Not seeing tutorial on recording from tape?

Hey guys, I looked all through the manual for instructions but not seeing anything specific on configuring Audacity for tape recording, can anyone lead me to it please? Looking at Basic Recording, Editing and Exporting" instructions is not adding up, help?

http://manual.audacityteam.org/man/tutorial_copying_tapes_lps_or_minidiscs_to_cd.html
http://wiki.audacityteam.org/wiki/Recording_from_Cassette

Most"'real problems" are on the hardware side.

What kind of outputs does your tape recorder have, and what input(s) does your computer have. The ideal connection* is line-out (usually RCA jacks) to line-in on a desktop/tower computer with a regular 'ol soundcard (using a stereo RCA-to-3.5mm adapter cable). If your tape recorder doesn’t have line-out, a headphone-output is “close enough” but you’ll have to adjust it’s volume control.

Most laptops only have mono microphone-in (and stereo headphone-out), so if you have a laptop you’ll generally need an external USB interface with line inputs (if you want “good quality” and stereo). Note that most regular “USB soundcards” are like laptops with only mic-in and headphone-out.




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  • I suppose a high-quality external audio interface with line-inputs is more ideal, but the nost important thing is to have a line-level input.

I am using a the Output RCA from a tape deck into the Line-in on the pc. Thanks for the links, those were the 2 parts of the tutorials I had looked at but with Audacity open, I am stuck at the very first step to create a project. When i go to File, the “Export Audio” option is shaded out?

Oh, forgot to mention that according to the instructions on creating a new project: Create a new Project by clicking File > Save Project As…
When I choose that option I am getting a prompt stating this is only for an Audacity project and not an audio file.

I am stuck at the very first step to create a project. When i go to File, the “Export Audio” option is shaded out?

When you say ‘first step", have you already recorded something? …I’ve never actually tried saving a project before there was somethin’ to save.

If you’ve recorded something, you should see the blue waveform and you should be able to play it back.

When I choose that option I am getting a prompt stating this is only for an Audacity project and not an audio file.

Hmmmm… I’ve only seen that message when trying to open an audio file (such as MP3 or WAV). In Audacity, you open or save AUP project files and you import/export audio files.

Personally, I always export to WAV immediately after recording and I don’t always make an Audacity project. Audio files are “simple” whereas projects contain multiple files and sometimes things “go wrong”. It’s not a total disaster if you loose a file of a digitized tape, because you can always re-record, but I like to save the WAV, at least as a back-up.



When i go to File, the “Export Audio” option is shaded out?

Assuming you’ve got some recorded audio with a waveform and all that, make sure you’re stopped, not just paused, recording & playback.

No, I am trying to follow the instructions but not sure where to start recording. I thought I would need to create a project or export audio but what you are saying makes sense so how do i actually start recording from the tape deck please? Clicking on the record button shows an error prompt so that can;t be the next step?

Update, I did a rescan. Now I am seeing the input recording as can be seen in the screenshot, only issue is no audio is coming out of my speakers while it’s recording, is there a setting for this to happen? I seem to have selected the correct options for both playback and recording?
Audacity.png
recording.png
playback.png

If you tick “Software playthrough” in Audacity preferences : recording, you will be able to hear what is being recorded on the computer.

Thanks, that did it! So now I recorded a track, installed Lame and FFmpeg and saved to mp3. I then applied the Normalize feature and that brought the low recorded volume level to a good level.

Next step would be how to enhance and optimize the recording. Can you tell me please if I should need to “manually” adjust the level of the recording live while it’s recording from the deck, how can i do so and at which setting would it be optimal?

Also regarding choosing Equalization, the window shows the EQ Type as “Draw” as the default option, is this the best setting and if yes, just clicking the OK tab would be all I would need to do to apply EQ to the track? Thanks.

Generally Audacity doesn’t do things “live”, in real-time, :cry: , you have to press a “preview” button on the chosen effect to hear what it is going to do.

However equalizer plugins which work in real-time are available, e.g. …

https://forum.audacityteam.org/t/version-2-1-1-0-doesnt-remember-equalization/39205/5

Got it, I will experiment with applying EQ, noise reduction and Distortion effects to the recorded audio, appreciate all of the help!

