Output formats for "best" quality for recorded cassette v LP

I have Audacity 2.0.6, .exe installer and Windows 7 Pro.
I am using Audacity (many thanks) to record some old audio cassettes (and will do LPs later). I am getting to grips with it (thanks to help on this forum) and although much much more complex than I need (I am a simple user with a simple task :smiley: ) I have been able to get good results on a couple of test record / export. I am using a budget, though sounds OK to me, A/D Behringer UFO-202. When I rip Audio CDs directly, I use FLAC in order to get lossless compression. However, I am not sure I need to be this obsessive when recording audio cassettes. Way back when, I tested some 64kbs mp3s and they were horrible to my ears. However, I have a lot of 128 to 320 stuff from radio and other sources (eg Amazon) and they’re OK.

So when I am exporting files from Audacity which I have recorded from cassette tape, what is the most appropriate output format? I guess that flac is way higher quality than the source (most are home recorded on OK hi-fi separates, some are commercial). I see from the options I can use wma up to 320 and mp3 up to 320 or vbr at “best” 220-260. I don’t want to waste space but also don’t want to over-compress and sacrifice what quality there is on the original tape. Because of my audio / PC environment, mp3 or wma are the only sane choices (except I will be using flac when I get round to recording LPs).

The record device in Windows is set to 2-channel 16 bit 44100Hz CD quality.

In the opinion of you experts, should I be using mp3 @ vbr or mp3 @ 320 or wma @ 320? I look forward to your thoughts. Thanks in advance.

Note that Windows 10 will most likely have native support for the FLAC format.

I would use WAV or FLAC.
Although 256 kbps MP3 (and similar) provides excellent listening quality, the damage caused by “lossy compression” is cumulative and irreversible. If you need to edit the MP3, then you are starting with some MP3 damage, and if you then export as MP3 you are adding more compression damage. Like making photocopies of photocopies, the damage gets worse each time until you end up with a fuzzy mess. So my advice - keep the original copy (and a backup) in high quality WAV (or FLAC). If necessary, ask Santa to bring you an external hard drive for Christmas (they’re quite inexpensive these days). :wink:

@robert - if Windows 10 really does support flac natively, that will solve a major problem for me. My Marantz does not support lossless wma, so I located and installed the codec pack that adds flac to Windows Media Player and that works fine in playback but does not allow WMP to transcode to lower bitrates for sync with phone. So I found another player (JRiver) that does transcode OK but is is quite fiddly to set up. It does sync with Windows Phone and to USB (which I use in the car) but not as seamlessly as WMP/WinPhone. Plus it is a pain to keep maintaining two types of tags (for which I use the excellent MP3tag) but it would be nice not to have to bother. So if WMP ever adopts flac natively, that will be great. Or if Marantz adds support for lossless wma (but they told me they wouldn’t).

@steve - I understand the point of lossless (which is why every CD I rip is in flac or previously lossless wma). I will also be recording (probably) my LPs in lossless (either flac or wma). But is it really necessary for audio cassette? I have the original Audacity files as recorded and don’t intend to edit or otherwise process the files once exported. Given the freq response of my tapes (TDK SA in the most part and a good, not high-end tape deck) that can’t be much more than 14kHz or 16kHz?

actually, in googling to try to remind myself of tape freq response (I used to be able to quote %THD for my favourite audio but where have the brain cells gone?) I found two refs: one from yahoo https://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20111118053553AAQu1lb and one from hydrogen audio although a bit old http://www.hydrogenaud.io/forums//lofiversion/index.php/t13651.html which do seem to backup steve and recommend lossless even for cassette tape.

It’s not the space, it’s the convenience - particularly when trying to keep one audio library for feeding high-end D/A, Marantz network receiver M-CR603, Windows Media Player, Windows Phone and a couple of other TV devices. Thanks for the advice and comments. The journey continues!

Here are details: Windows 10 will have system-wide FLAC support

I have digitized my cassette tapes with an RCA connection between a Marantz tape deck (line-out) and my PC (line-in). I have chosen the FLAC format to export the Audacity Projects. The digitized sound is really superb. It had the added advantage that the winding hiss from the original tapes was completely blanked out in the process.

