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Transferring Cassettes to CD with mastering
Old 7th February 2009
Here for the gear
๐ŸŽง 10 years
Transferring Cassettes to CD with mastering

So, I've just been assigned to a project a little outside of my expertise. My boss has asked me to transfer some old tapes to CD, but he also wants me to "master" the audio for CD. I know a bit about mastering, and I know there are endless posts about mastering in general. What I'm looking for are some tips to sweeten this audio before bouncing to disk and putting it on CD.

This is what I've done so far...

I've loaded the audio into a protools session through an aux track set to +6dB before recording it to separate stereo tracks (one for each cassette). The tapes are all from the same collection, so they have very low but consistent levels. This setting has the audio peaking between -6 and -3 and has not created a noticeable increase in noise.

I'm planning on doing some mild compression (by no means looking for the top 40s square waveform press of most modern mastering). I also plan on trying to clean up some of the tape noise with "noise-x" or a similar plugin. I'd like some tips for balancing the stereo image which seems to have some drasticly dead spots on one side or the other. I'd also like some ideas for at least giving the impression that the low and high frequencies lost on cassett are back on CD (maybe some tricky EQ work).

Any ideas would be very much appreciated.

Old 7th February 2009
Gear Maniac
๐ŸŽง 10 years
please tell us more about the nature of the recorded material. is it music...voice only...what is the content? this will have so very much to do with the voodoo you do
Old 7th February 2009 | Show parent
Lives for gear
finetuner's Avatar
๐ŸŽง 10 years
Welcome JP,
One of the first things that comes to my mind, regarding cassette transfers, is optimal azimuth.
Were you able to check and adjust if necessary during the transfers ?
Be keen on this, preferably before any processing.

Since the transfers are done already, at least check for out-of-bounds phase shift between L&R in your computer. Having said that, don't expect rock steady phase coherence from cassettes anyway...

The dead spots in the stereo image; You mean like drop outs ?
This is tricky and can be very laborious. For short drop outs, you'll need restoration software and still prepare for hand craft. This can not be done automatically (afaik).
Longer drop outs (faint highs - not damaged) can sometimes be corrected with eq. Don't expect to be lucky with automatic tools here either.
For really damaged parts, editing is the only solution.

One step back; this is also something to be aware of during transfer.
If you noticed a lot of tape dirt while cleaning the heads between tapes (as i hope you did), then you may consider going back and clean after each track. Not so common for cassettes though.

For 'lost frequencies' there are some sonic enhancers but be sure to try everything you can with eq first.
Personally, i never heard a high frequency exciter that sounded sweet. But thats inherent i guess.
For lows, Waves renaissance bass is not that bad when applied very carefully.

Good luck,
Old 8th February 2009 | Show parent
Lives for gear
wado1942's Avatar
๐ŸŽง 10 years
In my experience, it's hard to restore material from cassette. It takes a DANG good deck with lots of adjustment ability. You can't usually manipulate the signal much without a lot of tape artifacts rearing their ugly heads. The most important things are to be certain of your noise reduction settings. Make sure everything is balanced and working in context with L and R channels as well as one bit of material to the next. If you use EQ, try to cut offending frequencies and try not to bring up frequencies that aren't there. If you need compression, just a little to smooth out things a bit is usually the way to go. If it's like a lot of the material I get to be restored, you MAY need to use a single ended noise reduction scheme.
Old 9th February 2009 | Show parent
Here for the gear
๐ŸŽง 10 years
Originally Posted by finetuner โžก๏ธ
Welcome JP,
One of the first things that comes to my mind, regarding cassette transfers, is optimal azimuth.
Were you able to check and adjust if necessary during the transfers ?
Be keen on this, preferably before any processing.
Not at all. I've now read up on this and I'll check it out. I'm hoping all is fine since I'm about 5 hours through an 8 hour transfer using a room that also has to do loads and laybacks all day.

The material is a collection of A&M records music from about a 40 year period. A lot of it is orchestral and sounds like it was recorded live with a spaced pair. There is also some R&B, Jazz, Rock/Pop, etc. A little of everything.

I don't think there are actual drop outs because the audio isn't completely absent; it just seems too low, unbalanced. This is only on the early orchestral records. (The original recordings of this stuff was probably in the 40's or 50's)

To answer wado1942's question, our tape deck doesn't have much at all that can be adjusted. Honestly, I doubt that it has been used in the past 10 years. When I first opened the tape door, it let out a gasp like and ancient tomb being excavated. (I did clean the deck before starting the transfer)

Definitely won't do much adding with EQ, never do. Although, I was thinking of a shelf across the lows (or perhaps a rounded bump around 200-250 -- kind of the way you eq for small speakers that can't accurately represent the low end), since most of the tape noise doesn't live down there. I think we do have the renaissance bass plug in some of our rooms though, so I'll give that a try too.

Thanks guys, this will definitely get me started.
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