Digitize cassette tapes v2
June 30, 2018 7:05 PM   Subscribe

I never actually spent the time to use the suggestions in this question which I asked over seven years ago. I still have the ca. 1994 Onkyo cassette deck and Onkyo tuner/amplifier with normal inputs and outputs and now a late-2014 Macbook Pro.

I've googled a bunch of different ways to do this - the popular suggestion is that you can plug an RCA-to-1/8" cable into the headphone jack on the MBP and it will suddenly show up as an input device in your System Preferences. This hasn't happened for me.

I also read that I need an RCA-to-USB adapter cable. I bought one and I've had no luck with that one either.

I have pretty much every kind of cable available and I've tried every combination I can think of to record this audio into Audacity without success.

(I also have a new MBP - touchbar - work computer which I'd *prefer* not to use but if that's my only solution I will.)

I'd like to save `buying some kind of cassette-player gadget for specifically this purpose` as a last resort.
posted by bendy to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm not sure if your machine will allow you to use the 1/8" jack as an input (I believe some do, some don't), but if it does you need to go to the Sound panel in the System Preferences and tell it that you want to use that jack for an input.
posted by BillMcMurdo at 7:12 PM on June 30, 2018


If you care about getting good audio quality digitization, it's worth investing in even the cheapest audio interfaces out there.

The Flickr links in your original question look dead from here, so I don't know what kind of outs you have. But this $30 Behringer has input sockets for XLR and 1/4". If you don't have those out from your tape deck, then literally anything that converts your out to 1/4" is better than some weirdo nonstandard RCA/USB cord.

If you are not especially into high fidelity (or want that Lo-Fi AESTHETIC!), then simply play the tape out the amp and use the built-in mic to record onto your mac laptop. Lots of people do this on purpose, a little "air" can sometimes make the captured digital product a bit more natural and warm feeling. If you're so inclined, a mic in the $20-50 range would probably produce better results than the built-in mic.

If you don't want to spend any money, try a simple over-air recording to the built-in mic. If you put it in a quiet room with decent acoustics it may sound better than you think!

As for the headphone in, there's a pain in the ass semi-standard thing it's looking for: Mono jacks read Tip and Sleeve (TS), Stereo jacks read Tip Ring Sleeve and your mac reads in TRRS (Tip Ring Ring Sleeve of course). The TRRS is how you have stereo audio and a mono mic on a headset. It's nice, but it means lots of mic thingies won't work if plugged straight in (And this is ALSO why you can't get RCA-to-1/8" to work, but some people can. Depends on the cord wiring and also how many rings on the male connector, which is often not specified clearly. !@#?).

You can find various splitters and T(R)(R)S converters, but imo those options are fiddly and annoying, and may well sound worse than the built-in mic.

Good luck!
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:45 PM on June 30, 2018 [3 favorites]


Yeah, you might have good luck with a Behringer UA222 or something like it. That ones $30 and it has RCA in/out jacks. It should work where the adapter cable failed. Behringer stuff isn’t high quality, but since you’re not trying to do crazy multitrack recordings, it’s probably exactly what you need.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 8:05 PM on June 30, 2018


The Behringer does look like a good solution that I can probably use for other things. And, if I go on the no interest for 36 months plan I only have to pay $0.83 a month!!
posted by bendy at 8:11 PM on June 30, 2018 [1 favorite]


Cassette tapes degrade. The sound quality may no longer be worth digitizing.
posted by WCityMike at 8:47 AM on July 1, 2018


I have a collection of cassette tapes spanning 1979-1996 and most of them are still in very good condition. Interestingly I always stored them in cardboard boxes, which in retrospect I think helped wick away excess moisture -- which is really what kills cassette tapes aside from heat. Almost everything depends on storage conditions.

I would recommend strongly against sending an analog signal to the computer unless you know what you're doing. There's numerous problems involved keeping the levels where they need to be and avoiding noise from nearby electronics. Most 1/8" cables are poorly shielded and this can introduce low-level hum, static, buzzing, etc into your recording. I've always felt leery anyway about trying to feed random audio to a 1/8" mic in anyway (impedance mismatch, etc).

A couple of years ago I tried out a $30 cassette player with USB output, this one specifically, and was pleasantly surprised with the results. I think for your application this is the way to go. There also appear to be some $15 models available. I have no idea if going from a $30 to $15 price point affects the product quality; I'd just comb the reviews and decide from that, or spend the $15 to test drive it.

Should you wish to invest a few hundred dollars in this project, a high-end cassette player with XLR out is the way to go. The best players are Tascams like these, or maybe Studer if you can find them on eBay. Any mixer with XLR-in and USB-out should do a great job and the vast majority of digital mixers sold nowadays offer this functionality. This is what you should do if you want to extract maximum quality from the tapes.
posted by rolypolyman at 10:08 AM on July 1, 2018 [2 favorites]


A couple of years ago I tried out a $30 cassette player with USB output, this one specifically, and was pleasantly surprised with the results. I think for your application this is the way to go. There also appear to be some $15 models available. I have no idea if going from a $30 to $15 price point affects the product quality; I'd just comb the reviews and decide from that, or spend the $15 to test drive it.

I have to say I've seen a lot of cheapish USB tape decks and USB turntables that have incredibly poor sound quality, so if you do go that route, you might want to be prepared to test it out and return it if it's subpar.

I would second the USB audio interface route if you already have a decent tape deck, as the sound quality will likely be affected by the quality of the tape deck and its electronics as much as (or more than) by the ADC you're using.
posted by thegears at 11:20 AM on July 1, 2018


The sound quality may no longer be worth digitizing.

There are at least a few that are absolutely irreplaceable and for those I'll overlook the quality.

A fellow MeFite has offered to loan me a Behringer device so I'll mark this resolved. Thanks everyone and especially SatlySalticid for the explanation of the - vaguely phallic sounding - Tip Ring Sleeve concept.
posted by bendy at 2:13 PM on July 1, 2018


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