Digitise reel to reel tapes

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Apologies if this is in the wrong area, seems to be the best place for this sort of question. 

My wife has a load of old tapes from her days as a radio journalist that we’d like to digitise.

I have:

  • reel to reel tape deck that surprisingly works after 30 years in my father’s loft
  • A copy of Audacity
  • Phono to aux cable 
  • A “dongle” that I use to connect my headset to laptop for Zoom/Teams calls
  • Laptop 
Will that setup work or do I need something else?

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Comments

  • DiscoStuDiscoStu Frets: 4417
    edited July 2021
    I used Audacity to digitise my dad's old reels. It was really easy, the only thing I had to do was buy a suitable cable to link the reel to reel to the laptop.
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  • WhistlerWhistler Frets: 154
    Practice, if you can, with a piece of tape that is not important. When the BBC digitised some tapes that had been in storage for somthing like as long as yours have been they found the tapes partially disintegrated while playing, so they only had one chance to get it right.
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  • springheadspringhead Frets: 1147
    Old tapes do shed oxide. Precious old ones are baked (no don’t try it!) to stabilise them first. As said above practice with something not important. When you’re happy clean the heads, capstan, pinch wheel and guides and ingest the first tape. You may find that you will have to repeat the cleaning after each tape, depending on condition and duration. 

    Your headset dongle thing won’t be great quality however sounds like these tapes are speech rather than music so may be good enough 
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  • droflufdrofluf Frets: 1601
    Thanks for the tips it’s working after a fashion, unfortunately I can’t set the input level on Audacity low enough to prevent distortion. The recording level is high as the vu meters are bouncing into the red on playback and I can’t control the output volume.

    any thoughts? I don’t want to spend a lot on 10 minutes of old recordings 
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  • springheadspringhead Frets: 1147
    I guess your headset USB thing is intended for mic not line level, and sounds like your tape machine is lined up differently to the one the tapes were recorded on.  Got anything useful you can sit between the tape deck and the dongle?  Little analogue mixer would be great.  Or can you borrow a better USB interface, one with line level in and a gain control?
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  • StratavariousStratavarious Frets: 1782
    edited July 2021
    Yep.. it you are after fidelity and level control, you need something else.

    I would get a cheap USB audio interface with two inputs.  Yamaha do a nice mini USB mixer.

    https://www.amazon.co.uk/Yamaha-AG03-Channel-Mixer-Interface/dp/B00ST0FOO0/ref=sr_1_7?adgrpid=55924820551&dchild=1&gclid=CjwKCAjw55-HBhAHEiwARMCszvI5NnlazDQQbpz_uP9afZqsulFZQ0jrCrh8vDG6v6vggMKQgUwBjBoCalIQAvD_BwE&hvadid=259045101488&hvdev=c&hvlocphy=1006688&hvnetw=g&hvqmt=e&hvrand=3731544140752335405&hvtargid=kwd-304947497899&hydadcr=25941_1813028&keywords=yamaha+usb+mixer&qid=1625829517&sr=8-7


    plug the phonos in with 1/4” adaptors and then in Audacity use the interface as the sound source.

    its a decent music investment as it would do for lots of home recording stuff.

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  • steamabacussteamabacus Frets: 1056
    edited July 2021
    Does your laptop not have a microphone/line input (often combined on the same socket as the headphone output these days)? If so, try it direct into there and Audacity should be able to reduce the levels (make sure you have the correct input selected in Audacity).

    Failing that these generic usb sound cards work perfectly well (I have a couple) and provide a dedicated line level input.


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  • equalsqlequalsql Frets: 4642
    I have a bunch of Ampeg 456 1/2 track 8 track master tapes that are over 30 years old. I digitised them successfully into Reaper using my Roland Octacapture. Taking advice from some online pro audio forums I baked each tape for about 5 hours at 50c. I didn't have a temp controlled oven, instead, cos it was summer and pretty hot at the time, I put them outside in the sun under a home made garden cloche, I put an old 100w incandescent light bulb inside the cloche too and then used the temp sensor on my digital multimeter to monitor the temp, fractionally lifting the lid on the cloche if it got too hot inside.

    The results were very good, no noticeable shedding of oxide etc. There was a tiny amount of print-through on some tracks but overall I was very pleased with the end result. I bought a very good condition used Tascam TSR8 recorder to the play the tapes and then sold it on after I finished for the same price price I paid for it. :)
    (pronounced: equal-sequel)   "I suffered for my art.. now it's your turn"
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  • droflufdrofluf Frets: 1601
    Thanks again. Think the problem is with my tape deck or the source material. I fed the signal from the tape into the line in of my Zoom recorder which allowed me to lower the input volume. But even. When I’d lowered the level the signal was still distorted:



    With the exception of the gaps it looks to me like my source is the problem 
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