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Transfer your PC MP3s and audio to cassette tape

January 1, 2007

in All Articles,Audio

Podcasting, shmodcasting. What if you don’t have an MP3 player welded to your side? What if your car only has a cassette deck, no CD-player, and you’ve just gotta listen to your music and podcast collection?

It’s easy to convert PC sound to cassette tape, though you’ll need some special equipment. The non-Andy-recommended way (we’ll call this “the option you really shouldn’t do”) is the same way I used as a child, when I liked recording TV commercials onto my tape player for later listening (further proof Madison Avenue targets children with laser precision). Just hold a tape recorder up to the TV speaker, and press record.

This option is bad because you’re adding extra distortion to your recording. Sure, it’s easy, but it’s no fun putting up with extra ambient noise, and squeaks and clicks from the tape mechanism. The recording also sounds really faded and dull.

Equip yourself

If you have an MP3, podcast, or other PC sound file, and want to convert to tape, you’ll need a few things:

Find a computer with speaker outputs. Crack open the never-used PC instruction book, or follow your speaker cable to where it plugs in to your computer. Look for plugs labeled “Speaker”, “SPK”, “LIN OUT”, or simply a picture of headphones.

Get a tape recorder with a microphone-input plug. This will be labeled “Microphone”, “MIC IN”, “REC”, or just a picture of a microphone. You can find tape recorders at your local second-hand store for cheap, though they still sell these at Meijer, Target and similar outlets, starting around $15.

Find a “male to male stereo audio cable“. It must be stereo, it must be long enough to reach from one device to the other, and the plug ends must fit the corresponding female plugs of your PC and tape recorder. The most common audio plug size for PCs is 3.5mm (1/8-inch). See your local Radio Shack for the cable, as well as converters if you need to change the plug size. A six-foot cable will run about $5.

You’ve got the equipment. The rest of the work is easier than finding spam email in your Inbox: Plug one end of the cable into your computer’s “Speaker” jack, and the other into the tape recorder’s “Microphone” jack. Press record on the tape player, then have your PC play your MP3s, podcast, or music. You’ll be making a recording with no outside interference, and the recorded sound quality on tape should sound almost as good as the original.

Depending on your equipment, you might not hear your music as you record. If so, keep an eye on your PC playback timer so you know when to press “Stop” on your recorder.

If your final recording is silent, or complete static, check your cabling. If it’s too quiet, or loud and distorted, check volume on playback and recording: PC and tape recorder volume controls should both be at the halfway mark or less.

It’s not fancy. It’s lower-tech than a ball-point pen. But this technique will allow you to play MP3s, podcasts and other computer sound files on a tape cassette.

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