What dongle/cable do I need to make this recording thing work?
September 22, 2016 11:45 AM   Subscribe

I have a cassette deck, a stereo receiver, Audacity, and a late 2012 iMac. I am gearing up for a winter project where I record some cassette tapes, in stereo. I need help completing the circuit.

I have an RCA-to-3.5mm cable. When I plug that into the headphone jack on my computer, I get mono input which is, I have read, normal. I have a 3.5mm to USB cable. When I plug that in to the USB port I get mono input (it's from my headset, so no surprise there). 3.5mm cable is definitely stereo. Adapters like this (like mine) all seem to say mono input. So, I think I need something that I can plug the 3.5mm cable into which goes into my USB port and says "Hey I am stereo, record me in stereo!" right? Or do I need to get an RCA-to_USB thing? Which thing and where to get? Is this a digital/analog issue? I am looking for some $10-ish cable/dongle solution if possible not some "Buy this entirely other device to do this job" solution unless it's literally the only way.

I've been looking at Ebay and Newegg and Monoprice and Amazon and the fact that I can't easily find something like this makes me think that one of my assumptions about how this is supposed to work may be off. Suggestions? Thanks.
posted by jessamyn to Technology (20 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
You record tracks in mono then mix in stereo. You can monitor the tracks in stereo.
posted by Annika Cicada at 11:53 AM on September 22, 2016


Oh sorry maybe I wasn't clear, these are cassettes with music on them already, not music that I am creating. So there's no mixing, just transferring what is there from analog to digital. When I monitor these cassettes in Audacity, it just shows a single track input coming in.
posted by jessamyn at 11:55 AM on September 22, 2016


You can do stereo recording with an Audio/Digital converter like say a Focusrite 2i2, then you end up with two tracks, one for each channel.

Think of recording as "tracks" on "channels", with the output being a single track that is a stereo mixdown.
posted by Annika Cicada at 11:55 AM on September 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


This Alesis "Stereo Rca-To-Usb-Cable" looks like it meets the requirements: line level, left and right RCA channel inputs to USB.
posted by usonian at 11:58 AM on September 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


If you want to record stereo tracks off a cassette, you'll need something like that scarlett 2i2, then you'll get two tracks, one for each channel.

You'll need to make sure whatever you get has RCA balanced inputs for connecting your tape deck. Otherwise radio shack has plenty of adapters.
posted by Annika Cicada at 11:58 AM on September 22, 2016


The venerable Griffin iMic supports stereo line in.
posted by zsazsa at 12:15 PM on September 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


How important is audio quality for this? If this is something where audio fidelity is important, using a nicer USB interface will pay off.

Once you have a stereo input for your computer, it doesn't matter too much what type of audio connections (e.g. RCA, quarter inch, 3.5mm) connections it accepts, though anything with 3.5mm inputs is likely to be low quality. You could find something that will take your current cable, you just need make make sure that it specifies that it's a stereo line in, like the iMic linked above. Otherwise there's a variety of USB audio interfaces that take RCA inputs that you likely already have other cables that would work with it.
posted by Candleman at 12:20 PM on September 22, 2016


I have an adapter that looks like this for my MacBook Pro, which does exactly what you want. I record into Garageband/Logic, not Audacity, but it works. You may need to confirm that your Built-in Input is set to two channels?
posted by infinitewindow at 12:23 PM on September 22, 2016


infinitewindow: the Late 2012 iMac just has a single headphone/headset port on the back, and it can only record mono. Earlier iMacs had a real stereo line-in port, but they dropped it.
posted by zsazsa at 12:28 PM on September 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


make sure whatever you get has RCA balanced inputs

LOL. There is no such thing. Just RCA inputs.

Otherwise radio shack has plenty of adapters.

Unfortunately there are no longer plenty of Radio Shacks.

I use an expensive Focusrite interface and like it, but it's overkill here and doesn't have convenient inputs for your use case. The much cheaper Behringer UCA202 ($30!), does everything you want, and has the dual RCA line level inputs you need.
posted by w0mbat at 12:31 PM on September 22, 2016


Also make sure you are setting the inputs correctly in Audacity, you have stereo input selected, and you are recording to a stereo track. None of that happens automatically.
posted by bongo_x at 12:37 PM on September 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


That Behringer box that w0mbat posted looks like a good solution. So do the Griffin, Alesis, etc. dongles. They're all about $30-50, though.

The wrong assumption I was making (that zsazsa called out) was that your iMac had a line-level analog stereo input—it's likely you're making the same assumption. It's going to be about $40 to complete the circuit, because you require a new hardware solution for a two-channel input.
posted by infinitewindow at 12:48 PM on September 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Yeah yeah yeah, W0mbat, you're right, I was thinking about XLR connections when I typed that.
posted by Annika Cicada at 1:03 PM on September 22, 2016


I definitely checked with Audacity, checked the stereo settings etc. So, if I do some sort of audio-to-USB, I'll need an analog-to-digital converter?

I did check to see if my old MacBook Pro could do this but even though the combo jack seems to work fine with the microphone on my earbuds, it won't work with the line in on my stereo (which works fine on my iMac albeit in only one channel). So it looks like one of those converters is the way to go. I appreciate people taking the time to spell this out.
posted by jessamyn at 1:24 PM on September 22, 2016


Nthing what bongo_x says. I just did this whole process. Audacity can receive stereo, but it's actually quite difficult to find where the settings are and you'd think it would be the default, but no.
posted by Melismata at 1:24 PM on September 22, 2016


if I do some sort of audio-to-USB, I'll need an analog-to-digital converter?

The USB adapter has/is the analog to digital converter.
posted by Candleman at 1:30 PM on September 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Earlier iMacs had a real stereo line-in port, but they dropped it.

It's a shame, the old Macs stereo-in port was handy for transferring cassettes, and I'm tempted to pull my antique Mac out of the closet to try this, but I think it's feeling pretty creaky.

Also, Audacity doesn't transfer to MP3, so we had to reload the files into another program called LAME, which was lame with still more futzing around...
posted by ovvl at 5:28 PM on September 22, 2016


Audacity doesn't ship with the MP3 option (like some others for legal reasons), but you can install the LAME encoder yourself and then it's just like any other software to use Audacity to make MP3's. The instructions are on the site and in the manual.
posted by bongo_x at 6:16 PM on September 22, 2016


Audacity doesn't ship with the MP3 option (like some others for legal reasons), but you can install the LAME encoder yourself and then it's just like any other software to use Audacity to make MP3's. The instructions are on the site and in the manual.

Yep.
posted by ovvl at 7:11 PM on September 22, 2016


You can get extremely cheap USB audio IO dongles - I used that one with Audacity under Ubuntu for a lot of mic and line level capture tasks, and it worked just fine. Broke after two years, mind, so I trebled the budget for the replacement.
posted by Devonian at 10:14 AM on September 23, 2016


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