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DIY Memory Lab - Transfer Audio Cassettes

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Note: You must bring your own headphones if you want to listen to your audio tapes and transfers. If needed, you may check out a 3.5mm Stereo Jack to 1/4" Stereo Plug Adapter at the staff desk.

Step 1: Attach the cassette deck to the computer

  • Connect the tape deck's USB cable to the USB port on the Mac Pro.

Step 2: Turn on compact cassette deck

  • Make sure the power conditioner is turned on
  • Make sure the deck is on. Power button is on the lower left hand side of the deck.
  • When the button is pushed in, that means the deck is on.

Step 3: Load your tape

  • Press the EJECT button on the left side. This will automatically open the deck.
  • Compact cassettes usually come with two sides: Side 1 and 2 or Side A and B. Start with side 1 or side A facing you.
  • Insert your cassette tape with magnetic tape side down.

Step 4: Open Audacity Audacity logo

  • Once you have logged onto the Mac computer, double click the Audacity icon.
    Note: If the icon is not there, search for Audacity and double click the icon that pops up.
  • Audacity will open up to a blank screen and monitors.
  • Make sure of the following settings:
    • [mic] and [sound] are both set to usb audio codec and
    • 2 (Stereo) Recording Channels is selected

Audacity screen screen

Step 5: Capture your audio

  • Be sure that you rewind the tape.
  • Click on the words Click to Start Monitoring displayed over the numbers at the top of the Audacity window.
  • Press PLAY on the tape deck. In Audacity, you should see green bars moving across the numbers as your tape is playing.
    • If the bars are generally below the -15 mark or above the -3 mark (and showing some red), you will need to adjust the recording volume. You can also listen to the tape by plugging headphones directly into the compact cassette deck.
    • To adjust recording volume, move the slider next to the microphone icon toward the minus sign (softer) or the plus sign (louder), as shown below:
  • audio slider
  • Rewind the tape.
  • Press RECORD on Audacity first.
  • Press PLAY on the tape deck.

Audacity screen

You should see activity in the window like that in the screenshot above.

Step 6: Save Your File onto your USB

  • Make sure your USB is connected to the computer.
  • Go to File > Export > Export as WAV in the Audacity menu
  • .
    Audacity export menu

  • Give it a name that is consistent and obvious.
  • When you save the file, a window will appear for you to enter metadata (description info) about the file. Be sure to include how the file was digitized and who owns the rights to the recording.

Audacity metadata tags

Step 7: You are done

  • If you checked out a 3.5mm Stereo Jack to 1/4" Stereo Plug Adapter, please return to library staff.
  • Do not forget your USB and audio tapes.

Diagram of cassette process

What hardware are you using?

  1. Audio cassette deck: Tascam 202MKVII
  2. Cable: USB
  3. Computer: Apple Mac Pro with 27-inch Thunderbolt Display on El Capitan

What software are you using?

  • Audacity

How to identify an audio cassette

icon of audio cassette

audio cassette identification (PDF)

Printable flier on how to recognize an audio compact cassette.

How should I load my tape?

The side where you can see the magnetic tape should be inserted first. The tape orientation should look like this:

icon of cassettes

Why should I save as a WAV file?

Good question. MP3 is the more common audio file, and it is small. Since it is small in size, MP3s are great to upload and download. So why WAV? WAV files are the recommended preservation file. It's simple. Many computers and machines recognize it; and it is an accurate, lossless format, which means you won't lose your audio quality.

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