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Cassette Digitizing At Last

Well, it’s only 2005, but I’m finally getting around to digitizing at least some of my vast library of audio tapes. Or, as Pastor John C. Mills would say, “tape cassettes.” (Is that guy still alive?) I’ve done this before, usually small pieces at at time, with mixed results. This time, I’ve been going nearly nonstop since last night. I’ve got three and a half cassettes digitized already, out of a probable…oh, I don’t know…500 tapes. Yeah, I’m a tape whore. But hey, I’ve had the last two decades to create them. Yeah, these aren’t just regular tapes, either, like music albums I could buy CD editions of. 95% of these tapes I recorded myself — radio show stuff, parodies, audio drama, the like. So that’s why I’m going to the trouble, before you ask.

Some of the new audio hardware in the computer I recently built has been helping me out. Namely, the Sound Blaster “LiveDrive” front panel audio connections. I’ve got an “Auxiliary 2” line-level input there with RCA connections, so it’s much easier for me to hook up a tape deck. Only problem is, I don’t have a tape deck with a line-level output. So, I go for the ghetto method: Connect my the stereo’s headphone output to the computer’s aux input, play the tape and adjust the stereo volume while I watch Cool Edit’s VU meter. Imperfect, but acceptable.

Once I get the level set properly, I hit play on the tape deck and record in Cool Edit, and that’s it — for 45 minutes. Yep, thanks to the wonders of analog, the dubbing process must proceed in real-time. Once I get the waveform into the computer, if it’s hissy enough I run a high-res FFT noise filter. If the content of the recording is too quiet, I’ll then run a hard limit filter to boost it up about 3 or 4 dB. Lastly, I save the file down in FLAC format (Free Lossless Audio Codec) which reduces the file size by 40-60%, but sacrifices no quality at all. (It’s like a ZIP file.) Coupled with FLAC plugins for Cool Edit and Winamp, it’s a complete solution. One side of a 90-minute tape, dubbed at 16-bit stereo / 44 KHz, averages around 200-250 MB compressed. The nice thing is, my new PC has enough horsepower and memory to do this in the background while I work on other things, even Photoshop and Illustrator simultaneously.

Eventually I’ll burn archives of my tapes to DVD-ROM, and maybe make some MP3 versions to put on the iPod. But it’ll be nice to have FLAC images of my cassette library at my fingertips, right here at the computer. Will I digitize the whole library? I’d like to, but that’ll undoubtedly take years. I’ll probably get bored of this and stop eventually, but if I keep coming back every so often and dubbing a few more…well, eventually I’ll get the whole damn thing done. And then I’ll goodbye to analog once and for all!

5 thoughts to “Cassette Digitizing At Last”

  1. Heh, probably when I least expect it too, since that tape never did get a label to differentiate it from the several dozen other unmarked Maxell UR-90s floating around my closet. 😛

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