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How to Convert Cassette Tapes to CDs or MP3 Files
Author: Gabriel Torres 70,062 views
Type: Tutorials Last Updated: June 20, 2012
Page: 1 of 5

So, you have a bunch of old cassette tapes that have some sentimental value to you – maybe a recording of your kid when he or she was young or a recording of Nana who is no longer with us. Perhaps you want to start your own business of converting cassette tapes to digital format to make some money. In this tutorial, we will teach you how to convert old cassette tapes to CDs or MP3 files. Read on.

The first thing you need to know is that cassette tapes have low audio fidelity (low signal-to-noise ratio), meaning that it is not worth the time it takes to convert contents that are already available in digital format. You can convert your old Rolling Stones cassette collection; however, the audio quality will be far inferior to the CD version already available. In other words, you should buy the CDs or MP3s instead of wasting time converting the tapes. But if the recordings are either personal or unique, it is well worth converting them.

Here is what you will need:

  • A stand-alone tape deck, like the one shown in Figure 1. If you don’t have one, you can buy one for less than USD 10 at a thrift shop.
  • A cable that has a male 3.5 mm stereo audio plug at one end and two male RCA plugs at the other end, as shown in Figure 2.
  • A motherboard or sound card with a signal-to-noise ratio for its analog input of at least 100 dB. We explain this below.
  • Audio recording and editing software. We recommend Audacity, which is a freeware. You will also need to download and install LAME, which is an MP3 encoder. If you want to save your work as an audio CD, you will need an audio CD recording tool (e.g., Nero).

Tape deck
click to enlarge
Figure 1: Tape deck

click to enlarge
Figure 2: Cable

As you can see, we recommend a motherboard or sound card with at least 100 dB signal-to-noise ratio for its analog input (the higher, the better) if you intend to offer this conversion service professionally. (This specification is also known as “input SNR” or “ADC SNR.”) This specification means that the motherboard integrated audio circuit won’t be adding noise to your work. If you are not paranoid about audio quality, you can get away with using an audio codec with lower signal-to-noise ratio. To know the signal-to-noise ratio of your motherboard, consult our “Audio Codec Comparison Table” tutorial and look at the “Input SNR” column. 

Before connecting the tape deck to your computer, you will need to clean it and, optionally, fine-tune it. Read our “How to Clean and Fine-Tune a Tape Deck” tutorial to learn how.

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