One more thing please. After recording the audio from the tape deck and saving to mp3, would it make a difference if I apply effects after I have saved to mp3 or should I apply all effects first then save as mp3? The effects I plan on using on each track is Compressor, limiter, Noise reduction and Truncate Silence.

Only use mp3 on the final finished product : mp3 is a lossy format, there is degradation each time you save as mp3.
Use a loss-less format for the work-in-progress, like WAV or FLAC.

[ BTW saving as mp3 has a quality setting, but even the best “insane” quality causes some damage ].

To clarify you mean, save the recorded audio as wav then open it and apply the effects or apply the effects first then save as wav? Either way when done with the wav file then covert to mp3?

I would …
#1. Save the original capture of the tape, before any modification, in WAV format, (or FLAC),
so I would never have to repeat the time-consuming process of digitizing it ever again.
#2. Save any/all modified versions in WAV or FLAC format.
#3. If a needed, make an mp3 version of the finished WAV/FLAC file,
which will be ~1/10th the size, but at the expense of fidelity.

Got it, will do exactly as advised. Only question I would have now is I am seeing 2 wav formats under the Save option, 16 bit PCM and a 32 bit Float PCM, which one would be best for my purpose please? I am guessing it would be the 32bit but I don’t know what the “float” is about so just checking to make sure.

Thanks, that did it! So now I recorded a track, installed Lame and FFmpeg and saved to mp3.

FFmpeg is for importing/exporting a wide variety of formats. You don’t need it for MP3 but and I’d say it’s a good idea to install FFmpeg for a “complete” Audacity installation. LAME is for exporting to MP3.

As you may know, MP3 is lossy compression. That does NOT mean it’s terrible and with high-quality (high-bitrate) settings it can often sound identical to the uncompressed original. But, here’s the catch… When you open an MP3 in Audacity (or any “regular” audio editor) it gets decompressed. If you then re-export to MP3 you are going through another generation of lossy compression, and the quality loss does accumulate. (BTW - AAC was designed for less damage accumulation than MP3, but it’s still “bad practice” to go through multiple generations of lossy compression.)

Bottom line - Save your intermediate work as WAV, or as an Audacity project, or other lossless format. You might also want to archive a lossless copy. Then if you want MP3, compress to MP3 ONCE as the last step after all processing/editing.

I then applied the Normalize feature and that brought the low recorded volume level to a good level.

That’s usually a good idea. Normalization adjusts the volume for “maximized” 0dB peaks. It does NOT make all of your normalized sound equally-loud (because our hearing responds more to the short-term average levels and the frequency content). Normalized files from your tapes probably won’t be as loud as a normalized copy the latest “loudness war” Lady Gaga CD.

Here’s the best thing about Normalization… Audacity uses floating-point internally (as do most audio editors) and can go over 0dBFS (the “digital maximum”) without clipping. So, let’s say you boost the bass or you do some other processing that pushes your peaks to +6dB… If you export to WAV (or make a CD, etc.) your file will [u]clip[/u] and distort. However, if you Normalize (or apply the Amplify effect and accept the default) the level will be reduced to a safe level.

BTW - If you have Audacity set-up to “show clipping”, it’s showing potential clipping… The file may actually be clipped at 0dB, or it may be going over 0dB without clipping.



Next step would be how to enhance and optimize the recording. Can you tell me please if I should need to “manually” adjust the level of the recording live while it’s recording from the deck

There is a recording-volume slider indicated by the microphone icon. (In your screenshot, it looks to be at about 25%.) Of course, you wouldn’t want to change the volume in the middle of a song/program because that could be hard to fix if you get it wrong.

how can i do so and at which setting would it be optimal?

I assume you have some experience with analog tape recording… Maybe you’re old like me? Digital is a little different…

With analog tape you want a “hot” signal to overcome the tape hiss. With digital there’s no tape hiss and we can get-by with much lower levels. With analog records & tapes I I usually “shoot for” between -6 and -3dB (about 50% to 75% on the audacity waveform). Then you can normalize after recording.

Nothing bad happens if you go higher and get close to 0dB (100%) but if you “try” to go over 0dB while recording your analog-to-digital converter will clip so you should leave some headroom for unexpected peaks. And if you’re hitting 0dB while recording you’re probably “trying” to go over and clipping. If you are recording live from a microphone you need more headroom because the levels are less-predictable.

