Soon after cassette tapes were introduced in 1963, ongoing efforts focused on improving the sound quality. Mass production began in Germany and by 1966, more than a quarter-million recorders were sold in the U.S. alone. This innovation changed the way people listened to music and recorded the spoken word.
Although compact, audiotapes certainly don’t have the fidelity of high-quality vinyl and suffer from degradation over time. If you still have cassette tapes, especially of personal recordings or DIY curated music selections, it’s advised to get them converted to digital files before the sounds are lost to history.
How to Transfer Music from Cassette to Computer
Although a huge array of music is available on paid and free streaming services, many people still own collections of cassette tapes associated with fond memories of their youth or college days. Luckily, there are several ways to recapture your musical memories and convert them to digital files, from time-consuming to pain-free.
How to Connect Tape Player to Computer
To transfer a cassette tape to a computer, you’ll need to decide which option is the best for you, based on your budget, time you wish to spend on the project, and your technical abilities. The first option is to purchase an inexpensive USB cassette converter, with models as low as $25.00 on Amazon. The second option will set you back more money unless you have a working cassette player. And the third method is to send your favorite audio cassettes to a professional digitizing service and let them do the work for you. Here is a look at each and a popular open-source audio recording and editing software called Audacity. You’ll need this to capture audio if you opt for the tape deck method.
USB Cassette Converters
Simply plug the device into your computer’s USB port and use the included software to record the audio into a .mp3 format. As with any other device, look at several online reviews to see which models are highly rated before making a purchase.
Regular Cassette Tape Deck
You’ll need a cassette tape deck with RCA output jacks or tape player with 3.5mm mini-plug and a stereo RCA cable with mini-jack connector or mini-male to stereo mini-male cable. If the RCA cable has red and white RCA connectors on both ends, you’ll need to buy a mini-male to 2 RCA female adapter. Keep in mind using this adaptor can decrease the audio quality.
Step 1: Connect Tape Deck to Computer
In order to record the audio from the cassette tape to your computer, connect the male RCA side of the cable (red and white) into the female RCA connectors on the tape deck. Make sure the RCA jacks on the tape deck say “Line Out” or “Audio Out.”
Connect the other end of the cable to your computer. If you’re using the RCA cable with a mini-jack connector on the other end, then plug it into the female line-In jack on the back of your computer (the blue one out of the three).
Step 2: Record Audio from Cassette Tape with Audacity
- After the cassette tape deck is connected to your computer, use Audacity to capture the audio.
- Open Audacity and click on Edit and then Preferences at the bottom. If it’s not already there, click on Audio I/O on the left-hand menu. Then select the Input Source to record sound from the section heading called Recording and under that, a drop-down menu called Device.
- If your computer is operating on any version of Windows, DO NOT select Microsoft SoundMapper. If necessary, try other options under the drop-down until you get the sound to record. Then adjust the volume for your recording by clicking on the downward pointing arrow on the right-hand (red) VU recording level meters.
- Click on Monitor Input or Start Monitoring and then click the Record button. If the sound is too far to the right (red bars), adjust the input volume level by dragging the slider to the left in the Mixer Toolbar (slightly lower and to the left of the recording levels meters).
- When finished recording, click the Stop button (yellow color) and go to File and choose Save Project As. This will save it in Audacity so you can make edits later.
- To export the final edited version of your recording to .mp3 or .wav format, click on File and choose Export As. Other file options supported by Audacity include .aiff (for Apple computers), .ogg, and .flac. We suggest saving them as an uncompressed .wav or compressed .mp3 file, since these are the most universal. You can save the files to any folder set up on your computer, cloud storage, iTunes, or burn a CD if you wish.
Tip: Pause the recording at any time for parts of the cassette tape you don’t want to be transferred to your computer (e.g. songs from yesteryear you no longer like).
Tape Deck with CD Recorder
Some units enable playing and recording from either the cassette deck or CD player. A three-in-one unit also has a USB Codec. While a normal tape deck costs $50 to $150, one with a CD recorder option will likely set you back $200 to $350, and a used three-in-one unit is nearly $700 on Amazon.
Using a Professional Service
At ScanCafe, we love transferring fragile audio into digital formats you can listen to without the need to fast forward and rewind. We use a state-of-the-art deck to capture the sound of both sides of the tape from beginning to end to a .wav file, so we never miss a beat. We also track your cassette tapes door to door to ensure their safety and deliver files back to you as a digital download or USB option.
Digitizing old cassette tapes means you can access your favorite tunes anywhere, anytime, including from your smartphone!