Monday, December 18, 2006

Making use of those old cassettes

I remember my first real need to create digital audio files from cassette tapes.  I was doing foreign language study and hated using a tape recorder for the cassette that was included in our study program.  I always got lost, and couldn’t figure out whether Fast Forward was really Reverse or not.  I could never cue the appropriate spot so  I finally decided I would try to record the tape into my laptop and access any point on the tape almost instantly.

But how to do it?  I started, like a lot of people with Windows’ built in “Sound Recorder” only to find out it would only record a section about two minutes long.  Then I began to peruse the web to find some software that would let me, not only convert my language cassette tapes into something usable, but also record foreign language TV, radio and edit the files from the MP3 recorder I used for language study.

I wish I would have had access to Rick Brioda’s latest piece in LifeHacker.  Rick offers another basic tutorial in his “Alpha Geek” series, this time on converting cassette tapes direct to MP3s on your computer.  It’s not really very complicated; here’s what Rick used:

  • A cassette player. I dug out my old Walkman, which I found perfectly suited to the task, but you could also use a tape deck.
  • A stereo patch cord. Specifically, you need a cable that connects your Walkman's headphone jack to your sound card's line-in jack. You can get one at Radio Shack for around $5. If you're connecting a tape deck, you may need an adapter to accommodate its larger headphone jack.
  • Audacity, an open-source, cross-platform program that makes simple work of recording and editing audio. It's available for Windows, Mac, and Linux. If you plan to turn your tapes into MP3 files, make sure to get the LAME MP3 encoder as well; there's a link to it on the Audacity download page. (Detailed instructions on setting up the LAME MP3 encoder are included in Gina's feature on how to make a ringtone from an MP3 with Audacity.)

I wish I would have known about Audacity several years ago.  Instead of using this high-quality and FREE piece of software, I bought a copy of “Cool Edit,” a product that was later bought out by Adobe and made into Adobe Audition.  Audacity works great for most every Average Joe’s needs and I’ve quit using Cool Edit.  If you’re interested in converting those old language tapes into usable (and storable, edit-able and archive-able) MP3s make sure you check out Rick’s post.

Also take time to read through the comments.  Several commenters added some good stuff, including a link to a pay-to-convert service called  Another commenter posted a link to “mp3DirectCut” which will (apparently) automatically cut your looong-ish recording into tracks.

Turn that pile of old cassettes into something useful!


Anonymous said...

Audacity has been a helpful app for me the last 3 years or so doing church worship-related stuff too, although I haven't done all the other things you have with it.
Mark Edwards

Jeff said...

It definitely comes in handy...especially for a free application.

Jim said...

Over the years I've transferred most of our cassettes and many of our records into digital format using Audacity. It's a great way to preserve them - especially the cassettes, which degrade quickly.

Jeff said...

Jim, thanks for stopping by and thanks for commenting.