It is possible to convert your old analog records, cassette tapes and 8-track recordings into MP3s. Unlike with a digital conversion -- where the computer can read raw data that's already digital, and then compress it into a new format -- your computer has to record the audio to a digital format in real time.

Configure the Hardware

Before you start, make sure your analog music playback device can output through an audio port that can be converted into a 3.5mm audio jack. For example, if the analog format playback device features a 3.5mm audio output jack or a coaxial cable output jack, you can connect both devices if they support 3.5mm jacks by using a male-to-male 3.5mm cable. However, if the device has a coaxial output or an RCA audio output, you have to use a converter device for either format to change the cable plug to 3.5mm. The computer's mic jack is usually red or is marked with a mic icon.

Check the Volume Levels

One of my major problems with recording live audio is that if the source comes in too loud, the recording device will record a distorted, poor-quality version of the audio. When configuring the audio, start with the volume low and work your way up. On the computer, search for "mmsys.cpl" using the Search charm, select "mmsys.cpl" from the results, open the "Recording" tab, select the mic, and then start playing the connected audio device. Use the volume controls on the device itself and the Windows settings until the volume bar levels out near the top of the green color range: if it's yellow or red, turn down the volume.

Recording Audio With Audactiy

You can alternatively use Audacity, a free multi-track audio recording suite, to do analog-to-digital conversions (see Resources). Click the "Record" button and start the audio, wait for the song or section to complete, and then press the "Stop" button to create a track. You can use Audacity to record several songs or sections at once, and then come back later to split them up. Analog recordings need to be converted in real time because the final product loses fidelity if it's played back faster and slowed down through the mastering software.

Converting to MP3 With Audacity

Audacity converts the initial recording into a digital format, but it is not yet properly configured for MP3 playback. If you're running a multi-track project with several songs, click the "Solo" button on the track you want to convert, and then set the starting and ending points where the audio starts and ends. Click the "File" menu, select "Export," and then choose the "MP3 Files" type. Use the Options menu to configure the quality: the 256 kbps setting should be sufficient for most analog recordings. The saved file will be a converted MP3 of the analog source.