Ideal settings for Cassette

I am using Windows 10 Audacity 2.2.1

A couple years ago I digitized a copy of audio from a cassette and did it according to Audacity Wiki Tutorials. I was wondering if it is possible to improve the outcome by changing settings, adding plug-ins, etc to produce a better version if I did the digitization over again? The original as well as the current digital audio has a lot of background noise, sounds on top of voices, some voices coming in much louder than others due to distance…almost everything imaginable.
Any possible suggestions? Would things be better if I used a Cassette player that allowed me to adjust the equalization as I digitized the audio again? If I can not really do much to it in the pre-process of digitizing the audio again, where would you recommend I begin in editing the digital audio I already have? What would the process be for an more experience Audio editor do in my shoes. When I get a at home, I will upload a snip it of the audio or link to it.

So I am contemplating making a new digital copy of a cassette thinking perhaps I can do something to improve the outcome. Both the original cassette and digital audio file is a nightmare…at least to someone green around the gills as me. Before I attempt this, Is there plugins, settings, or other configurations I can make improve the output of a new digital copy?
If there is not anything I can do to make a better version, what process of editing would you recommend me doing for editing the file, the sequence of edits?

Sorry but there was a glitch in the forum software when I merged your posts and your uploaded audio sample disappeared. Could you re-upload it. Thanks.

A lot of things can’t be fixed. :frowning: Sometimes you can improve it but you can’t make a poor quality recording sound like a modern digital studio recording.

to produce a better version if I did the digitization over again?

How were you connected? If you connect a line-outputs or headphone-output to the line-inputs on your soundcard, that’s good.

A connection to the mic input on a soundcard or laptop is not “right”, nor should you be recording through the microphone built-into a laptop.

Once you’ve got the right connection, the important thing is to set your recording level so you NEVER go “into the red”. A peak level of -3 to -6dB is about right because it gives you some headroom for unexpected peaks. Your recording levels are not critical as long as you don’t “try” to go over 0dB. You can always boost the levels after recording.

If you’ve got the right connections and the level are OK, you should be able to get a virtually perfect digital copy of the analog signal that’s coming out of the tape player.

…If you are old enough to remember analog tape recording, it was important to keep a “hot” signal to overcome tape noise, but with digital there is no tape noise. And, with tape it was OK to occasionally go into the red because tape is more forgiving (on the loud-side) and it tends to soft-clip (round-over the peaks) if you go over.

Would things be better if I used a Cassette player that allowed me to adjust the equalization as I digitized the audio again?

Generally no. Anything you in real-time while recording can’t be un-done… It’s easier to experiment once you have a digital copy. If your Cassette player has Dolby Noise Reduction and the tape was recorded with Dolby, switch it on.

Any suggestions to eliminate much as possible?

There are actually several things you may be able to do to improve the analog signal to your computer.

a) I noticed a vast reduction in the noise level when I started using a battery to power my tape player, somewhere on the order of 20 db.

b) There is a math formula for how much the frequency response of the player drops off based on how close of contact the tape maintains with the play head. This became super obvious to me on one tape where the felt came loose while digitizing it. Basically all the frequencies over about 2 kHz were gone. After replacing the felt, frequency response in excess of 14 kHz! Even a very small gap caused by dust or oxide deposited on the head or tape can have a significant effect on the high end.

Therefore I clean the head, pinch rollers and the tape itself. I clean the tape using a microfiber cloth moistened with isopropyl alcohol. Insert cloth between the tape and the play head and then Fast Forward while keeping light pressure on the Play button to press the cloth to the tape. I had to do this twice to one cassette that was over 40 years old before I got it clean. After doing the above got an excellent copy.

c) Additionally, I have recently started using Nu Finish on the play head and tape guides. Apparently it is such a thin coating (several molecules thick?) that it does not affect the frequency response. This not only helps to keep things clean but also reduces the amount of friction which helps the tape flow smoothly and track better. Clean head and
tape guides with isoproply alcohol and reapply Nu Finish every 10 hours or so of play time.

Most of this I got from in the reel to reel tape section, although it certainly seems to work on cassettes quite well.

Hope that others find this useful!

This workflow from the Audacity Manual gives a recommended set of steps:

And this article in the Wiki is useful too: