Best settings for reel-to-reel to digital?

I’m recording reel-to-reel stereo tapes into digital. What are the optimal/minimal settings in Audacity 1.2.6 (XP)? Best audio format? It’s a simple left/right line out from tape deck (AKAI 4000DB) to line in on the soundcard. Nothing fancy.

The tapes are not the greatest quality, from the early 1970s, so would like to record without losing even more quality…help is much appreciated! :slight_smile:

If you were on a Mac, you’d be good to go with the default configuration – better than Music CD quality – but if you’re on a PC you might want to reconsider the sound card. They’re not winning any awards for sound quality given that they’re in a noisy computer and are generally considered a throw-away item (unless you personally bought an expensive one).

We reviewed some USB devices and the UCA-202 comes to mind.

Past that, you dub like you’ve been doing it since 1947. After installation, click once inside the Audacity red recording meters and they will wake up and present the “E to E” sound for monitoring. Play the loudest part of the tape and set the volumes for about -3 to -6. Re-rack the tape and go.

One significant different is the meters. Audacity meters are dBFS peak, not ANSI 16.5 VU. You May Not Hit Zero. Ever. Zero on the Audacity meters is where permanent and obvious sound damage will occur. If there’s tone on the tapes, set that for -12 to -15 in Audacity. If you’re transferring to broadcast, set the tone to -20 in the US and -18 in Europe and export from Audacity at 48000, 16-bit, Stereo.

Export as WAV at the end of each tape – always, and make safety copies. Audacity will not “Save” a sound file and you can’t move an Audacity Project.


To some extent it depends what your target output is and how much processing you are likely to want to do won the recordings.

If you are just making CDs or exporting WAVs or MP3s to play on a portable music player or your computer and not doing much processing like noise removal and amplification then you can work at 44100 Hz project rate and a bitrate of 16-bits - and usually 2-channel stereo. this is the Red Book standard for CDs and produces pretty well universally acceptable WAV files

If you are going to do this but with some processing then work with Audacity set at 32-bit floating (the Audacity default) and downsample on Export to 44.1kHz 16-bit PCM stereo WAV (or AIFF if you prefer on an Apple).

Or if you are going to be making DVDs of the music you may prefer to set the project rate to 48,000Hz - the standard for DVDs and TV.

I would definitely be using the latest Beta 1.3.12 - in spite of its Beta labelling it’s far more stable on most modern platforms than the officially “stable” 1.2.6 which is so old now that Noah probably used it on the Ark.

Tip: resize your meter toolbar by clicking and dragging on it, this will make it much more usable. In 1.2 you will have to do it each time you relaunch Audacity - 1.3 can remember the re-sizing.

You may find it useful to have a look at this set of tutorial in the manual under development for 1.3/2.0:,_LPs_or_minidiscs_to_CD

Have fun,

Hey, thanks for the tips. I’ve now recorded each of the 4 tapes into a separate audacity project. One problem: the tapes are so old that (playback in stereo mode on the reel-to reel) it’s picking up the other side of the tapes (other channel is audible and therefore backwards.)

Question: Do I now just split the stereo track into two channels and delete the other, unwanted (backwards) channel? Then what do I do when exporting to WAV or other formats? Keep it mono or…?

Print-through (sometimes referred to as bleed-through) is a generally undesirable effect that arises in the use of magnetic tape for storing analogue information, in particular music. The proximity of layers of tape on the spools of a cassette or reel to reel tape causes a weak imprint of magnetic information to be transferred to adjacent layers, effectively shifting a copy of the signal backwards and forwards along the tape.

It may be be useful to keep the “stereo” in order to use centre pan removal technique if the track you want has bleed-through:
Split the “stereo” track to dual mono and Invert one of the tracks, this will subtract (ideally remove) the bleed through which is common to both tracks,
(you may have to play with the levels for optimum cancellation of bleed through).

If you can post say 5 seconds of the “stereo” (with backwards bleedthrough) in WAV format I’ll have a go at this subtraction technique.