Converting Music & Media

Converting Music & Media: a reader asks…

I need some help from you. I have an old National Panasonic cassette player with line in, audio tape and Radio options. l also have a number of CD and DVDs with good old music. Can I use old disc drivers with my table top computer? Also, how can I interface my computer with the cassette player to recover taped music? And lastly, how about VHS tapes?

Let’s start with your CD collection. If your desktop computer has a CD/DVD drive, then you should be able to pop a CD or DVD in and play them. Fyi, CDs and DVDs are already in digital format, so you needn’t worry about audio fidelity degradation. To import a commercial music or other audio CD to your computer, you’ll need a music app that includes the ability to “rip” or import music from a CD. Music apps such as iTunes or WinAmp would do the job nicely.

recordable-cd-dvd-and-thumbdrive-image-from-shutterstock

Some personally ‘burned’ CDs are created simply to store files on them and formatted the same as a thumbdrive or other external drive. You can copy those files easily using your computer’s File Explorer app (Finder on Mac), no other software needed.

In the case of DVDs, it depends on if they are commercial or personal. Commercial DVDs usually contain ‘protected content’ like movies and TV shows that include copyright protection, so they can’t be casually copied. There are programs that can sometimes break that protection, but I can’t recommend you try to convert commercial media to a format that could then be resold or distributed – that would be illegal.

Personal DVDs can be data DVDs which are similar to a thumbdrive in that you can read and copy files from them the same as you would with a thumbdrive. Load the DVD and open your computer’s File Explorer app (Finder on Mac), and you should be able to see the files and copy them to your computer.

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If you have a personal DVD that contains video or audio, they likely hold movies or music that may be playable on your computer using an app such as WinDVD Pro or the free VLC Media Player. If you would like to import and convert them to a standard video format (such as .mp3) that’s playable on any computer, then you’d need an app like WinX DVD Ripper or Handbrake.

For the cassette player, it should have a Line Out port, or a headphone port that fits a 3.5mm stereo plug. You would need a cable that has that plug on one end. The other end depends on your desktop computer, whatever Line In port(s) your computer has determines what type of cable you use. It could be twin RCA ports or a 3.5mm stereo line-in port.

Please note that the audio coming from a Line Out port is stereo and is analog (versus digital). So you’ll need an app on your computer to import the analog audio and convert it to digital. Such as the free Audacity software.

Also note that analog audio sources such as your cassette tapes can degrade over time. Audio fidelity will degrade significantly, depending on how the tapes were stored and how often they were used. For tapes that have sat unplayed for a long time, I’d suggest you run them through the player once before you attempt to record the audio from the tapes, since tape can stick and cause audio blips. Same for the VHS tapes below.

Some older cassette players don’t feature stereo music and only play single channel audio (mono). However, the audio on a cassette tape can be either stereo or mono. If you want to capture stereo audio, you should be using the Line Out or stereo headphone port on your stereo player, and the line-in port on your computer. If your computer doesn’t have a line in port, you may need an audio adapter/converter, like this one.

Lastly, if you want to convert VHS tapes to a digital format, you’ll need a VHS player with output ports that match whatever input ports you have or can add to your computer. I should mention that converting video to digital is a CPU-intensive effort – your computer should be fairly powerful.

If your computer doesn’t already have video input ports, you can add an external device such as the Dazzle DVD Record HD, which includes the video editing software you’ll need to trim the video and output it to a digital format you can use (such as .mp4).

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