Notes on RADD’s analog audio

RADD can currently digitize audio from audio cassettes, microcassettes, and vinyl records (33 and 45 rpm; if we run into 78s we’ll have to buy more equipment). We have a reel-to-reel player awaiting cleaning and overhaul also. The playback equipment is nothing special, though microcassette recorders are starting to be difficult to buy new these days, so check your favorite auction website or ask your favorite social scientist.

We found ourselves buying a fair few audio adapters; we recommend setting a hundred dollars or so of budget aside for cables and adapters generally. The basic analog audio jack setup is two RCA jacks (one red, one white) into which a single cable with two plugs (again, one red and one white) fits. (If you have a video RCA cable with red, white, and yellow plugs, it will work as well.) Microcassette players and some other audio players you’ll run into won’t have RCA jacks, though, so you’ll have to buy an RCA adapter for whatever audio-out jack they do have.

What makes the magic happen is this TASCAM USB audio interface and mixer. This gadget is what collects the sound from the analog playback equipment and sends it to the computer over a USB cable for capture.

The only problem we have with it is that it only has one set of audio-in jacks! Forcing RADDers to plug and unplug players from the TASCAM unit is unreasonable, as well as risky to the equipment. We solved this problem by buying an audio switch so that RADDers can switch to any player at the push of a button. We are labeling buttons with our handy label-maker:

Audio switch

We installed free and open-source Audacity software for audio capture and editing. Audacity is the exception to the rule about open-source software being utterly unusable. Though Audacity is very powerful, we find it fairly simple to use for simple purposes. It remembers settings between uses, which means RADDers generally don’t have to worry about them because we set them according to best practices in audio capture: 96000Hz Project Rate (as Audacity calls it) and save as 16-bit AIFF or WAV (which our instructions tell RADDers how to do).

Audacity has dozens of “effects” it can perform on digital audio. The one we use most often is “Truncate Silence.” Have an audio cassette that’s 90 minutes long, all but 10 minutes of which is silence? Truncate Silence fixes it!

If you’re new to this, you are most likely to err in choosing the file format. Walk away from the mp3 setting! MP3 is a “lossy” audio format not suitable for preservation. AIFF or WAV is what you want. If you need an mp3 also, save out another copy of the file.

We hope to discuss setting audio levels in another post.