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Railfan Technology > Transfering Cassette Tapes to DVD

Date: 08/26/18 20:01
Transfering Cassette Tapes to DVD
Author: wabash2800

I've been using a small pocket recorder to interview subjects for my publications. I like to print things word for word from my subjects, (though I may move things around or correct a little grammer). Anyway, an interviewee's 90-some-year-old widow would like to obtain some of my tapes so she can listen to her former husband. I am leery of giving her the tapes as they would be my orignals and she may damage them by flippin them in and out of a casette recorder and stopping and starting them. But I am open to recording them onto a CD for her to play on a small CD  player. This might also be a good way for me to archive them also. (I think I can buy a small CD player at a resonable price that I can give to her as a gift.)

I am thinking I can do this with my computer. I work for Sweetwater Sound so can get items at wholesale. Can anyone lead me in the right direction?

Victor A. Baird

Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 08/26/18 20:38 by wabash2800.

Date: 08/26/18 22:34
Re: Transfering Cassette Tapes to DVD
Author: CPRR

Victor, I have a Mac computer, use a Griffin iMic to USB. The Griffin unit takes a 3.5mm jack, so out of my audio source I use a stereo RCA to Male 3.5mm cord. On the computer I have both the following software, Audacity and Final Vinyl .Audacity has the capacity to do lots of editing, adjustments, and different output configuration (mp4, mp3, AIFF, etc.) Final Vinyl is more basic, easy to learn. Both of them will allow chapters/breaks between recordings.

When you are done, move the file over to iTunes, bam cut a cd and you are done.

In the non apple world, the software and griffin device will work. Remember that you have to do all of the transfer in rear time, you can not speed it up. 60 min interview will take 60 minutes to transfer. I am about to do about 30 reel to reel tapes this way to make cd’s

Good luck

Posted from iPhone

Date: 08/27/18 17:30
Re: Transfering Cassette Tapes to DVD
Author: wabash2800


Victor A. Baird

Date: 08/27/18 20:22
Re: Transfering Cassette Tapes to DVD
Author: BRAtkinson

Let me start this by saying I'm writing this from a roomette on train #19, so I don't have access to my 'big' computer and the various programs on it.

As the 'audio distribution' person at church for the past 17 years or so, I am now the caretaker of roughly 15 years of sermons on cassette tapes and over 13 years of CDs after we made the switch. I've gone from making 15-20 copies on cassette to 50 more CDs plus more than 60 copies sent out as email each week.  

Fortunately, I have a large hard drive (I just upgraded to a 3TB bulk storage drive!) and all digitally recorded messages are always 'spinning' so I can make extra CDs as well as emails with very little effort. The nightmare comes when I get a request for a sermon recorded on cassette. About 2 months ago, I finished a request for an entire 109 message series! I should note that I print a full cross-referenced directory of the entire library by title, scripture reference, series, as well as presenter, in addition to chronological order. It helps that I'm a retired computer geek.  

Converting cassettes first requires they be digitally recorded. The easy part is hooking up an old boom box I had laying around using the 'headphone' jack to match impedance with the microphone jack on the back of my computer. At first I tried using the external speaker connections on the boom but that resulted in an annoying hum getting recorded. An electronics wizard friend told me to try the headphone jack and that solved the problem. All I had to do was come up with a couple of adapters to convert the 1/4” stereo headphone jack to 1/8” headphone jack on my computer. With Radio Shack gone, these days I buy the necessary adapters at Amazon at a much lower price than Radio Sha charged.  

For audio editing, nothing beats Audacity in my estimation. The best part is that it's 100% FREE! Although it will likely take a bit of tinkering on your part to get the Audacity options right for recording, once that's done, it's a breeze. Simply click the RECORD button on Audacity and PLAY on the boom box, and come back an hour later if you have autoreverse.  

That's the good news.  

The bad news has several parts. Number one that EVERY tape is different from all the others! By that I mean that they are recorded at different volume levels, perhaps different equipment, perhaps in a noisy setting in terms of background noise, you name it. Additionally, the effects of time on magnetic tape results in signal degradation, including 'bleed through' from one layer to the next – the most obvious of this is during a few seconds of silence, you hear faint talking. 

My first step in conversion is getting the volume set on the boombox to get a 'good' recording level without distortion. It's easy to see the distortion in Audacity as it displays the ever-growing chart of the recording for both left and right channels. If the line goes 'out the top' or 'out the bottom', you're creating distortion, eg, garbled sound. The goal is to allow maybe 20-30 'spikes' per hour to distort. It may be yelling, thumping on the pulpit, caughing, etc. (by the way - did I mention you may need a mono-to-stereo converter thing in the wire from the boom box?) Although one can slide the 'record level' in Audacity, if the input from the boombox is too quiet, you will end amplifying all the background noise as well as 'rumble' from the recording. Setting the boombox too low and usng the 'amplify' option after ending the recording will get similar results if you amplify more than +2db or so. It therefore takes a couple of 'test samples' of EACH tape and decide what is the best all-around boombox volume setting for that particular tape. For clarity, I repeat: every tape is different...even if recorded the same day by the same people! I usually fast forward about 2-3 minutes worth of tape and record that. Seeing on the screen how loud or soft it's being recorded, I'll adjust the volume on the boombox as needed. Letting Audacity keep running, I then fast forward again maybe 5-10 minutes worth of recording (30 seconds or so 'real time') and hit 'play' again and see how good the current volume setting is. I then decide where it should be, stop and 'undo' the recording operation in Audacity, and rewind the tape back to the beginning.  

