Cassette to digital

I found out @Jonathan makes some cash from converting cassettes to digital.
So JK. What gear do you use to get the audio off the cassette. I need specifics (and preferrably available in UK)

Off to research.

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Its called a Marantz (thats the brand name) PMD501. But here’s the deal. People I do this junk for REALLY do not care about extra attention to detail. So I don’t even think it matters that much what you’re using to transfer. I wanted a rack mount unit because its easy to leave plugged in, patched in, but its out of the way. I leave it permanently patched into a Motu 828mk2, and usually print into logic, for no other reason than it renders faster than Nuendo or Protools.

For audio cleanup I use the Izotope RX and the Waves restoration plugins. I make sure I don’t spend more than 2 min on each track because the person doesn’t care. They’re preserving memories, not re-mastering for commercial release. The basic process is surgical EQ, de-hiss, limit.

You can get word-of-mouth referrals on this pretty easy. But you’ll wanna find mainly elderly people that don’t have the know-how to use a computer. Churches are a great place to start if you can stand being around them. A lot of people will also ask for VHS to DVD. I wouldn’t try and compete with prices online for bulk stuff. Take the one-offs and keep it cheap. The trick is to not underbid. If someone handed me a shoebox full of cassettes, I’d probably quote them $125-$150. If they counter, I refer them to a site online that does it cheaper, and let them decide if they want to hastle with the risk. If you can get a box of cassettes from a church member, I try to see if I can let a secretary dump the masters and return the originals back to their own churches front desk, because it saves me the hassle of having to meet up with the person, and I have no interest in listenting to them blab about their life stories (that were probably on those tapes). But I’ll keep a backup until I can confirm that I got it. And if I need to call them to confirm, I have one of my assistants call them, because these people can eat up an enormous amount of your time just wanting to talk to you.

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To be honest, there are faster ways to do this. You can buy a machine that takes multiple tapes and converts to digital files, then USB them strait to a drive. If I did this stuff more, I’d go buy something a lot faster.

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I’ve done tape to digital transfers for people in the past. Like @Jonathan said, the people who are asking for this sort of thing do not care in the least bit about high end audio. They want the voice from their grandma’s funeral procession to be intelligible. If it’s already intelligible, they just want to share it with their family.

If you can create some sort of system that lets you do the job without sitting there and listening to the entire thing in real time, you will save yourself a lot of “what am I doing with my life” moments. Once somebody handed me 10 hours of tapes as asked me to digitize them. I had 6 tape decks going at once, and it still drove me insane. Setting the timer for 40 minutes, hitting record and never being able to leave or do anything else while they were going.

Heh. I’m doing about 12 hours of rescue and restore for my mother. The tapes are in pretty bad shape and I’m terrified at the prospect of leaving them unattended during transfer. I just know that the first time I walk away, one of them will self destruct.

It’s tedious as hell and I always seem to have something more important to work on. One of these years I’ll get it done.:neutral_face:

I shoveled it into a different computer. Which is another reason I don’t use ProTools or Nuendo, as your instances are limited to the dongles. DP and Logic let you run multiple instances on different machines. (I think they’re called ‘seats’ in licensing terms).

I don’t have 6 tape decks! lol

I actually do that. I use a timer. lol…I use the Amazon Echo, because all 3 of them can be synced to all main rooms of the studio building and it hits my phone when it goes off. I put an ‘end recording’ barrier at 50 min, and left it at 50 min. So if I run to the store and forget about it, the hard drive stops recording.

When one tape runs out, I input the next one to a different DAW track. That way, when all 8 tapes are loaded, I have them stacked vertically like a session, instead spread across the screen on a linear timeline. First I scan visually for potential problem areas, and FORCE myself to not spend more than 2 minutes on any single track. If you’re not careful, you can fiddle with this shit all day, and won’t get paid a penny more.

When everything is transferred, I lasso all the tracks, throw Waves L1 limiters on all of them at once. Now I DON’T want to have to constantly mute and unmute, and I’m sure not going take the time to set this up on the mixing console. So I check and balance levels in scrub mode, that way all tracks stay unmuted but you can only hear one at a time. With its respective channel strip settings.

Once everything sounds fine, I lasso all of the clips/regions and export the whole damn batch at once, then in the options, I click change batch export settings to apply each channel strip plugins to its respective track.

…BUT…doesn’t the audio quality matter? I found that people will check these to make sure you actually did what they paid you to do. But they will NEVER even listen to it. If its their grandmothers funeral, they want to HAVE it. Not LISTEN to it. This is preserving memories. NOT mastering audio.

The one exception is if some granddaddy hands karaoke cassette to digitize so he can take them to a retirement home and sing for other granddaddies. Then you need to quote higher because some mastering work will likely be required. You don’t want to just hand it to him. A bad track to a karaoke singer can actually come back to hurt you. A ‘what you see is what you get’ digitization of a graduation ceremony 30 years ago won’t. One is a memory, the other one is a musical tool.

