Reel-to-reel tapes to CD, shelf sound systems

Q: I have reel-to-reel tape audio recordings of my children singing. How do I transfer them to CD?

-Robin Torres
Cincinnati, OH

A: The easiest way to transfer any audio recording to CD is with a component CD recorder. Think of it like a cassette deck that records on CD.

Your reel-to-reel tape machine with have stereo audio outputs. There are red and white female connector jacks, usually located on the back of the machine. The signal they transmit is called “line level audio”. The CD recorder will have matching inputs. Connect them and you can record from the reel-to-reel deck to CD.

Line level audio is a universal language- you can connect any component to any other for recording. So you could connect the outputs of a VCR to the CD and transfer the audio portion of a television show to CD. Just connect output to input and away you go!

You can also buy a computer accessory that includes line level audio inputs and use them with software and your computer’s CD burner, but it is not nearly as easy as using a CD recorder.

Q: I don’t see any discussion of bookshelf systems on your web site. I certainly understand that there are significant compromises associated with such systems, but they do fill a logistical niche. Are there any such systems that you feel comfortable recommending? Or can you recommend individual components that would occupy a similar footprint?

Barb Naramore
Eagan, Minnesota

A: Audio components with such a small footprint are rare, and when you can find them they are usually overpriced. Since you already recognize the sound quality compromises of a bookshelf system, I’d recommend you just go that route.

One reason I do not discuss bookshelf systems on my website is because of the sonic compromises. Model designs also tend to change very quickly, which makes it hard to keep up with them. The third is lack of interest. Yours is the first question I have ever received about a bookshelf system- and I get a lot of questions every single day!

My best advice to anyone shopping for a bookshelf system is to bring your favorite CDs with you and use them to evaluate the system. Make sure all tone controls and equalizer settings turned off. Listen and see what you like best when playing your own music.

You will see lots of claims such as “120 watts”, “200 watts”, etc. Ignore them entirely and focus on how the system sounds to you. Bookshelf systems have artificially inflated wattage ratings because the manufacturers rate them at very high levels of distortion. It is easy to say “200 watts” when it is rated at 10% distortion. A good amplifier has less than one one-hundredth of that distortion at its rated power!

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