Boosting gain/levels from a USB cassette

Just bought a TEAC W-1200 cassette deck for the sole purpose of transferring old master recording sources from cassette to digital on Windows.

The cassette deck USB device auto detects and installs fine. I can play it through windows just fine.

I can setup a project in Audacity just fine and record, but the levels are so so low.
The recording level is at 100%, but there doesn’t seem to be any way in Audacity to boost that level above. I’m left having to do it in post with Amplify.

Is this a limitation of the USB driver and how the deck is interfacing with Windows and/or is there a way in Audacity to boost the recording gain, because I’ve looked through the manuals and help and searched a bunch and can’t seem to figure out how.

How low? What does Amplify default to? i.e. If Amplify defaults to +6dB the peaks are currently -6dB, etc.

It’s probably normal. If there is a recording level control it has to be an analog control before analog-to-digital conversion, which is happening inside the cassette deck.

I wouldn’t worry unless you are getting peaks around -20dB. Even that low might even be OK as long as the sound quality is OK, but it could be an indication of a problem. Digital has a ton of dynamic range compared to anything analog.

Without a recording level control it’s good design practice to have a slightly-low digital level, leaving a some headroom because if you “try” to go over 0dB digitally you’ll get clipping (distortion).

Note that there is no fixed-defined calibration between analog and digital levels, even the 0dB definition on tape varies and the analog meter might go over 0dB.

And some tapes will be louder than others.

If you remember analog recording you wanted a hot signal to overcome the tape noise. And tape can go over 0dB where it starts to saturate and “soft clip”. The tape record/playback equalization further “softens” the distortion.

With digital there is no tape noise! But it can’t go over 0dB at all and it will hard-clip. Pros typically record around -12 or 18dB, but that’s not necessary as long as you don’t clip.

It’s probably normal.

I think you’re right. Straight out on USB everything is just really quiet and flat. I was hoping I could control the shape of the source more, but I think it just comes out like that and I have to live with it and then improve everything in post using Audacity with Amplify, EQ and the rest.

It seems suboptimal to start with a source that’s not at least somewhat like you want the final product to be, but perhaps better in some ways.

What’s harder to do digitally (vs. analog) is to make and listen to changes in real-time. Is there any guidance for how best to do this with Audacity’s various filters and EQs? Trying to guess 1 filter or EQ in a step of potentially 10s of augmentations and then trying those out one at a time is not only complex, but I really need the analog feel of turning knobs on multiple filters/eqs at the same time feel my way through it. What is the best way to do that with Audacity or really any digital post-production setup?

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