Recording Cassette Tapes into a Computer

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Most people listen to digital music files these days, but that doesn’t mean your beloved old cassette tapes need to be trapped in the analog realm for eternity. It’s not terribly difficult to load your favorite tapes onto a computer and a portable MP3 player. You just need the right equipment and a little determination. This guide will show you four different ways to do it, and provide instructions for each method. If you want to capture a vinyl record into a computer, check out this B&H InDepth Tips and Solutions article on that topic.

Here are four ways you can record a cassette tape into a computer:

  1. Use an all-in-one cassette deck with a built-in CD burner;
  2. Use a USB cassette deck;
  3. Use a regular cassette player and a Macintosh computer;
  4. Use an audio interface to connect a tape player to a computer.

Using an All-In-One Cassette Deck with a Built-In CD Burner

Currently, there is only one all-in-one CD burner/cassette deck available at B&H, the Tascam CC-222SLmkII. It has the ability to play a cassette tape and simultaneously record it onto a compact disc. There are numerous buttons and dials on the face of this machine, but the basic operation that you want to perform is to load a blank CD into the CD side of the machine, and insert the cassette you want to digitize into the tape side. You then hit RECORD on the CD side, and hit PLAY on the tape side. When you’re finished recording, you load the burned CD into a computer.

There are useful features built into to CC-222SLmkII, like the ability to have the machine automatically create new tracks on the CD as your tape plays. This way, if you’re recording a tape that has several songs on it, the CC-222SLmkII will automatically split the songs up, so you don’t end up with a 60 minute recording with no breaks between the songs. You can also turn off the Automatic Track Division feature and insert the track divisions manually as you record. There are also vinyl record player inputs on the rear of the device, for digitizing records. 

Using a USB Cassette Deck

Manufacturers have created special USB cassette decks to make digitizing cassettes easier. As the name implies, these are traditional cassette decks that feature a USB port. You connect the USB port to a computer that has audio recording software loaded on it. You can then play cassettes on the deck, and record their audio directly into the computer. For a hands-on review of one of these devices, check out this review of the Ion Tape 2 PC.

One model that operates a little differently from the other USB cassette decks is the Teac AD-800. This unit features a USB port on its front panel, but instead of using it to attach to a computer, this port is designed to accept USB Flash Drives. You just play your tape on the AD-800, and you can record it into any flash storage device. This is a nice option for people who don’t want to fuss with recording software and computers.

Using a Regular Cassette Player and a Macintosh Computer

If you own or have access to a Macintosh computer and a plain old cassette player, the only piece of equipment you may need is a simple audio cable. Most Macintosh computers have a 3.5mm “line-level” input, which can be used to record a cassette directly into your computer. Unfortunately, MacBook Air computers, iPhones, iPads and iPods don’t have a line-level input. Line-level inputs are very uncommon on Windows-based computers as well. Many Windows PCs feature a 3.5mm “mic-level” input, but cassette players never have a mic-level output, which makes this method a little too complicated for PC owners. However, you can record cassette tapes into any of these machines with an audio interface (skip ahead to the Using an Audio Interface to Connect a Tape Player to a Computer section for instructions). 

If your Mac has a line-level input, you can connect either the headphone output or the RCA outputs of a tape player to this input. If your tape player has a 3.5mm mini-plug headphone output (this is the most common kind of headphone jack these days), then you just need a stereo mini male to stereo mini male cable. If your tape player has red and white RCA outputs, then you need a stereo mini male to dual RCA male y-cable. Once you have your tape player connected to the line-level input on your Mac, you’re going to need to launch some audio-recording software in the computer.

B&H sells lots of great audio-recording software, but Macs come with an audio recording application called Garageband. You can also use a free downloadable program called Audacity, instead. When your software of choice is running, you may need to adjust the Preferences so the program knows to look at the “Built-in” sound as the input source. What you need to do is to create a stereo track, arm it (enable the track for recording), start recording in the software and hit PLAY on your tape player. Once the tape is recorded into the software, you’re going to have to save and export the file yourself in order to load it into iTunes or the virtual-jukebox software of your choice.     

