The Make Really A Bad Vocal Recording Good Challenge

I have recently come into possession of a somewhat battered cassette tape. It is a Avanti C60HE, normal bias, general purpose audio cassette. It is approximately 18 years old. About all that can be said for its care is that it has mostly been kept indoors, with only some of its long hard life spent in a car. In other words, it is pretty much crap.

The problem though is that on that really crappy cassette is the only recording of my long dead grandmother singing the songs she sang even farther back in the 50s and 60s. It was made on a simple portable cassette recorder, with its built-in mic, sitting on a table in the kitchen of her home as family members coaxed her into singing these old Irish standards.

The upshot of all this is that I have some really unclean audio that I’d like to make better.

I pulled down the latest beta of Audacity, which I’m fairly familiar with from days gone by. I pulled in the audio track from the tape as cleanly as I can, but the equipment I still have for playing audio cassettes is not great. That gave me a starting point. Tape noise was really bad. There’s a low hum, and a high rythmic buzz as well. The buzz in particular is bad enough that before noise removal it actually competes with the vocals for dB level.

First thing, I killed the obvious pops, thumps and crackles from stopping and starting the recorder and moving it around on the table between songs. I simply selected and generated silence over them. Good enough since they’ll probably be tossed in the end. Then I made an attempt at removing the noise. Thankfully, I can get a good sample for profile generation, and that kills the majority of it pretty well. Any tricks for killing it more effectively than the default settings though would be appreciated. I still have some noise, and on a few of the songs, it is still a bit to present to consider it a dead issue.

The big problem I have though is the poor quality of the remaining audio. It sounds a bit dead, hollow and even muddy in spots. No doubt this is a combination of the poor recording conditions, the ancient and cheap tape, and poor equipment used to get it into digital form. But there’s not much I can do about the last of those and the first two are immutable. Any advice on what I can do to liven up the audio? There’s a bit of a sea shell to your ear effect going on. I’ve tried high and low pass filters and played a bit with equalization, but so far nothing has quite hit bringing a bit of richness back into the recording.

I’m realistic enough to know that there will be no magic bullet to fix something as far gone as this… still, any tips on things to try, plugins to use, etc. would be greatly appreciated as I struggle to bring this recording back to life. Links to tutorials or other resources are greatly appreciated too. Nothing I’ve been able to find so far in the wiki or google searches has been enough of a help.

I’ve had good results with Magix Audio Cleaning Lab. I use an older version that was reissued on a budget label, but even the current version is a good buy. Worth a look.

Did you play the tapes on a mono machine? If you have million year old stereo tapes, they will wander over mono heads and give you very pronounced hollow muffled effects that change over time, sort of wooshing in and out like a Disneyland ride

You also missed typing the magic words, “I posted a minute long clip of the work including five seconds of room noise by itself, so you can see what I have.”

You can’t do that on the forum, you have to find a service that will let you do that. There are free ones out there.


You can probably get rid of a lot of low end humming and high end hiss with the “Equalizer” - do this before using the “noise removal tool” and you will probably find that the noise removal tool works better.