The cassette tapes I deal with are 30, 60 or 90 minutes long, total. Ie, 15.30.45 minutes on each side. If you have autoreverse on your boombox, great. If not, you'll need to be there to flip the tape over. I just let Audacity keep recording. I'd delete all but about 4-5 seconds of 'the gap' after it's all done recording. It would be nice if I could play the tape at 2x, or even 5x normal speed, then slow it down without change of pitch (tone...Alvin & the Chipmunks was recorded slow and then sped up) The good news is Audacity can speed it up/slow it down very easily without getting Mr. super base voice as a result. But even if I could speed it up then slow it down, THAT will add distortion in the form of warbling voices where the pitch 'wanders' as well as making it sound like they're talking underwater.  OK...the tape is all recorded, you've rewound the cassette and hit stop in Audacity. The first thing I do is an 'export as WAV' and give it a unique name that always starts with the original recording date in yyyy-mm-dd format. That way, they're automatically cataloged in date sequence. I save it up front as a backup 'protection' copy in case I make a mess of editing and want to start over or a power failure, whatever. 

Then, using the 'expansion' button, I expand it to where there's less than 2 minutes recording on the screen. Going to the very front of the recording (Audacity uses 'standard' play/fast forward/backward to end symbols) and delete out any 'dead space' where the tape is blank until the speaker starts talking or the music playing. Then, using the lower slider bar, move to the halfway point and take out much of the 'flip the tape over' gap. I generally leave 4-5 seconds there so the listener will know that something was missing on the original tape (10-12 seconds, give or take) while it flipped over/reversed. Then it's click fast forward to end and get rid of that dead space, too. At this point, I use the 'generate' function at the end of the recording to add 2 seconds of silence. If you ever make CDs and want a 2 second gap between each track, this is how I do it.  

Now the real fun and games begin. In general, the older the cassette, the worse the sound is. Whether it's an 'underwater microphone', too much background noise, even a continual clicking sound, or it just sounds 'tinny', there's capabilities in Audacity that can improve the recording. The ones I use most are 'noise removal', 'bass boost', 'high/low cutoff' and equalization to improve clarity of speech. I'm just a hack. I simply 'play with it' until I get what I like. Feel free to experiment to find what works on your recordings. When I'm all done with it, I do another 'save' or 'export to WAV' giving it the final file name.  

There's a number of products available to create a CD, so it's up to you to find one that works best for you. Remember, there's only 80 minutes recording time on a CD. That has 'bit me' a couple of times and I've done such tricks as do a 2-3% speedup in Audacity (without changing pitch) – any more speedup will become obvious. I've also shortened pauses in talking here and there, remvoed 'and-ah' or 'umm' here and there (don't remove them all, as somebody will notice they're gone), and for one guest speaker we had, I actually removed 3-4 minutes of 'babbling' about this and that.  

I also purchased a WAV-to-MP3 converter program. For emailing and putting the messages on our church website, they have to be in MP3 format to reduce file size. I also converted the series of 109 messages to MP3 and put all them on a single USB thumb drive. Fortunately, the individual didn't want CDs as she didn't have a player. Finding a CD player for home or auto or even your laptop computer is getting ore difficult by the day.  For what it's worth, my Pioneer component stereo system has a 6-banger cassette tape player in it. I figured I could 'set it and forget it'. First, most of the recorded messages are 40-45 minutes long, meaning there's 15 minutes or more of silence recorded for each tape. I also had the cassette player jam up when it managed to peel off the sticker on the front of the cassette it was internally moving around to the play/record mechanism. After I took apart the player and fixed the problem, I went back to the one-at-a-time boombox.  

If only there was a 'set it and forget it' way to convert cassettes to DVDs or MP3s. The same is true scanning my slides. There is no 'universal' method that works for all of them. 

Date: 08/28/18 00:49
Re: Transfering Cassette Tapes to DVD
Author: norm1153

FWIW, I think DVD players, to be properly licensed, must also be compatible with CD disks.  There should be a few DVD cheapies available-- eBay, etc.?

Date: 08/28/18 13:03
Re: Transfering Cassette Tapes to DVD
Author: jridge

Great and thorough writeup.  Thanks.

Date: 08/29/18 07:53
Re: Transfering Cassette Tapes to DVD
Author: Krat

Thanks too for the advice. My dad, Bill Kratville, always the historian, taped himself talking history on about 50 cassettes in the 1990s. I need to digitize them plus also transcribe them. I wonder if there is software that will do voice to printed word?

Cate Kratville-Wrinn
Brookfield, WI

Date: 08/29/18 21:17
Re: Transfering Cassette Tapes to DVD
Author: clem

I have not used it, but Dragon Naturally Speaking (now known just as Dragon, apparently) has been around for years and claims to do audio file to text. https://www.nuance.com/dragon.html 

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 08/29/18 21:19 by clem.

Date: 08/31/18 16:55
Re: Transfering Cassette Tapes to DVD
Author: chakk

Cate, if you are successful in getting your dad's tapes transcribed, please post back with information on where the digital or printed transcripts might be purchased.

I happened to meet your dad (and you) at an overlook west of Kremmling, Colorado many years ago when he and I were both photographing a westbound private car special on the UP tracks in the canyon below.  At that time, he invited me to come by and visit him in Omaha at the UP headquarters/museum.  Sadly, I was not able to arrange a visit before his passing.

He was such a fine gentleman and author -- I happen to be reading this month a copy of his book on Motive Power of the Union Pacific that I've checked out from my country library system.  

Best wishes,

Chuck Hakkarinen

Date: 09/03/18 10:23
Re: Transfering Cassette Tapes to DVD
Author: wabash2800

Thanks all for your input.. This is a project I will have to start soon. Unfortunately, I have a number of other projects I am working on too, inluding my second book.

Victor A. Baird

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 09/16/18 19:49 by wabash2800.

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