Making Audio CD's From Your Cassettes



From the 1970's through the '90's compact cassettes were the most popular form of audio available. Also known as audio cassettes, cassette tapes, or just plain tapes. While eventually becoming a popular choice for all audio media, the cassette was originally made for taking dictation, but the improvement in audio quality and portability made the cassette a favorite with everyone, young and old.

Once CD's were introduced, the quality was found to be far superior to cassettes, and there are many reasons to transfer your collection of 1980's music cassettes onto CD's. Many of the albums that you may have on cassette are out of print, hard to find or simply impossible to recreate concert bootleg recordings you made in your teen years. Another reason is that archiving will preserve the quality and keep your music library full of the old tunes. Not that we said preserve the quality of your cassettes. Transferring your tapes onto a CD won't improve the audio quality, a CD is only as good as the source. Tapes become worn out, stretched and can have many audio problems that will carry over onto a CD.

Luckily bringing your old cassettes into a digital format is a simple process, and even easier than transferring a VHS tape to a DVD. If you own a computer and of course your cassettes and tape player you more than likely have all the equipment you need. Equipment to transfer cassette to DVD

A. A 3.5mm stereo audio cable to connect the player to the sound card in your computer. (Many people won't have this item, but it is relatively inexpensive and easy to find.)

B. A cassette player to play the cassette tapes.

C. The Audacity program. Audacity is an open source program to allow you to record and edit audio. You may also need to install the LAME MP3 encoder if you plan to store your music as MP3 files for use on the computer or MP3 player.

What Now?

Download and install Audacity. Audacity is free and can be used on most any platform including Windows, Max and Linux, making the steps in this article nearly universal. While your operating system may have its own recording software Audacity offers many more recording and editing options.

Once Audacity is installed, you will have to make some small adjustments in the program for what you want to do. Go to the Edit menu, and select the option Preferences, then set the channel number to 2. Even if your cassette was made on one channel (mono) your new CD will be listened to in stereo and you will need to record sound to both channels. If you don't change this setting the sound through a headphone will only be heard in one ear.

The next setting is the bit rate for recording. The choice of bit rate depends on what is being recorded as well as the sound quality of the cassette. Essentially a bit rate is what determines how much data will be used to "describe" the information in your audio recording. The human voice, such as on a book on tape covers a narrow audible frequency range, and the setting of 24 kbs (kilobits per second) is what should be used to reproduce the sound quality. Lower than 24 kbs, may cause a "thinny" recording.

For music a higher bit rate is needed. Just as the range of an instrument is far more varied than human speech a higher bit rate is needed to faithfully reproduce the quality of much more information. The basic fidelity available on an audio tape should record just fine at 128 kbs.

A 256 kbs bit rate is nearly CD quality. While you may think that would be the best choice, it will not improve your quality and will give you a larger file for no reason.

If the cassette recording is exceedingly poor quality, recording at a lower bit rate may help by removing some of the information instead of recording that data. This can help remove both background noise and static, and make it easier for you to edit and clean up the audio.


Attach the cassette player to the sound card using a patch cord. Most computers have a sound card built in. Simply plug the cable into the "MIC" input, if it is not marked look for a color coded red or pink input. If using a stereo for playback you more than likely have RCA audio plugs and will need a Y cable to go from the RCA ports to the stereo inputs for the sound card. If you are using a basic Walkman or other simple tape player and plan to use the earphone jack you will need a stereo to stereo patch cable.

Many computers have a direct input labeled microphone as well. You can use this input if necessary, but more favorable result will occur if you use the "line in" input. Results vary and the best option for you will only be found after you experiment with different methods.

Once you have everything connected, you get to make a few mistakes and start over a few times, because the next step requires a bit of trial and error. You must start Audacity and make test recordings to adjust the volume levels of your tape player and computer. If the volume is too loud your sound card will "clip" the top level of the sound wave and won't reproduce the audio in whole. Once the volume levels are adjusted you are ready to copy a tape to your computer.

Copying to Computer File

You're connected, and set up, now you can begin your first transfer. Start recording on Audacity and press Play on the tape player. Your computer will record the audio that is coming in through the sound card. Once the tape finished, stop the program from recording and save the audio file to your computer.

Do a sound check by scanning and listening to different parts of the file to make sure it sounds good. Audacity and other sound applications allows you to remove the silence from the beginning and end of the recording. You can also use different features to remove noise, static, tape hiss and other audio blips.

TIP: You should always keep an untouched original of the audio file and save changes to a new file. Because once you make changes it can be difficult and often impossible to undo the changes. By keeping an original you can start over any time.

Burn Your File To a CD

Once you have the audio edited to your liking you can burn the file onto a CD. You don't need any special software to burn a CD. Windows media player and iTunes as well as many other basic players allow you to burn an audio CD from files on the computer. If these two programs aren't on your computer, basically any free player will allow you to burn an audio CD.

Enjoy Your Cassettes on CD

While burning cassettes to CD's requires a learning curve and some trial and error it is not difficult and is usually pain free after the fist attempt. Now that you have saved all that great music from your youth enjoy your new CD's and know that your collection is safe and sound both in a digital file and on CD. is the definitive source for information about converting VHS to DVD. Keith Gilbert manages the site and shares his knowledge with you to make your conversion needs simple. Read about VHS to DVD conversion software and hardware, as well as more about cassette to CD conversion and the different CD/DVD formats by visiting