Old 02-13-2020, 06:51 PM   #1
Panoptes
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Default Tape Deck conversion coming in HOT!

Hi all,

A burning question if I may:

I've been using Reaper for a few days, getting used to its interface and settings (oh, the settings!) and am making some headway with inputs etc. What I'm struggling to wrap my head around is recording from a 'hi-fi seperate' tape deck in order to convert some old tapes to .wav / .mp3 etc.

The input levels coming in through my Scarlett 2i2 are very hot (using Phono to XLR cables) and sometimes clip. It looks like I originally recorded the songs quite hot anyway (around +3 dB on the tape deck meter) and the input readout on Reaper is reflecting this with very high levels. These levels are coming through with the gain on the Scarlett 2i2 set at minimum (practically 0) and the halos occasionally flicker in yellow so my questions are:

• How can I reduce the levels going into the 2i2/Reaper? My hunch is I can't! I've tried outputting directly from the tape deck (a Technics RS-TR165) and also via a graphic equalizer and amp (Technics SH-GE70 and SA-AX540 respectively) - the levels are only slightly lower direct from the tape deck but sound worse (flatter) without the equalizer and amp in the loop.

• Are Phono to XLR cables suitable or should I have bought Phono to 1/4" TS jacks?

• Any suggestions on the way forward with this task?

Thanks.
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Old 02-13-2020, 07:14 PM   #2
billybuck
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I had the same issue dubbing some hot 4-track cassettes to digital, but routing through a mini hardware mixer before the interface did the trick.

Also, isn't there a line/mic switch on the 2i2 (or instrument/mic)? You definitely don't want that on "mic"

It may also be that using XLR in is automatically triggering the mic preamp.
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Old 02-13-2020, 07:26 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by billybuck View Post
I had the same issue dubbing some hot 4-track cassettes to digital, but routing through a mini hardware mixer before the interface did the trick.
More expense?! :-D

Quote:
Also, isn't there a line/mic switch on the 2i2 (or instrument/mic)? You definitely don't want that on "mic"
There's 'Inst' and 'Off' (unlit). I'm using it off. Have tried both tho, seemingly with no difference.

Quote:
It may also be that using XLR in is automatically triggering the mic preamp.
I think I might have to get Phono to 1/4" jacks although would it cool down the input to a significant extent?
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Old 02-13-2020, 07:49 PM   #4
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Just post on Facebook asking if anyone local can loan you a mini mixer for a couple of days. I did that for the cassette 4-track I needed for my dubbing project and ended up getting a response from a guy at work!

I actually have a 2i2--it's the first generation of three, and they changed quite a bit between gens. I can't guarantee that 1/4" inputs would disable the mic preamps, but that's the only thing I can think of, given that line-level from a consumer audio deck is coming in so hot.

You could also try bypassing the interface altogether and just go into your computer's sound card, that would be RCA phono to 1/8" stereo, and those are pretty common adapters. Most built-in sound devices have a mic/line switch in the driver software.
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Old 02-13-2020, 08:07 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Panoptes View Post
I think I might have to get Phono to 1/4" jacks although would it cool down the input to a significant extent?
I mean, the mic inputs have about 13db of gain (well, lower max input anyway) compared to the line inputs, so...
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Old 02-13-2020, 08:14 PM   #6
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Ashcat, do you know if using XLR inputs automatically engages the preamps (vs 1/4")?

I can think of situations, such as XLR out of an active DI box, where that might not be desirable.
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Old 02-13-2020, 08:30 PM   #7
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The XLR IS the mic input. The Line/Instrument are the 1/4” part of the combo jacks.
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Old 02-13-2020, 11:41 PM   #8
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Yeah, use the line inputs.
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Old 02-14-2020, 01:29 AM   #9
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It appears I’ve made quite an error. I also bought 1/4” jack to XLR leads for the audio output from my keyboard. I was thinking they’re better quality connections than jack. I didn’t realise they were more powerful too.
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Old 02-14-2020, 05:34 AM   #10
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Update: Have purchased a phono to line jack and it's much improved so thanks for everyone's help. I'm sticking with the line jack to XLR for the keyboard for now as it gives manageable levels. That and I've worked out how to adjust the level out from the keyboard too.

Now to tame Reaper itself!
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Old 02-14-2020, 07:31 AM   #11
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It's not that the connectors themselves are more powerful - the XLR connectors are passing the same amount of electrical signal as the 1/4". It's just that the Focusrite's circuit detects that you've plugged in an XLR, assumes it's a microphone, and automatically switches on its preamplifier to raise the input gain. The amount of signal that would come out of a mic is minuscule in comparison to what's coming out of your cassette deck or your keyboard.

The advantage of XLR's is that they reject noise, but only if you have XLR or "balanced" connectors at both ends, as with a microphone cable. They're really only needed for very low-level signals like microphones or unamplified guitar pickups being passed over cables longer than 10 feet or so.

