On 2/21/2013 12:10 PM, Joel Alperson wrote:
> What tremendous replies both in content and variety.
> Thanks to everyone for your comments.
> As to labor of love first, this material does not exist anywhere else.
> These tapes in most cases are the only recordings which exist.
What is the nature of the material. You mention that it's only voice --
is it a collection of speeches, sermons, class lectures?
> The reasons for digitizing are, one to preserve them as some are over 30
> years old. Two, to more easily listen to search through them. And
> finally, to ultimately digitally transcribe to text the recordings at
> some time in the future, although that's a far less important goal for
As Don pointed out, preserving cassettes is likely to be easier than
preserving digital recordings. The latter, unless pressed onto regular
CDs (not CD-Rs) are iffy -- it's necessary to copy the entire archive to
a new storage device every couple of years.
> It seems to me that using an outside service would be tremendously
> expensive, certainly well into five figures if not more.
> And I have the advantage of not having a hard deadline for this work
> meaning if the job takes me several years to complete that is far better
> than leaving the tapes to deteriorate without preservation.
In what environment are they stored? Do you have access to a
temperature- and humidity-controlled storage facility?
> For now, deleting silence at the beginning or end of the recordings is
> not critical. Just getting the material digitized is my priority.
> I currently have an M-Audio Ultra Lite Mk3 audio interface.
Actually, I believe the Ultralite is made by MOTU; it's one of several
multi-channel interfaces that can do the job.
> The big questions for me then (I think) are what software to use and
> some step-by-step instructions as to how I connect several audio
> cassette recorders to the audio interface and on operating the software
> I would use.
Your biggest challenge will almost certainly be hardware -- it usually
is, in any major digitization effort. Job One is always to get good
playback of the original analog material.
If these are mono tapes (same material on both channels) you can connect
six cassette decks to the six inputs of the Ultralite, using a single
channel of each cassette deck. You'll need a connector that also lets
you connect that channel to your monitoring setup (which can be as
simple as a home audio receiver -- but you'll need a switchbox to hook
up all six cassette decks; perhaps a patchbay would be easier to manage.
(If these are stereo tapes, with different material on the two channels,
of course you'll only be able to do three at a time, but then again
you'll only need three good cassette decks. Of course, the project will
take twice as long and use up 2x as much storage.)
Getting six decent cassette decks, in this day and age, will take some
soing. Old cassette decks, unless they're three-motor machines (which
are preferred), often need all their belts replaced to function at all.
Often they need new pinch rollers too.
Okay, so you've got six working cassette decks. For each tape, you'll
need to set the playback head azimuth properly. The best way to do that
is by ear; feed both channels into your monitor setup and sum them to
mono (most receivers have a stereo/mono switch, but you may need to rig
one up). One useful trick is to take your monitor feed from the cassette
deck's headphone output (if there is one) and run it to the
Anyw3ay, you're listening to the tape with the two channels mono'd.
There is a small screw next to the playback head that you can adjust
with a small screwdriver. Ideally this screwdriver will be non-magnetic
(you can get small all-plastic screwdrivers at electronic supply
houses). Play the tape, preferably from someplace in the middle, and
tweak the screw until you find the position that gives the most audible
treble. Your azimuth is now set.
If the cassette squeals or has other motion-related problems, you'll
need to open the cassette and move the tape to a new shell, with fresh
slipsheets, rollers and pressure pad. You can use a good new cassette
for this (Maxells are good), but if you're going to need a lot of new
shells, you're probably better off buying new shells.
Anyway, your azimuth is right, and you've maybe replaced the shell. It's
very likely that these tapes were recorded without Dolby noise
reduction, so turn that off. Set the playback EQ switch, if there is
one, to match the tape type -- probably Type 1.
Go through these procedures on all six decks. Rewind all tapes to the
beginning. Bring up your multi-channel recording software, set it to
24-bit/44.1kHz, set each channel of the software to the corresponding
channel of the Ultralite. Put each channel into Record-Ready, and play
each tape in turn to make sure the level doesn't go above about -6dBFS.
Rewind all tapes to their heads. Roll the recording software, then push
PLAY on all six cassette decks. Go away for 45 minutes (or however long
each cassette side lasts), come back, and when all cassette decks have
stopped, stop the recording software. Label each track with the
appropriate tape name and Side One. Save all tracks.
Flip all the tapes. You may need to redo the azimuth alignment for the
second side -- fast-forward the tape to the middle, then check using the
mono-monitoring hookup. If necessary, adjust all six azimuths, then
rewind all tapes to the beginning of the second side, and repeat all the
recording steps. Later, rinse and repeat for the next six tapes.
It's critically important to adjust the azimuth, or at least check it,
for *each cassette*. Azimuth alignment was the Achilles' Heel of
cassette recording; most decks came from the factory set wrong, and
cassettes themselves were sufficiently cheesy that they differed on the
As I said before, the big task is to get the analog playback right. If
you can do that (eith cassettes it's not easy), the digital side is
trivial by comparison.
Plan on spending some serious money on hardware. A good cassette deck in
good condition can cost a couple of hundred dollars; if not in good
condition, the repairs might cost a couple of hundred.
I could go on for a lot longer, but enough for the moment.