How to turn a cassette tape into MP3s

It's time to dust off that cassette deck and turn those precious cassette tapes into MP3s. Here's how.

Donald Bell Senior Editor / How To
Donald Bell has spent more than five years as a CNET senior editor, reviewing everything from MP3 players to the first three generations of the Apple iPad. He currently devotes his time to producing How To content for CNET, as well as weekly episodes of CNET's Top 5 video series.
Donald Bell
2 min read

Watch this: Convert cassettes into MP3s

As far as I'm concerned, we have a global musical crisis on our hands.

The cassette tape was the dominant music format through most of my childhood. The first read-along books I had as a kid were on cassette tape. The first time I ever bought music with my own money, it was on a cassette tape (which, by the way, I'm proud to say was Run DMC's "Raising Hell"). The first time my band ever released a demo, it was a demo tape.

For independent musicians of the '80s and '90s, cassette tapes offered the first affordable medium for both recording and distributing music. I still have a case full of tapes made by the garage bands I loved as a teenager. I'm afraid to throw them away because I'm certain there's no way I can find them again.

Because some of these tapes are from bands I actually played in, a combination of ego and sentimentality compels me to rescue them from analog obscurity.

Unfortunately, the process for converting a cassette tape to MP3 is painful enough to have kept this project at bay for years. Much like digitizing LPs, doing the process right involves several careful steps and a surplus of time.

Now, we had an old tutorial on this floating around CNET for years that involved some discontinued, PC-only software and a tedious method of stopping and encoding between each song. It was a process that could break your spirit and eat up an entire weekend.

My version goes a different route. We'll record an entire side in one pass using Audacity, a free, open-source application available on Mac, PC, and even Linux. From there, we'll divide and batch export tracks with just one command. Then, we'll whip out iTunes (or your preferred librarian/encoder) to back up files to CDR, convert to MP3, and bulk-edit ID3 file info.

Sound like fun? It's not. But it's thorough, it's free, and it's faster than most methods I've seen.

It's also not dependent on anyone's for-profit software solution. I'm not against paying for useful software, but this niche market is littered with so many dead-end, unsupported solutions that I just have to steer clear of them for the sake of keeping this tutorial relevant in the long-term.

So, if you're ready to tackle this project, brush up on my overview video and then dive into the nitty-gritty with my step-by-step gallery.

Transfer cassette to MP3 (photos)

See all photos