Converting and Digitizing Audio Cassettes to MP3

Equipment checklist for transferring audio tapes to your computer

Like magnetic videotape, the material used in old audio cassette tapes deteriorates over time. This is commonly known as Sticky Shed Syndrome (SSS). When this happens, the metal oxide layer (containing the audio recording) gradually falls off from the backing material. This is normally because of moisture ingression, which gradually weakens the binder used to adhere to the magnetic particles.

With this in mind, it's imperative that you convert any valuable recorded audio to digital that may still be on your old cassettes as soon as possible, before the degradation process damages it beyond recovery.

Basic Equipment for Transferring Audio Cassettes to Your Computer

Even though your music library may be mostly in a digital form, such as audio CDs, ripped CD tracks, and content downloaded or streamed, you may have old recordings that are rare and need to be transferred. To get this music (or any other type of audio) onto your computer's hard drive or another type of storage solution, you need to digitize the recorded analog sound.

This may sound like a daunting task and not worth the bother, but it's more straightforward than it sounds. However, before you dive into transferring your tapes to a digital audio format like MP3, it's wise to first read up on all the things you need before you start.

Broken audio cassette tape
PS Photography / Getty Images

Audio Cassette Player/Recorder

You need a tape-playing device that's in good working order to play your old music cassettes. This may be part of a home stereo system, a portable cassette/radio (Boombox), or a standalone device like a Sony Walkman.

To record the analog sound, the device you're going to use needs an audio output connection. This is usually provided via two RCA outputs (red and white phono connectors) or a 1/8" (3.5 mm) stereo mini-jack that's often used for headphones.

Computer With Soundcard Connections

Most computers these days have either a Line In or microphone connection to capture external analog sound and encode it digitally. If your computer's soundcard has a Line In jack connection (usually colored blue), use this. If you don't have this option, use a microphone input connection (colored pink).

Good Quality Audio Leads

To keep electrical interference to a minimum while transferring your music, it's a good idea to use good quality audio cables, so the digitized sound is as clean as possible. Before purchasing a cable, check the type of connections needed to hook up the cassette player to your computer's soundcard. Ideally, choose shielded cables with gold-plated connections, and use oxygen-free copper (OFC) wiring:

  • Stereo 3.5 mm mini-jack (male) to 2 x RCA phono plugs.
  • Stereo 3.5 mm mini-jack (male) at both ends.


Many computer operating systems have a basic built-in software program for recording analog sound via the line-in or microphone inputs. This is fine for quickly capturing audio, but if you want to have the scope to perform audio editing tasks such as removing tape hiss, cleaning up pops/clicks, splitting the captured audio into individual tracks, exporting to different audio formats, and more, consider using a dedicated audio editing software program.

Quite a few are free to download, such as the popular open-source Audacity application, available for a range of operating systems.

Before you download and use Audacity, be sure to review its privacy policy to ensure you're comfortable with its terms.

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