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Jun 10, 2022

(+) How to Digitize Old Tape Recordings

This is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

Do you have any old cassette tape recordings or even earlier reel-to-reel recordings that you would like to convert to digital audio files or to CD disks for preservation and possibly to share with others? That is a good idea for several reasons.

The tapes you have on hand might contain recordings made at family dinners or birthday parties or family reunions. Then again, perhaps you have all the classic Perry Como recordings that you would like to listen to once in a while. Whatever the recording, you need to convert every tape to modern media now, while you still can. With today’s technology, “modern media” usually means a CD disk or a flash drive or an audio file saved on a hard disk.

Why should you do that now? First of all, tape players are becoming difficult to purchase. Have you looked in a local department store or electronics store for a cassette player? A few stores still sell them, but cassette players are rapidly disappearing. Reel-to-reel tape players are even harder to find.

Sure, you may still have a suitable player in the closet that will play your old tapes; but, what happens if that player malfunctions? Can you find a replacement?

A second reason is that tapes, especially cassette tapes, have a habit of destroying themselves. If that tape is the only copy available of a valuable family recording, the loss is insurmountable. “Gee, I should have copied that when it was available.”

Even if you still have a tape player, keep in mind that the more you play a tape, the more its signal is degraded. Do you hear a hissing sound in the background when you play a tape? If so, that indicates that the tape is already degraded. Tapes are especially susceptible to heat, dirt, and magnetism, so get them converted while you can, before it degrades even more.

Finally, tape recordings of family events should be shared with the relatives. Duplicating tapes is a bit difficult, but duplicating CDs and digital audio files and then distributing them is very easy to do.

The process of copying tapes to modern media is surprisingly easy. In fact, some of the best software for that purpose is available free of charge. Hardware is also available, either in your closet or available for purchase at reasonable prices.

What you need

At the risk of oversimplifying, I will point out that all you need is a computer with a sound card (which includes almost every computer built within the past ten years), a suitable tape player, a cable to connect the two, and some audio recording software.

All modern Windows, Macintosh, and Linux computers contain a built-in sound card. The computer you are using to read this article probably has what you need. Tablet computers often have everything needed, although not always. For the remainder of this article, I will assume that you are using a Windows or Macintosh desktop or laptop computer.

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