Computers & Electronics

another cassette to digital conversion question

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[OP]
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Mar 3, 2009
505 posts
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another cassette to digital conversion question

Hi all,
I was looking through some of the older threads about this topic, and I notice some people mentioning to just connect the headphone out jack from the cassette player to your mic input on the computer.

I also see a bunch of items like these audio capture cards on Amazon, which connect from the headphone jack to a USB port, ranging from around $22 to $27.

https://www.amazon.ca/Digital-Audio-Cap ... roduct_top
https://www.amazon.ca/USB2-0-Audio-Capt ... 01MU1DD6C/
https://www.amazon.ca/DIGITNOW-Capture- ... 079CBGDST/

I'm wondering about the mic input method compared to USB input. Which one would be clearer?
Has anyone tried any of these capture cards?

Thanks for any thoughts.
11 replies
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Part of the equation is what ADC (analogue-to-digital converter) you want to use. Have never gone this way. I do know computers (or rather PCs) probably have them on their MBs. I also have 2 sound cards that have ADCs (thought I bought them for their superior DACs). Other parts of the equation is whether you believe the components involved (e.g., jacks, cables, etc.) are inferior. Also what s/w you have to set gain, and play around with the sound in the digitizing process. Personally I think the tape (unless you have a studio master recording) and playback remains the weakest link.
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[OP]
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Mar 3, 2009
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"analogue-to-digital converter"

Not sure what you mean here. My assumption was that the 3 audio capture cards I mentioned are a kind of ADC. Did you mean something else?

As for s/w, I was thinking Audacity - many people are recommending it.

I get what you mean about the tape being the weakest link - still, I don't want any other weaknesses if I can avoid.

Thanks.
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fred999 wrote: "analogue-to-digital converter"

Not sure what you mean here. My assumption was that the 3 audio capture cards I mentioned are a kind of ADC. Did you mean something else?
There's different grades of ADCs and DACs. Some people swear by some processors and they're superior to others (mainly audiophiles and the DACs they chose). The onboard ADC may work just fine, but you have to experiment. I'd just start with the onboard on your computer (so line, head phone output to microphone input on your computer) and see how that goes. Might be acceptable and have good fidelity (to the tape), or not. Might be different voltages, impedance and the like (this is not something I've ever done so have no researched it).

I get what you mean about the tape being the weakest link - still, I don't want any other weaknesses if I can avoid..
If the tape is crackly, hissy (cant be avoided?) and all that stuff, not sure if a high-end ADC will do any good.

It appears the PC ADCs aren't very good but not entirely sure these cheap ADCs may be much better (I don't see any specs).

For example, here is what the sound card I have (to play CD-quality and higher fidelity digitized music) has for its ADC
These feed a Cirrus Logic CS5381, a 24-bit A/D converter chip capable of operating at sample rates up to 192kHz and offering a S/N ratio of 110dB.
Bit technical but here is the reviewer's take on the ADC
Inexpensive A/D converters tend to start overloading as the input level reaches the maximum possible. The STX's ADC, however, was well behaved even at the very top of its dynamic-range window. Fig.12, for example, shows the spectrum (analyzed in the digital domain) of a 1kHz tone at a level equivalent to –1dBFS, with the word length set to 24 bits and recorded with Adobe Audition. The highest-level harmonics are the third, at –116dB (0.00015%), and the second, at –126dB (0.00006%). However, these are close to the residual level of the signal generator I used for these tests, Audio Precision's System One. Dropping the input level to –10dBFS (fig.13) gave a spectrum almost free from distortion, though some enharmonic spuriae are visible at a very low level (enharmonic means that their frequencies are unrelated to the signal frequency). But even with a signal level equivalent to –90dBFS, these enharmonic tones are still well below the signal level (fig.14).
Is what is on the cassette unique with no better source or copy?
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[OP]
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Mar 3, 2009
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I think you're saying, try out the mic-in first, and see how it turns out. Good idea.

