We convert cassettes to digital and are often asked “can the sound quality of my cassette recording be improved?” The answer to this question largely depends on the quality of the original recording source, type of cassette tape and tape deck used to make the recording.
The cassette was a compact and readily available consumer tape format that was widely used for over 35 years. Nearly everyone alive from the 1970’s to early 2000’s has at some point owned a cassette deck or recorded something on a cassette tape, thus the quality of recorded material varies wildly! Most early tape recordings were amateur and utilized the cassette recorder’s internal “built in” microphone. These mics were poorly made, sounded terrible and offered no way to adjust or balance input levels to prevent clipping from sources that were too loud, in addition they picked up tons of unwanted background noise. The cassette tape is one of the most common media types we work with because they were a widely available, inexpensive and non-professional way for consumers to record audio. There are literally millions of compact cassette tapes still owned by people all over the world.
We are often tasked with transferring a cassette to CD or USB drive that was recorded from an internal microphone. Most are random family, concert or religious recordings and nearly all are noisy because the microphone picked up and recorded EVERYTHING near it. This type of audio can be the most problematic to restore as unwanted talking, appliance noise, people moving around, etc. usually can’t be removed from the recording. For example, if your favorite family Christmas recording has the sounds of your mother doing dishes with a TV on in the background and you want those sounds removed it’s probably impossible. For the most part what’s recorded on the cassette is “what’s recorded on the cassette”. What we can do is raise the volume levels of hard to hear audio, compress sounds that are abruptly too loud, and remove tape hiss as well as most types of electrical hum. However, it’s important to keep in mind that raising the level of the audio you want to hear will also raise the level of audio that you may not want to hear.
It stands to reason that the worst sounding cassettes often have the most sentimental value. In other words, the 1976 recording you made when you were 7 will need more transfer and restoration help than the tape to tape copy, radio show recording or concert tape you made directly from the sound mixing board.
Not all cassette to digital conversion services are the same, when searching for an audio transfer service it’s important to find a company that understands tape based audio restoration as well as utilizes professional studio quality cassette decks, computer equipment and high quality analog to digital converters. These things will help ensure you get the best quality cassette tape to digital transfer possible. There are many businesses online offering cassette tape transfer services but few who actually use the proper equipment even less who pay attention to the actual process or have employees qualified to do more than push the start button on a tape deck. If you’re going to spend the money to digitize your media it’s best to do it right and get the best possible future proof quality available!