Ion drives USB deck to digitise cassettes
USB LP decks are well known, but they can't help you digitise all those old cassettes you've got stuck in a box in the loft - or even on your living-room shelves. This gizmo can, though: a USB-connected tape deck.
Ion's Tape2PC: tune in to your old tapes
Made by Ion, the company behind the USB turntables, the Tape2PC is a dual-cassette unit, with tape-to-tape dubbing. In addition to a USB port there are four RCA stereo jacks on the back so you can hook it into you hi-fi stack to play tapes through your amp or record from other sources.
The gadget comes with Audacity, the open source sound editing application, in both Mac and PC forms, and the Windows-only EZ Tape Converter, which not only encodes the tape but also segments recordings into songs before dropping them into your iTunes library.
To aid encoding, the Tape2PC has an LED record level control, and you can switch between regular, chrome-dioxide and metal tapes. Heck, there's even an old-style mechanical tape counter.
The Tape2PC is available in the US from a variety of retailers. In the UK, you can buy it through Firebox for £100.
No doubt this will double the amount of email from Maplin, who already seem to consider the USB turntable (and the external hard disk du jour) as the ideal purchase for anyone - and even claimed it was a special offer when it wasn't.
And don't get me started on the Dixonisation of their sales approach in-store...
Here's why Audacity .....
Audacity is used because it is Open Source (GPL) and therefore cross-platform. It works on Windows, Mac, Linux, Solaris and BSD -- all from one tar.gz file. This simplifies the logistics (you don't need to put umpteen different pre-compiled binaries on the CD, just the Source Code tarball) -and- the technical support (it looks and works the same way on every OS). For automated track-splitting on non-Windows platforms, you should investigate Gramofile ( http://www.opensourcepartners.nl/~costar/gramofile/ ) -- and don't be put off by the thought that it hasn't changed much in years (nice to run something with a version number past 1.0 occasionally!). But it's actually not that hard to do track-splitting manually in Audacity, as long as you've a fast processor and plenty of RAM.
Many PCs don't seem to have an analogue line input anymore, just the (low impedance, high-sensitivity and -- the real show-stopper -- mono) mic input and a headphone/speaker output. At any rate, even if you do have a line-in port, the sound quality from a sound card built into the motherboard will suffer because the A-to-D converter is sharing a power supply with the noisy computer, and is highly sensitive to noise carried on the power supply lines; and because noise can also be picked up by inductive and capacitive coupling from the various high-frequency signals on the motherboard. A PCI sound card might well have some extra filtering to guard against this, but will still never be perfect. An external A-D converter with its own power supply, remote from the digital circuitry, should theoretically have the best noise immunity. (Of course, if they build it with lousy components, it will still sound lousy.)
Strictly speaking, you don't even need an RIAA preamp for vinyl records. If you've a mixer with high-sensitivity, high-impedance inputs and tone controls on each channel, you just need to boost the bass and cut the treble. This is actually how I've done my most recent analogue rips.
I think one of the later minidisc player/records can output a digital file.
It is much easier for me to transfer my audio cassettes to MD then MD to PC!