There's 3 color-coded jacks at the back of the pc- the green one is for speakers, I'm thinking the pink is for mic, if the blue one is a line in, then that's probably a better bet than the mic?

My computer just has a Realtek HD audio card, so probably it's a bare minimum, but I'll try it this way first.

If it doesn't sound good enough, those capture cards are only about $25, so not a great loss either.

As for the tapes, yeah, some might be found in digital format, haven't looked for a while, but probably more than I want to pay, but some for sure I wouldn't find. Mostly old chant type yoga music. Kind of a niche market.

Thanks for your help.
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fred999 wrote: I think you're saying, try out the mic-in first, and see how it turns out. Good idea.

There's 3 color-coded jacks at the back of the pc- the green one is for speakers, I'm thinking the pink is for mic, if the blue one is a line in, then that's probably a better bet than the mic?
Line in would be better IMO. I am not sure what the voltage range for the line and mic inputs are and what voltage range the various outputs on your tape deck/player are but always best to match them rather than over amplify or under. Is the line input (or ha you believe to be) RCA? Might want to get a stereo connector if your tapes are in stereo.
As for the tapes, yeah, some might be found in digital format, haven't looked for a while, but probably more than I want to pay, but some for sure I wouldn't find. Mostly old chant type yoga music. Kind of a niche market.
Very niche. I was going to suggest a thrift shop but they'll be scarcer than SACDs (or which I have only found one).
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I think the major issue here is one of matching line levels and / or impedances between the tape deck's output, and the input of whatever capture device you use.

That in itself is the reason to get one of those basic USB audio capture devices -- they have a line-level audio input (the RCA jacks) that is matched to the output of your cassette deck (presumably also RCA jacks). Many computers don't have a line-level audio input (unless you have a sound card with that feature).

This avoids trying to feed a line-level audio signal into a microphone jack that is "expecting" something else (a different line level or impedance). The signal will be cleaner.

I took this approach when digitizing a bunch of LPs, a number of years ago, and it worked well. (I also used Audacity.)

I think that, by comparison, the quality of the DAC will be a much more minor issue (unless you have practically brand-new tapes and a first-class cassette deck).
[OP]
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Mar 3, 2009
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JHW wrote: I think the major issue here is one of matching line levels and / or impedances between the tape deck's output, and the input of whatever capture device you use.

That in itself is the reason to get one of those basic USB audio capture devices -- they have a line-level audio input (the RCA jacks) that is matched to the output of your cassette deck (presumably also RCA jacks). Many computers don't have a line-level audio input (unless you have a sound card with that feature).

This avoids trying to feed a line-level audio signal into a microphone jack that is "expecting" something else (a different line level or impedance). The signal will be cleaner.

I took this approach when digitizing a bunch of LPs, a number of years ago, and it worked well. (I also used Audacity.)

I think that, by comparison, the quality of the DAC will be a much more minor issue (unless you have practically brand-new tapes and a first-class cassette deck).
I discovered there is a line-in plug at the back of the pc. Never used it before, but google says the blue one is a line in. Will try that first.
One cassette player only has a headphone jack, and another old one has RCA plugs, but haven't used it in about 15 years... fun times ahead..

Thanks.
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fred999 wrote: I noticed a big bunch of those on Amazon for around $35-$45. That'll be next if the cheaper options don't work out.

Thanks.
Your proposed solution should work, i had used something similar, a cassette player at half volume (to reduce distortion) connected to the PC using Audacity for recording and mp3/flac conversion.
I do wonder if the fundamental recording quality will be better for the all in one but you probably won't notice the difference unless your an audiophile.
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fred999 wrote: One cassette player only has a headphone jack, and another old one has RCA plugs, but haven't used it in about 15 years.
I would see if the one with RCA plugs still works because lineout is better than headphone out.

But if you end up using the headphone out, set the player volume to 7 when recording.

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