WOT - Reel to Reel Audio Capturing

mdindestin wrote on 10/3/2014, 12:38 PM
I'm hoping there's someone who can help on an audio issue for a film project.

My father recorded professional audio on reel to reel tapes. I'd like to digitize these tapes before it's too late.

I have a reel to reel machine with RCA outs connected to a Zoom H1's line inputs, but couldn't get a clean signal. It seemed to be overdriving the Zoom. When I plugged in headphones, the tape sounded fine so it's not the tape.

The output level of the tape player is 1.23 V on the RCAs. I've got access to an H4n. Any tips or thoughts on how to get a clean signal?

Comments

Chienworks wrote on 10/3/2014, 12:46 PM
Any chance the tape recorder has an output level control on it? Some of them were a tiny pot on the back, near the RCA jacks. 1.23V is a tad high. Consumer line level is usually between 0.5 and 1.0V.

Does the Zoom have input gain control?

There are also a plethora of small USB mixers available, some on ebay for as little as $20, that offer a variety of trimmable inputs and then send the digitized audio to the PC.
Multitech wrote on 10/3/2014, 1:02 PM
Can you also take the headphone out and use an adapter to the zoom h1? Or plug it into a computer soundcard?

larry-peter wrote on 10/3/2014, 1:08 PM
If your set up is portable enough that you can patch it directly to your computer's sound card, you may have the input pads you need there. I know my Echo and M-Audio cards have a wide range of input levels they can handle.
stbo wrote on 10/3/2014, 1:11 PM
I too have a H1 and hit this issue. The line level input of the H1 is really a mic input - straight line-levels will usually distort. You will have to attenuate it somehow before it gets in. As I understand it, the H1's level are after the input stage not before it. Do you have a sound card on a laptop with RCA inputs? You could use that if you wished..

As an electronic head, I made up a simple little attenuator using a couple of resistors soldered to the back of a couple of RCA sockets. If I recall, sticking a 10K resistor in series with the signal, and then a 4k7 from the signal to ground (after the 10k) should give you a 10db reduction - however it will depend on the impedance of the RCA outputs.

Hope this helps

stbo
mdindestin wrote on 10/3/2014, 1:26 PM
Where the lowest input level on the H1 is 1 on a 1 to 100 scale, I believe the H4n can be set lower than 1.

The only option on the tape player is a low versus high switch.

I've got a sound card I could use on the computer and the headphone adapter idea may be an option as well. My goal is a really clean signal which probably means moving to the H4n. But what type connection? I know my father refused to use any 1/8" adapters on any of his pro equipment.

The tape player also has a 5 pin DIN output.

John_Cline wrote on 10/3/2014, 1:54 PM
The H4n (and presumably the H1) have the input preamps before the volume controls, feeding either of them line level audio over 0.9752 volts will cause clipping regardless of the volume control setting. The Zoom H6 has fixed this with actual -20db pads and real volume controls.

You need a passive attenuator to go between the tape deck and your H1 or H4n, something like this would work fine:

http://www.amazon.com/Metra-Amplifier-Controller-Volume-Control/dp/B004P5MWFC/ref=pd_sim_sbs_MI_5?ie=UTF8&refRID=1R91P3H1DSQ43RCF3H31

Perhaps these fixed -6db audio attenuators would do the trick. They're kind of spendy for just some resistors in a shell, but you don't have to make them yourself.

http://www.amazon.com/Harrison-Labs-Line-Level-Attenuator/dp/B0006N41AG/ref=sr_1_17?s=electronics&ie=UTF8&qid=1412362127&sr=1-17&keywords=audio+attenuator

You plug your source into the female jack and plug the male plug into the H1 or H4n using the appropriate RCA female to 1/4" male adapter.
mdindestin wrote on 10/3/2014, 2:34 PM
OK John, and you feel better about 6 db versus 12 db, right?

If I were to hook the tape player to a quality receiver/amp, would your recommendation change?

john_dennis wrote on 10/3/2014, 3:04 PM
"If I were to hook the tape player to a quality receiver/amp..."

Adding more electronics in the signal path may solve the connectivity problem but it won't hep the distortion / signal to noise problem.

You'll get the best results possible with passive pads to correct for level mismatch and a minimum of electronics in the signal path.

If 6db keeps the signal from clipping the input of your recording device it's the best option. 12 db will expose the noise of the pre-amp of the recorder or sound card. That's likely not to be a real issue with today's recording devices.

When I did open reel tape transfers, I used tape out to good quailty sound card. Delta Audiophile 24/96.

After the levels are matched, the signal to noise ratio of the tape drive is probably the limiting factor.

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farss wrote on 10/3/2014, 3:09 PM
I'm not John Cline however I'd recommend 12dB attenuators if not 20dB for a better outcome.

If I was feeding the deck into a high quality amp then attenuators almost certainly wouldn't be needed. As already pointed out the problem with the H1 and H4n is all the inputs are fed into a microphone preamp and A/D converter and then digital gain control is used. That means for the more you turn down the gain in these units the worse the distortion.

http://www.martin-doppelbauer.de/audio/fieldrecorder/part2/index.html

Bob.
John_Cline wrote on 10/3/2014, 3:13 PM
Well, a 6db attenuator would raise the maximum input level to the H1 to 1.946 volts RMS, a 12db attenuator would raise it to 3.882 volts. Just curious, what is the make and model number of the reel-to-reel tape deck?

Hooking the tape deck to a receiver likely wouldn't require an attenuator at all since they typically have volume controls before any active circuitry and any of the newer receivers with digital volume controls should be able to handle at least 2 volts on their inputs.

The attenuator in my first link has a passive volume control which will vary the input to full down to zero, so it would accommodate whatever you threw at it level-wise. Those fixed attenuators in the second link are pretty expensive for what they are.
john_dennis wrote on 10/3/2014, 3:38 PM
"The only option on the tape player is a low versus high switch. "

I have a couple of Akai machines with DIN and 1/4" phone jacks for line level output.

If my memory hasn't failed completely, (questionable) the switch that controlled the attenuation of the output signal only affects the DIN output.

If that's true in your case you might get some attenuation by trying the DIN connections.

My main system:
Motherboard: Asus X99-AII
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Disk O/S & Programs: Intel SSD 750 (400 GB)
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CPU cooling: Corsair Hydro series H115i
Power supply: SeaSonic SS-750KM3 750W 80 PLUS GOLD Certified Full Modular Active PFC Power Supply
Drive Bay: Kingwin KF-256-BK 2.5" and 3.5" Trayless Hot Swap Rack with USB 3
Sound card: Crystal Sound 3 on motherboard. Recording done on another system.
Primary Monitor: Asus ProArt PA248q (24" 1920 x 1200)
O/S: Windows 10 Pro 190943
Camera: Sony RX10 Model IV

https://www.youtube.com/user/thedennischannel

mdindestin wrote on 10/3/2014, 3:45 PM
Enjoying the conversation. The tape deck is an Akai X-200D.

mdindestin wrote on 10/3/2014, 3:46 PM
I think you are indeed correct about the High/Low switch. It didn't seem to make any difference in the RCA outs.
john_dennis wrote on 10/3/2014, 3:49 PM
Do you have the DIN to RCA adapter?

My main system:
Motherboard: Asus X99-AII
CPU: Intel i7-6850K
GPU: Sapphire Radeon RX480-8GB
RAM: Corsair Dominator (4 x 4 GB) DDR4 2400
Disk O/S & Programs: Intel SSD 750 (400 GB)
Disk Active Projects: WD BLACK SN750 NVMe 1TB Internal PCI Express 3.0 x4 Solid State Drive
Disk Other: WD Ultrastar/Hitachi Hard Drives: WDBBUR0080BNC-WRSN, HGST HUH728080ALE600, 724040ALE640, HDS3020BLA642
Case: LIAN LI PC-90 Black Aluminum ATX Full Tower Case
CPU cooling: Corsair Hydro series H115i
Power supply: SeaSonic SS-750KM3 750W 80 PLUS GOLD Certified Full Modular Active PFC Power Supply
Drive Bay: Kingwin KF-256-BK 2.5" and 3.5" Trayless Hot Swap Rack with USB 3
Sound card: Crystal Sound 3 on motherboard. Recording done on another system.
Primary Monitor: Asus ProArt PA248q (24" 1920 x 1200)
O/S: Windows 10 Pro 190943
Camera: Sony RX10 Model IV

https://www.youtube.com/user/thedennischannel

mdindestin wrote on 10/3/2014, 3:50 PM
No, I don't have that adapter.
john_dennis wrote on 10/3/2014, 4:07 PM
You're looking for something like this.

Edit: The referenced part may not be shielded. The product description mentions "speakers". Another part that possibly is shielded can be found "

Maybe Radio Shack?

My main system:
Motherboard: Asus X99-AII
CPU: Intel i7-6850K
GPU: Sapphire Radeon RX480-8GB
RAM: Corsair Dominator (4 x 4 GB) DDR4 2400
Disk O/S & Programs: Intel SSD 750 (400 GB)
Disk Active Projects: WD BLACK SN750 NVMe 1TB Internal PCI Express 3.0 x4 Solid State Drive
Disk Other: WD Ultrastar/Hitachi Hard Drives: WDBBUR0080BNC-WRSN, HGST HUH728080ALE600, 724040ALE640, HDS3020BLA642
Case: LIAN LI PC-90 Black Aluminum ATX Full Tower Case
CPU cooling: Corsair Hydro series H115i
Power supply: SeaSonic SS-750KM3 750W 80 PLUS GOLD Certified Full Modular Active PFC Power Supply
Drive Bay: Kingwin KF-256-BK 2.5" and 3.5" Trayless Hot Swap Rack with USB 3
Sound card: Crystal Sound 3 on motherboard. Recording done on another system.
Primary Monitor: Asus ProArt PA248q (24" 1920 x 1200)
O/S: Windows 10 Pro 190943
Camera: Sony RX10 Model IV

https://www.youtube.com/user/thedennischannel

John_Cline wrote on 10/3/2014, 4:08 PM
In case you don't have it, here is the owner's manual for the Akai X-200d.

