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Audio CD Production from Tape -- Personal Notes

  • Introduction
  • Experiences and Plans
  • Hardware
  • Software
  • Links
  • History
  • Footnotes
  • Rev: 01 Nov 2004.


    Update Aug 2003
    This page is obsolete, but since I wrote it I bought an iBook and I've done some tape to iPod transfers using Amadeus II and an iMic. It actually sort of works; a G4 would help. It's still tedious. MacInTouch Reader Report Audio Conversion is an amazing resource on this topic.

    My original motivation for this page was moving my Teaching Company lectures from tape to CD. Nowadays those lectures come out on CD, and for a small fee The Teaching Company will swap older tapes for the CDs (where the CDs exist). My interest now is more in digitizing music tapes.

    Update July 2001
    I was never satisfied with how this worked out. The digitized audio was of quite poor quality; I think the audio board I bought may not be capable of digitizing analogue input well. I also was unimpressed with the MP3 format, and with the quality and reliability of the tools I tested. So, this project is on hold pending better technology.

    A personal notes page for use with my audio tape to CD project. The new car lacks a CD player, so I started out trying to turn my Teaching Company tapes into audio CDs (personal use). Of course the project took a few twists along the way!

    It turns out that this is a bit more "bleeding edge" than I'd realized. The high end SoundBlaster card I bought does a poor job digitizing analog input, in part due to the crummy mini-plug input jack. I explored MP3 compressed audio, but I learned that there's a vast difference between listening to MP3 files and creating them. Creating MP3s requires encoders, and the music industry would prefer end users not do encoders. Litigation is omnipresent.

    Nonetheless, my experiences may be of some use. Here they are.

    Experiences and Plans

    Each Teaching Company  lecture ranges from 34 to 44 minutes; there are two lectures to one 90 minute tape. Since a standard audio-CD holds only 74 minutes (80 minute CDs are available, however, and they work in most new players) of sound, it's a tough fit. The audio input from my tape deck is digitized by the SoundBlaster card under the control of MusicMatch Jukebox and stored as WAV files or MP3 (see below).

    I've used Sound Forge XP on the WAV files to speed up the voice by 3-8% while maintaining tone [1] so that I can get two lectures on one CD. Some of these lecturers speak pretty quickly to being with, so even though the effect is small they do seem hurried.

    If I were to stick with audio CDs I'd repeat the process for all 72 or so lectures, creating perhaps 40CDs. That's a lot of CDs, and a lot of time spent trying to get the talks to fit.

    After some reflection I've decided to instead switch to MP3 format [3] using 96 kbps sampling rates and mono sound (decent quality music requires 128 kbps sampling, CD quality requires 256 kbps); a 40 minute 400MB WAV file then becomes a 40 minute 27MB MP3 file. Using this format I will need 1-2 CDs for the entire series of 72 lectures (not only are the files much smaller, but there's also less wasted space per CD). I can put the MP3 files onto a CD, but they cannot be played in standard CD players -- only the still rare MP3 CD players. So I'll use my portable computer when I'm in the car to play the lectures using Power Inverters and a mini-stereo system for output. In future I hope to replace the car CD player with an MP3/Audio CD player.

    Misc Notes


    Plextor PlexWriter 12-10-32A.

    SoundBlaster Live! Platinum

    (See PC Audio Review - Sound Blaster Live! Review for a very comprehensive look at this product.)

    This was a mistake.

    It's quite complex to set-up, and the substantial manual only scratches the surface. Not to mention that tech support and I couldn't get the Live! Drive line 2 input to work, and that tech support put me on indefinite hold just before they were to give me an RMA number. Quality control was obviously poor -- some incomplete welds.

    Don't buy this card.

    Lastly for this project the LiveDrive! is not all that useful -- so a much less costly SoundBlaster Live! card would work just as well. Be careful with inserting connecting and power cables -- some of the connectors on my card were not well mounted. It would be easy to tear them off. The default installation puts over 100MB of files on your hard drive, most of which are worthless or are disk-hogging demonstrations. On startup I had IRQ conflicts related to SB16 emulation, and worse problems with other conflicts [2].  The uninstaller appears to allow selective removal of the SB16 emulation, but in the process of removing this and some other files I deleted my speaker definitions, producing monophone output. In fact the uninstaller still leaves the SB16 drivers in place [2].

    I had to do a full uninstall, then selectively installed only AudioHQ, Diagnostics, and Surround Mixer -- 22 MB or so. This worked better, but now I'm missing my automatic update function. Don't bother changing the default directory -- there's so much installed in the Creative Folder (which is not movable) that you might as well stay with it. The rest of the SoundBlaster software is of little interest to me -- the SoundForge application is much better for recording for example. I did download and install updated drivers from the Creative web site.

    I get an MSDTCW illegal operation errror on startup. MSDTCW -start is a Microsoft Transaction Server registry entry, related to Microft's web servers (IIS 4 and PWS 4.0). You can follow these directions to remove it, but this appears to mess up IIS 4 control via the Microsoft Control Console. The problem is SB16 emulation, which you must disable fully (see [2] for all details, below).

    The Live!Drive conectors that look like old-fashioned analog RCA audio jacks are not. They are RCA jacks, but the i/o is purely digital - "Sony Philips Digital Interconnect Format" to be precise. An RCA splitter will not (ha, ha) allow them to communicate with archaic audio tape decks. They are for digital speaker output or digital input from DVD, advanced CD players, etc.

