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Want to Transfer Audio from Reel2Reel to Sony Vaio

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#1 NorCal_Mike


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Posted 23 January 2009 - 03:10 AM

I have a stack of old reel-to-reel (R2R) tapes - some with voices of family members now deceased - that I want to transfer into my Sony Vaio laptop to be edited and burned to DVD. This will allow all family members easy access to their own copy, while better preserving the content for future generations, as most everyone knows the frailties of oxide tape over time. You'd think finding a solution wouldn't be so difficult, but after many hours of searching the net, emailing various retail sources, and even chatting with Sony online, I've gained only "pieces" of a solution. At present, I'm so frustrated I'm not sure where best to start, but here goes:

My System: A Sony Vaio laptop, model VGN-FS742
My R2R: An old Akai, which works fine. The only outputs are standard RCA jacks, same as found on all A/V gear.

After scrutinizing all ports on my Sony earlier today, I didn't believe it had a FireWire port, especially after reading thru all printed material that came with it, plus the entire PDF manual and no mention. In the latter, an entire page discusses a mysterious "i.LINK port," yet never ONCE mentions this is 'Sony proprietary-speak' for FireWire. That was clarified only after 45 minutes of online chat with Sony! It turns out mine has a 4-pin plug for FireWire, and while 6 & 8 pin plugs now exist, he couldn't explain the difference. If what I later found is correct, the 6-pin added *power for external devices and *a ground wire...and suspect the 8-pin is for the newest 800MB/sec. According to him, they don't make a cable with RCA jacks on one end and FW on the other, nor would that alone work. Other than informing me that i.LINK is synonymous with FireWire, he was of no significant help.

Prior to contacting Sony, I'd Googled extensively and read through a ton of related material. Initially thinking I'd be going USB, I kept reading that actual throughput is NOT as fast as FireWire. I plan to add a webcam soon and read that FW's the best way to go there too. So having decided against USB, it makes sense that I'd find no clear 'n simple solutions which utilize FireWire. Instead, I readily found inexpensive USB devices that would work, and make going that route a breeze. Examples: http://www.zzounds.com/item--BEHUCA202 and http://www.griffintechnology.com/products/imic

Apparently, one must use a FireWire PCMCIA Cardbus like http://www.cwol.com/firewire/firewire-3-po...%20requirements or some sort of Firewire Hub. Other sites mention the need for "a good Analog to Digital Converter." Gee, is this in addition to one of these other devices? Not even in non-retail, tech site forums did anyone lay out in plain English, exactly what options exist or their individual advantages/disadvantages. Now, I know for a fact that the identical solution would work for a cassette deck too, meaning this has to be a fairly common need for a vast number of people.

So, what's the best solution? Is there any advantage in going through a PC Cardbus vs the Sony i.LINK port, be it in speed, compatibility, etc? One downside to the PC Cardbus I foresee, is the port being located at the very right-front of the laptop, directly adjacent to ones mouse. Not only does the card protrude, but so will any wires connected to it. (Great design, Sony!)

And what about using one of these FireWire Hubs vs the options above? I read that Hubs, which "distribute power equally to each of its ports," can cause problems with other USB devices that don't "appreciate" this. I have a 500MB external HD, and it sounds as if I'd be better off leaving it plugged directly into the laptop. Also, they say with some USB devices the software is installed specific to that USB port, meaning another potential problem if you move it to a Hub. Last but not least, I think they require a separate power supply. Since my laptop sits on my dining room table, I really don't want some clunky hub sitting there with a pile of wires running all over. While the R2R transfer project will be a relatively short lived project, I'll be leaving the webcam connected, and want a clean, uncluttered solution - something I don't feel is unreasonable to expect.

