How to Transfer your Cassette Tapes

One of the best tascam decks to transfer your cassettes

Compact cassette tapes have held up remarkably well over the last 50 plus years.  Thankfully they don’t suffer from the same age related problems as open reel tapes, vinyl records or digital tapes. The biggest issue with cassette tapes for most people is what to do with them! Many cassette players no longer work or were simply thrown away years ago to make way for new technology. Even worse entire collections of home recordings tend to be stored in locations such as attics or basements and forgotten about, eventually meeting their doom at the bottom of a trash can. If you own any cassette recordings that are important to you they should be transferred into a computer and preserved so they can be enjoyed on modern audio equipment or shared digitally with friends and relatives.

The
Cassette Tape To Digital process

Digitizing a cassette simply involves finding the best possible machine for playback and converting the analog stereo outputs of the deck to a new digital file. It’s not a complicated process but can be very time consuming with only one tape deck as the digitization can only be performed in real time so if you have multiple 100 minute cassette tapes it would take several hours to complete the transfer. In addition, the biggest obstacle facing most do-it-yourselfers is finding a decent quality cassette player with which to make the transfer. All of the new cassette players and cassette to USB decks manufactured today have cheap playback heads and poor quality components. Home made cassette tapes are typically not sonic masterpieces to begin with so starting with a good playback machine is important. If you want to transfer your own tapes finding a used high quality 3 head cassette deck can be expensive. Machines such as the Nakamichi CR-7A, Dragon, Tanberg TCD 3014 or Tascam 122 MK III often sell for over one thousand dollars and most will still need to be serviced correctly for optimal playback. Finding someone who has the knowledge and equipment necessary to repair and service a 30-40 year old tape deck is another problem. We have a variety of professionally calibrated machines in our studio and can transfer multiple cassette tapes at the same time. If you would like to inquire about our cassette to digital transfer services please click below or continue reading to learn more about transferring your own tapes.

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Simple Steps to transfer your cassette tapes
to new digital audio files

Cassette Tapes copy scaled
  • The hardest part: FIND A HIGH QUALITY PROFESSIONALLY CALIBRATED CASSETTE DECK
  • Connect a digital audio interface to your computer
  • Connect your cassette deck (typically a left and right rca output) to a left and right input on your interface
  • Ensure that your tape is rewound to the beginning of “side A” and that the tape moves freely during playback, fast forward and rewind
  • Clean your and demagnetize your tape heads 
  • Start playback while arming your DAW (digital audio workstation)for recording to set the input levels, levels should peak below zero to prevent clipping
  • Start recording in your DAW (there are several free DAW’s such as Audacity that are more than adequate) press play on your cassette deck, 44.1k and 16 bit is a standard that will work for most people
  • Monitor playback of the entire tape while recording to listen for abnormalities
  • Edit the recording to fix the start and end points & remove tape hiss or other unwanted artifacts from the final transfer
  • Export the new audio file as an uncompressed WAV or AIFF.

Cassette Transfer
Equipment
Essentials

Other than then cassette deck itself
we recommend the items below to help you to make a professional sounding transfer.
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When it comes to cleaning the heads on your cassette player American Recording Technologies makes one of the best professional solutions available on the market. This cleaner safely removes oil, oxide buildup & even adhesives from tape head paths and is safe to use on capstans, rollers and guides. 

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Absorbent lint free swabs are another important component of your cassette deck maintenance routine.

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Good cables and wiring definitely make a difference in the quality of home transfers, these RCA to 1/4″ wires from World’s Best Cables are a cost effective solution to connecting your cassette player to your audio interface.

An audio interface:

Here are two excellent choices that are on polar opposite ends of the price spectrum!

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The Solid State Logic “SSL 2” is a high quality audio interface for MAC & PC home users that offers a simple yet semi-professional way to connect an analog device to your computer. Solid State Logic has been staple in the recording industry for over 40 years and this interface is a great choice for someone looking to do simple cassette tape transfers.

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For a professional solution to transferring multiple cassette tapes at the same time the Universal Audio Apollo x16 is one of our favorite pro audio interfaces. It features powerful HEXA Core processing with 6 UAD DSP chips and an ultra-clear signal path with 133dB dynamic range and –129dB THD+N. 

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