©2020 Donald R. Snow
This page was last updated 2020-07-13 
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ABSTRACT: Many of us have analog recordings that need digitizing and transcribing, tapes and records, for example. In digital format they are much easier to edit, copy, transcribe, and distribute. We will discuss the types of old recordings and how to digitize them yourself. Tapes, in particular, should be digitized as soon as possible, since they deteriorate and become unplayable. In digital format copies can be made without loss of quality, unlike duplicating a tape. The notes for this class and related articles, all with active internet links, are posted on .


  1. Instructor is Donald R. Snow ( ) of Provo and St. George, Utah. 
  2. The notes for this class and related articles, all with active internet links, are posted on my website
  3. Tips:  (1)  To put an icon on your desktop for the URL for these notes, or any webpage, just drag the icon in front of the address in your browser to your desktop.  (2)  To open a link while keeping your place in the original page, hold down the Control key while clicking the link, so it opens in a new tab. 
  4. The problem for today:  How to digitize and transcribe analog recordings.

  6. History of audio recordings - see Wikipedia article --
  7. You may have, or have access to, old recordings of family gatherings, interviews, journals, talks, ordinances, and funerals, and performances or sentimental music.
  8. Places to look for recordings -- your home, neighbors, family, libraries, community resources, online
  9. Purposes of digitizing old analog recordings
    1. Archiving to save the best-quality copy -- analog copies are like xeroxes of a xerox, whereas digital copies are always exactly the same quality  <
    2. Editing to cut out or move parts, increase or decrease volume, or other effects 
    3. Sharing to preserve copies by sending copies to family and posting online at websites like Memories on FamilySearch Family Tree, for example     
    4. Narrations or music for videos, slideshows, Powerpoints
    5. Making transcriptions -- much easier from digital copies
  10. Electronicc formats for audio files
    1. Wikipedia article --
    2. .wav -- the standard file format and accurate since it saves all pitches, levels, etc., but files are large  
    3. .mp3 -- slimmed down format that is much smaller in file size, but at the expense of the sound quality -- this is the format of most recordings on your smartphone;  format is OK there since the smartphone speakers and earphones are low-quality anyway  
    4. Several other formats, but some computer audio players can't play them   
    5. VLC -- free audio/video player that plays well -- -- has feature to adjust the video to match the sound, if the mouths don't match the sound

  12. Digital recorders are not expensive to record directly to digital format, e.g. for a talk, interview, or your journal, but you can't digitize old analog recordings with them   
  13. Overall steps to digitize an analog recording
    1. Connect playback device to computer
    2. Play the recording and record it on computer  
    3. Edit the audio file -- take out problem parts, move parts, increase or decrease volume, label the different sections, etc. 
    4. Export and archive the original high-quality digital version
    5. Make lower quality copies for distribution, posting, etc.  
  14. Hardware -- jacks, adapters, cables -- inexpensive sources are online at Amazon and eBay and in stores like Home Depot and Walgreens Drug Stores (surpisingly)  
  15. Setting up connections -- this is the hardest part of the whole process
    1. Desktop computers -- sound card is usually in back with color-coded ports 
      1. Orange = Mike in
      2. Green = Speakers/Earphones out
      3. Blue = Line in
      4. Connect cable from playback device output (cassette player, etc.) to sound card input, usually the mike input
    2. Laptop computers -- usually a single port for mike and earphones or speakers (takes a 3- or 4-contact jack such as for a smartphone); may be simpler to use a USB port    
    3. From playback device use earphone output, if it has one, since speaker output may be too strong a signal for your computer mike input -- always set the playboack volume way low at start, so you don't burn out something -- there are inexpensive attenuating cables to decrease signal strength, if needed
    4. Playback devices with USB connectors are easier to use, e.g. cassette tape players and phonographs with USB outputs  