Analog tape doesn’t hard-clip like digital. As you go over 0dB with tape it begins to clip/compress a little, but it can go over 0dB* and it was common to allow levels “into the red” up to around +3dB on the peaks. In addition to the soft-clipping characteristics of the tape, the tape EQ** tends to “smooth” the clipping making it more like dynamic compression, and sometimes even desirable.

With digital, the analog-to-digital converter (and digital-to-analog converter, and WAV files, etc.) has an absolute hard-numerical limit(defined as 0dB and determined by the number of bits) and it’s totally unforgiving at the “top end”. But of course, the total lack of noise*** means way-way more dynamic range with digital and you just have to remember to “always keep it out of the red”.

Also regarding choosing Equalization, the window shows the EQ Type as “Draw” as the default option, is this the best setting

It’s up to you… It’s just changing the user interface… I find the Graphic EQ option easier for “experimenting”.

just clicking the OK tab would be all I would need to do to apply EQ to the track?

Correct.



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  • The actual clipping/headroom depends on the type of tape and the calibration of the machine, etc. Reel-to-reel tapes usually have more headroom than cassettes, etc.

** Similar to RIAA equalization on vinyl records, the highs are boosted and the lows are reduced during recording, with the opposite EQ applied during playback.

*** There is something called quantization noise, but at 16-bits it’s more than 90dB down and totally inaudible. (At 8-bits it’s around 50dB down and you can hear it.)

Whoa, thanks a million for the crash course! Yeah I have a lot of experience with recording from analog tapes. I’m a product of the early 60s and these tapes are 30 years old, I am very surprised they still play as when i first got them.

It’s pretty much trying to figure out Audacity’s features and instructions that’s time consuming and takes some effort. I’m an ex-DJ so I am familiar with digital sound.

Only question I would have now is I am seeing 2 wav formats under the Save option, 16 bit PCM and a 32 bit Float PCM, which one would be best for my purpose please?

What “purpose”?

For intermediate/temporary storage, floating-point has the advantage of being able to go over 0dB without clipping. But, if you are careful to keep your levels under control that’s not necessary.

You don’t want your “final product” to go over 0dB because the listener’s DAC (digital-to-analog converter) will clip at 0dB. And, 32-bit files are twice the size as 16-bit files. CDs are 16-bit, 44.1kHz, stereo. That’s better than human hearing, and far-better than analog tape.

…I use 16-bit WAV for my temporary files and then for listening I’ll make MP3s for my computers/iPod, and sometimes I’ll make CD.

When it comes to the final distribution/playback format, there are trade offs, starting with, “What format do you or your listeners want?” Of course if you are making an audio CD, 16-bit, 44.1kHz stereo WAV is the way to go, because although audio CDs don’t have WAV files, they use the same underlying uncompressed PCM format as WAV.

WAV files, MP3s, and AAC are universal “play anywhere” formats that will play on any computer, phone, or portable audio player, etc. MP3 and AAC are use (lossy) compression so the files are much smaller.

However, tagging (embedded title, artist, album, etc., information) is not well-supported with WAV files.* Some players won’t display the embedded information, and if you make an MP3 from a WAV the embedded information may not be automatically transferred to the MP3. For that reason, WAV is not the best archive format.

FLAC (and Apple’s similar ALAC) is lossless compression, and tags are well supported. FLAC makes a great archive format. And since FLAC is compressed, the files are almost half the size of the equivalent WAV. But, not every computer/phone/audio player can play FLAC (or ALAC) without additional software (or an add-on CODEC). FLAC does not support floating-point, but it does support 24-bit/96kHz if you want “high resolution”.

Some people keep a permanent master FLAC archive (backed-up of course) and then they can make MP3s or CDs or whatever, now or anytime in the future, without any “unnecessary” quality loss.



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  • Embedded information on CDs (“CD Text”) doesn’t widely exist and is not well-supported either. When you play a commercial CD on your computer, a “fingerprint” of the CD is used to find the information in an online database so it can be displayed. If you see the album artwork when you play a CD on your computer, that’s from an online database, it’s not coming from the CD itself. And of course if you play a homemade CD, the information won’t be in the online database.