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Recording on tape may seem old-fashioned, but it still exists in the 21st century. It can offer convenience, for example in producing recordings that can be played in older vehicles that lack a CD player or digital audio input. It can also offer reassurance by providing something tangible. Recording can be made easier by choosing good equipment, which could be second-hand, using an external microphone where appropriate, and thoroughly testing equipment and accessories before use.
The first challenge to recording on tape is finding equipment. Some major electronic retailers still sell dedicated cassette recorders, though because the machines are not as widely sold, there is little price competition and consumers may find this expensive. Cassette recorders may be found as part of all-in-one hi-fi units, though these may not offer the convenience needed. It could instead be worth searching the second-hand market as, unlike some electronic equipment, tape machines are generally quite sturdy and may still be in good condition even if they are old.
By far the most important feature in choosing equipment for recording on tape is the microphone, of which there are three options. Some hi-fi units only allow recording directly from other sound sources on the same unit such as the turntable, CD player or radio. Cheaper portable recorders have a small built-in microphone, while more advanced models have a socket to allow an external microphone to be plugged in. This not only usually means better sound quality, but gives more options in finding the balance between price and quality, and the microphone can be replaced if needed.
The most common form of recording on tape today is likely the dictation machine. Though digital models are available, using cassettes can be more reassuring as it isn't possible to accidentally delete an entire recording. Even if there are technical problems, they tend to only affect a small portion of a recording rather than rendering the entire recording unusable as can happen with a corrupted digital file.
When using a dictation machine, it is always important to test it in every new setting. This will indicate right away if there are problems with background noise, echo or other distortion. Wherever possible, the highest-quality setting should be used, even if these means recording time on each tape is reduced. There should be an adequate supply of spare cassettes and batteries, and the user should know how to change them quickly to minimize interruption to the recording process.
Whatever the reasons for recording on tape, users aren't simply stuck with the cassettes. There are a wide range of hardware and software projects that can help the user transfer recordings to a computer, converting into digital form. This can be useful if the recording needs to be distributed widely, or to edit it quickly and simply.
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