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Audio cassette material - Transferring and cleaning up large amounts!

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Audio cassette material - Transferring and cleaning up large amounts!

Postby flatstanley » Mon Dec 12, 2011 3:45 pm

Hello
I have a vast amount of my own material recorded on audio cassette. The last few years I've been using 'Maxell UR' (I think because that's the only one you can buy in WH Smith), recorded onto a dictaphone. The years before that - TDK CDing. The years before that - a variety of different brands!

Played back there is obviously a *massive* amount of hiss. In an ideal world, I'd really like to record these scores of cassettes onto something like a CD (i.e. something tangible), and i'd like all the hiss to be magically taken away... Also, I don't know if it's possible but every time I've stopped the tape and begun it again, if this could translate into tracks that were pre-marked onto the CD that would be great.

Now I really have no idea where to start. I guess to de-hiss I'll need software? --(is there a way of doing it without software?). There are cheap 'convertors' on ebay but this doesn't seem the way to go. An aunt abroad had a hefty bit of Sony kit from about 10 years ago, it was a stack in her hi fi system, that did something like this, but not quite sure what?

I am prepared to pay a bit of money for the right kit to get this right! And want to stay as far away from computers as possible!


As a sort of separate thing, I am on the lookout for a cleaner and yet stable (in an old-school way for paranoiacs like me!) technology. I did try to advance into the digital era: I have numerous minidisc recorders, a digital dictaphone and an 'Zoom' somethingorother but the paranoia and fear of data being wiped or dopily recorded over has meant I end up using cassettes again! I know they degrade over time, but is there like a hiss-free cassette dictaphone these days?



Thanks for reading!
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Re: Audio cassette material - Transferring and cleaning up large amounts!

Postby Howdy Doody Time » Tue Dec 13, 2011 7:19 am


First you have to get the information off the tape and on to some digital medium. Normally this would be a hard disk attached either internally or externally to (dare I say it..) a computer.

That process also requires the computer to convert the information from analogue (which it is now, on the tape) to digital, and that means attaching another gizmo to the computer, and that gizmo is an A to D converter. Luckily for you that usually includes a couple of audio in sockets for left and right from your tape deck.

Now you need to use (again I'm squirming as I say it..) software to dumb down the hiss, and unfortunately a lot of other musical stuff that lives at a frequency near the hiss.

Luckily again for you, the computer can be a cheap as chips thing, hard disks are already cheap as chips, and so are the A to D gizmos, which you'll find on eBay second hand or new.

So get over your terrible fear of computers, or send all the tapes to someone who has the time to do it all for you, but it can't be cheap!
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Re: Audio cassette material - Transferring and cleaning up large amounts!

Postby Richie Royale » Tue Dec 13, 2011 9:03 am

If you wanted to avoid software you can shell out for a hardware de-hisser such as this

http://www.esotericsound.com/NoiseReduction.htm

but you can do the same job with a computer if you have the correct plug-ins such as Soundsoap. http://www.bias-inc.com/products/soundSoap2/

But the question you have is what medium do you record it to? A computer is the obvious answer these days and as stated above you will need some software to help with this. You could then record into the computer, divide the recording into tracks and then burn to CD, that way you would then have it in three places; the original, the computer copy and the CD.

If you wanted to avoid a compputer, then you could use the hardware de-hiss and record to DAT, create track IDs then burn to a single speed burner such as the HHB Burn It, but both the DAT and the Burn It are becoming obsolete and only available second-hand. There may be other ways of burning a CD without a computer, such as a multi tracker like this http://www.stagebeat.co.uk/P/2631/ but that isn't cheap.

For a Hiss free dictaphone, I guess the only way to go is digital. Your Zoom may be able to do this, but you haven't said what it is exactly. Otherwise the Olympus LS10 or Zoom H4N might be worth considering if your digital dictaphone doesn't have any audio output.
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Re: Audio cassette material - Transferring and cleaning up large amounts!

Postby James Perrett » Tue Dec 13, 2011 10:11 am

flatstanley wrote:

I am prepared to pay a bit of money for the right kit to get this right! And want to stay as far away from computers as possible!


Sorry but the right kit to do this is a computer unless you are prepared to spend ludicrous amounts of money.

If you want to spend the money then you'll need a decent cassette deck with easily adjustable azimuth. Nakamichi decks are often recommended although I've had good success with fairly basic Aiwa decks. You will then need something like the Cedar De-hiss unit at

http://www.cedaraudio.com/products/duo/auto_dehiss.html

together with their A/D convertor at

http://www.cedaraudio.com/products/converters/ada.html

To get the data onto CD you'll need a decent CD recorder but they're hard to find nowadays - the best I could find after a quick search was at

http://www.hhb.co.uk/product_detail.php?id=319

After that you will need some way of checking the CD to make sure there are no errors on it. Clover and Stagetech are two manufacturers that make stand-alone CD testers but they're not cheap.

Personally, I would buy a decent audio interface for your computer, a copy of Izotope RX2 and a CD Writer that works with the Opti Drive Control software. You will be able to achieve better results more easily with the computer and at a much lower price.

James.
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Re: Audio cassette material - Transferring and cleaning up large amounts!

Postby johnny h » Tue Dec 13, 2011 12:38 pm

I think the most important thing is you stop worrying and learn to love digital. Digital dictaphones are superior in every way and they don't magically wipe everything off at random. Just read the manual for 5 minutes if you are unsure

As for tape hiss, its not really that easy to get rid of without destroying the quality of the sound and making it sound like its underwater. The best thing is to find the best tape deck you can and record from that.
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Re: Audio cassette material - Transferring and cleaning up large amounts!

Postby flatstanley » Fri Aug 02, 2013 10:51 am

Hello everyone

Thank you for these very helpful replies. Well it has taken me over a year and a half! But my izotope Rx and audio interface, the Focusrite Scarlett 2I2, have arrived in the post this morning.

I have a few questions I wondered whether you might be able to help me with.

Firstly, I am trying to install the izotope Rx on my Windows 8 computer. But I cannot open the Install.data file. The computer asks me which program I want to use to open it, or to look in the App store for one (but it does not find one). Does anyone know how I can get the izotope Rx to install. [I have emailed izotope Rx but a review on amazon.com suggests they may take a while to reply].

Secondly, and this will sound such a foolish question as I am a luddite, but this audio interface I have bought, will it actually make a difference or is the weak link in the chain the computer's soundcard. Also is the one I have chosen ok.

Finally, does it matter what kind of tape deck I use to play in the cassette. I mean I have the dictaphone, and a cassette deck in a cheap hifi, and also a Yamaha MT8x multitrack cassette device - will it make a difference from which I play the cassette into the audio interface.

Thank you for viewing my post.
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Re: Audio cassette material - Transferring and cleaning up large amounts!

Postby Dynamic Mike » Fri Aug 02, 2013 12:04 pm

You can download & install iZotope Rx from the website & just authorise it from the number on the box (or email whichever.)

Your audio interface is your soundcard now & yes it's fine.

My guess would be that MT8x probably won't play your stereo mixes. Even if it does it'll be at double speed & half of it will be running backwards. I suspect only the hi-fi will have a stereo out to connect to the interface.
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And of course there must be something wrong. In wanting to silence any song.


Re: Audio cassette material - Transferring and cleaning up large amounts!

Postby James Perrett » Fri Aug 02, 2013 12:11 pm

Given the gear you've got, I'd go for the cassette deck in the hifi. If the hifi has a tape output then feed that to the input on the Focusrite interface. If it doesn't then you'll have to use the headphone output on the hifi with the tone controls set flat and any other processing (like bass enhancement or stereo widening) set to off.

It might be worth checking your local Freecycle, Ebay or Gumtree to see if there are any decent cassette decks available secondhand.

James.
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Re: Audio cassette material - Transferring and cleaning up large amounts!

Postby flatstanley » Fri Aug 02, 2013 4:12 pm

Ok, seven hours later, I have sort of figured it out!

The disc I don't understand and neither did the people at izotope when I told them the problem with the .data file. A computer scientist friend said it was because they were macintosh files, I sent him some screengrabs of the disc folders and their contents.

However Dynamic Mike's excellent suggestion of downloading from the website - initially when followed I got a Shellexecute error code 1053 which then took me onto the Windows forums to try and solve for a few hours, then I realised this computer is about a month behind on its Windows 8 updates because the Updater was broken and needed the Updater Repair Troubleshooter Wizard, a hefty download later and lo I have just downloaded it and registered myself!

Now I just have to figure out what to do with the damn thing
I am guessing the manual that was spoken of somewhere else on the forum refers to the advanced version as mine came with a three-page quick start guide!

Thank you James, I will connect as advised. I will also look for a good tape deck. Would I benefit from one with that azimuth feature you spoke of?

It has taken me years (no exaggeration; I was wondering about it for a good decade before I posted a year and a half ago) to get to this point so I shall feel proud of my day's endeavours regardless of the route!

Thank you all!
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Re: Audio cassette material - Transferring and cleaning up large amounts!