Using an Audio Interface to Connect a Tape Player to a Computer

An audio interface is an external piece of hardware that enables you to connect a tape player to a computer. You’re going to need an audio interface that features “line-level” inputs, which is the type of audio signal that a cassette tape player sends through its outputs. Line-level inputs are found on most audio interfaces, but they’re not universal on every model, so be sure that the one you plan on using has them.

Most audio interfaces connect to computers through standard USB ports, but some models connect with FireWire ports, ExpressCard slots and PCI. It may be a good idea to get a little more acquainted with audio interfaces before you purchase one. You can learn everything you need to know about them in the B&H InDepth Audio Interface Buying Guide.

The basic idea behind this method is to connect either the headphone output or the main output of a tape player to the line-level inputs on an audio interface. The audio interface will be connected to the computer, and the computer must have audio recording software loaded on it. When everything is connected and ready to go, you start recording in the audio software, and then hit PLAY on the tape player.

The kind of audio cable that you need to connect either the headphone output or the main output to the audio interface will vary. Some headphone outputs are 1/8" stereo jacks, and others are 1/4" stereo. Most tape decks feature red and white RCA jacks as their main outputs, but it’s possible that it could be another kind of connector. The kind of line-level inputs you will find on various audio interfaces are diverse as well. You best bet is to contact a B&H Pro Audio Sales Professional for advice about the specific gear you’re using (either on the phone at 1-800-606-6969, or through Live Chat). They’ll be able to supply you with the exact cable you’ll need.

In Conclusion

So, how do these cassette recordings sound after they’ve been loaded into a computer? Well, for the most part, they still sound like cassettes. A casual listener likely wouldn’t notice the difference in sound quality between a completely digital song and one that was transferred from cassette, but, if your ear is intimately familiar with the idiosyncrasies of cassettes, you’ll hear it after it’s been transferred to the digital realm. Ultimately, this isn’t a bad thing. It can be charming to hear analog imperfections in the digital world. But, if you want to clean up your audio after you’ve recorded it into a computer, there are plenty of restoration plug-ins that run within audio recording software that are capable of this.

There’s a wealth of recordings that lay dormant on cassette tapes, and the majority of this material isn’t available on the Internet as digital downloads. The best way to archive these recordings for yourself and the future is to transfer them into a computer. Though digitizing cassettes requires a decent amount of effort on your part, going through this trouble could pay off for years and years to come.

Thanks for checking out this B&H InDepth article. If you have any more questions about digitizing cassette tapes, we encourage you to submit a Comment below.

Add new comment

Sam,

Nothing against the late Mr. Jobs, but Mac doesn't have exclusionary access to audio input ports. Since the Sound Blaster in 1989, which was based on components available a few years earlier for the pre-PC market, sampling analog audio (e.g. cassette input) to digital has been possible. Sound Blaster offered this capability at least a year before the Mac IIsi (the first Mac to have a sound input).

Most if not all PCs, both laptops and desktops sold today, indeed have a microphone input and most also have a line input. To connect that to your tape deck, I would go with a premium 3.5mm stereo male to 2 RCA male cable. Even the gold plated versions go for less than $5 on Amazon. Radio Shack calls it a " 1/8" Stereo to dual phono (RCA) plug Y-Cable" and carries it for less than $10. Many sources on the internet sell this type of cable at various qualities and prices.

Although Windows has a built in audio recorder, I'd use Audacity as it is a free open source software audio recorder of good quality and features. Although I'm no Sony-fanboy at all, I would better still recommend SoundForge Audio Studio or Pro: in this case, "studio" is the consumer version and "Pro" is the full featured version. Although purchased by Sony, the original small and dedicated American team of SoundForge developers and support folk are still at the helm and they produce a great product. It's available here at B&H.

BTW, if you don't have a LINE IN or Line Input and you have a laptop, don't bother with the MIC input, it generally wants a much lower voltage and the sound quality will be terrible without a patch cable. Many desktops however will offer an input that will assign when you plug the device in, regardless what is marked. If you can find an audio in port, often blue, use it (green is usually LINE OUT output and red is MIC).

