©2020 by Donald R. Snow

This page was last updated 2020-07-02.  Return to the  Utah Valley Technology and Genealogy Group Home Page  or  Don Snow's Class Listings Page .
ABSTRACT:  Many of us have analog recordins, e.g. tapes and records, that need to be digitized so they can be edited, copied, transcribed, and distributed. We will discuss the types of old recordsings and how to digitize them yourself.   In digital format they are easy to work with and can then be preserved, distributed, and posted,  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 analog recordings so you can work with them on your computer to edit them, make copies, and transcribe the verbal ones.

  6. History of audio recordings, Wikipedia article --
  7. You may have , or have access to, old recordings of family gatherings, interviews, journals, funerals, talks, ordinances, music performances, sentimental music, and more
  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 not all computer audio players can play them  
    5. VLC -- good and free audio and video player -- -- 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, an interview, or your journal, but they can't be used to digitize old analog recordings   
  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 volume, label the different sections, etc. 
    4. Export and archive the original high-quality digital version
    5. For ditsribution and posting, make mp3 copies from the original high-quality archived version 
  14. Hardware -- jacks, adapters, cables -- inexpensive sources are online at Amazon, eBay, etc., and in stores are places 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 jacks
      1. Orange = Mike in
      2. Green = Speakers/Earphones out
      3. Blue = Line in
      4. Connect the cable from playback device output (cassette player, etc.) to the computer sound card input, usually the mike input
    2. Laptop computers -- usually a single jack for mike and earphones or speakers (3- or 4-contact jack such as on a smartphone)  or can use a USB port    
    3. From playback device use earphone output, if it has one, since the speaker output may be too strong a signal for your computer mike input -- always set the computer record volume way low at start, so you don't burn out something -- there are inexpensive attenuating cables to decrease signal strength, if you need one  
    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 in
  23. +ternet or other sources for live recordings
  24. When everything is set correctly, click the AUDACITY Record button, then the play button on playback device; monitor the recording to be sure you are getting what you want; you can edit out or add gaps and leaders later, so don't worry about extra spaces, etc., when recording 
  25. AUDACITY has good editing features to delete parts, remove or shorten gaps, change volume, speed, copy, move sections, fade in or out, etc.
  26. To include a label track to mark sections go to  Tracks > Add Label At Selection; labels can later be used when exporting to split the file at these points with the labels as titles of the sections   
  27. Saving the Project vs Exporting in AUDACITY
    1. Saving the Project is differrent than exporting -- it saves everything you have done, including all edits from the beginning, so you can continue later or reverse any edit -- Saving the Project produces an .aup file with a folder of same name containing the data
    2. Exporting the file means saving it so it is playable on other devices and programs, usually in .wav or .mp3 format  
  28. 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 
  29. See more details in AUDACITY Manual and in Don's Freeware Corner notes on his website 

  31. Voice or speech recognition software  
    1. Still not totally accurate for "continuous speech", which is the way we normally talk, but is getting better 
    2. Smartphones have built-in voice recognition for audio text entry, but they make mistakes 
    3. Google web search has voice recognition built in, if you have a mike connected -- click on the microphone (right end of Google search box) and dictate
    4. Windows 10 has voice recognition software built in -- see Microsoft instructions on how to set it up and how to use Cortana on your computer  
    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 -- since computer only hears your voice, it can be "trained" better to recognize the way you talk
  33. LISTEN N WRITE -- freeware program 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 recording 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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