Postby Tim Gillett » Sat Aug 03, 2013 2:29 pm

flatstanley wrote: I will also look for a good tape deck. Would I benefit from one with that azimuth feature you spoke of?


Cassette decks with a user azimuth control are about as rare as rocking horse... Nakamichi made a few models. The "Cassette Deck 2" was one. The later "CR7" was another. I think one of the "DR" series models also.

Failing finding one of those decks, the standard "bush mechanic" trick on just about any cassette deck is to find the azimuth screw on the side of the playback head and carefully turn it with a suitable small screwdriver for maximum treble. Adjusting the correct screw is important! There can be issues using the wrong type of screwdriver , turning the screw too far and using a screwdriver which has become magnetised.

A more refined approach is to actually build into an existing machine the machine a user adjustable azimuth control. Not exactly rocket science but it needs to be done carefully by someone with the skills.

There can be pitfalls trying to adjust azimuth, or any head angle, on a machine with a worn head. Over a long period of time the tape cuts a groove in the head face. If you try to change the azimuth angle of the head, the angle of the groove also changes, forcing the tape to go in directions it would rather not go! So adjusting azimuth needs to be done with care and with some knowledge. If you're not sure, perhaps best to leave it alone.

But whatever machine you do use, make sure it is in excellent working order, preferably recently serviced by a competent technician. This greatly reduces the risk of tape damage and assures a better audible result.

Tim
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Re: Audio cassette material - Transferring and cleaning up large amounts!

Postby Sedge » Sat Aug 03, 2013 3:42 pm

Tim Gillett wrote:
flatstanley wrote: I will also look for a good tape deck. Would I benefit from one with that azimuth feature you spoke of?


Cassette decks with a user azimuth control are about as rare as rocking horse... Nakamichi made a few models. The "Cassette Deck 2" was one. The later "CR7" was another. I think one of the "DR" series models also.

Failing finding one of those decks, the standard "bush mechanic" trick on just about any cassette deck is to find the azimuth screw on the side of the payback head and carefully turn it with a suitable small screwdriver for maximum treble. Adjusting the correct screw is important! There can be issues using the wrong type of screwdriver , turning the screw too far and using a screwdriver which has become magnetised.

A more refined approach is to actually build into an existing machine the machine a user adjustable azimuth control. Not exactly rocket science but it needs to be done carefully by someone with the skills.

Some information I was given when I asked someone exactly tbese questions last year.

The Nakamichi Cassette Deck 2 doesn't have an azimuth adjustment on the front panel. The Nakamichi decks which I know have that are:

ZX-9
CR-7
Cassette Deck 1
DR-1

And the Dragon which is probably the ultimate cassette replay machine. It has an auto azimuth tracking system which adjusts head azimuth as the tape plays. The only problem with it is that if the tape is low level or has lost a lot of HF (or didn't have much to start) the auto tracking sometimes can't find enough signal to work with. Sometimes you can get around it by using the manual adjustment to find the right azimuth then the auto kind of locks on and works but sometimes it doesn't and you just have to do it manually.

As for adding an azimuth adjustment knob, not all decks can be modified like this and even on those that can it 's far from trivial engineering..
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Re: Audio cassette material - Transferring and cleaning up large amounts!

Postby Tim Gillett » Sat Aug 03, 2013 4:51 pm

Sedge, you are right. It's not the Cassette Deck 2 but deck 1 which has the azimuth control. Thanks for the correction. Also for the mention of the ZX9.

Re building in an azimuth adjustment control, how easy it is to do does indeed depend on the model but I have fabricated such a mod for the Tascam 122 MkII and Mk III models which are often used in professional playback and digitising of cassette tapes - as well as for the Nakamichi 48- series, LX- series etc and for the audio head on VCR's whose azimuth tolerance is also critical.

The design complexity is partly because with a cassette deck the head itself moves forward and back on a sled. Some sort of universal joint in the adjuster is usually needed to allow for such movement while the adjusting knob remains stationary. I managed with simple hand tools and readily available parts, the key items being an Allen head wrench with a ball end, mated to an Allen screw to replace the existing azimuth set screw.
Another design issue is that as standard, the cassette loading door usually fouls the new custom azimuth adjuster when the door is opened to remove or insert a cassette. So the door itself needs to be modified to clear the adjuster control.

I'm not suggesting it's average home handyman stuff but as I said, neither is it rocket science.

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Re: Audio cassette material - Transferring and cleaning up large amounts!

