Audio Cassettes - Part 2&%#58; Maintenance and preparation for transfer |
Last updated on 10 September 2006 at 08:11:08 UTC
|by Frank "Frankster" Iuston (http://frankster.zanyspace.com)
Welcome to the second instalment of restoring your old audio cassettes. In this section, I'll be
dealing with how to get a good, accurate transfer, and how to actually go about doing it in the first
place!Like everything else, audio cassettes work, and they work well - until they age and create all kinds
of hassles. Whether it be simple things like tape squeaking on playback, or at the other end of the
scale, level problems, it can create headaches for you. But feast your eyes, and don't panic! In the last article, I mentioned how to swap your almost dead cassette into another shell for a
proper transfer of its' contents. Now I'll show you how to actually transfer the material off them. First of all, you'll need a cassette deck which is in good condition. It doesn't have to be
great, but it must provide a facility of sending the signal out of the tape deck via RCA outputs
or the professional XLR connectors seen on decks like the Tascam 122 series. If it has either of
these, you're laughing. Next up, check to see if the deck you're using has some kind of Dolby
Noise Reduction fitted. You'll need at LEAST Dolby B as most, if not all commercially duplicated
cassettes are recorded with this form of noise reduction. If the deck you have contains all 3
systems (Dolby B, C and S), great, but you won't be using C and S types much unless you have tapes
recorded with either of these two systems. |
My Denon DRM555 tape deck...not really - couldn't get a decent picture of my actual deck, so
I scanned the picture on the front cover of the manual that came with the deck. This is
pretty much how my deck looks, honest!|
Next, check the condition of the heads. Domestic cassette decks usually are a two-head configuration
where one head is the erase head, and the other performs both recording and playback functions.
If you're lucky enough to own a 3 head cassette deck, so much the better, as in two-head decks,
compromises have had to be made to keep the price down on them. Having said that however, you CAN
get good performance on a two head machine if it is well maintained and looked after. But back
to two head machines, as they are the most common units found in homes. If you find the record/
playback head has a few grooves embedded instead of it being shiny, this means the head is worn
and it will have to be replaced. No grooves? Good! You're ready to roll! If you do need to get
a head replaced, be aware that as decks get older, spare parts are not ready available due to
models of cassette decks released after the one you own. I had a Denon deck myself that had a few
issues, and sourcing a new record/playback head was a battle, until Denon finally found the very
last one they had in stock! If you find yourself not being able to get replacement parts, as a
very last resort, seek a playback only cassette walkman. While these units are NOT high quality,
they are able to provide a reasonable sound particularly if Dolby Noise Reduction has been fitted,
as is the case on some units made by Sony recently.
Next, check the pinch roller and capstan - these actually do the job of running the tape. The pinch
roller is the little rubber roller located on the right hand side of the deck next to the heads,
while the capstan will appear as a small shiny spindle. Does the pinch roller appear to have brown
deposits on it? If it does, grab yourself some isopropyl alcohol, some cotton buds, and clean.
Don't saturate the cotton buds too much whatever you do. Eject the deck, hit the play button and
hold the bud against the pinch roller until you see dirt building up. Then remove, get another,
and another until most of it is removed. You won't remove ALL the crud on the roller, but you'll
remove just enough for the machine to not suddenly decide to eat your tape.
So you've hit play and nothing happens eh? This means you've got a deck which uses electronic
sensing controls called solenoids which senses if there's a tape in the machine and if not, the
play button becomes inoperative. If you do have one of these machines, your best bet is to seek
a wet-type cassette based cleaner. Do NOT go for the ones that appear to have 30 to 45 seconds
of white plastic tape - these actually wear down the heads with each use! If you can still find
them, get a wet-type cleaner called Flexibar, or those used by Discwasher - these contain actual
felt pads that you wet with the supplied bottle of alcohol (no, not vodka!) and then insert into the
machine for 20 seconds. Presto! A nice clean deck at the end of the cycle.
You've ejected the deck and found two pairs of pinch rollers? Right - this is an auto-reverse system
and BOTH sets will need to be cleaned. Same protocol as above, but if the auto-reverse doesn't
kick in after 20 seconds cleaning in one direction, hit your tape direction button and away it goes.
Okay - the deck's clean, the heads are in good condition, and you're rarin' to go right? Cool! Now,
here's the fun bit. You will now need to decide where you're going to transfer the material to.
I highly recommend going to a digital format, EXCEPT for DAT (Digital Audio Tape). Although digital,
the tape on these is much thinner than standard cassette tape and can drop out like any other
tape. However, being digital, once it does drop out, you have no hope of getting it back. It's all
or nothing. What about minidisc then? Well, you can use minidisc if you like, but be aware that
minidisc is a lossy compression format, which means it deletes any frequencies not audible to
human hearing range (which explains why these marvels can hold 74 minutes or 80 minutes!).
It's not noticeable when you're playing back the first copy - but make further copies down the line
FROM copies, and it gets rather painful on the ears.
So your next option from here is to record digitally to your computer hard drive, using some form
of audio software. Cool Edit Pro (now Adobe Audition) as well as Sound Forge are highly recommended
(if you're on Windows like me).
If you're doing CD's, you will need to set your software to record at 44100 hz (44.1 khz), Stereo,
16 bits. Both these pieces of software will contain level-meters, helping you to monitor how
much level is going in. Be aware that you will need a half decent computer to do this on (less than
a Pentium III, although it will work, is not recommended), a fast hard disk (I use IDE based disks,
7200rpm - SCSI disks are no longer a prerequisite nowadays), and plenty of space. At this resolution,
space will get eaten at a rate of 10 MB for every 60
seconds of audio! You will need a good 800 MB of space to hold 75 to 78 minutes of audio.
Recording/mastering on Cool Edit Pro 2.1|
Now, crunch time. You will need cables to link all this up, and good ones at that. If you're going
into a mixing desk and then back out again, connect your white and red leads to a spare line
channel (white = left, red = right), then send another set to your computer from your mixer's
"tape out" jacks. But this is where it gets interesting. If you're using a soundcard which contains
a headphone type jack (1/8") for it's line input, you will also need to get hold of a patch cable
which contains a 1/8" plug at one end, and two RCA plugs on the other end. Connect the RCA side to
your desk, and the 1/8" side to your soundcard, and bingo! You're ready to go. Enter your sound
editing program, and hit the option where you're able to monitor the level meters, then play
your cassette, ensuring you have selected the right Dolby system, taking care to not go above the 0dB mark. 0dB is the absolute loudest digital signal
that can be accommodated on consumer based systems. Anything over this, and you'll hear the audio
being frantically cut here and there. It sounds ugly to say the least.
RCA stereo inputs and outputs on the back of my Denon deck. Doesn't look intimidating
at all, does it?|
This nifty little gizmo - an Alesis Nanocompressor - helps to squeeze the overly-loud
sounds down and bring the quieter sounds up, creating a nice even sound level.|
Sound good? Great! You're ready to record. Next time we'll cover the rest of what you need to
know to make successful digital copies of your cassette based audio.