https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/8437229/Akai_X-200d%20owner%20manual.pdf

The DIN-cable route that John Dennis linked above would render the attenuator unnecessary since the output via the DIN connector is only .4 volts.
john_dennis wrote on 10/3/2014, 4:23 PM
Output Level

DIN is going to help a lot.

My main system:
Motherboard: Asus X99-AII
CPU: Intel i7-6850K
GPU: Sapphire Radeon RX480-8GB
RAM: Corsair Dominator (4 x 4 GB) DDR4 2400
Disk O/S & Programs: Intel SSD 750 (400 GB)
Disk Active Projects: WD BLACK SN750 NVMe 1TB Internal PCI Express 3.0 x4 Solid State Drive
Disk Other: WD Ultrastar/Hitachi Hard Drives: WDBBUR0080BNC-WRSN, HGST HUH728080ALE600, 724040ALE640, HDS3020BLA642
Case: LIAN LI PC-90 Black Aluminum ATX Full Tower Case
CPU cooling: Corsair Hydro series H115i
Power supply: SeaSonic SS-750KM3 750W 80 PLUS GOLD Certified Full Modular Active PFC Power Supply
Drive Bay: Kingwin KF-256-BK 2.5" and 3.5" Trayless Hot Swap Rack with USB 3
Sound card: Crystal Sound 3 on motherboard. Recording done on another system.
Primary Monitor: Asus ProArt PA248q (24" 1920 x 1200)
O/S: Windows 10 Pro 190943
Camera: Sony RX10 Model IV

https://www.youtube.com/user/thedennischannel

mdindestin wrote on 10/3/2014, 4:26 PM
Since it was only five bucks on Amazon, I ordered it. Regardless if it solves this issue or not, it's good to have all types of adapters handy.

Thanks for the links!
John_Cline wrote on 10/3/2014, 4:35 PM
It's going to solve the issue.
Geoff_Wood wrote on 10/3/2014, 5:56 PM
Headphone outs are notoriously more distorted than line outs. Getmake a simple attenuator to drop the level down to make it work happy with the Zoom's easily-overloaded inputs.

I made up several little diecast boxes with 10K dual pots wired as a simple volume control - they come inhandy in all sorts of situations - much easier/quicker that an on-screen vol slider, and circumvent your input issue !

geoff
musicvid10 wrote on 10/3/2014, 6:57 PM
Zoom recorders should be able to handle that voltage with ease through the trs inputs. I suspect you have a level set for mic rather than line somewhere.

A pair of little attenuating direct boxes with ground lift is something I wouldn't leave home without.
johnmeyer wrote on 10/3/2014, 7:39 PM
I've done hundreds of hours of tape transfers. I have the Zoom H2N, and it doesn't handle line level inputs very well. So, I don't use it for this.

Instead, I usually just plug the recorder outputs directly into my computer sound card. When doing this with really old equipment, I always use some sort of balun ("line lifter"), not so much to avoid hum, but to protect my equipment. A dozen years ago, I did an audio transfer from a 1950s "AudioGraph" (a tube-based dictation device), and initially (thank goodness) connected it to my 1970s Sherwood receiver.

Smoked it.

After replacing a few transistors, I got it working again, but it gave me religion about connecting pre-1970s equipment to modern inputs, if both are powered from the line.

I'm not a big fan of attenuator pads, although I do use them when I don't have a choice, usually out in the field trying to connect to a sound board. The reason I don't like them is that my first job was in the Hewlett-Packard microwave test and measurement division, and I had to create several application notes which concerned signal to noise ratio. Once you knock down the signal (with the pad), and then re-amplify it, the S/N will get worse by the amount of the attenuation. No way around it.
farss wrote on 10/3/2014, 7:56 PM
[I]"Zoom recorders should be able to handle that voltage with ease through the trs inputs"[/I]

Maybe on the 1/4" balanced ones on the H4n but the H1 only has a stereo mic/line 3.5mm TRS input.
According to the H4n manual the unbalanced 1/4" inputs [1],[2] have a maximum input level of +2 dBm.

For the H1, the stereo mic/line input has a maximum input level of 0 dBm, input impedance is 2Kohms.

Bob.