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I have a large amount of mini cassette and regular cassette tapes I would like to covert to digital files. I am trying to buy a good tape recorder so that the output is high quality to begin with. Then, I plan to use gold plated audio cables to then connect to my computer's audio jack. Finally, I plan on using an audio capture software like audacity for the capture itself.

Does any one have any suggestions how I can get the BEST quality?

  • "Best" quality is dependant on quite a few factors, none of which involve gold-plated cables. Are you willing [& able] to tweak the head azimuth yourself? If not, just google "cassette to USB" & get one from amazon etc for $£€ 15 which will give results comparable to your proposed setup. – Tetsujin Dec 7 '19 at 10:25
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Firstly, don't worry about spending money on gold plated cables. If you are insistent on spending money, send the money to me and I will send you back some special oxygen-free cable which is way better than the gold stuff. But I digress....

You need to access a tape machine that has variable azimuth so that the playback head can be aligned to exactly the same azimuth angle as the original record head. This can only be done by a trained engineer with the correct equipment. Most professional transfer houses will have this equipment, therefore the most reasonable suggestion will be to engage with a professional transfer house that will align the azimuth for each transfer you wish to do.

  • I used to have an old NAD with an exposed azimuth screw & a variable pot for speed I've used to recover old cassettes. [well, still have it but the drive belts are probably shot by now, along with those on my Revox & Teac ¼" machines] – Tetsujin Dec 7 '19 at 15:10
  • btw don't forget to tie the correct knots in your oxygen-free cables ;-)) – Tetsujin Dec 7 '19 at 15:19
  • ahha! Yes - the knots! – Mark Dec 7 '19 at 21:26
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Use your original tape recorder: its head alignment corresponds exactly with your tapes, and the head is of the same quality what you recorded with (so using a better read head is not likely to gain you a lot). Also tape bias and noise reduction match what you recorded with.

A common problem can be that capstan belts have disintegrated to chewing gum. There often are second market replacements that are reasonably useful once you cleaned off the residue from the original belts.

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Depending on how old these tapes are, the tape layers may stick to each other.

This is caused by the binder used in the tape reacting with moisture in the air, the solution is to dry out the tape. There are several methods:

  • baking the tape (at a low temperature, see the link). Not recommended for cassette tapes because of the plastic components in the cassette, although this company reports good results baking Ampex U-matic cassettes.
  • storing the tape in a dry environment (e.g. using a dehumidifier).
  • Whatever you do, do NOT attempt to bake a cassette tape. Ever. Don't even think about it. Even thinking about it will melt the plastic hubs. Just don't. No. Nope. – Mark Dec 7 '19 at 12:33
  • added some more info to my answer, is this better? – Hobbes Dec 7 '19 at 12:47
  • The OP specifically mentions cassette tapes. Making assumptions about the level of expertise of the OP in this area, I highly recommend you don't even use the word baking. This is a technique that should only be used by professionals who know what they are doing. It's not for the faint-hearted. One mistake and you're toast. literally. – Mark Dec 7 '19 at 12:53
  • Drifting into the realms of off-topic… I had great success baking some mid 80s Ampex [well-known to stick & shed] using a domestic food dryer. American Harvest, example on Amazon which just happens to be perfect for reels of ¼", or thicker if you take the intermediate floors out. I ran it at about 120° for 2 days, left 2 days to cool. Recovered every one of 30 tapes, all of which were unplayable before. – Tetsujin Dec 7 '19 at 15:01

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