I have a few dozen cassette tapes that I wanted to digitize (i.e. convert to MP3) but I wasn’t aware of the best way to do it.
After a bit of research and some experimenting, I came up with a workable solution.
You need a cassette tape player that has a line out, ideally in the form of two RCA ports because then you can manage the output level on the recording side. If you don’t have such a device (I didn’t), then just use the headphone jack. Plug an audio cable to attach your cassette player to your computer and download the latest version of Audacity.
I prefer being able to hear the music play while recording it, so I turned on the flag to play music as it’s being recorded in the Audacity preferences. To record the music, hit record in Audacity and the play button on the cassette player. This will produce a WAV recording which you can then export to MP3 (using the LAME MP3 encoder). It’s worth taking some time to test to make sure the levels are decent. You don’t want the peaks to hit the top or bottom, but they should be as close as possible so you get as much volume and clarity in the recording.
As is to be expected, there’s plenty of static on the tape. To remove that, you can try using the effects using the remove noise tool, but I found that while it was very effective at removing the static, it left the sound rather odd, with weird artifacts that made it worse than it had been. For the most part I’ve just left the recordings alone.
Another tip to make your life easier is instead of recording each track individually, simply record an entire side, then add labels between the tracks (you can easily identify the divisions by looking for the valleys in the sound) then Ctrl-B to mark the track and name it. Once you’ve marked all the tracks, use the export multiple option. This will create an MP3 for each of the labels you created, so make sure you label the beginning of the recording too. It’s much faster than recording each and every track individually.