Transfer music records and tapes to your PC

Transfer music records and tapes to your PC

Discover how you can use free software to create digital copies of your vinyl and cassette collection
Somewhere in a dark corner of your loft there’s bound to be a box full of old records and tapes – much-loved music that you no longer listen to because technology has moved on. Wouldn’t it be great to convert those albums into digital format so you could store the music on your PC, MP3, smartphone or tablet? 
 
If all this sounds like hard work, don’t worry – digitising music is actually a simple task. All it takes is a few minutes of your time, some free software and the right equipment (an audio cable may be all you need). Read on to find out how to save your old music to MP3 format.
 
1. Plug in hi-fi
 
If you’ve still got a hi-fi cassette or record player, you can connect it directly to your computer. Firstly, make sure your PC has a line-in socket (don’t use the mic socket, as it could damage your computer). Look for a blue colour-coded input: it should have a left-pointing arrow or the word in on it. You’ll also need a suitable cable to hook things up – probably a 3.5mm stereo jack male to 2x phono male, or a 3.5mm stereo jack male to 3.5mm stereo jack male. Jump to step three once you’re connected.
 
 
 
2. Buy a dedicated product
 
Your other option is to buy a dedicated device such as an ION Audio cassette player or turntable. If you have one, the set-up is a piece of cake: simply plug it into a spare USB port, wait for your computer to recognise it and you’re ready to go. You shouldn’t need to install any drivers but if you are prompted to, use the supplied disc or – in the case of Ion products – download the latest version.
 
 
 
3. Download and set up
 
The software to help you convert your music is called Audacity. You can download it from the website and install it, following the setup prompts. Once you’ve finished, untick Launch Audacity and click Finish. 
You’ll also need to download and install an additional small program called LAME for Windows, which helps Audacity convert your music into a format your devices can use. Once again, follow the default prompts to do that. 
When it’s finished, open Audacity. Click OK, then choose Edit > Preferences. Select Libraries and make sure LAME 3.99.3 is listed next to MP3 Library Version.
 
 
 
4. Select input source 
 
Now you need to make sure Audacity can see the cassette player or turntable you’ve connected. Leave the Preferences window open then switch to the Devices section. Under Recording, click the Device dropdown menu and select your input source. If you’re using a dedicated device you’ll see its name (or possibly a generic name such as USB PnP Audio Device). If you’re connecting your home stereo, look for the Line In option. Leave Stereo selected under Channels, and click OK.
 
 
 
5 Set recording levels
 
Start playing your record or cassette then click the mic icon under the level meter in Audacity. You’ll now be able to monitor the sound and will see the levels fluctuating with the playback. Use the microphone volume slider on the left to adjust the volume so the level peak – indicated by the blue line – tops out at around -6 on the scale.
 
 
 
6. Start recording
 
You might find the microphone volume slider is greyed out in Audacity, preventing you from using it. If that’s the case, use your stereo volume control to adjust the levels. Once the volume is set correctly you can start. Move your analogue recording back to the beginning, press the red Record button in Audacity then play your recording from beginning to end. As the recording takes place, you’ll see a waveform appear in the Audio Track window.
 
 
7. Finish, save and tweak volume 
 
Once the recording is finished, press the Stop button in Audacity. Now click File > Save As to save your work, and use the bottom scroll bar to return to the beginning of your recording. Now it’s time for a bit of cleaning up: in the Effect menu, you’ll find some handy tools that will help you improve the quality of your recording. Start with Normalize (click on Effect > Normalize) to ensure the track volume is correct. You can leave the default settings as they are – just click OK. 
 
 
8. Reduce background noise 
 
As you’ve been recording from cassette or vinyl, there will probably be some background snap, crackle and pop. Press Play to listen to your recording and make a note of where the sound begins. Now select the silent part of the recording by clicking and dragging over it to highlight it. Click on Noise Removal in the Effect menu and click Get Noise Profile. Now Audacity knows what to get rid of, so press [Ctrl] + [A] to select the entire recording and click Effect > Noise Removal again followed by OK to massively reduce tape hiss and vinyl crackles. 
 
 
 
9. Trim recording
 
Now you can remove the silent parts at the beginning and end of the recording. Once again, note where the sound begins at the start of your recording. Now highlight the silent section by clicking and dragging and this time press Delete. If you get it a bit wrong, just press [Ctrl] + [Z] to undo. Do the same at the end of the recording.
 
 
 
10. Export finished track
 
And there you have it – your first digitised analogue recording. Now you need to save it so it can be played outside Audacity. Click on Export in the File menu and choose MP3 Files from the Save as type dropdown menu. Give your file a name, choose where to save it (a folder inside your music library folder is best) and click Save. Now type in any extra information you want to add (such as artist or song name) before clicking OK to finish.