I’d stick with FLAC. It’s been around for a long time (and it’s good) and they have no financial interest in making the format obsolete.

While the original Audacity project files will give you “perfect” quality, I never use Audacity projects for backup purposes - it’s too easy to break them.

It’s not easy, but it is often possible to recover most (or all) of the data from a slightly damaged FLAC file, but a “slightly damaged” Audacity project may not want to know. There is also the issue of having to keep the AUP and the _data folder together, and the issue that projects are huge. For really important work, I export as “32 bit float WAV”, which is the same (extreme) high quality as an Audacity project, but is a single file in a robust format.

“Zipping” a WAV file can substantially reduce the file size with no loss of quality, but is not terribly convenient.

Thanks steve, robert. Robert is really up to date: http://www.windowscentral.com/windows-10-support-flac-audio-format but I read it here on this thread first! (and as an ex-hippy, love the album MS chose to illustrate the story with).
Thanks for the clarification on Audacity as backup - looks like I’ll stick to flac from now on.

“But is it really necessary for audio cassette?”

Commercially recorded cassette tapes were always crap. OTOH, I used Nakamichi 582 with metal tape, and A/B comparions with TEAC open reel, “master” quality LPs (Telearc), or CDs themselves, couldn’t tell the tapes from the highest quality sources.

So it is necessary for your tapes? That depends entirely on how good the tapes are.

Your best bet is to do some a/b comparisons and some critical listening to see how they sound–to your ears and with your equipment. As we get older, if we get older, our ears crap out too. It is a mixed blessing that I can no longer hear supposedly ultrasonic traffic detectors, I used to hear well over 19KHz and suspect that what I call 'good enough" now has been reduced to FM broadcast quality.

Likewise, your speakers or earsets may easily hide some slight quality loss. Only way to find out, is that critical listening to compare formats.

I’m with hellosailor here, he’s bang on the money I believe. I had a similar scenario my tapes were all home-recorded on my Nakamichi BX-2 using TDK-SA cassettes (the Nak was factory-set to match those tapes).

I have two playback devices.

  1. iPod: for this I use AAC at 256 VBR - I started out at 192 when I only had a small iPod (as a compromise between space occupancy and quality) I changed to 256 when I bought a 160 gig iPod. Below 192 I could clearly hear, and disliked, the artefacts arising from AAC/MP3 compression. My son, who is a purist insists on 320 AAC but soon overfilled his 160 gig iPod!

  2. Cocktail X30 connected to QUAD ESL-57 electrostatic speakers (now my main hi-fi rig). For this I use WAV files (The X30 I have has a 2TB disk and can go up to 4TB).

I also have an Arcam iPod dock to feed the iPod’s analog output to my Quad 33/303/ESL-57 - this was the setup I used before I bought the X30 last year. And the 256 bitrate files played pretty darn well . If discs were expensive then I would have bought the X30 with a much smaller disc and then happily continued with 256 bitrate - but happily discs are relatively cheap these days. The size occupancy of course remains an issue for portable players.


Having done hundreds of such transcriptions I think I can say that this is not actually a simple task - straightforward yes, but simple no :sunglasses:

When you get around to the LPs one piece of additional software you might want to consider is Brian Davies’ Click Repair. It costs a little, but the results are just a little shy of magical. It revived LPs of mine that I thought were past redemption. See this sticky thread: https://forum.audacityteam.org/t/click-pop-removal-clickrepair-software/1933/1


Also, you might find this set of tutorials in the Audacity Manual useful Tutorial - Copying tapes, LPs or MiniDiscs to CD


Cleaning up recordings can be such a time-intensive task, that I’d suggest first, just rescue the tapes, convert them to digital files & save in the audacity native format. Cutting them apart into tracks and adjusting for mismatched levels and peaks takes long enough, so listen for the tracks and if something sounds OK, save it out then and there. If there’s a lot of noise (hey! didn’t the band do that when they played in the studio?(G) just move the file into a “needs work” folder, and when all the tapes have been played, start to evaluate the noise issues.

Look at the noise software options, come up to speed on them, process the files as a separate project and THEN save them out to your “listening” format, overwriting any raw files you had made if you need to.

Otherwise it can be like eating an elephant: You get bogged down if you try to do it all in one pass.