  16. AUDACITY -- free program for audio recording and editing -- download from -- manual and video tutorials at -- -- program has many features, but the basics will get you started -- the hardest part is making the device connections to record 
  17. After connecting hardware, in AUDACITY, click  Transport > Rescan Audio Devices  so AUDACITY checks the connection setup; you may have to close and open AUDACITY again, so it recognizes the hardware
  18. Set AUDACITY to mono or stereo recording, as needed
  19. Before starting the final recording set the record levels by startintg the playback device and click Start Monitoring on AUDACITY -- set the level of input volume so it doesn't clip the loudest peaks or you will have distortion  
  20. To be able to hear while recording try clicking  Transport > Play Through
  21. AUDACITY has record and playback start and stop buttons like a tape recorder; also has a timer, if you want it to start or stop automatically 
  22. AUDACITY can record directly from a mike or from the internet or other sources for live recordings
  23. When everything is set correctly, start the AUDACITY Record, then the playback device; monitor the recording to be sure you are getting what you want; don't worry about pauses and gaps since you can edit those out later very easily 
  24. AUDACITY has good editing features to delete parts, remove or shorten gaps, change volume, edit out some background noise, change speed, copy, move sections, fade in or out, etc.
  25. To include a label track to mark sections go to  Tracks > Add Label At Selection; This labgel track is a separate track you see below the main sound track(s); labels written here can later be used as titles of sections to split the whole file when exporting 
  26. Saving the Project is different than Exporting in AUDACITY
    1. Saving the Project saves it as an .aup file with all the steps you did from the beginning so you can continue on later or reverse any edit and go back; this aup file can only be opened in AUDACITY 
    2. Exporting the file means saving it so it is playable on other devices and programs, for example in .wav or .mp3 format  
  27. To archive sound files save in the highest quality you can, e.g. .wav, and make lower quality .mp3 copies for posting or distributing; as mentioned above, the .mp3 format sacrifices sound quality so file size is smaller 
  28. See more details in AUDACITY Manual and in Don's Freeware Corner notes on his website 

  30. More details on this topic in a Freeware Corner article on my webpage
  31. Voice or speech recognition software  
    1. Still not totally accurate for "continuous speech" which is what they call the way we normally talk  
    2. Smartphones have built-in voice recognition for audio text entry, but they make mistakes 
    3. Google search has voice recognition, if you have a mike connected -- click on the microphone (right end of Google search box) and dictate
    4. Windows 10 has voice recognition built in -- see Microsoft instructions on how to set it up and how to use Cortana on your computer -- it's like Siri on iPhones and Alexa on Echo Dots 
    5. GOOGLE DOCS (free) has Voice Typing when using the CHROME browser; start a new doc, click Tools > Voice Typing, then the microphone icon (left side) toggles it on and off; surprisingly accurate, even when speaking fairly fast -- See instructions at  and YouTube videos -- 
    6. Best commercial voice recognition software is  DRAGON NATURALLY SPEAKING ; comes in several versions, can usually get it on sale, but even it is not completely accurate for continuous speech  
  32. Transcribing by "Echoing" -- you listen with headphones and repeat what you hear to record it in speech recognition software trained to recognizes your voice now -- since computer only hears your voice, it can be "trained" better to recognize the way you say words -- This is what the DRAGON tech support people told me to try for transcribing continuous speech from old recordsings
  33. LISTEN N WRITE -- freeware program for personal use to help with manual transcription  
    1. Download from --  3-minute video tutorial at  
    2. Requires audio to be in digital .wav or .mp3 format and played on your computer 
    3. You listen with speakers or earphones and type what you hear; does NOT automatically transcribe the audio 
    4. Program includes player and text editor, but can use any text editor, e.g. LIBRE OFFICE or WORD; then can use a spell checker 
    5. Audio playback in LISTEN N WRITE is controlled with function keys, so you keep your hands on the keyboard and don't have to use the mouse  
    6. F5  starts and stops audio and can be set to pause a specified time interval, e.g. 4 seconds, to allow you to type what you have heard 
    7. F6  skips backward a specified time interval you set, e.g. 3 seconds  
    8. F7  skips forward a specified time interval you set, e.g. 3 seconds  

  35. EVERNOTE has a way to record audio in a note so you can describe a picture of an artifact, for example -- avoids the connection problems, but gives an .amr file that must be converted to be played elsewhere  
  36. FAIRSTARS -- good and free CD copier and player --  near bottom of Download page)  --- good for ripping (copying) CD's to computer without having to record it first

  38. Many other uses of sound in family history, e.g. narrations for slideshows, copying sound from video, etc,. These  are discussed in other classes.
  39.  Tapes deteriorate, so digitize them as soon as possible; phonograph records don't deteriorate, but clean them before playing to record  
  40. Thrift stores sometimes have tape recorders, cassette players, and phonographs; can also buy new ones with USB connectors 
  41. Digitizing audio files preserves and makes them easier to edit, copy, transcribe, and distribute to others.  

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