The blog of photographer and musician, Kim Ayres

Recording audio cassettes onto the computer

This entry is split into 2 parts – the first is going to explain what you need to transfer your old audio cassettes to mp3 files, and the 2nd is going to rant about the frustrating process I went through to figure it all out.

To transfer your audio files to your computer, you need a stereo lead with the right connections at both ends. This gets plugged from the headphone socket of your cassette player at one end, and into the “line-in” socket in your computer at the other end. Note: if you plug it into the microphone socket, you will only get a mono recording.

You also need software on your computer that will allow you to record the music. Audacity is a good wee programme that has the added advantage of being absolutely free.

You can also download a separate file from Audacity that allows you to save your recording as an mp3 file. As an mp3 file you can then download it onto your mp3 player, or use software you probably got with your computer to burn it onto a CD.

Fairly straightforward you would think.

But I REALLY wish that someone had put this simple information somewhere I could find it when I decided that I wanted to transfer some of my cassettes to CD – it would have saved me about 2 or 3 days of intense frustration.

When I was in my early 20s I used to compose and record various pieces of music – some on my own and some with my friend, Dan Blore. Unfortunately, the cassettes I recorded them on all those years ago are deteriorating. The quality is noticeably worse and at this rate it’s just a matter of time before they become unusable altogether. So it seemed like a good idea to finally figure out how to transfer them to CD.

Initially I thought you could probably buy a piece of kit that would do it for you in a simple and easy manner. Either you would have a CD burner that you could directly attach to your cassette player, or you would be able to get an all-in-one device. After a fair amount of searching I couldn’t find anything in the shops or on the web that seemed to offer what I wanted. Eventually an assistant in an electronics store said that it was easy enough to do through a computer these days so that’s probably why nobody was making hardware for it.

The first problem was finding a lead that had the right stereo connections at both ends. Then I had to discover the hard way that I couldn’t just plug it into the microphone socket if I wanted to record in stereo. After eventually finding out that I had to plug it into the line-in socket, I then discovered that there wasn’t one on my laptop, so I had to transfer my operations to the main desktop computer.

Then I had to go through the painstaking process of finding out that the music software I had on my computer was overly complicated and too difficult to use, so I had to find an easier one that would do the job (thanks here to my friend Dave for pointing me to Audacity).

In the end I got there, but bloody hell it would have been really useful if someone had just told me the info I typed in above.

Still, it all seems to be working, although it’s very time consuming. Now all I need to find is somewhere online that will host mp3 files for free (like flickr does for photos) and I might even inflict one or two of my old recordings upon my regular readers.


Stella said...

Sounds way too hard for me Kim, would love to know if there is anyway to transfer videos onto my computer tho. Have dvd burner and have old videos of kids would love to transfer to dvd, probably way too complicated for me, guess I will just have to pay someone to do it for me.

Kim Ayres said...

I know it can be done, Stella, as my father has done it. He transfered his old cine films to video back in the 80s and then transferred them to DVD via the computer last year. Not tried it myself though.

SafeTinspector said...

Kim, you could've asked your community here. I coulda told you some of that, as it isn't much different than what I do to make my SafeTunes recordings.
(I even use AudaCity! Small world!)

BStrong said...

Firstly, anything that I have on audio cassette is not worth transferring to mp3. Remember I'm 35 which means that I grew up listening to late seventies and that terrible 80's shit( and that fashion oh shit). Anyone with a synthesizer back then was considered a musician. Secondly, please refer to firstly.

Glad you got everything working.


SafeTinspector said...

bstrong, those are strong words! There were some good things in the eighties, and keyboards are people too!

Anonymous said...

Wow, flickr is easy, user friendly so to speak. What you are talking about seems rather complicated...but if it does what you are looking for it to do-wonderful!

Kim Ayres said...

SafeTinspector - Ah well, yes, if I'd known it was going to take so long then I would have asked for help straight away.

