How to Record From Reel to Reel to CD

Reel-to-reel or "open reel" magnetic-tape recorders were the first audiotape machines available to the public. This was before CDs and iPods, before cassettes and eight-tracks. The reel-to-reel recorder became the elite audiophile's showpiece. Even when cassettes arrived, the bigger tape and faster speeds of open-reel recorders kept them at the forefront of stereophonic sound. Those who have boxes of the tapes, either prerecorded albums or homemade recordings of their garage bands, don't need to give up hope of reviving them. Here's how to transfer them to CDs.

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Reel-to-reel recorders once were the height of home audio

Step

Get an analog to digital converter for your computer. The magnetic tape contains analog sound that must be converted to digital signals to be recordable to CDs. You can get a converter online, at computer stores and at audio stores. It will have input jacks for RCA cables from the tape player, a converter box and a USB cable for output.

Step

Get audio recording software. If you are using a Macintosh computer, you can get a low-end package called SoundStudio that can handle most applications. You may also find freeware and shareware applications such as Audacity, which also works on Windows and Linux. The recording software not only records the audio, it lets you reduce tape hiss and other noise factors.

Step

Plan to record to the hard drive first. If you have a lot of reel-to-reel tapes to convert, you may need a separate hard drive you can dedicate to the project. A dedicated HD will not only work better than recording directly to CDs--because it's faster and won't produce lags between input and recording--it can also serve as a permanent archive of your tapes.

Step

Connect the reel-to-reel recorder to the converter and connect the converter to the computer. Open the recording software and create a new file to record to. Start the tape and start the recording software. Don't make noise adjustments here. Increase the recording volume if necessary, but don't turn it up too high or you may get clipping, which will cause dropouts and cracking sounds.

Step

Once the tape has been digitized, use the recording software to clean up the sound. You can add noise filters and graphic equalization in SoundStudio and other programs before transferring the file to a CD.

Step

Use a CD authoring software package such as iTunes or Roxio's Creator to burn a CD. Creator is a good choice because it lets you place the files (songs) in any order you want with appropriate silences in between. It also gives you a readout of how much time you have on your CD for recording.