ION Audio Tape2PC Cassette Archiving System

Times have changed while listening habits and consumer audio technology have changed even more.
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Audiocassette tapes: Nearly everyone over a certain age has more than plenty of them. My wife had so many that I bought a big, sealable plastic tub to put them in so they would be stable and contained until something could be done with them. We seldom spoke about them afterwards … until now.

The cassette was always about portability, not fidelity. However, times have changed while listening habits and consumer audio technology have changed even more.

For most folks, a cassette deck with a USB out and a simple PC recording program such as Audacity is a great way to reclaim the soundtrack of your life: old radio broadcasts, mix tapes, live music or old studio dubs, speeches, lectures, and even messages on hold. There are memories on some cassettes you probably don’t want to remember, but I guarantee there are some you do. For these reasons, a product such as the ION Audio Tape2PC cassette archiving system exists.

The Tape2PC consists of a cassette deck with analog and USB output, USB cable, stereo RCA cable, software CD and quick Start Manual, all for only $199. Once you get the audio into the computer, you can burn CDs or squirt it to your iPod or cell phone. Is it a plausible professional tool or cheap audio Ginsu knife? Let’s find out.

Features

Just because the name Tape2PC seems to ignore Mac users, don’t fret. The box and software speak “Mac” just fine. In fact, it brings up the files in iTunes and you can burn your CD right from there. I did my tests using a 500 MHz Mac G4 Sawtooth running OS X 10.4.11, but Tape2PC works with any Mac at OS 9+ as well as PCs running Windows XP and Vista as long as you have a free USB 1.1 port or higher — that’s about as universal as it gets.

The dual-well cassette tape drive is not elegant, but its utilitarian metal cabinet feels solid and the controls are easy to operate, albeit slightly stiff. I’m not sure why you’d want to make cassette dubs at real time or high speed, but you can do that with the Tape2PC transport even when it’s not connected to a computer. There are switches for noise reduction and Chromium Dioxide tape. The stereo RCA I/O jacks on the back allows integration into the standard record/tape monitor loop system you’ve known for years. If you have other consumer audio gear, you can use the RCA jacks to throughput to the USB output and go right to the host computer. There’s a small tape counter meter on the front panel. There is no tweak for balance adjustment and no fast-speed audible cueing.

Fast FactsApplications
Cassette and other consumer audio to CD archiving.

Key Features
Audiocassette transport recording to a Mac or PC host computer; USB and analog RCA I/O; EZ Audio Converter software

Price
$199

Contact
ION Audio | 401-658-3743 | www.ion-audio.comIn Use

The EZ Audio Converter software that comes with the kit is very easy. Make sure you take a trip to your computer’s audio preferences panel before recording; although I could plainly hear Spirit’s “12 Dreams Of Doctor Sardonicus” cassette coming out of the Mac, nothing was recorded the first time because I hadn’t chosen the USB codec from the input selector of the Mac sound preferences panel. There’s a handy sheet for Windows XP and Vista users that explains how to set the correct configurations.

Concept albums present a problem when the cuts crossfade because you have to decide when to click the button to drop the next CD track flag. Don’t get too caught up in precision ID dropping and editing. If you do and put dead space between your cuts on the CD, you’ll hear the cassette tape hiss stop rather abruptly. Drop flags as you can and set your CD burner for no spaces between cuts.

After you record, EZ Audio Converter presents you with a naming screen for the cassette title, artist, and individual cuts. Fill this out as best as you can and, on Macs, the info will be transferred to iTunes. If you entered incorrectly (as I did) you can change the info in iTunes. Before burning your CDs, don’t forget to visit the iTunes preferences burn screen to choose how many seconds you want between each cut. If you want as close to the original experience as possible, choose “none.”

You can use the Audacity software included in the package to record both sides without dropping CD IDs and then go back and select each song manually and export it. Audacity uses a proprietary audio file format that’s reminiscent of the AKG DSE-7000 workstation. Audio is recorded in chunks of 1 MB or less. They end up in the project folder for that particular transfer if you set each cassette up as a new folder. As a result, one cassette can have a huge collection of strangely numbered files representing what you have recorded. There are many tweak effects plug-ins. Audacity is a free program.

My three-speed Audio-Technica ATPL-120 turntable has a little built in preamp that allowed me to plug the turntable right into the RCA jacks on the rear of the cassette deck. I grabbed an album off the shelf and effortlessly made a CD from a 1973 live Mickey Newbury LP (something I’m sure a record label won’t be releasing digitally anytime soon). If your turntable isn’t turning anymore, ION also sells a turntable with a USB output and one with an iPod socket.

In my tests, one quirky thing happened with my G4 Mac; after plugging in Tape2PC’s USB cable, I could not shut down the Mac. I’d turn it off and 20 seconds later it would start up again. Apparently, even when the Tape2PC is turned off, it still communicates with host computer. Part of this communication is a signal the Mac interprets as a start-up command.

Summary

Whether you’re doing this for yourself or professionally as a service to your clients, ION Audio’s Tape2PC system offers a pretty painless way of recapturing the sounds of bygone days. Even my wife wants a lesson in how to make it work, which means the Tape2PC may not be leaving here as soon as expected.