would i need a quarter inch to USB cable to go from the headphone out on the tape player or integrated amp to the USB port on a computer? then use a free downloadable software from there to convert the cassete sound to an mp3? then ultimately put the mp3 onto a cd. my key question here is what free downloadable software is the best for this application?
You can't go straight from 1/4" to USB. You can go directly to the microphone input (not recommended) although it may not be stereo. IMO your best option is to buy an inexpensive USB ADC/DAC (Analog to Digital Converter/Digital to Analog Converter) such as a Behringer UCA202/222. It's an inexpensive ($30) USB DAC/ADC that in conjunction with software (Audacity) will do exactly what you're asking. The UCA202/222 is widely available at places ranging from Amazon to B&H Photo. Audacity is freeware available for download on the internet and also comes free with the software Behringer includes.
Although you could use the headphone out from a cassette player I recommend using the line level out connections (if available) for better sound. The Behringer DAC requires no software to work. You plug it in, go to control panel/sound and set the UCA as the default sound device.
I use Audacity for doing this although I don't use MP3 files. I initially save all my files as WAV files and convert them to FLAC if they are destined for permanent digital storage. FLAC files don't use the lossy compression that MP3 uses and sound better. Unfortunately they can't be burned to a CD while MP3 files can.
The procedure for you would be to copy the files to your PC's HDD as wave files through the Behringer using Audacity. Then use Audacity to export them as MP3 files and finally burn the MP3 files to a CD.
after monkeying around a lil, i'm going out of the RCA outs on the tape deck and into the 3.5 mm microphone in jack on my pc. also using audacity software to convert to wav files which all of you know are not lossy like mp3's. audacity did say that both channels will be panned to one side, though i don't know if both channels will be coming out of both the left and the right channel. will have to see upon playback unless someone knows already. thanks again joeE, i always appreciate your input! (will think of trying to implement the behringer adc/dac, but trying to do it on the ultra cheap now because this is a project for my brother and i think the cassettes are language learning cassettes and are spoken word type audio and not music.)
i'm going with the behringer UCA222. am i right that i can transfer vinyl with this device too? cause we want to do some of that also.
The Behringer UCA222/202 will allow you to transfer any analog signal to a PC or Mac. To transfer vinyl you will need a phono preamp; either stand alone or in your receiver/integrated amp or in the TT to equalize and amplify the signal from the cartridge to line level strength. The signal from the phono preamp will go directly into the Behringer.
If you don't have a phono preamp or a receiver/amplifier with a phono preamp the Behringer UFO202 will do both. It is a phono preamp and a USB DAC/ADC and available at Amazon for ~$35.
Audacity will pan any signal coming from the microphone input because it's a mono only input. Any signal coming from the Behringer will be stereo and in both channels.