Postby ef37a » Sun Aug 04, 2013 12:19 am

Getting hold of a good cassette machine is going to be the biggest headache and expense now I think.
If you have £300+ to spare CPC.CO.UK have a couple of nice Teac machines. As for azimuth adjustment it is probably best to just lose the cassette door and use the existing screw. The machines have a headphone out so you can listen on those to tweak things, been a while but you rarely need to move the screw more than 1/2 turn IIRC. N.B. Make a test tape BEFORE you touch anything! If the machine is not "on view" it might be best to remove the whole front panel assembly allowing easy access to heads which should be cleaned for every tape. You can also buy a head demagger for about 30quid will do the screwdriver as well.

CDs? You have a lot of tapes you say? Personally, whilst I would record the stuff to hard drive you only get 90 minutes on a CD. Recorded as data on a DVD will cut the disc count drastically and turned into "best quality" MP3 even more so.

I bet there is a hiss reducer in Reaper? As has been said such things need to be used with care but I have had good results with NR proggs in Adobe Audition 1.5 and the demo of Sony Soundforge.

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Re: Audio cassette material - Transferring and cleaning up large amounts!

Postby Dynamic Mike » Sun Aug 04, 2013 12:49 am

James Perrett wrote:I've had good success with fairly basic Aiwa decks.

Same here. Back in the day these had a reputation for being bullet-proof & the AD-F Series were what most project studios used for making copies for demo's. Generally they were Dolby B/C switchable, had useful metering, adjustable left/right balance, adjustable input/output levels & a bias control. You can pick these up at cash converters or on ebay for buttons. Sansui was another good call for cassette duplication but these are harder to come by.

I'd start here because even if you end up having to go down the high-end Nakamichi route, you'll only have wasted about the price of a chippy tea.
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And of course there must be something wrong. In wanting to silence any song.


Re: Audio cassette material - Transferring and cleaning up large amounts!

Postby James Perrett » Mon Aug 05, 2013 9:35 am

ef37a wrote:G
I bet there is a hiss reducer in Reaper?

Nothing like as good as the one in RX which the OP says he's just purchased.

I think ReaFIR and Sony's cleanup software are on a par but not really good enough for serious use. If you can't afford RX then a web search for Adobe Audition 3 could prove fruitful.

James.
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Re: Audio cassette material - Transferring and cleaning up large amounts!

Postby petev3.1 » Mon Aug 05, 2013 10:42 am

Much too late for this comment, but if the material is important I'd get a pro to do the transfers to digital. I sent my box of old cassettes to a certain Mr. Elf and made him suffer thro them. Easy peasy. Doing it oneself with no expertise is unlikely to do the the material any favours, and old cassettes need all the help they can get.
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Re: Audio cassette material - Transferring and cleaning up large amounts!

Postby Tim Gillett » Mon Aug 05, 2013 12:26 pm

Bingo! The analog playback and transfer to digital can be crucial.
It's good in this case that you've found a skilled worker.

Unfortunately just paying someone who advertises to do such transfers is no guarantee of good work. They need to have the right gear, the know how and the dedication. I fear many dont. Some seem to employ poorly skilled juniors to do the transfers and use and abuse their transfer machines until said machines almost grind to a halt before being sent out for belated service and repair. The aim seems to be turnover and a quick profit rather than repeat business from satisfied customers

The bottom line is, how do you know that the company has done a good job? What are you comparing their work to? Is your memory of how your recordings sounded acute enough?

If you have a large number of valuable tapes to have digitised, a lot of your money may be at stake. It might be worth asking a few of companies to digitise just one tape for you, the same tape to each company in succession (make sure you have made a good backup copy first). Then you can A/B/C the three results at your leisure. You are now in a position to judge each company's likely results against their prices.

Be wary of operators who assure you they can "make it sound much better than it actually is". Say that you just want the digitised result to "sound no better and no worse than it already is". Just what's on the tape, no more, no less. To achieve that is not always as easy as it might seem.

Perhaps ask to see their workspace and their transfer machines. Ask them to actually show you how they adjust for azimuth errors - if they even know what that word means. Ask them to show you their tape path demagnetiser tool - again if they even know what such a thing is, how to use it correctly, and how often.

The ready availability of digital audio recording gear seems to have allowed just about any man and his dog to set up such a business. There are popular commercial releases on CD and DVD which I could name which have obviously been transferred very poorly, usually by small companies. Sometimes the poor audio quality is because original tapes have been lost or damaged and only poor copies remain, but sometimes the tapes are fine. The operators just dont have the necessary gear and skills to do justice to the recordings.

As always, buyer beware!

Tim
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