Once upon a time, there was a stereo cassette player that people used for listening to their favourite music recorded on cassettes that had magnetic tapes. Then arrived a new laser-powered discs that could store up to 10 cassettes worth of song. It became so popular that people forgot about their old cassettes. But soon they realized that a lot of their favourite songs were still on cassettes. But they didn’t want to use old cassette players. So a magician said he could convert the cassettes into CDs and DVDs which could play on their computers. Enough of fairy tale.
If you are an old music fan, you must be having a lot of music on old tape cassettes. These tapes cassettes have not only become obsolete, they are also bulky, require more maintenance and wear with use and risk loss of music. Why not convert all your music cassettes into MP3 and save it on your hard disk or CD/DVD?
What do you need for digitizing your tape cassettes?
- Cassette player
- Appropriate Cable to connect the output of the cassette player to the “Line In” or microphone slot
Audacity is a free, open source audio editing software. It can be used to record and edit sounds playing on the computer or being fed to it through microphone or “Line In”. Download the application and install it.
The tape player will be used to play the analog cassette. The player should have an output slot. It can be for a normal three-pin jack (the kind that are used to plug headphones to your computer or cassette player) or an RCA output which has two separate slots that accept RCA male pins.
If your cassette player’s output slot is a normal three-pin stereo jack (and your computer also has the same slot for Line In and Microphone slots), you will have to get a male-male three-pin mini-jack connectors. If you cannot find mini-jack connectors, build one yourself. All you need is get two male three-pin mini-jacks and wire them in parallel, connecting the same pins of the jacks together using wires. The top pin gets connected with the top pin of the other, the middle with middle one and the bottom one with the same on other jack.
In case your player has RCA output slots, you will need an Stereo RCA cable with mini-jack connector. If you have a cable with RCA jacks on both the ends, an RCA to mini-jack converter will allow you to connect the tape player to your PC. The mini-jack connector will go to your PC’s Line In slot and the RCA male pins connect to the female RCA output slots of the tape player. Follow the colour codes of the RCA jacks to connect them to their respective female counterparts on tape’s output slots.
Before we start with converting the music recorded on cassettes into MP3, we need to ensure that the computer’s sound card has a Line In jack. If you are using a laptop, chances are it would lack a Line In slot. In this case, you can connect the input from the tape player to laptop’s microphone slot.
Record audio from cassettes using Audacity
Now that you have your cassette tape deck connected to the computer, we can use Audacity to capture the audio.
First, open Audacity and click on Edit and then Preferences. Now click on Audio I/O or Devices menu and select the input source that you want to record sound from. There should be a section called Recording and under that a drop down menu called Device. If you are not sure which option to select, experiment with all the available options till you find the appropriate device that allows you to record the sound. Also, remember to set the number of channel to two for stereo recording.
Click on the Record button to begin recording. You should get to see an Input level meter (red coloured moving bar) that indicates the volume of the audio being recorded. If you don’t see it, click on the arrows and enable monitoring. You should also do it for the Output level meter.
The audio level meter is used to monitor the sound being recorder or played. If the level is touching the extremes, use the Input Volume slider (with microphone icon) to adjust is such that it remains just short of touching the extremes. You can also check whether the sound level is too high by seeing the waveform shown by Audacity. If the sound level is optimum, the waveform will remain just short of the range. If it’s below normal, the waveform will occupy small area. If the audio level is more than acceptable, the waveform will touch the extremes, looking like a solid colour strip rather than the jagged ends visible in normal condition.
When you are done recording, click on Stop button. Go to the File menu and Save Project. This will save the entire recording in raw form, which can be later edited on Audacity. It will, however, not be compatible with your music players and occupy lot of space.
When we want to convert our audio cassettes into digital music, we would want to save it in a format that’s readable by music players.
In the File menu, choose Export option. Now give it a name and choose a location and format for saving it. A metadata window will pop. Insert the information about the audio file and proceed.
MP3 is the most popular and widely supported music format, but Audacity does not include the necessary encoding software due to copyright restrictions. If you wish to save your recording into MP3 format, you will need to install Lame encoder.
How to install Lame encoder for Audacity on Windows?
- Go to the LAME download page.
- Download the ZIP file for Windows.
- Extract the ZIP file in your C: drive (or just anywhere).
- The first time you use the “Export as MP3″ command, Audacity will ask for the location of “lame_enc.dll”. Navigate to the folder, select “lame_enc.dll”, then click “Open” and “OK”.
Not using Windows? Ubuntu users who have installed Audacity using the Software Center need not worry about installing Lame. Other ways for installing Lame on Windows and other operating systems can be found on Audacity website.
Get going and convert all of your music on tape cassettes into digital MP3 format and burn them on CDs and DVDs. Rock the world!