Sound Forge can take your old audio tapes and automatically chop up the tracks for a CD, but in today's day and age, we all listen to MP3s or other digital source. I'd recommend re-creating your old mix tapes virtually via acquiring the songs digitally then creating playlists. But if you have great quality tapes and you don't want the expense of re-purchasing your music, get the Y-cable mentioned above, load up recording software, and go for it!

For the super frugal, what has become cheaper than the actual cable is some of the "Video to USB" adapters out there. Even with shipping, they can often be ourchased for less than $20 on E-Bay. I can't speak for the quality, but whether or not you use the video aspects, its worth a try at that price. Essentially it is an external sound card (and video input card as well which you can just ignore).

One last word: when setting the sound levels, *never-NEVER* let the levels go to high. You should see the waves of sound with varying levels during the whole recording. If the sound level is too high, it will "clip" and distort terribly. Yes, folks, this is very different from the "old days" of analog magnetic recording where the tape "liked" to be saturated a little, and the louder your recording was, the lower the background tape noise was. Since the signal to noise ration has gone from 20 dB to 70 (or better) dB, getting a loud recording isn't important, getting a clean recording is *much* more important to the quality of the final product. Any recording that is "clipped" will be all but useless as a quality music listening experience.

Good Luck...

Gene

Thank you, Gene.  That worked for me.  i wanted to make cds of a recording a cassette, and with the Audiology software, I was able to plug in the male to male jack [from the headphone jack in the cassette recorder to the microphone jack on my pc], press record on the Audiology software, and violoa, it is recording.  Thank you.  I think if you have the headphone/mincrophone jacks, you can do it with any recording device, right?

What is your goal? I'd recommend that you make them into high quality MP3 recordings, then you can mix them and play them anywhere, and make custom CDs. Male to male adapter can loose a lot if you are sending into a MIC input, it is best to use a LINE-IN port. Almost all PCs have a line in, but I'd be very careful about using a MIC input and a headphone out. You may have to "tweak" the headphone volume control and the mic input control quite a bit before you get anything near good quality. it's best if you can use line-out and line input connections.

I am curious if the method for a cassette player and a Macintosh would also work for a Reel to Reel player/recorder and a Macintosh.  

Hello -

Absolutely!  The method described using an Audio Interface to Connect a Tape Player to a Computer will not change with a reel to reel.  Just be aware that the outputs from your reel to reel machine may require a simple adapter to connect to the inputs on the audio interface.

That's the best asnwer of all time! JMHO

Sam
I am trying to record audio from video on internet to CD Recorder or Cassette Recorder
What cables or equipment is needed to complete this procedure
Once audio is recorded, I will connect Xitel Inport to Desktop/Recorder and record audio with LP Recorder and edit audio with LP Ripper and store in music library for burning compilation CDs
Do you have equipment in your inventory to complete this procedure
Thanks for your assistance

Harvey

Hello Harvey -

If your computer has a headphone or line out port you can use a simple "Y" cable to connect to the RCA  line inputs on your recorders.  Something like this should work for you:

Monster Cable MusicConnect 1/8" Stereo Mini Male to 2 RCA Male Cable - 7'

If you have additional questions - please e-mail us at:  AskBH@BandH.com

I needed to find out how to record cassettes to my Mac, and you concisely told me just what I needed to do. I had purchased a stereo mini-male to stereo mini-male cable at Radio Shack a couple of years ago thinking I would start this project, so now I'm going to put it to good use! I'm using the Garage Band software and adjusted the preferences to line-level input, just as you directed. Thank you so much... I agree with you about the wealth of recordings lying dormant on cassette tapes, and I have enough to keep me busy all winter! Thank you again!

