bloomington, Indiana

      This video was shown 100 days after they introduced the Macintosh. It was their promise that despite this, the future was the Apple II which they would support forever.

    • Aya Katz profile image
      Author

      Aya Katz 8 years ago from The Ozarks

      Nets, very inspiring! However, the MacIntosh was a complete betrayal. That's when I changed to a PC.

    • nhkatz profile image

      nhkatz 8 years ago from Bloomington, Indiana

      Aya,

      Here's a music video you might find inspiring.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YcjlhFVTY50

    • Aya Katz profile image
      Author

      Aya Katz 8 years ago from The Ozarks

      Hot Dorkage, thanks! That's a very musical child, who can sing in tune even before speaking. Myself, I couldn't match pitch till I was eight!

    • hot dorkage profile image

      hot dorkage 8 years ago from Oregon, USA

      Good hub, and timely. We have an irreplaceable casette tape of our son singing (more precisely vocalizing, because he wasn't even close to talking yet) at a very early age perfectly in tune and rhythm I'd like to have that for my upcoming dotage.

    • Aya Katz profile image
      Author

      Aya Katz 8 years ago from The Ozarks

      Thanks, Nets.

    • nhkatz profile image

      nhkatz 8 years ago from Bloomington, Indiana

      Right. The Apple was well equipped with expansion slots.

      If you follow the link to A2 central, you'll see that various vendors sell boards with this purpose.

    • Aya Katz profile image
      Author

      Aya Katz 8 years ago from The Ozarks

      Paraglider, thanks.

      Nets, so I need hardware that will allow me to plug a flash drive into an Apple II peripheral slot?

    • nhkatz profile image

      nhkatz 8 years ago from Bloomington, Indiana

      I think I basically understand how to solve the ascii problem.

      The Apple enthusiasts can sell you a peripheral that allows Apple Dos 3.3 to treat a flash drive as if it were an Apple

      disk and write to in such a way that the rest of the world sees a standard file.

      If you had such a peripheral running and were able to run Dos 3.3 on your machine what you would do is the following:

      You would load your ascii file from the

      tape into a block of memory in the standard way using

      Applesoft basic or the monitor program. Then you would run Dos 3.3 and use the Dos Bsave command to save the block of

      memory as dos binary file on the flash drive. At that point

      you should have a file that is readable on the PC side. It is possible that some conversions might be necessary, but you could write code to do this automatically (on the PC side.)

    • Paraglider profile image

      Dave McClure 8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Yes, the freeware is a much friendlier program especially if you have a lot to convert. If I think of an ASCII solution I'll get back to you.

    • Aya Katz profile image
      Author

      Aya Katz 8 years ago from The Ozarks

      Paraglider, the windows software is kind of limited, although I did do a filk about the XP sound recorder to the tune of supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. Did you catch that hub? Netted me a whole twenty-six cents, too!

      I plan to convert my audio files very soon, but I am still stumped about what to do about the ASCII files on cassette. Do you have anything to add to Nets's suggestions on that subject?

    • Paraglider profile image

      Dave McClure 8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Hi Aya - even without downloaded software, you can create a wav file with the windows native sound recorder (all programs/accessories/entertainment/sound recorder), but you'd still need to download some freeware if you want to convert it to mp3.

      Worth mentioning that if you have cassettes to convert, do it soon, because cassette players are full of components (like electrolytic capacitors) that are near the end of their lives. Leave it a few more years and your old tape deck is likely to output more mains hum than music!

    • Aya Katz profile image
      Author

      Aya Katz 8 years ago from The Ozarks

      Thanks, Nets.

    • nhkatz profile image

      nhkatz 8 years ago from Bloomington, Indiana

      Aya,

      This page may also help:

      http://a2central.com/

    • nhkatz profile image

      nhkatz 8 years ago from Bloomington, Indiana

      Aya,

      A modem and an ethernet card serve the same function. (But I don't think an Apple II could really take advantage of the speed of a modern connection.)

      I don't know the details about how his set-up works. Maybe

      you could write him and ask?

      Ironically there are more people still running Atari 800's than Apple II's. [The Atari is another computer of the

      same vintage run by a 6502 processor.] For the Atari,

      there are commercial products that allow you to connect

      to the internet and indeed run peripherals through a USB

      port.

      Of course there are still text browsers. In Unix, the text browser is called lynx.

      There should be some way of setting up a direct serial link between a PC and an Apple, but you might have to write your

      own drivers. Anyway connecting to the internet seems like more fun.

    • Aya Katz profile image
      Author

      Aya Katz 8 years ago from The Ozarks

      Nets, thanks! I followed the link you gave and the pictures gave me an overall idea of how to do it, but I'm still not clear how. Besides a modem, will I also need an ethernet card? Are there really still text browsers available? If so, could I also browse from my well account when I am on pine?

      Is it possible to bypass the internet and somehow rig a modem between an apple II and a current day PC and transfer to the PC as if it were receiving the data over the internet?

    • nhkatz profile image

      nhkatz 8 years ago from Bloomington, Indiana

      Perhaps the best way to recover your data files would be to connect your Apple II to the internet. See here:

      http://www.applefritter.com/node/10904

    • Aya Katz profile image
      Author

      Aya Katz 8 years ago from The Ozarks

      Thanks, Dohn121! For me, too, this is a multi-generational project. I have a tape of my grandfather singing I need to convert!

    • dohn121 profile image

      dohn121 8 years ago from Hudson Valley, New York

      What great advice you gave here. My parents have been bugging me about converting their old cassettes on to CD/MP3 and now I know how! Thanks, Aya.