I have some old cassette tapes to convert to digital for an upcoming anniversary of a live performance and thought I would share the process and maybe get some good ideas. I would have given up 20 hours ago but I really really really want to make this work. The recording is very dear to me.
For most things I would just load the cassette player and copy onto my CD recorder but there are a few problems with this conversion.
1. The tape is 30 years old. It was a cheap Scotch brand tape, normal bias, a very cheap product at the time.
2. The recording was made on an old $20 mono tape recorder from the built in microphone.
I put the tape in the machine, fired it up and the first thing it did was pull out. I fixed that, put it back in and it broke. Fixing the break I noticed particles of the tape were coming off in flakes. OK, so at this point I know there is not much chance. I put it back together, cross my fingers and get it to play. With the recording level quickly set I proceed to get a one to one copy of the tape on CD. Yea, it broke a few more times but finally at least I have whatever is there preserved on a CD, however unlistenable it may be.
The sound quality? None. It has very big peaks in different midrange and treble regions, no detectable bass below 80hz, some huge hump in the lower midbass and the quality varies between the left and right channel quite a bit. The sound is very compressed on loud passages and thin on quiet ones. I don't think it could be any worse. It is almost totally trashed in this form.
As an audiophile I'm of the opinion that capturing the original as faithfully as possible is of the most importance but have to face the facts on this one, no one could bear to listen as is. Besides, I do have the original on a CD and will hold onto it.
Now for the fun part, trying to enhance and bring it up to some level of listenability. I've decided I'm going to take every liberty to make it better and currently have it running through a lot of processors. The signal path is listed below from input to output.
AudioNote tube DAC
AudioControl Epicenter (Synthesizes bass based on higher frequencies)
BBE Sonic Maximizer (Adds definition to the highs/lows)
Alesis 30 band EQ (To smooth out the response curve)
Spatial Seperator (Recreates a little life in the recording)
Audible Illusions tube preamp (To control the output of this mess)
Sony CD recorder with SBM
So far I've started from top to bottom of the list eliminating one problem at a time. I'm playing the output into my Manley Reference mono-blocks and monitoring the sound through the SDA SRS. Once I get something that sounds good I feed into the CD recorder and make a disc. I then play the disc through my normal system to see if I'm close. When I think it sounds OK I try on a few other systems including my HD-600 Sennheisers.
I've gone through this process a few times and although I'm almost there I can't seem to give up and say this is the end product. I keep thinking about trying a digital route but right now I'm not sure what I want to do.
Any thoughts on a digital means of manipulating the sound would be appreciated. Right now I have it sounding somewhat alive and exciting but it is still missing the mark. My biggest problems are on the high end. I can cut tape hiss pretty easily without compromising the sound but things like cymbals and some of the voice is still very rough and high output. I can bring them down to something reasonable but I loose all the excitement of the recording.
Its a fun project but I'll be very glad when its done. :D