Pardon my frustration, but I'm on chemotherapy and this has exhausted my patience. Silly me for thinking I'd find a clear, simple solution like:

"Here's the best way to go for high quality results, and keeping the solution affordable. You'll need the following cable (insert name/model here). On one end it has RCA jacks which connect to your Akai R2R. On the other end are jacks which connect to a (insert device type: PC Cardbus, Hub, or Analog to Digital converter). You will also need the following cable (insert name/model here) to connect the new device to your laptop's (i.LINK port, or whatever)."

Any suggestions or links would be greatly appreciated.


Edited by NorCal_Mike, 23 January 2009 - 03:32 AM.

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#2 Platypus


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Posted 23 January 2009 - 06:25 AM

Personally I think people are pushing you into going way over the top for what you need.

Unfortunately your laptop only has Microphone audio input available, or its own internal sound would probably be adequate for transferring from reel2reel to CD/DVD/MP3.

I have a 24bit 196KHz sample rate PCI card in my desktop system, but for general purpose recording (transcribing tapes, vinyl records etc) I also use the Behringer USB module:


It works fine and runs CD-quality 16bit 44.1 KHz, which is all you need for many applications.

I'd even normally suggest using the free Audacity audio editing program, and Behringer make the same recommendation, along with other downloadable software they make available for the unit.

Other manufacturers have similar modules. Firewire and other interfaces, and more complex and expensive modules can provide greater performance and other advantages, but for basic decent recordings, more than this type of unit can be overkill.

I really think something like this is most likely all you need, and not expensive or complicated. Plug it into a USB2 socket, RCA-RCA lead to the AKAI.

Edited by Platypus, 23 January 2009 - 06:38 AM.

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#3 NorCal_Mike

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Posted 23 January 2009 - 10:15 PM


Thanks for your reply and suggestions. After yesterday I had to "let it go" for a while, so just now read your post. While I purposefully tried not to think about the issue most today day, I was getting the feeling - much like you stated - that I probably didn't need some complicated, high-end solution. Interestingly enough, yesterday I came across that exact same Behringer unit at zZound for only $29.95, though apparently sans all the free software Behringer includes: http://www.zzounds.com/item--BEHUCA202.

Appeared plenty adequate, German engineered, simple to plug in and use when needed...and then I started reading how FireWire was so much better than USB2. Later, one of my sisters called to discuss all of us setting up webcams to stay in better touch, and that lent "fire" to FireWire. Today I'm of the mind that since this R2R tape conversion project is a one-time deal, other than maybe transferring a few cassettes down the road, I probably won't use that function much anyway. That USB device would be fast, easy, and inexpensive...and you report good results. Also, most of what's on those old R2R tapes is voice, not music I want to capture in every nuance.

That leaves how to approach adding a Webcam. Besides my Microphone input, I also have a PC Card slot and that i.LINK (IEEE1394) S400 port to work with. Wouldn't these give me options? The i.LINK notes state "the port doesn't supply power to external devices," so would that be an issue with setting up a webcam to that port?

From what I read yesterday, you can buy a card that plugs into the PC Card slot and turns it into FW ports. Example: http://catalog.belkin.com/IWCatProductPage...oduct_Id=161398 That one even states it's compatible with Sony i.LINK, but where the issue got confusing was not knowing if mine's 16 or 32 bit, and whether it's Type 1,2, or 3. I found nothing in the manual to clarify that, but think it's 32bit - Type2. Do you know for sure? Also, do you know which of these two ports is fastest, the most reliable, etc?

I've never had any interest in a webcam till now. Any thoughts on USB vs FireWire? I read that USB compresses video, resulting in poorer quality, while FW offers the best image over the net. Care to opine? I'm sitting here imagining all this junk plugged into the side my laptop, and start thinking maybe a discretely positioned USB Hub isn't such a bad idea. LOL

Need to start a Tri-Tip roast so best get after it. Thanks in advance for any advice!

PS. As to editing software I've got Adobe SoundBoot CS3 (part of their Master Collection), some in Roxio 10, and others -- none of which I've really used yet; I'm more into graphics. Still, I'm going to check out that software download you provided.

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