Modern technology made preservation and convenience possible, especially when it comes to digital audio. Some audio purists will argue that nothing beats the sound of pure, analog audio like vinyl and cassette.
On the other hand, many will pose the benefits of digital audio and the easy transportability it will give everyone: higher sound quality, longevity, and editability.
Today, almost every audio file is digitized, from voice recordings to our beloved favorite music album. This gives many people, like archivists or journalists, an avenue to preserve all their physical analog tapes or records.
Although analog audio will always hold a substantial value, making sure that what is recorded on them by converting analog to digital audio will ensure that it is preserved and made more accessible.
Whether for the preservation of history or an owner’s priceless home recordings, here is a guide to convert analog to digital audio.
The main distinction between analog and digital audio is the way they are stored. There are two standard formats for analog audio: tape and vinyl.
The magnetic tape will give you the most quality method if you want analog audio recording or playback.
One would use tape machines to record with a tape, and it works because of the electric current being sent through the wire with which a magnetic field is formed, and the whole process will repeat until the recording is over.
The tape machine is what makes it possible for us to send waves of alternating electric current from our voice to the microphone, and these recordings are charged on the magnetic tape. When the recording is played, the magnetic tape converts back to electrical currents played from a speaker.
A vinyl record keeps audio in its textured grooves that store audio information— making it less vulnerable to the many elements deemed harmful for tapes like magnetic exposure. They are cheaper, durable, and can be produced on a larger scale than tape.
Vinyl uses a stylus that travels throughout all of its groves and surfaces where it creates an electric current which is translated as the sound coming out of the speakers.
When do you need to convert analog to digital audio?
There are many reasons to convert analog to digital audio, and the more integral of them is preservation. Analog uses physical storage to save the information, and in order to keep this sentimental information of value, it is safer to have them digitized.
Analog audio, with repeated use, is likely to have its sound distorted, and because it is physical, it can be more prone to damage and loss.
On the other hand, digital audio can be shared, it can be edited, and it can also be accessible with cloud storage widely available, assuring you that you can keep this information virtually forever.
Because digital audio can be stored in the clouds, it will be easy for the user to use sound anywhere, whether they are looking to produce a transcript of the audio for any use, etc.
The advent of technology and computers made it possible to develop new formats of storing audio recordings.
You can count AIFF for Apple products and WAV for Microsoft on that list, allowing anyone to store audio on their devices without compression, although some will still want compression in order to save disk space.
An example of compressed digital audio is what is commonly known as mp3. mp3 comes in a lossy format which means that some parts are removed in the audio to save space; however, it will not affect the sound quality of the audio.
The best digital audio files with the highest quality are in the lossless compression formats like ALAC or FLAC.
The difference between these and mp3 may not be noticeable to casual music listeners. One would need a decent speaker or headphones to see the difference and appreciate FLAC or ALAC format.
How to Convert Analog to Digital Audio
The good news is it is reasonably easy to convert analog to digital audio; however, one needs to account for quality since most records and tapes can wear out over time. It is best to seek professionals to optimize the audio quality for older tapes and records.
There are devices that any user will need to convert analog to digital audio. You can consider purchasing it if you want to do it for yourself and are looking to do it for a number of your collection, but it is also convenient to hire professionals to do the conversion for you.
You will need either a USB Cassette Converter or a Tape Deck to digitize analog audio yourself.
USB Cassette Converters
The most straightforward way to convert a cassette tape is using a USB Cassette Converter. All you need to do is connect the USB output to the computer to send the audio signals or files to the device.
The sound quality of your conversion will depend on the quality of the cassette converter you will buy, so researching for some of the best in the market is advised for quality conversion.
For the highest quality to convert analog to digital audio, you might want to check out tape decks. Using a tape deck will need to connect it straight to your computer’s sound card, which is the conversion process we highly recommend for the best sound quality possible.
Things you will need to convert analog to digital audio using a Tape Deck
The first thing you will be needing to convert analog to digital audio using a tape deck is a working tape deck or turntable, whether it is an old turntable or you are looking to purchase one for long-term use, just as long as it is working.
Ensure that the analog player is working adequately, you might want to use headphones or speakers to check both if it is working and check the output plug.
Audio Connectors or Cables
Audio cables and connectors are available in many shapes, sizes, and purposes. One of them is the XLR cable, mainly used for mics and many other analog input devices. The jack plug or the RCA is also primarily used to input audio.
Jack plugs are what you will find in your headphones, and they will usually be a 3.5 mm jack plug. On the other hand, 6.5 mm jack plug variants are used to connect musical instruments, such as guitars, to amplifiers; more often than not, they will be aux cables connecting two jacks.
RCAs are the cables in most video playing hardware like television or DVD players. You might remember them as the red, white, and yellow plugs we use to connect to the television before playing video games on the TV.
For converting analog to digital audio, the plug or cable you will need is a 3.5 mm stereo aux cable. If you are using an older analog player, you can always use an adapter for each side to connect the two.
