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User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
johnross Tech: Transferring Records And Tapes To CDs (38) RE: Tech: Transferring Records And Tapes To CDs 13 Sep 07

Making copies of tapes onto CDs can either be very simple or extremely complicated. If you just want to make audio CDs from pre-recorded cassettes, it's pretty easy. But if you are working with original master tapes that you want to preserve for an archive, or maybe for release, that's a whole 'nother kind of project.

I make part of my living preserving and restoring old tapes, mostly from festivals, concerts and live radio broadcasts. I'm also working with the professional organizations that are developing standards for digital audio preservation. At that level, there are a bunch of important technical issues related to both analog playback and digital transfer and storage.

But assuming that you just want to make copies for listening, the easiest method is to buy, borrow or rent an Audio CD recorder (a decent one costs maybe $400-500), and plug the output of your cassette player into the input of the CD recorder. Follow the instructions in the manual for recording from an "analog" source.

Before you copy a tape, use a cotton swab (q-tip) and some alcohol to clean the heads on the cassette machine. The heads are the little cubical things that read the magnetic information on the tape--over time, some of the oxide and other gunk from the tapes rubs off onto the heads and interferes with clean playback. While you're there, clean all the other metal and rubber parts that come into contact with the tape.

If you don't have a CD recorder, you can use a computer with a CD burner. Connect the output of the tape player to the input of your computer's sound card, and use a program such as Audacity (it's free from to record the contents of the cassette onto your hard drive. Set the Bit rate to 16k/44.1 and save either the whole side of the tape or each individual tune as a .wav file. Then use the "Burn" feature in Windows Media Player to copy the music to CD.

If the tape is noisy or if you want to edit it, you can either use some features in Audacity or one of the other programs that people have recommended in this topic to clean it up before you burn the CD.

This may sound complicated, but it will be easy after you have copied one or two tapes.

Oh, and one other thing: cassettes can have problems. If the pressure pads have come loose or have been lost, or if the tape is broken, you'll need to repair the cassette before you play it. Usually, that means taking the tape out of the cassette and putting it into a new shell. Handle the tape very carefully to make sure you don't end up with a rat's nest of loose tape.

If the tape squeals, or if it sticks to itself when you try to play it, the chemical make-up of the tape is breaking down. Don't try to play it, or you'll probably destroy it. It's possible to repair these problems, but it takes special techniques and tools.

Sedayne, twenty years from now, many of those "back-up" cassettes will have broken down, one way or another. And unless you buy a good cassette player today and put it on the shelf, you might not be able to play them, because there won't be any parts available to replace the ones that have worn out.

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