    The lack of analog RCA input jacks is a serious deficit. Analog input has to go through the mini-plug DIN jack. I believe this is an inferior interface, prone to noise. I hear a deep hum when recording, I think it's noise related to this input. As long as I'm whining, I believe Mac's support analog RCA input.

    The application CD is weaker than it looks, it includes Creative Digital Audio Center and Sound Forge XP. The Audio Center is a weaker version of MusicMatch Jukebox without the ability to burn a CD! Sound Forge XP cannot be registered (invalid serial number) and MP3 creation beyond a few freebies requires purchasing the MP3 module.

    Other Sound Cards

    If I were to do this again, I'd buy a much less fancy SoundBlaster card for about $60 or so. If I wanted to spend money, better choices for my purposes could include:

    Arkon SoundFeeder & Power Inverters

    Tripp-Lite power inverters

    I bought the 140W single outlet and 200W double outlet inverters. Tripp-lite's web site documentation is pathetic, but the documentation accompanying the devices is quite good. They appear to be well made and elegant devices that will more than suffice.

    Akron SoundFeeder - Worthless

    The whole point of this exercise is to be able to play my Teaching Company tapes while traveling in a car that has a CD Player/FM stereo without an input jack. Once I realized how awkard it was going to be to make 40 or so CDs, I had to look for solutions that would either work with the old cassette tapes or allow me to use MP3 versions (1-2 CDs instead of 40). MP3 players for cars are still hard to find or very expensive, so I temporized by looking for a device that will send sound to my car stereo via FM broadcasting (I'm not looking for high fidelity hear!).

    Unfortunately, the only one I could find is the Arkon SoundFeeder and it really doesn't work. It costs about $20 to buy, and perhaps $5 to manufacture. It has the remarkable ability to turn a modern car stereo into a very feeble 1967 AM transistor radio. FCC regulations limit the broadcast ability so severely that one might as well be tuning in to Radio Moscow. Even in rural areas the output was terrible. Don't bother.

    SONY Stereo Cassette Deck TC-RX410

    It's about 16 years old, I took it off the stereo. I'm just using the deck for now, I'm not using the receiver/amplifier.




    Other Hardware

    For discussion about my hard drive and machine see my Home Video Editing page.




    This defeats me. As ugly and impenetrable as it is, the Windows system mixer (click on sound icon in task area) seems to work reliable. When I use my RealAudio mixer I'm not quite sure what I'm recording from, and sometimes my software doesn't seem to know either!

    Sound manipulation

    One of the key requirements for recording from a tape is being able to time-limit the recording -- otherwise you can record MB of empty input! Only Sound Forge XP seems to do this, it's really key for this type of project. With SoundForge I records as WAV using a time-limited input, delete any blank areas, then save as MP3.

    Not recommended

    Others - no personal experience


    Tutorials and Reference




    [1] I do this with the WAV files; if I were working on MP3 I'd be cycling through repeated lossy compressions. Also the MP3 compression step takes a long time (15-20 minutes) on my Celeron 450MHz desktop.
    [2] Uninstalling SoundBlaster removed this Error message and also allowed the Microsoft Management Console to work correctly. I reinstalled the device drivers, via trial and error I isolated the conflict to the Creative SB 16 emulation drivers which use CTSYN.VXD and MMDEVLDR.VXD. Using the Control Panel:System:Device Manager:Miscellaneous Devices:Creative SB16 Emulation I clicked properties and then "Disable in this hardware profile". This eliminated the conflict. BTW, removing this driver does not work, it will be reinstalled on startup. One might also experiment with changing the default resource allocations.

    Error message:
    MSDTCW .. This program has performed an illegal operation ...
    MSDTCW caused an invalid page fault in
    module <unknown> at 0000:efefefef.
    EAX=818208e0 CS=0167 EIP=efefefef EFLGS=00010202
    EBX=000000ef SS=016f ESP=00dfff0c EBP=efefefef
    ECX=c1787a30 DS=016f ESI=00416c8c FS=315f
    EDX=bffc9490 ES=016f EDI=efefefef GS=0000
    Bytes at CS:EIP:

    Stack dump:
    7f8418cc 00416c8c 00dfff6c c17879d0 7f84186b 00000000 bff850cf 00416c8c c17879d0 000000c0 00000000 00000001 00000000 00000000 00000001 81822dfc 

    [3] The Franhoffer (sp?) Institute has patents on some of the code used in MP3 encoders. Litigation is reducing the utility of this format. Also the quality of MP3 encoding varies enormously, though voice is not a great challenge.

    Given the legal issues, I suspect some other format will replace MP3.

    Metadata - Keywords

    Since Google does not use indexing information stored in meta tags, I've reproduced some of the meta tags here to facilitate indexing.

    <meta name="author" content="John G. Faughnan">
    <meta name="keywords" content="audio tape, burning CD, music, audio CD, reference, linksjfaughnan,jgfaughnan,.en-us,.us,english">

    Author: John G. Faughnan.  The views and opinions expressed in this page are strictly those of the page author. Pages are updated on an irregular schedule; suggestions/fixes are welcome but they may take weeks to years to be incorporated. Anyone may freely link to anything on this site and print any page; no permission is needed for citing, linking,  printing, or distributing printed copies.