Introduction: How to Record Cassette Tapes
Cassettes are an old medium for recording things such as music, but hi-fi enthusiasts like myself still record to them to the sound quality and the fun experience that recording them is. In this Instructable I will show how to record music on to a cassette tape with use of a hi-fi receiver and a tape deck. This will also go over tape bias for different types of cassettes as well as Dolby noise reduction and receiver setup.
Step 1: Getting the Right Tape
When recoding music, it's best to record on blank tapes. You can find tapes at places like hardware stores or thrift stores, or buy them in bulk online. I bought the two chrome tapes still wrapped in plastic at my local hardware store and the other at a thrift store.
There are four types of cassette tapes. They are:
Type I (shown): Standard ferric oxide magnetic tapes, called Type I, normal bias, or ferric tapes, etc.
Type II (shown): made of chromium dioxide formula, called Type II, high bias, or chrome tapes. These record better highs, and sound generally better than Type I tapes.
Type III: FeCr formulation. These tapes combined the formulas for Type I and Type II as an experiment to make the ultimate tape, combining the bass response of the I and the highs of the II, these were unpopular and are generally rare.
Type IV: Known as metal tapes, they used a direct metal formulation instead of oxide particles. By far the best sound quality, but are generally more expensive than Type I or II.
How a deck tells the tape apart for playing is the notches on the top (shown above). Chrome tapes have extra notches next to the write-protect tabs.
Step 2: Getting the Tools and Materials
Tools required for this method:
1. A tape deck
2. A receiver (for playback) with speakers
3. A device to record from
4. RCA audio cables
5. Power, a strip cord is recommend
Note: Some receivers, such as mine, have outlets in the back for AC power. These can be used to power your audio equipment, as shown above. I have my tape deck and turntable plugged in, and everything runs fine.
Step 3: Setup
Make sure power is being sent to everything you have set up, the deck, receiver, etc. Then, take the RCA cables and connect the "out" or "playback" ports on the tape deck to one of the "in" ports on the receiver. This will make it so the deck send sound through the speakers connected to the receiver. You can test this setup with something like a CD player or iPod with the proper cables. Then, plug your preferred device into the "in" or "record" ports on the tape deck. Some receiver have an "out" jack for recording with tapes decks, and if yours has this then connect this to the tape deck using RCA cables. Make sure speakers are plugged in to the designated ports on your receiver.
Step 4: Tape Bias
Tape bias changes how the sound is sent to the tape. With incorrect bias, a tape will sound muddy and poor. Shown is a diagram for tape bias for Onkyo tape decks, like the one I use to record. Depending on your deck, try and find a guide for bias if your deck has a knob for it.
For Type I tapes, bias does not need to be changed whatsoever and shouldn't be.
For Type II tapes, these are called "high bias" and bias should be adjusted so.
For Type IV, bias should also be set to "high bias" and adjusted from there.
Step 5: Noise Reduction
A crucial point in recording is the use of Dolby Noise Reduction (NR). Noise reduction reduces background noise, the hiss of the magnetic tape itself. Most commercial recordings use Dolby type B noise reduction. Newer decks will have a switch for NR with a choice between type B and type C. Older decks that just say "Dolby Noise Reduction" will have type B only. Rarely, some high-end decks will have an option for Dolby S NR which is by far the best, but as said incredibly rare. For recording, I personally recommend Dolby C, as it sounds the best to my ears. Set your desired noise reduction before recording your tape.
Step 6: Recording
Now to recording. When you have a tape to record, make sure first that the write-protect tabs are present or the holes are covered, as this allows you to record to a tape. Shown above are three cassettes, a Type I with the tabs pushed in, a Type II with the tabs present, and a Type I with the holes taped over.
First, turn on your tape deck and receiver and make what you intend to record is plugged in to the deck. If you have the option, such as shown, activate the tape deck channel over the desired channel you want to record. I have mine set to the analog ports for the CD section, which is where I have my iPod plugged in.
Then, press the record button with a tape in and play your music. Do not press play on your deck. Adjust the volume on your tape deck for the best level of sound if able.
When everything is set, noise reduction, bias, and volume, reset your music and pause it. Press the record button if the record light isn't on, and press the play button to start the tape. Wait a second or two for the tape to get on the magnetic portion, and play your music. The music is now being recorded. Do not press anything else on your tape or receiver, and listen to what you're recording until it reaches the end of the tape. When the end of side one is reached, flip the tape and record more on side two.
Step 7: Playback
With your receiver still set to your tape deck, flip your cassette and play it from the beginning. Note the lack of a record light (shown above). You should hear your music coming from the tape!
You can play your cassette in a hi-fi setup with a tape deck, or listen to it on the go with a player like a Walkman (shown). On mobile players, however, there typically isn't automatic tape detection, so try to find a switch to set it to the correct tape type (shown). If everything was recorded correctly, your tape is finished.
Print some small album art to put on the sleeve, write down the track list, put a label on both sides of your tape, push in the write-protect tabs and your cassette is complete!
Shown above is a cassette I recorded off of two vinyl record, cassettes can record iPods, records, CD's and more. The sound quality of them, in my experience, is quite good compared to CD's and records and being able to play them on the go without risking skipping and damage is very convenient.