How to digitize audio cassettes quickly?
June 8, 2005 10:49 AM   Subscribe

I've got a large collection of audio books on cassette that I'd like to digitize. I'd like to find a way to do this at faster than real-time speed (a good number of these audio books are 12 hours or more in length. Any suggestions for a simple, cheap method of doing this? Thanks!
posted by arathorn to Technology (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm about to start this process, too, with a bunch of Teaching Company lectures using my Mac, an old tape player, and mini-to-mini cable. This process is going to happen in real-time, though. I, too, would love to hear of a way to accelerate the conversion.
posted by jdroth at 11:19 AM on June 8, 2005

When ripping a CD, the process is:
1) Read _data_ off CD as quickly as possible
2) Construct .wav files from data
3) Convert .wav to mp3/ogg/wma, etc

When ripping a cassette, the process is:
1) Play tape
2) Capture audio
3) Construct audio in .wav format
3) Convert .wav to mp3/ogg/wma, etc

Since cassettes need to be played in order to be recorded, I don't believe this can be done faster than real time speed.
posted by null terminated at 12:05 PM on June 8, 2005

There are cassette players out there primarily targeted at audio transcription and/or note taking which allow you to speed or slow the playback. You could do the playback & digitizing at high speed then slow it back down in software. I wouldn't do it for music but for an audiobook its likely okay.
posted by phearlez at 12:17 PM on June 8, 2005

If you want someone to do it for you, consider getting MP3 archives done by Disclosure: the owner is a friend of mine.

The quality is good and Craig has invested heavily in automation to keep prices very low.
posted by ccoryell at 1:22 PM on June 8, 2005

If you can get the tape player to output, you could set it to high speed dubbing, record the result, and adjust the sample rate of the audio down (which will accordingly adjust the pitch).

Note one big bummer in doing this: You lose resolution in the recording.

If say you doubled the speed of the tape, and recorded at 22 kHz maximum, your corrected result will be 11 kHz. The only way to get around this is to record at a ridiculously high frequency, and getting a soundcard that supports this will be $$$$$$$$.
posted by shepd at 2:11 PM on June 8, 2005

i met a fellow who made a pretty penny (on the side) by transferring from jam-band tapes to cd. he used what looked to be a low-end unit that was similar in size/shape to any home stereo component piece. the left side had a tray-loading tape deck (think cd tray but for a cassette) while the right side was a tray-load cd recorder. he said all you did was pop in a tape and a blank cd, hit a button, and it would high-speed record to the cd. i think it might have even been JVC brand

i poked around for it on a few sites but didn't see it, though it's prob worth the hunt
posted by mdpc98 at 2:30 PM on June 8, 2005

Thinkgeek sells a tape drive called the Plusdeck 2. It's not faster than single-speed, but it is set-and-forget in as much as it's software controlled and will stop recording when it reaches the end of side two.

A program like MP3DirectCut can then be used to trim out the blank bits.
posted by krisjohn at 6:12 PM on June 8, 2005

Okay, I've done a lot of this, so here is my answer.

Get a tape deck that has a `play cassette' mode. It will play side A, side B, then stop. I have a friend with a cassette player which will do this for two tapes, then stop, but it's hard to find such a unit. Check Ebay, and also second hand stores for an older cassette unit.

Hook it up to your computer using the necessary cords.

Download DB Poweramp. This software allows you to convert incoming audio directly into MP3.

It also listens for noise and silence and will start recording when the audio begins, finish when it ends for a period of time, and name the files appropriately. It's the best software I've seen for this purpose and it's free!

Rip to a high quality mp3, then convert down as you feel necessary. I think for spoken audio that 48 kbps mono is good enough.

You'll be surprised how quickly you can convert cassettes. I've gone through hundreds. Wake up, start a cassette. Get home from work, next cassette. Mid evening, another cassette, heading for bed, another one, get up for a glass of water during the night.... you get the idea.

It's not as good as recording at high speed, but you'll get there in the end, and you don't have to worry about losing quality as Shepd mentioned.

Oh, finally, the most important thing when recording is to check your recording levels. You REALLY don't want clipping in your audio tracks, it's better to use software to normalise the files to a higher volume than have to reduce it.
posted by tomble at 6:40 PM on June 8, 2005 [1 favorite]

I've got the Plusdeck 2, and it is indeed set-and-forget: I have it at work and can easily convert a 6 tape audio book in a day.
posted by forallmankind at 12:50 AM on June 9, 2005

tomble, I'd give you best answer here if I could.

The DB Poweramp software is exactly what I was looking for to convert some borrowed (ILB from Madison WI to Boston!) language audio cassettes to a usable format.

Not only was the software free, the interface is pretty intuitive (less a couple minor quibbles) and the results are great. Even for a purpose like mine, where being able to get the nuances of the speech are critical, I am very very happy with the results.

I had no idea it would be this easy!
posted by whatzit at 2:52 PM on May 13, 2006

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