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Years ago I paid some ‘specialists’ to convert some of my old cassettes and vinyl to digital. I was pretty disappointed by the quality but just assumed that it was the best they could do… now I’m realising that they simply bunged it into a machine, took out no hiss, added noise of their own and charged me heaps… this wee project is strangely tempting to me…

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@Coquet-Shack i have a TEAC V1050 stereo cassette hifi separate that would suit your needs perfectly?
its an awesome piece of kit.
if you want it its £30 plus postage.
its quite big so i dont know how much the postage would be, i would need to find out.
its a top of the line TEAC and very reliable tripple head system.
google it

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shit! first i need to finish putting a friends tape onto cd for them.
its a really crappy jam session on a knackered tape! they sound terrible and it was recorded in mono on a crappy mic built into a cheap 90`s tape deck . the sound is shit and comes and goes.

but its a recording of a work friends son who is not with them any more and he asked me to put it onto cd for them.

ive tried the usual clean up but it still sounded too bed so i am trying to totaly remix it by running about 4 wavs of it together and trying to eq and gate one to be bass, one to be vocals, one to be drums, one to be guitars. thing is the noise florr is just rediculas and the horid hisss is unbareable, ive tried imprting it with dolby noise reduction turned on, off etc. im going to have to restart and just try rx and stuff but its a hell of a job.
if anyone fancies a go at it i can send them a file to see how bad it really is!!! i could do with getting this finished! it would be voluntary help if your interested. otherwise i`ll just whack it onto cd sounding shit as its all i can do.

anyway, back to OP yes @Coquet-Shack i have a teac for sale and i`m in the uk

Added noise of their own? What?!?!

If those were music recordings, and you wanted them remastered, you probably needed a professional mastering engineer, not a bulk media transfer service. The difference is that a media transfer service has built-to-order machines that can rip hundreds of hours of data in a single swipe, but they know next to nothing about audio restoration.

You’re thinking about trying again? If I was serious about doing something like that myself, I would have to research what makes one tape head or record player better or worse than another. I know practically nothing about that. Wow. If you tackle this, let us know how it turns out!

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Ach no, I often think of ‘cunning plans’ but the reality is I have no discretionary time/money as it is… but… a gazillion ideas of projects. I suspect this is yet another of those things… also, I would be hopeless at doing it commercially as I always listen to people and their stories and can see that I’d be trapped for endless hours listening to the personal stories behind the recordings… sigh. But interesting to think about! :grin:

Oh, it is interesting to think about!!

It seems the companies that this is the best fit to tackle the audio end are companies that already have media transfer services in place. Media transfer is still a pretty popular service for personal and corporate video. And those places have staffing resources they can allocate to audio, and the data system servers already in place to tackle hundreds of thousands of hours of archive stuff. Another challenge is having machinery that can handle all of the formats. Ordering or custom designing tape recorders with 10 playheads and a built in hard drive is easy. Same with VHS. But then stacking up a wall of 8 tracks, vinyl players, reel-to-reels, and all of the other weird formats would get nasty. Can you imagine the maintenance?

There’s a church client of mine that has explored digitizing over 25,000 hours of sermons dating back 40 years. There were enormous loads of boxes, of tapes and VHS stuff stashed in a closet. And public records places and city courthouses uses these types of services. So do some medical facilities. I would worry about this market drying up though. This industry has got to be shrinking fast, as there are a pretty limited number of clients with the budget, and 20 year old data that’s worth keeping around.

On the individual consumer (the non big-data) end, you could buy a little Cassette to USB box for $13-$21 :smiley:

It hooks directly up to your computer, you pop a tape in, and it digitizes it! haha.

I still use the tape deck into Logic because I can manage the channel processing in the DAW, and batch export everything at once. I have no idea what kind of a D to A converter you’ll get for $21, but hey, if you want price+ease of use, this would save someone from even having to open a DAW lol.


o wow, never heard of that wee toy… cool!
I have boxes of vhs tapes of the kids that I keep meaning to transfer to dvd, that’s another project I have to figure out [rolls eyes]. It’s annoying, I know that I’m technically very capable but I still have this incredible resistance to using technology, like a form of negative imprinting…

Just to echo what everybody else is saying here, the one time somebody asked me to do this for them, they didn’t have any expectations about it sounding hi def, they just wanted a way to preserve their flamenco-metal band for posterity.
I myself had a few old recordings that only existed in cassette form and the audio was not great, so I just wanted to be able to archive those recordings. I used whatever no name brand cassette player was available

My late father was a Presbyterean minister and a theological translator for World Council of Churches.

Hey there, mate. I wish. Not being self-pitying but can’t afford that at the moment. Will ask if you still have it when I do.
Thanks for the offer.

Probably one that is significantly better than the tape->voltage converter.

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I cant even stand doing my own family stuff let alone someone elses.

its mentioned $150 for a box of them!! and running it all into a DAW and actually looking at it…offering 2 minutes a song!! wow? too much pain and time.

makes sense the business is there though. especially the infamous home-videos of the 90’s. i was of that crowd where every turd the babys pooped out was filmed and every bday was captured with bad sound and bad lighting and yes its great but there wasnt usually any editing done and most parents just recorded too much of everything (like pictures on smart phones today). I think SNL even made a skit about the family video mania.

and how many more damn formats will we be drug through? maybe “the cloud” is the final one.

Its really not that bad. You feed all tapes on different tracks into the same session. When I say look through them, I mean eyeball the wav forms for problem areas then scrub over rogue transients. I can remove hiss in about about 6-10 seconds because the plugins analyze the noise then kill it automatically doing the least amount of damage to the tracks. If all the tracks are similar, you can copy paste your tracks settings on to the channels, then batch export.

So its really fast.