Recording from cassette player- only get humming noise

I have a number of books on tape recorded years ago by a family member, which I am hoping to preserve in electronic format. I uploaded audacity and purchased an audio stereo cable in the hopes of getting this project under way. When I go to record, however, all audacity seems to be picking up is an extremely loud humming noise. Can’t hear any of the recorded voice.

I am testing using a professionally-recorded book on tape with pretty good sound quality for what it is/am not starting off with the homemade book on tape/am using a book on tape that has quality that is probably as good as it will get.

I have checked:
-tweaking the volume. Of the walkman, of audacity’s input volume, of audacity’s output volume, at all possible combinations, whether or not they made sense.
-walkman working correctly: When I connect headphones to it, it sounds as it should sound/I can hear the audio clearly.
-connection with computer/audio cable working correctly: If I connect my ipod’s headphone jack to the computer, audacity picks up the audio correctly from it, no problem.
-microphone jack: Same problem, though the humming is louder, and I can kind of hear the voice from the book on tape in the background.

None of the FAQs of answered questions have helped me much. I did look.

Audacity 2.0.2, I believe installed from the installer
Windows 7
Dell inspiron desktop computer
walkman cassette player (ancient, but it works)
3 foot audio stereo cable (“stereo male to stereo male”)- connected from my computer’s line-in to the walkman’s headphone jack

Any help would be appreciated; the tapes have considerable sentimental value and it would be amazing to be able to get them into electronic format.

Before going onto your question, one thing to keep in mind regarding long term archiving. CDs don’t last forever, and even if they did there will probably not be CD players forever (do you remember “floppy disks”?)

That appears to rule out the walkman, the cable and the computer, yet it still does not work.
I suspect that the problem is the computer microphone jack.

The “mic” input on a computer may be specifically designed as a “microphone” input, or may be a combined microphone/line input.
A microphone jack is far from ideal for several reasons.

  1. Microphones produce very tiny signals, much smaller than a typical headphone output, so they are very easily overloaded.
  2. Computer microphone sockets have a voltage (around 5 v) on one of the connectors which is designed to power computer microphones. A headphone output is not designed to be connected to a voltage.
  3. Microphone sockets are often mono. When plugging in a stereo lead, only one channel may be connected.

Do you know if the tape recordings are mono or stereo? If it is a mono recording then it may be that the signal from the tape is not connected to the computer even when it is plugged in.

Another possible problem is that the 5 volt supply on the microphone socket may be upsetting the headphone output and preventing it from working.

What I suggest is that we approach this one step at a time. First, let’s see about recording in Audacity. Connect up your ipod to the computer and see if you can get Audacity to make a reasonable recording. The tutorials and links here may be helpful: Audacity Manual

If you succeed in recording from the iPod, find something on your iPod that is definitely stereo (the left and right headphones have distinctly different sound). Record that and check if Audacity is recording both the left and right channels.

I will look more into this later on (too late in the day to get to it now), but just to clarify: I’m using the “line-in,” not the microphone jack, as recommended by pretty much everything audacity as to say on the matter. But, I have tried both, so I figured I would mention both.

Also- yes, I am planning on keeping the files in electronic format- files on my computer, though, of course, possibly burning CDs for other family members to have as well. I want the files to age as well as possible if I’m able to get them off of the cassettes, believe me!

I also wanted to add: I tried the noise removal feature, but it did diddlysquat. I may have been using it wrong (I did read up on how to do it, but I’m new to the program), but I suspect the issue isn’t background noise, so much as picking up anything at all in the first place.

I will post results when I have tried the fix above and say how it went. Thanks!

In which case I’d also recommend investing in a couple of external USB disks for backups (one is never enough as disk failures do occur - don’t ask me how I know :cry: ).

Really cautious folk maintain off-site backups too, just in case the house burns down or you get burgled…


If you are getting 50/60Hz hum it might be a grounding problem. In such case you would need to check the power cable. I may be incorrect… just passing on what an engineer once told me.

I have a Zoom H1 Handy Recorder that I use to transfer anything I need from Analog to Digital, at least as far as cassette tapes are concerned.

The recording quality settings range from the lowest of MP3 all the way up to 24/96.

You probably don’t want to invest in another piece of gear though, especially if it doesn’t help you with your problem.

The only thing I can think of is this-The cassette Walkman doesn’t have a “line out” per se, it just has the headphone jack, correct?

The first time I tried recording analog into my Zoom, I used the headphone jack from my TASCAM Dual Cassette Deck. I got hum and everything else like you wouldn’t believe,so, I did some digging until I could find an old RCA “Y” cable and then I hooked it up to the RCA jacks in the back and tried again. Success! No noise whatsoever! You should get a regular cassette deck and do what I did, because, as far as A/D conversion is concerned, using a headphone jack as a line out just doesn’t work.

EXCEPT, strangely enough, when I want to record something off of the web, I go out from my headphone jack on my laptop to line in on my Zoom and it sounds just fine. Maybe it’s the fact that the transfer is occuring between TWO digital devices instead of an Analog Device and A Digital Device.

It’s been a long time since I visited this project- other stuff got prioritized, etc. etc., but I never actually meant to abandon the project.

Anyway, I managed to record a stereo song from my iPod’s headphone jack to my computer’s line in jack rather easily and with an acceptable level of sound quality and with the left and right channels being recorded correctly (I have a track that has a different song on left vs. right channels so I have zero doubt that it did in fact record both sides), using all the equipment mentioned before. I went back and tried my walkman’s headphone jack and once again just got a humming/buzzing noise.

re: “power cable,” I’m not really sure there’s a relevant power cable involved. The walkman has batteries. The computer worked just fine with the ipod, which I think eliminates the computer as a variable.

Any additional suggestions of help?

Also (sorry I did not address this in the previous post) the walkman only has a headphone jack; there’s nothing else to use.

If your headphones or earbuds work connected to the Walkman, then a transfer cable should work. I do this all the time with tape and disk machines and iPods. The only time it fails is if you have an entertainment device that has a “Tape-Out.” Some of them have microphone level signals suitable for connecting to a Walkman Input. I’ve been burned by those.

Do you have one of these?

Plug that into the Walkman and jam your earbuds into the RCA end.

You only get one ear, but it should sound just like it did when you plugged your earbuds into the Walkman directly.

Then plug your jumper cable into the computer and make sure it’s all the way in. Turn it a couple of times.

You have to know how to select the Line-In from your Windows controls. I have no clue.

Still dead/hummy?


I’ve been having the exact same problem as the original poster (walkman connected to line in with patch cable, only getting buzzing) and stumbled on a solution that really shouldn’t work, but does.

Headphones plugged into Walkman - works fine
Other device plugged into same patch cable and computer port - works fine
Walkman plugged into patch cable - just buzzing

Put splitter into Walkman, plug patch cord into splitter, plug headphones into splitter.

Oddly enough, on the computer, buzzing immediately stopped and proper audio started when I tried this. Unplugging the headphones promptly stops the audio and restarts the buzzing. Probably something electrically wrong with this old Walkman, but it’ll do for transferring audiobooks.