Digital Audio Workstation
The digital audio workstation or DAW is what you will need to edit all your converted digital audio files. There is a variety of DAW software for you to choose from, like Logic Pro available for Mac and other Apple devices or Avid Pro Tools and Audacity.
There is also dedicated or physical software available like Pure Vinyl. Still, by using digital audio workstations, you give yourself the flexibility in editing the audio better with more features available for you to use.
Step by Step Guide to Convert Analog to Digital Audio
Here is a step-by-step guide on what to do to convert analog to digital audio using the duo of a tape deck and any digital audio workstation available for you like Audacity, etc.
Analog Player Set Up
The first step is setting up your analog player or tape deck and checking if it is working correctly. To do this, pack one end of the double-sided aux cable into the analog player’s line-out jack and one end into your PC’s line-in jack.
Download and install any digital audio workstation of your choice and open the software to navigate if your analog player is already listed and working on the line-in device, which can usually be found on the audio input.
Try running the software by doing a test run to make sure that every sound is being captured.
Once everything is working perfectly, rewind the audio from the beginning or at any point you want to begin your digital recording. Press the record button, which is usually denoted by a red dot on most digital audio workstations, and then press “play” on your analog player or tape deck.
Protip: if you are planning to record two sides of the same cassette tape, run the entire length of both sides and choose to split it in the editing later on. This will make sure that the recording is consistent in volume in its entirety.
Once the recording is done, press stop on both the DAW software and your tape deck.
Audio Edit Using Digital Audio Workstation
Once the recording is over, you can move on to the editing part. If it is music you converted to digital audio, you might want to cut each into separate tracks. The foremost thing you must do is pick the track you wish to edit.
Split each track by going to one point where you want to divide the track and then choose the split option under the editing tab on most DAW software. To make each track as seamless as possible, you might want to delete any unnecessary gaps.
Once you are happy with the outcome of your converted analog to digital audio, it will be easy to export them to different digital audio file formats straight from the digital audio workstation software.
Most digital audio workstations will have an “export” or a “download” option, and you have the opportunity to select what audio format it will be saved as.
Going for AIFF or mp3 audio format is recommended if it is simply casual listening. There is also the WAV, ALAC, and FLAC format for more production and more high-definition audio.
The best thing about this is you can always access the digital audio file and download it again in the different digital audio formats available.
The last step will entail adding different Meta descriptions or details to the file, such as track name and artists if it is music, or the interviewee’s name or their number if it is for research.
You might also like: How to Permanently Add Subtitles to MP4 on Windows and Mac
Optimizing Digital Audio Files
To convert analog to digital audio will give you the benefit of having a readily available digital audio file that you can easily edit using different digital audio workstations.
Some digital audio files will not be perfect, especially from older cassettes or records. Still, there are other optimizing options you can do to make your digital file as clear and as enhanced as possible.
One fine-tuning option many downloadable digital audio workstations will carry is equalizing. With equalizing, you are choosing to adjust some levels of the many frequency bands of a track or any other audio, and this will include the treble or the bass level of a sound.
This equalizing can quickly be done on many DAWs since most of them have equalizing presets available on their software that you can easily use to tweak different aspects of the sound. You can do it from scratch by adjusting it to fit your preferred sound option, but presets are always an excellent place to start.
Hiss removal is one of the most helpful sound tweaking tools you can use to fix a convert analog to digital audio, primarily analog audio from older records and tapes. Hiss is the high-pitched sound that can be jarring to anyone listening to the tape.
Most professionals will use editing software like Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere, and they will have a built-in hiss reduction option that you can efficiently utilize. Once the hissing sound is removed, you are guaranteed a clearer sound quality throughout the audio.
Crackle is most common and prominent on analog audios like vinyl. Most vinyl record fans and enthusiasts will say that crackling adds to the charm of older records; nonetheless, this is not always the case for everyone, especially for people who will be reusing the sound for other projects.
De-crackling options are available in most digital audio workstations like Audacity. This sound editing option is handy for recordings such as speeches or interviews.
Background noise is common in most recordings like interviews, speeches, lectures, etc. It might be the sound of a dog barking in the background or constant humming from a fan nearby.
The best thing about this is that with digital audio workstations, noise can quickly be canceled with the denoising option. By choosing to fine-tune your digital audio with denoising, you will be guaranteed an understandable and clearer recording.
There will always be a charm in analog audio, but having the option to keep them forever by converting them to digital audio files will always be a step up in the benefits factor.
What’s more, being able to convert analog to digital audio will also allow us to use the audio file in many ways, by using it in home movies or picture slideshows, overlaying the converted digital audio, and even adding subtitles to them.
Physical analog audio that is tangible will always reign supreme, but have you ever wondered why most museums or libraries choose to digitize their process and collections? It’s to ensure that future generations will be able to access this information.
This made it possible for us to hear Glenn Miller’s Moonlight Serenade on Spotify today, even if the track was recorded in 1939.