There are many reasons why you might want to transfer an audio recording from cassette to CD. You may have a recording or audio tapes from your early garage band days or an interview with your grandmother or baby's first words. One thing about cassettes is certain: audio does not improve with age. It's time you transferred to CD. Learning how to transfer is not very difficult to do once you have gathered together just a few items.
To transfer cassette tapes to CDs:
- First, you need a cassette player. The better the quality of the player, the better the final outcome. Borrow a good player if you do not have one, or look in your local thrift shop. It should be possible to get a good one cheaply if you cannot borrow one.
- Next, you will need to learn how to connect wiring from a cassette to PC. You will need a cord or cable with the right connectors. Usually, the output of the cassette player will be RCA plugs, and the input of the sound card on your computer will be a stereo mini-plug. Choose wisely, because cables can be very expensive or quite inexpensive, depending on where you make your purchase. If you do not already have a cable, or you cannot borrow one, shop around for the best deal.
- Connect the output of the cassette player to the input of your sound card. Consult your manual. The line input is usually color-coded blue, but your card may be different. A note of caution: If you have to use the headphone output of the cassette recorder, start with the volume all the way down. It is very easy to overload the line input of your sound card, in which case your audio will be greatly over driven and distorted. This is even more important if you have to use a microphone input instead of a line input.
- Next you need to select the input for your system and adjust the volume. Go to Settings | Control Panel, and then open Sounds and Audio Devices (or Sounds and Multimedia, depending on your operating system). Under the Sounds or Volume tab, make sure you check the box that says Place volume control or the icon in the task bar. Under the Audio tab, make sure your sound card is selected as the Sound recording device. Close the Properties box and double-click the little speaker icon in the area called the tray at the lower right of your screen. This will open up the Volume Control so that you can adjust the input volume. Under Options on the menu, check the Advanced Controls option. Then, under Properties, select Recording (the default is Playback). Make sure the Line In volume control box is checked in the bottom part of the window. If you have to use the Microphone input, adjusting the volume to record without distorting is going to be tricky. Click OK, and now you should see the input volume controls for your sound card. Select the Line In volume control (or Microphone if that's all you have) and deselect the rest. You are now ready to start recording. You will probably have to come back to the Volume Control, so just minimize the box instead of closing it.
- You need software to record to your hard drive, but you don't need to spend a lot of money for it. Your card may have some recording software bundled with it, or you can download something to use. I recommend downloading a freeware package called Audacity. Audacity has all the features you are ever likely to need. It is certainly capable of accomplishing the task of recording from cassette to your hard drive. Open Audacity and select Preferences from the Edit menu. Under Audio I/O, check to make sure the number of channels is correct. You almost certainly have a stereo card, so 2 channels is probably the correct setting. Under the Directories tab, select a directory on a drive that has plenty of room. A long recording can take up to several hundred megabytes of room.
- Now, for the moment of truth in terms of quality: Did you transfer cassette to CD successfully? Start recording with Audacity, and start playing the cassette at a low to moderate volume. Record a small sample of the loudest part of the cassette. Adjust the volume so that you get a strong audio signal, but not so strong that it distorts. Rewind the tape, discard the practice recordings, start recording with Audacity, and then start the cassette player. Watch the recording for a while, preferably all the way through. Watch for peaks that are too loud because they may distort. Keep an eye out for other problems. Record all the way to the end. Make sure you have a good copy of the recording saved. The most critical part is done.
- You will probably want to do some post-processing of the audio file. Do not work on the original recording. Work on a copy. The most likely thing you will want to do is reduce some of the tape hiss. Audacity has a noise reduction effect. Start cleaning up the audio by selecting a section of the recording that has undesirable tape hiss, but no desirable audio. You need a sample of the noise so the noise reduction effect will know what to remove. Go to Effects on the Audacity main menu and select Noise Removal. Under Step 1, click the Get Noise Profile button. When you have a sample, select the entire audio file. Go back to the Noise Removal effect and set the level of removal to about 25%. Then click the Remove Noise button. After Audacity is finished, sample the filtered audio using headphones. This effect can definitely be overdone. If you have the level set too high, too much original audio gets filtered, and the result sounds hollow and tinny. Play with the effect until you have the right balance of hiss removal and audio quality.
When you have the audio just the way you want it, slice it up into tracks, trim to the size you want, and then burn your tracks to CD using your favorite burning software. Store the original cassette away in a dry place, and enjoy your new CD.