Sincerely,

Leslie Wolfe

Hello, I have a Marantz PMD 222 that I bought several years back at B&H and am now trying to digitize some voice recordings on my mac I bought an aux audio cable at Apple store, plugged one end into the Mac and the other into the line out on the Marantz. I have garage band set to mono built-in input and set the preference to "built-in input"

When I record however, Garageband is recording not only the cassette but other sounds (like my voice for instance) so it seems not to be recording correctly? I can hear the cassette (not sure if that's supposed to happen).
Any suggestions? I tried changing the input selector on the Marantz (not sure if it should be set to "line" or "mic/tel" . Is the cable incorrect?

The Mac salesman said the cable he gave me would only record in mono; is there a stereo cable I could use? Any pearls of wisdom would be greatly appreciated . Thank you!!!

There may be a conflict between your Mac's built in mic and the audio input.

I would recommend using an audio interface however. You will get a better quality recording over the audio input of your mac. An audio interface like the Behringer UCA222 - USB 1.1 Digital Audio Interface will do the job.

In addition you will also need an RCA cable.

With this cable, you would connect from the PMD-222 line output to one of the inputs of the Behringer audio interface. Your recorder only outputs in mono, so it will not be a stereo recording.

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions: AskBH@BandH.com

Dear Sam,

i am looking to digitalize several hundreds of cassette tapes, old radio programs and have been looking around for a fast and efficient way to do this.
From the options you outline in the article which one would be the fasted. Most devices seem to be record one to one, which in my case would take many months, is there an option to speed up digitalization?
The programs have no music in them, which some people suggest would suffer.

Thank you for your help,
felix

HI Felix -

The Graff Of Newark LC60556 Stereo Cassette Digitizer is a complete cassette-to-software digitizing system for laptop computers; it includes the GEM Digitizer master unit, an external USB sound card, and GEM Digitizer software. The package is intended to digitize old cassettes for archiving, uploading, and MP3 conversion in 4x or 8x speeds at resolutions up to 192kHz. Easily record A and B sides to software individually, or simultaneously in one pass.

Stereo cassette-to-software digital conversion
External USB sound card included for laptop use
Choice of 4x or 8x recording speeds
Records WAV files at up to 192kHz resolution
Record side A and side B in one pass
Includes GEM Digitizer Software

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

Sam,

I don't know if this thread is still open, but here's my situation.

I was able to get a couple of cassette albums into my iMac as a test, using an old Walkman cassette player, a 3.5 to 3.5 cable to my iMac, and QuickTime. It seemed to work pretty well, and when I play back the QuickTime files on the Mac (one file for each side of the album) they sound great.

But when I tried to copy these files onto a CD, using iTunes, I was not able to. I copied the files (just drag and drop and burn) to a CD, and they are there, I can open them and play them on my Mac, like the original files I made. But when I put the CD in my Panasonic CD player in my stereo system, it looks like it is tracking, but no sound comes out. Any ideas?

The TASCAM unit, or the TEAC, sound pretty foolproof, but if I can avoid that expense, that would be even better!

Hi Robert -

It sounds like you are recording in an MP3 or other file format that is readable by your computer but not other devices.  Burn CDs to the "red book" or standard CD format for compatability with other CD player devices.

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

I was able to copy from cassette to my computer and can hear the recorded audio well on my computer. When I try to listen to the audio on other computers the sound is barely audible. I have tried converting to different types of files, like WAV and MP3.

Hi Kay -

The problem you are having may be related to your computer's internal soundcard or possibly the software you are using to record. An audio interface like the Behringer UCA222 - USB 1.1 Digital Audio Interface will do the job if you have a cassette deck to play the tapes.

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

I am seeking a machine to convert Casette tape music and LP to my I Mac. Can I buy Tascam or Teac AD RW 900 ? How much will it cost? Amazon and E bay is asking around $169. Can I buy cheaper? If so, contact me. 

I can cinvert with Behringer with Audacity or Roxio Toast, but the process is long. Can you help?

kamal saha

Hi Kamal -

Please see our current price on the Teac AD-RW900-B CD Recorder with Cassette Deck and USB Port by clicking on the hyperlink.