But as is the nature of these things I thought that it would be easy and straightforward. And each time I came up against an obstacle I thought that once I sorted that out that it would be plain sailing from then on.

Every time I thought I was almost there so it seemed pointelss trying to find someone to help. It's only at the end whan you realsie that you actually had to overcome 832 separate and distinct problems that you realise you should have just asked for help right back at the beginning.

You wouldn't happen to know if there is a mp3 free hosting place on the web somewhere would you?

BStrong & SafeTi - there were a few good things fromthe late 70s and early 80s, and some even involved keyboards, but there was so much shit too that it covers that entire era with a faint odour even 25 years later.

RNP - all I want is to be able to have somewhere to host some mp3 files of the music I created when I was younger, so that I can have them saved in case the tapes finally dissolve and my computer wipes them.

happykat said...

I have to be honest.
Through all the hardware stuff all I read was blah blah blah.
But...If you do get some sound bites posted somewhere, then I'd give it a go.


Gyrobo said...

That's VERY good to know. I stopped listening to a buch of cassettes a while ago to preserve them. Perhaps one day I shall try this solution.

And then... MARS! Ha ha! Onward, to Mars!

Kim Ayres said...

HappyKat - I did think that there was a chance that a post like this would put some people off, but I don't do them very often.

Gyrobo - ah well, if you conquer Mars then be sure to give me a footnote in your autobiography

SafeTinspector said...

I guess I shouldn't tell you I liked (and still like) Duran Duran, DEVO, Ah-Ha, Talking Heads, Thomas Dolby, the Cars, New Order, Joy Division, Ministry, Brian Eno, Wendy Carlos (of switched-on-Bach and Tron soundtrack fame), Parliament Funkadelic, the B-52s, Prince and others.

Kim Ayres said...

SafeTi - well, Talking Heads were OK...

Attila The Mom said...

You're not going to start posting farts or stuff like that on your blog are you? ;-)

Kim Ayres said...

Well I don't know, Atilla. How much would you be prepared to pay...?

SafeTinspector said...

How about the Pretenders? THey were fun, too. And Front 242!
And Joe Satriani!

See, I figure there's good stuff in every era, you just gotta look hard enough. The bad stuff shouldn't color your perception of the good stuff.

SafeTinspector said...

Oh, you'd asked about free MP3 hosting.
Check CNet. They bought the old MP3.COM service and, I think, they relaunched it.

SafeTinspector said...
I've heard good stuff about these folks.

Kim Ayres said...

That's great SafeTinspector, I'll check these sites out wehn I've got a moment - much appreciated.

Jason (aka Connor) said...

I just have to get my two pennies in here. I use Apple computers. Have done so since I first used anything other than a Sinclair Spectrum or a Beeb. I will point out that I am also conversant with PCs and have one of those too, although it has lots of dust on it due to being ignored at every opportunity.

There really isn't anything much to recording Audio on an Apple... especially as you get GarageBand bundled in on most models these days. Alternatively you can get a whole host of Audio tools on free download too.

As for the video side of it, you really just need a machine with a video input card (or video grabber card) installed. If you are of the Apple camp, you will find iMovie and iDVD in the same standard software bundle as GarageBand, they will allow you to work on your video input with the greatest of ease.

I think that a year or two of technological advancements and possibly the better suited choice of platform have an awful lot of benefit in this whole realm.

Incidentally, I saw that Safe T suggested for hosting mp3s. I just wanted to add that the iTunes store also welcome 'podcasts' for publishing at large too. I believe its at no cost although don't quote me. These are a cool way of getting out to a potentially huge audience as it's a very integral part of iTunes and iPod with thousands of iTunes users surfing the store for podcasts every day. You can make audio or video podcasts and they can be serialised too.

You can read up on podcasting at

There's a section in the bottom right corner of that page with several links for listeners and several for publishers too.

Have fun :)

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