How Transferring Audio Reels and Tape to CD Works

Reel to reel audio is a form of magnetic tape audio recording. The tape is literally held on a reel, not enclosed within a cassette. The reel holds the tape and is attached to a spindle, then threaded through mechanical guides through a head assembly onto an empty reel. This format of transferring tape to CD has literally been around since the 1940’s. Cassettes rapidly replaced reel-to-reel recorders for daily use but the slower recording speeds and more narrow tracks on cassettes compromised quality which is why CDs can be a higher quality, longer lasting format.


Several advantages are seen with reel to reel audio. There is a way to record past the 30 minute limit phonograph records had. Audio tape could be easily edited or manipulated in ways not possible for phonograph records. Tape editing is performed simply by cutting the tape at the required point, reconnecting it to another portion of tape and using adhesive. This is a technique called splicing. Tape can accommodate multiple tracks which gives the producer flexibility in allowing a performance to be remixed after the performance was recorded. Varying speeds can be used and, in general, the faster the tape speed, the better the sound quality will be. Recording higher frequencies and increasing magnetic signal strength including higher tape speeds spread the signal longitudinally over more tape area which reduces the effects of damage or defects. Slower speeds help conserve tape.

Why Tape Speeds Matter

The varying tape speeds can make a difference in transferring tape to CD. The following are just some speeds that can be selected:

  • 15/16ths of an inch per second (in/s) or 2.38 cm/s – used for very long-duration recordings

  • 1 in/s or 4.76 cm/s – typically the slowest domestic speed, best for long duration speech recordings

  • 3 ¾ in/s or 9.52 cm/s – common domestic speed, used on most single-speed domestic machines, reasonable quality for speech or off-air radio recordings

  • 7 ½ in/s or 19.05 cm/s – highest domestic speed, also slowest professional speed (used by most radio stations)

  • 15 in/s  or 38.1 cm/s – professional music recording and radio programming

  • 30 in/s or 76.2 cm/s – used where the best possible treble response is demanded (many classical recordings, for example)

The Process

Transfer of tape to CD can be a trickier process than it might seem at first glance. The tape may have been recorded at varying speeds, making it hard to assess the length. If the tape or reel is not marked with the speed, it may have be loaded onto a machine. Typically, most home audio recordings end up at 3 ¾ speed. Once speed is determined, it helps to make sure the tape is loaded onto the reel properly.  Reel to reel audio can have multiple tracks on one side of the tape. One way to determine this is to set the player to play both tracks at once so it can be easier to tell if tracks are similar. If a reel is not stereo and has multiple tracks, a person must either play the reel back again or record in stereo and manually split using editing software. Once this is done, a person can play the reel and be on their way to preserving audio on tape on a longer lasting format.

Keepsake Solutions can transfer your cassette tapes, vinyl records and reel-to-reel tapes to high quality audio files, or CDs. We are committed to quality customer service, speedy turnaround time and treating your precious memories with the care they deserve.


Keepsake specializes in affordable, high quality digital transfer of your life’s most treasured media. Don’t trust it in anyone else’s hands. Bring it to Keepsake Solutions for the best service around.