Gary from Oklahoma City, Ok is having trouble transferring his cassettes to computer using Audacity.  He writes “I am trying to copy a cassette tape to my computer, then to burn it to a CD. However, when I activate record and then play on the cassette player, the music coming through the PC’s speakers is very distorted. I am using Windows 7 and I downloaded the Beta version of Audacity which is version 1.3.14-Beta (Unicode).  Can you help me, please?  I have to tell you that I am very much challenged when it comes to this stuff, but I have 8 cassettes I am to record for a friend.”

Hi. Gary, and thanks for the great question!

There are a couple of possibilities here, and I’m going to start with the one that I think is causing your problem, and then address one “just in case”.

What I think is happening is that you’ve got the volume on your cassette player turned up too loud.  Even if, like me, you like your music to range from “loud” to “eardrum bursting”, when you’re doing this type of transfer, you DON’T want your volume on 11.  Mid-range, somewhere around 5 (if your knob has numbers) is good.

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A good way to test this is to plug some headphones into your cassette player and fiddle with the volume until you’re at a nice, comfortable mid-range listening level, and then leave it set here for when you’re doing your recording.  The reason is that Audacity is designed to pick up all of the sound from a track that it can “hear”, and convert those sounds from analog to digital.  If it’s turned up too loud, then it’s going to be distorted simply because it’s struggling to hear low-level sounds that it knows should be there, but it’s not finding.  And no, before any of you comment, I know that’s an oversimplification, but I’m working to make this understood by everyone.  It’s kind of like playing a song for your mom.  If you have the volume up too high then (if she’s like my mom), she’ll say that all she can hear is “noise”.  Like your mom, you want Audacity to hear the music, not just the “noise”.

My just-in-case answer is to check your microphone volume setting on Audacity itself.  It looks like this:

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Again, just like with your cassette player volume, you want a nice, easy to listen to mid-range volume.  Watch your mic meter (the one above your input setting with the microphone beside it) to make sure that all of your sounds are ranging from fairly low on the scale to fairly high, with the majority of them coming somewhere in the middle.  If your meter bar is staying pegged out most of the time, then you need to bring that puppy down a little, or all that you’re going to hear is “noise” while Audacity struggles to hear the music.

I hope that this helps!

~ Randal Schaffer