The most cost-effective way to do a large-ish transfer project is do it once and do it right. So,
you don't want to cut too many corners. Joel has laid out a bunch of good points before. Even for
cassette-quality oral history type stuff, it's best to do a good -resolution transfer once on a
well-maintained deck into a decent digital signal chain. Bottom-barrell stuff will give
bottom-barrell results but there is a whole range of reasonably-priced and good quality gear out
As for software, I hate Audacity. I think it's worth exactly what it costs. It's klunky garbage, at
least the last version I used, which was 2 years ago. Much better is Sony Soundforge which can be
had very reasonably if one is an education-related institution (see Educator Superstore website for
instance). The newest version of Soundforge comes with restoration/cleanup tools that, when used
conservatively and tastefully, can be very helpful with this kind of audio.
Your best practice is to plan on at least three collections of files: 1) raw transfer PCM audio,
hopefully higher resolution (I like 88.2/24 or 96/24 but Richard Hess makes a convincing argument
that 44.1/24 is perfectly OK for spoken-word material). 2) processed PCM, this would be NR'd,
normalized, EQ'd etc and perhaps saved at CD resolution with a "safety" version burned to archival
CD media. 3) online/small-format version, MP3 or whatever crunched format you used, saved from the
CD-quality processed PCM version. This would be for online/streaming or podcast use. These can be
batch-made by Soundforge out of the processed PCM files. My caveat would be, beware crunching too
lossy. Spoken word starts sounding really crappy when it's surrounded by digi-swishies and other
artifacts. I never go lower than 96kbps for MP3, which some might consider overkill but I sure
don't. I actually prefer 128kbps whenever possible because it preserves the upper mouth/throat air
resonances of most voices and also a decent MP3 cruncher won't make swishies out of even heavy tape
Don't neglect the cassette end of this. Having a Tascam 122MkII is one thing but, how old is it and
how well-maintained is it? I highly recommend sending it to NJ Factory Service for a refurb and have
him make sure the head is OK too. As of a few months ago, Tascam still had heads, belts and other
parts for these machines.
Now that you see that even this kind of "pedestrian" audio is no simple feat to transfer and
preserve correctly, have you considered out-sourcing the transfer work? You could then concentrate
your expertise on archiving, editing, and making available your assets. There are grants out there
to pay for outsourcing audio work to audio professionals.
-- Tom Fine
----- Original Message -----
From: "JA Eaton" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Thursday, August 14, 2008 12:11 PM
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Seeking recommendations for oral history digitization equipment (fwd)
Some thoughts on your situation...
1) As you are digitising for the first time, it's worth thinking about
preserving your files for future use, especially if you expand this
resource in the future. Therefore it's probably worth digitising your
material in the highest quality available in a format best suitable for
sustainability in the best possible way.
Which leads to...
2) Record your audio in the best available quality and convert down to
CD/web quality afterwards. i.e. 88.2Khz/24bit. You can back up the 'master'
files onto a hard drive or DVD's/CD's. Even though you may not need
these high quality files now, it'd save any future re-digitising issues and
provide you with a backup if anything goes wrong. You may wish to consider
using open source file formats for future proofing such as Vorbis ogg or
FLAC, whereas WAV or AIFF are fine for CD distribution.
which leads to...
> One of the USB interfaces I was looking
> at (the Tascam US-144) comes with a free version of Cubase, but I don't
> know that it would be any better for our purposes than Audacity
A dedicated A>D converter over USB 2.0 or Firewire is going to give you
much better conversion quality than plugging into your internal soundcard.
These vary in quality and price and will generally be defined by your
budget. Quality of the pre-amps you use is also worth noting.
4. Pro Tools is a highly advanced multitracking and editing suite which
although capable is probably far too advanced for your needs. If you were
planning on digitising multiple media at once (multitracking) then
something of this ilk may be worth thinking about. (note that Pro Tools is
only compatible with it's own hardware except for Pro Tools M-Powered, a
lighter version). Audacity on the other is a freeware simple interface for
recording, simple editing, basic processing techniques and file conversion.
One consideration is that the simpler (and cheaper) the program then the
less 'restoration' processing features it is likely to offer (should you
need them), such as de-noisers etc.
> Anyway, your thoughts on a good USB interface, a good and inexpensive
> pair of monitors, headphones
a good pair of monitors may be worthless if your listening environment is
not designed for audio analysis(e.g. your desk is in a big open plan office
with lots of background noise), however there are some decent reference
monitors on the market under the £400 mark. (KRK, Genelec being at the top
end of the scale).
Again look for professional headphones with a 'flat' response (i.e. not
marketed to D.J's, live broadcast etc) but this can often be tricky judging
between brands. Try AKG, Sennheiser.
USB interfaces. at the top end of the price scale (for your project
anyhow)MOTU make decent converters with quality preamps, alternatively
M-Audio, Edirol and Mackie do cheaper products. Look for ones which offer
higher sample rates/larger bit depth for any future needs.
hope this is of some help!
Joel Eaton TSO - Sound Resources
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