Converting Audio Tapes to CD, part 1

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Question: How can I convert audio tapes to CDs?

The IT Guy says:
To do this, you will need a tape player with a headphone jack, and a cable that you can pick up at Radio Shack or other electronics supply shop. The cable will be called a "1/8 inch plug to 1/8 inch plug" or words to that effect. (If you tell the clerk that you want to connect your MP3 player into your BMW audio system, he or she will know exactly what you need!)

For a Macintosh computer, you will need one more piece of equipment. For some odd reason, you really can't plug a standard microphone into a microphone jack on a Macintosh. You will need to purchase something like a Griffin iMic to connect your tape player to your computer.

After you have that gear in hand, you will need to download an audio recording program. I recommend Audacity, both because it is a very powerful program and because it happens to be free!

Once you have it downloaded and installed, start the software. Don't be intimidated by the big, complicated interface — you won't be using most of it. Take your cassette player and the new cable you purchased, and put one end of the cable into the headphone jack on the player and put the other end into the microphone jack on your computer. Depending on how your computer is set up, that may be easy or challenging to find! If you're using a desktop computer, it's probably on the back of the computer. If you're using a Mac, you will connect the iMic or similar device to a USB port on the computer and then connect to that.

As you look at the Audacity software, you will see, in the middle area of the window, a drop-down box. Make sure that it says "Microphone," because that's where you connected the tape player. Across the top of the window you will see a set of buttons; press the red circle to start recording, and then press Play on your tape player.

As your music starts recording, you'll see a visual display showing the volume of the recording. If the display is too small, the volume is too low. If it fills the display, it's too loud. Adjust the volume on your tape player until it lands in a middle range. You may have to stop recording and start over after you get your volume adjusted. When you reach the end of the song, click the box-shaped button to stop recording on the computer, and press the stop button on the cassette player.

The left-most button has a double-arrow pointing left. Click on that button to rewind to the beginning of the song. Click the green arrow to play the song and hear how it turned out. (If you are using a Mac and something like the iMic, you may need to plug headphones into the iMic to hear the music.)

If you're satisfied with it, go to File and select Export as MP3. In the window that opens, give the file a name that makes sense, (such as Bugaloo 1)and put it into the My Music folder, which is in the My Documents folder. On a Mac, select the Music folder.

You're almost there! One more window will open up, and in it you put the name of the album (if appropriate), the name of the track, the artist, and whatever other information you know about the recording. Then click Ok.

Whew! Now that you've recorded the song, you can repeat the process to do the others on the tape. Use the same file name but with consecutive numbers for each new track, such as Bugaloo 2, Bugaloo 3, and so on. And once you've gotten them all recorded, the next step will be to burn them to a playable CD. That's next week!

Next Tip: Converting Audio Tapes to CD, part 2