Glad you got it worked out, and good luck on your project.
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Old 02-14-2020, 08:30 AM   #12
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Thanks. My keyboard's line output is unbalanced. Still - all seems fine now so at least it's one headache put to bed!
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Old 02-14-2020, 08:38 AM   #13
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As you have discovered, XLR and 1/4" connectors are used for a WIDE array of VERY different signals! You have to look at what the signal actually is. Then the connectors used.

Aside comment on tape transfers.
A cassette deck with balanced outputs should hit just up to 0db (full scale) from the hottest signal possible on a metal formula tape.
Most consumer cassette decks have unbalanced outputs and you would expect to see the lower unbalanced levels coming in from that.
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Old 02-15-2020, 04:21 PM   #14
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Default Simple Monitor

Thanks all.

I have another question but I don't want to start up another thread as it's not strictly a Reaper issue: I want to preview my tapes (I've hundreds of them) without having to open Reaper first - what software could I use in Windows? I tried Audacity but couldn't get sound monitoring to work.

I'm probably overlooking something real simple and the answer's staring me in the face.

Stumped in the meantime tho; any ideas?

To recap:
Tape Deck > Scarlett 2i2 > USB/PC
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Old 02-15-2020, 04:34 PM   #15
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Why?!?

Plug speakers/headphones directly out of the deck?
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Old 02-15-2020, 04:44 PM   #16
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Speakers are large (and use speaker cable). My gear is all set up in my office studio and space is at a premium so the hi-fi speakers are in the attic now. I don't yet have monitors that I can plug in from the Scarlett so sound is currently going in to the PC via USB.

I could use headphones but I want to Shazam certain tracks and keep an ear out for sleeping kids etc. Must be a way to playback the deck in a simple program?
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Old 02-15-2020, 04:56 PM   #17
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If you're on Windows you can Listen To This Device without running any applications.
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Old 02-15-2020, 05:20 PM   #18
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Thanks. If I’m not mistaken though, that appears to be for a line/jack input not USB?
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Old 02-15-2020, 06:09 PM   #19
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Sorted it.

In Audacity:

Prefs > Devices > Host: Windows Direct Sound
Prefs > Recording > Software playthrough of Input

Source: Focusrite
Output: Speakers

Means I can now watch/listen to YouTube too while monitoring, avoiding that ASIO4All nonsense!

Thanks all.
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Old Today, 02:54 PM   #20
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Default misconceptions

I would just like to add some comments to try and clear up some statements made that can be misunderstood or give an incomplete picture. I hope it does not confuse!

There really is not necessarily any certain link between balanced/unbalanced signals and signal levels. All signal levels can be balanced or unbalanced. It is not necessarily mics that are always balanced and higher level signals that are always unbalanced.

Nor indeed is it true that xlr connectors are carrying balanced signals...and 1/4" ( 6.25mm ) jacks carry unbalanced signals!

Lots of professional equipment uses balanced impedance connections for low level (mic?) and high level (line?) signals. Domestic (consumer) equipment can be unbalanced at low and high levels.

The reason for unbalanced signal paths is on cost amd simplicity grounds. Signals are between 'hot' and signal ground pins on connectors. Therefore only two pins are required on connectors per signal -though it is possible that connectors in use have more than two pins such as if a 3 pin xlr connector is used unbalanced!

Balanced impedance signals are used to reduce externally generated noise picked up in cables being passed on down the signal chain. Without going deeper into the engineering it relies on each wire having the same noise introduced in the cable 'hot' and 'cold' wires and the receiving electronics cancelling out the induced noise. A screen is normally also used too hence typically requiring a 3 pin (or more) connector

As low level signals can get noise introduced in the cables at relative!y high levels the cancellation effect makes it much more common for mic level signals to be balanced to try and maximise noise free signals.

Line level signals being much higher level are less bothered by noise and so we can often get away with quite noise free audio on unbalanced signals.

The type of connector in use should not automatically be used to determin the balanced/unbalanced nature of the source and thus the following input connection type that should be used. Refer to specifications if in doubt.

If a balanced impedence source signal 'hot' and 'cold' wires are connected to an unbalanced input (sometimes called single ended input) then there will be poor noise rejection and possibly other affects too. Balanced signals should only be connected via cables designed for that purpose.

Now there is a lot more to it but:
Typically a two pin connector such as a phono/rca or jack plug (i.e. with tip and ring) can usually be taken as unbalanced.
For high quality domestic and semi pro equipment low level signals such as we are likely to come across with recording mics are usually balanced.

Note that a 3 pin jack (with tip, ring and sleeve) can be balanced or unbalanced (such as for unbal stereo signals or insert/return connections on mixers)
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