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Recording an analog tape deck into pro tools session

Member for

21 years
Hey everyone. My dad was asking me if theres a way to get his tapes from way back when, and put them into a protools session so he could mess with them and put them onto CD cause there starting to age. I tried going from the headphone of the tape deck into the input 1 of the digi002 but it was distorted and waving in and out. So i was just wondering if theres a way to do this through the rca or spdif or anyway for that matters as well as all the required setting in protools to make this work. thanks for your time everyone. -Ron


Member for

16 years 6 months

moonbaby Mon, 10/16/2006 - 06:48
What you'll need to do is run the RCA line outs from the analog tape deck to the Digi via whatever analog ins the Digi has. Does each input channel on the Digi have 1/4" LINE LEVEL analog inputs? That's what you need to plug into. Your problem is that the tapedeck's headphones jack is overloading the input on the Digi...I am not familiar with the input configuration of the Digi, but you will need to run the deck into either TWO "mono" channels: the left output (white) to an input panned to the left, the right out (red) to a channel panned to the....right. Or a "stereo" input with "Left" and "Right" inputs will do it. Either way, set the sensitivity (Gain) on the input channels at a LOW setting so that you aren't overdriving the input channels.

Member for

17 years 2 months

JoeH Mon, 10/16/2006 - 09:19
You may also need to have the tapes "baked" if they're sticky and make noise, or wont play without stopping or gunking up the tape path.

A couple of caveats first, before even putting them on the machine: If you have the machine they were recorded onto in the first place, great! But otherwise, there's playback calibration issues to contend with as well.

Before doing anything with the tapes, clean and thoroughly demagnetize the tape path FIRST. (Old machines - esp prosumer machines - are oftenbadly maintained. There's always a chance you could be erasing precious high end as soon as you put them up for playback.)

Hopefully, your tapes will have some alignment tones at the front to help you set up the machine for optimum playback quality. Azimuth (head tilt) is as critical and important as is EQ, clean heads and demagnetizing. Ideally, you'll have a 1k tone printed on the tapes for level, a couple of HF tones (10k or 15K) for azimuth and EQ, and some lower tones (100, 80hz, etc.) for low end EQ and so on.

If there are enough tapes to warrant it, you may be better off sending them to a professional house to have them transferred to digital. Those guys take care of ALL of that stuff for you, and it may be better in the long run, if all you REALLY want to do is work on the actual music and not become analog tape techs.

One thing we always do with any older tapes is to GENTLY wind them through a few times; usually without threading them in the tape path (again, best to let a pro do this if you're not savvy or experienced enough) and hold a soft cloth on the tape surface itself, removing dust, gunk, etc. (This is tedious and takes a lot of time and patience, but it'll show you the condition of your tape - lots of shedding means potential trouble and the need for baking. It will also show you were any bad or faulty splices are in the tape, etc.) If you're new at this, DO NOT do it with critical tapes; practice on something old and useless first. Don't use the high-torque setting on the machine, either (if there IS one) could hurt your fingers or worse- damage the tape itself if you mess up.

Assuming you've gotten it all done and transferred, make sure you do a slow-wind (real time playback) and store the tape tails-out, so that the next time you ever work on it, the tape will be smoothly packed on the reel, and any print-through will be an echo (not a pre-echo)

But even if your'e doing this for fun - and to help your dad - you may learn a few things and enjoy yourselves by doing it together.

Good luck and happy time-travelling! 8-)

Member for

16 years 6 months

moonbaby Tue, 10/17/2006 - 07:07
He didn't say whether these tapes were cassettes or reels, and none of us asked. I think that the assumption was due to the statement that the tapes were," from way back when", from his dad. Figuring that the poster is probably 18+ years old, "dad" would be 40+ years old, born around the middle 60s. Say the tapes were recorded by "dad's" band, around 1982.
Chances are, the tapes are on a reel of some sort. Cassettes from that era were not really a well-respected medium for the serious band back then, more for just home entertainment. But, who knows....we need clarification on that from tempest...

Member for

17 years 2 months

JoeH Tue, 10/17/2006 - 08:21
Well, even if they are cassettes, the same rules still apply, although there probably wont be any test tones, etc. at the top. It's still analog tape though, and with cassettes, it's even more critical to get it right: clean tape path, demagetizing, etc.

And it's even MORE important to use the same machine for playback that it was recorded on, unless you wan't to spend a lot of time d*cking around with azimuth, dolby and EQ adjustments from a different machine. Cassette alignment was a total PITA, a nightmare, esp with 2 head machines. (The running joke about cassette alignment and standardization was that there WAS NONE.) Azimuth is even more critical for cassettes, and again: on cassettes it can be a mess. (That "Wobbly" or swishing sound he mentioned might indeed be bad playback response from a messed up cassette tape path, or even dolby mistracking....)

Higher-end cassette machines had three heads, but even then, many times two of the heads were in the same block (Tascam and others) so it was often next to impossible to get the kind of perfect azimuth alignment that open reeel machines had. Once tape wear began on a set of heads, things could get weird, so it was always good to use the same machine for PB that you used for Record.

Cassettes were never good for much more than a personal copy of an LP or a work in progress, so restoration work is sometimes dicey. (Clients used to get cassette copies to take home to listen to, much the same way they get temp CDs or even MP3's nowadays.) Hopefully he's got something on reel to reel.

Whatever the medium; if it's analog tape, it'll need serious TLC.

Oh, and we didn't even talk about pinch rollers, did we? :twisted: