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Why It's Time to Transfer Your Reel to Reel Tapes to Digital and How to Do It

reel to reel tapes to digital

Do you have a collection of old reel-to-reel tapes gathering dust in your attic? Have you been wondering what to do with them or how to preserve the precious audio memories captured on them? Well, it’s time to transfer those tapes to digital format before it’s too late! Analog tapes are becoming obsolete, and the equipment to play them is getting harder to find, and even more difficult to find in perfect working order. Transferring your reel-to-reel tapes to digital format not only protects them from deterioration but also allows you to access and share them more easily with friends and family. In this article, we will explore why it’s essential to transfer your reel-to-reel tapes to digital and how to do it. We’ll cover the steps to follow, and even some tips to ensure that the transfer process goes smoothly. So, grab those old tapes and let’s get started!

Why transfer reel to reel tapes to digital?

1/4″ reel to reel tape is slowly deteriorating over time. The magnetic particles on the tape can become demagnetized or damaged due to environmental conditions, faulty tape composition or improper handling resulting in a loss of audio quality or even the complete loss of the recording. Transferring your reel-to-reel tapes to digital format ensures that your recordings are preserved and can be accessed and enjoyed for years to come. Additionally, digital files are much easier to share and distribute than physical tapes, making it easier to share your recordings with family and friends.

transfer old reel to reel tapes

The benefits of digitizing reel to reel tapes

transfer analog tape to Hard drives

There are several benefits to digitizing your reel-to-reel tapes. First and foremost, digitizing your tapes ensures that your recordings are preserved in a format that will not degrade over time. Digital files can be copied an infinite amount of times and stored on a variety of devices, such as hard drives or cloud storage, making them easily accessible and shareable. Additionally, digital files can be easily edited or enhanced, allowing you to fix imperfections in the original recording or improve the overall sound quality.

The challenges of transferring reel to reel tapes to digital

While there are many benefits to digitizing your reel-to-reel tapes, there are also some challenges that you may face during the transfer process. The first challenge is obtaining the necessary equipment. To transfer your tapes to digital, you will need a reel-to-reel tape deck that can play back at the speed your tape was recorded and in the configuration recorded on the tape itself, half track, full track, 4 track, mono, stereo, etc. The deck needs to have tape heads that are in excellent condition and must be calibrated and adjusted to ensure your tape is being read properly and without any loss in the audio signal or range. Next you will need a computer and an audio interface as well as audio software for recording and editing. Depending on the type and condition of your tape, you may also need to repair, re-splice or bake it before attempting to transfer.

The second challenge is the time and effort required to transfer your tapes to digital. Depending on the number of tapes you have, length of the recordings, and the number of sides and tracks the process can take several hours or even days to complete. Additionally, transferring the tapes requires careful attention to detail to ensure that the recording is captured accurately and any imperfections are addressed during the transfer process.

digitizing tapes with the Otari MTR-10

How to digitize your reel to reel tapes

Now that we’ve covered the challenges of transferring reel-to-reel tapes to digital, let’s take a look at the steps involved in the process.

  • 1. Set up your equipment: The first step is to set up your equipment. Connect your reel-to-reel tape deck to your computer using an audio interface, common cable types include 1/4″, XLR or RCA. Install the necessary audio software on your computer. Ensure that the tape path and heads are completely clean.
  • 2. Prepare your tapes: Before transferring your tapes, inspect them for any damage, dirt, shrinkage, warping or mold. If the tapes are dirty or dusty, they may require a professional to clean and repair them.
  • 3. Set the input level on your audio software so that the recording is not too loud or too quiet.
  • 4. Record your tapes: Start playing your tape and begin recording on your computer using the audio software. Monitor the recording for any issues or imperfections and make any necessary adjustments to the input level or recording settings.
  • 5. Edit and enhance your recordings: Once you’ve finished recording your tapes, you can use audio software to edit and enhance the recordings. This might include removing any background noise, adjusting the EQ, or adding effects to improve the overall sound quality.
  • 6. Save your digital files: Finally, save and label your digital files to a hard drive or cloud storage so that they can be easily accessed and shared.

DIY vs professional transfer services

While it is possible to digitize your reel-to-reel tapes yourself, some people may prefer to hire a professional transfer service. Professional transfer services have the necessary equipment and expertise to ensure that your recordings are transferred accurately and with the best quality. Many professional services offer audio restoration

Audio restoration for film example

Storage and preservation of your digital files

Once you’ve digitized your reel-to-reel tapes, it’s essential to store and preserve your digital files properly. Store your files on a reliable hard drive or cloud storage service to ensure that they are safe and easily accessible. It’s also a good idea to make backups of your files to protect against data loss. Additionally, make sure to label your files clearly and keep track of any metadata associated with the recording, such as the date, location, and recording equipment used.

Tips for maintaining your reel to reel tapes

While it’s essential to digitize your reel-to-reel tapes to ensure that your recordings are preserved, there are also some tips for maintaining your physical tapes. Store your tapes in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight and heat. Spool and rewind or play your tapes periodically to prevent them from becoming permanently warped or damaged. Additionally, avoid touching the tape itself as much as possible, as oils from your fingers can damage the tape.


In conclusion, transferring your reel-to-reel tapes to digital format is a crucial step in preserving your precious memories and ensuring that they can be accessed and enjoyed for years to come. While there are some challenges involved in the transfer process, the benefits of digitizing your tapes far outweigh the potential drawbacks. Whether you choose to digitize your tapes yourself or hire a professional transfer service, the end result should be a high-quality digital file that can be easily shared and enjoyed by family and friends. So, grab those old tapes and start digitizing today!