Old voice tapes to digital: Quality settings?

June 29, 2009 at 15:01:12
Specs: Windows XP, varies
I have a ton of old cassette tapes of conversations and parties that I want to make MP3s of before they bite it, just for nostalgia. The original quality is amateur and crummy, and some are beat up and decades old. But I'm not looking to tweak the sound now, only to create a digital set that retains all existing audio data and volume. (When I say "retains all," I don't mean to the extent of saving in a big lossless format. However I'll be using Audacity, and will also keep the raw .aup versions of a few in case I do want to tweak someday.)

Q1: I'm thinking recording in 32kbps, 44 khz mono will be more than enough to duplicate the existing quality? Those parameters even sound ok to me on other talk recordings like podcasts. And I'm guessing anything higher/better would just be a waste of space in this case.

Q2: If I do make mono recordings, would using my laptop's internal microphone jack (with a standard 3.5mm audio cable) be just as good as using the stereo line-in jack on my desktop PC? If it doesn't matter, the laptop would be a lot more convenient.

I made a couple test recordings the above way and I *think* they sound the same as the originals… However I didn't and would rather not take the time to do more extensive comparison tests, e.g. also making stereo versions and versions of higher quality; moving them around to listen on good audio equipment; etc. I'm assuming that given the crappy mono originals, it 'couldn't' really matter -- that later tweaking could of course, but not the capture part (beyond 32kbps, anyway).

Thanks much for any guidance!

See More: Old voice tapes to digital: Quality settings?

Report •

June 30, 2009 at 08:45:45
32kbps is horrible, even for just voice recording. And if you plan to tweak it later to get better sound, you really should not be using the MP3 format at all. Save your recordings to wave format. Use 44.1kHz as your sample rate and at least 16 bit. It's lossless and you will have a much better chance at recovering decent audio when you do your noise reduction and other tweaks. I know you said you didn't want to do lossless but it's really the best way to go. Just because you may not be able to hear the compression artifacts of an MP3 right now over the noise and distortion of the tape, is not a good reason to archive in this format. Once you begin to try and restore the audio with noise reduction or other filters, the MP3 artifacting will become very very present. You can archive them to CD's or DVD's then if you want smaller files to put on your computer you can always encode the wave files to an MP3 format.

Yes, you can use the audio input of your laptop. Most soundcards these days have an option in the mixing panel to turn off the microphone gain to use the input as a line in.

Report •

June 30, 2009 at 11:58:56
Thanks, I see now how much wiser the WAV choice would be!

What WAV settings (bit rate, etc.) would you recommend for this material?

My laptop is one of those in which stereo line-in has been purposely prevented at the hardware level, so... Would you agree that the following is important, or might it be a difference only a real audiophile would notice? It's a tip I read which indicates that even if I'll be recording in mono anyway, it really would be much better to use my desktop PC (line-in jack) instead of my laptop (microphone jack):

"A microphone input is usually pre-amped, and certainly not recommended for recording something from a line-level device like a tape deck."

Report •

June 30, 2009 at 14:59:48
Personaly I would use the desktop system, it probably has a better sound card or chipset in it.

With the wave file I would use 44.1 kHz sample rate and at least 16 bit, 32 would be better for filtering purposes (noise reduction, etc.) it will create a much larger file and might be a little overkill for vocal editing but if you have the room, why not start with the best sounding file for editing.

Now granted ,these parameters are probably over the top for the quality the tapes are in but remember, garbage in, garbage out. The better the quality of the wave file, the better you will be able to clean it up later.

Report •

Related Solutions

June 30, 2009 at 16:02:56
Sounds good, that's what I'll do. Some of this stuff is pretty sentimental and may mean more to me as time goes by, so I best not leave anything open to regrets. (Plus I gather that if I do want to save space someday, I could convert to FLAC and even back again, while retaining quality.)

Thanks again!

Report •

June 30, 2009 at 16:18:34
You're welcome, good luck with the archiving.

Report •

Ask Question