FEBRUARY 2009 IN
RICK ASTER’S WORLD

Saving the Audio Cassettes

I’m converting my audio cassettes to CDs — before it’s too late.

I knew this day would come. Tape doesn’t last forever, so someday I would have to convert my tapes to another format.

For a few of my audio cassettes, it is too late. The tape inside the cassette has sustained too much damage to bother trying to get it to play. This happens fastest when the adhesive that sticks the magnetic particles to the plastic film is the wrong mix, and absorbs too much water out of the air over the years, but it would happen eventually to all tapes. At least a third of my cassettes show some damage, such as squeaking when they play back because the edge of the tape has expanded, but for the most part, they still provide music-quality playback.

The felt pad in a few cassettes has come loose, and I have to stick it back on with poster tape to play the cassette correctly. If the cassette sounds like it’s inside a cardboard box when you play it, that’s probably the problem.

I’m converting my music cassettes to CDs. It seems slightly frivolous to be making a further investment in the audio CD format at this point, when I could choose any format, but on the other hand, the blank CDs cost only about 12 cents each, so it’s not exactly a big commitment. The time involved in transferring the audio to the computer, separating the tracks, and verifying the results is a bigger investment. But still, it’s a matter of spending time listening to music, which is what I was hoping to do with this music anyway, right?

Usually the cassette’s J-card, folded up, fits inside the CD jewel case. It looks strange to see a J-card in a jewel box, but you get used to it.

For those who saved cassettes from the cassette era (did it really end just six years ago?) but did not save a cassette player, Alesis now offers a cassette deck with a USB connection, so you can plug it directly into the computer. If you have to buy a cassette deck at this point, there is not much point in buying one that doesn’t have some kind of digital interface.

After I finish my audio cassettes, I’m going to salvage what I can of all my other tapes. Then it’s the phonograph records. I’m not just bringing my musical life into the theoretically timeless digital world. I’m also making everything smaller. When I moved into my house, carrying in a pile of LPs heavier than I am, I swore I would replace the LPs before the next time I moved. I bought CDs to replace a quarter of the LPs. I plan to play the rest of them into the computer over the course of the rest of this year. I’ll free up two large shelves that contain LPs. The replacement CDs will also take up two shelves, but smaller shelves, so I’ll free up some high-value space in my living room.

By the time I’m done with that, it may be time to convert my CDs to some new, smaller format, but since they’re already digital, that will be a much quicker process. The more difficult part is the part I’m doing now, converting analog to digital.


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