We may be able to offer a price match:

B&H will consider matching a legitimate price offering from an authorized dealer. We must be able to verify the offer and that the item is in stock. We cannot match phone quotes, coupons or any other promotional incentives. We will need to know the name of the vendor, the item you are interested in and the advertised price.  Please call: 800.606.6969 / 212.444.6615  or e-mail:  SalesBandH.com

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

Hi my name are Guitar Queen

 I have been trying to up load my songs  from my  older cassettes player  I just don't know how.  I wants to buy the right type of  player to do so  can you tell me what kind are cassette player i needs.

that's the information i needs.  Do i really needs a Macintosh computers  i have three window xps will that make a different

 Thank you for your information

 Guitar  Queen

Hi Guitar Queen -

You can use your Windows PC's  - no problem.  This machine will do a fine job of converting your recorded media to files  that can be stored digitally on your computer:

For dedicated music lovers, the Teac AD-RW900-B CD Recorder with Cassette Deck and USB Port provides a great way to record onto CDs or cassettes, featuring support for CD, CD-R/RW, MP3 and WMA discs. MP3/WMA/PCM recording on PC/Mac via the rear USB port.

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

Hiiiii

Please Ineed some way to learne me how to transefe casseete ot tape to pc Icannt understand any way

Hi Ahmed -

If you already own a cassette player you can use this device:

The U-CONTROL UFO202 from Behringer is a low cost solution for transferring vinyl records and tapes to and from a computer. The USB 1.1 interface is USB bus powered and features 2 analog RCA phono inputs that can be switched between a line source and the phono preamp, and 2 analog RCA phono outputs for connecting active speakers or studio monitors.

A turntable grounding lug is included and headphone monitoring is via a stereo mini jack with a dedicated volume control. No special setup or additional drivers are required and wide computer operating system compatibility is available for both the Mac and Windows platforms.

USB 1.1 audio interface for connecting turntables and tape cassette players with a computer for recording and playback
Phono input with turntable ground lug makes connecting turntables a breeze
The phono input can be switched to allow the interface to accept a line level source
Stereo headphone output with dedicated level control allows for monitoring both input and output
Includes energyXT2.5 Behringer Edition music production software, an audio/MIDI sequencer that loads almost instantaneously on all computer platforms
Audacity audio editor for both Mac and Windows available for download
No additional drivers required
Powered via USB - no external power supply needed
 
If you need a cassette player:
 

The TAPE 2 PC from Ion is a high-quality dual cassette deck that allows you to easily convert your favorite tapes to MP3 files for use with your personal media player. Simply connect the TAPE 2 PC to your Mac or Windows computer via USB, and use the included software to convert the tape.

The TAPE 2 PC can also be used as a standard cassette deck in your home entertainment system. Use the included RCA cables to connect to your stereo system for listening in your living room, den, or bedroom.

Note! TAPE 2 PC requires you to download and install Apple iTunes in order to convert your music into MP3 files.

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

pl. tell me simply -- How i can transfer voice from cassette to DVD.( My child's voice). i have only 10 senteces . Is it possible by some

company in INDIA??

THANKS

Hi Mahesh -

If you already own a cassette player you can use this device:

The U-CONTROL UFO202 from Behringer is a low cost solution for transferring vinyl records and tapes to and from a computer. The USB 1.1 interface is USB bus powered and features 2 analog RCA phono inputs that can be switched between a line source and the phono preamp, and 2 analog RCA phono outputs for connecting active speakers or studio monitors.

A turntable grounding lug is included and headphone monitoring is via a stereo mini jack with a dedicated volume control. No special setup or additional drivers are required and wide computer operating system compatibility is available for both the Mac and Windows platforms.

USB 1.1 audio interface for connecting turntables and tape cassette players with a computer for recording and playback
Phono input with turntable ground lug makes connecting turntables a breeze
The phono input can be switched to allow the interface to accept a line level source
Stereo headphone output with dedicated level control allows for monitoring both input and output
Includes energyXT2.5 Behringer Edition music production software, an audio/MIDI sequencer that loads almost instantaneously on all computer platforms
Audacity audio editor for both Mac and Windows available for download
No additional drivers required
Powered via USB - no external power supply needed

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com