How To Convert Cassette Tape to MP3

<< Dear Phil: I have about 200 audio cassette tapes by Fr. Richard Rohr, tapes that I have patiently collected over the past thirty years. Now I am a technological dinosaur. These tapes are about to disintegrate. How can I convert them to MP3 files? What is the set up? How do I attach my cassette player to my computer? Thanks.... >>

STEP ONE: Dinosaur places one cassette tape into a cassette tape player that has an "audio out" or "headphone out" jack.

STEP TWO: Dinosaur attaches cord from cassette tape player "audio out" / "headphone out" to back of computer for "audio in" (normally blue 1/8 inch "in" jack)

Note: cord should be 1/8 inch normal headphone size (available at Radio Shack or BestBuy stores, etc).

Picture of cord you need:

1/8 stereo audio jack cable cord

Picture of back of computer audio jacks here:

back of PC computer, mic, audio out, audio in

This is a 1/8 inch so it is easiest to go from 1/8 inch on your cassette player "out" to 1/8 inch "in" on back of computer.

Otherwise you can use a 1/4" to 1/8":

convert 1/4 inch to 1/8 inch
STEP THREE: Dinosaur opens up his Audio/Recording software to record the signal from cassette tape player to computer, choices:
Cool Edit Pro 2 (now Adobe Audition) is what I use, or Audacity a free program available here:

This takes a little practice since whatever program you use will be different. There are several things to worry about to get a cleanly recorded MP3. Volume level from your cassette player: probably should be set to about 25% to 50% volume. Volume level on Windows Recording Mixer: probably should be set to 50% or above.

"Windows Recording Mixer" is located by double-click on your speaker icon on the bottom-right of computer desktop, select Options, select Properties, and select (o) Recording, click OK, and then adjust recording level volumes. Make sure [x] Line In is selected (or possibly Aux or Microphone if you choose to use those), and put volume control for Line In to at least 50%.

Windows Recording Mixer

STEP FOUR: Once volume levels are set, you press PLAY on your cassette player, press RECORD in your Audio/Recording software (this will differ depending on software), and let the tape play through on one side. OR you can test levels by recording a few seconds of the tape, press STOP on cassette player, press STOP on Recording software. Do "File -- Save as" and then select MP3, save at mono 32 kbps which should be OK quality for speaking. I save either at mono 16 kbps (11 khz) or mono 32 kbps (22 khz). For "CD quality music" you can save MP3's at stereo 128 kbps (44 khz) or higher but you will have much larger file sizes. For talking / speaking tapes you want to do 16 or 32 kbps.

Note: For Cool Edit Pro 2, the process to RECORD is File -- New -- Sample Rate (I'll choose 44 khz) -- choose Stereo or Mono -- choose 16-bit, then Options -- "Monitor Record Level" should be On, then you are ready to press the RECORD button. The file will be "saved" internally in memory and in temporary files while recording. You can save space by choosing Mono instead of Stereo. Lectures or Speaking tapes are fine as Mono recordings and saved as MP3 at mono 16 or 32 kpbs.

STEP FIVE: Play the MP3 back you have just recorded and check the sound quality. Then Adjust volume levels (of source cassette player, or Windows Recording Mixer, or both) depending on whether you have "distortion" (in that case, lower the volumes slightly) or the sound is not loud enough (in that case, raise the volumes slightly). Repeat STEP FOUR until you have both "sides" of the cassette tape recorded.

STEP SIX: You can "edit out" the "space" that you have created when you have "flipped over" the cassette tapes from side 1 to side 2. In Cool Edit Pro 2 this is done by highlighting the blank space (space between side 1 and side 2), and doing "Delete Selection." Example how this looks with Cool Edit Pro 2:

Whatever software you use to do this, it takes practice learning how to Load, Edit, Save, Delete Selection, monitor recording level, listening to playback, rewind / fast forward, etc.

STEP SEVEN: Save your final MP3 at 16 or 32 kbps and you are done with ONE cassette tape. Yes, this takes a LOT of patience and a LONG time since you have to listen to each cassette in real time. In other words, if the lecture was 1 hour, this process will take AT LEAST 1 hour to convert to MP3, probably more like 2 hours to record a test, set volume levels right, record complete side 1, record complete side 2, delete the "space" betweeen side 1 and 2, then save both sides as one MP3 file. Also if your Audio/Recording software is working right, you should not only "see" the recording signal level that is being recorded, but the sound from the cassette tape should be coming through clearly on your computer speakers (and muted on your cassette tape player if you are using the "headphone jack" as "out" on your cassette player)

How did I learn how to do this? By trial and error. I started with some cassette tapes I had of old "Bob Lassiter" programs (talk show host in Tampa Bay FL area in late 80s, 90s).