Darn cassettes

June 27, 2009

I thought it was peculiar that my fabulously new, hi tech Acura TL would have a cassette deck. I knew the end was coming for the audio cassette, but didn’t realize how soon that it would be.

Today, I got out my trusty old Sony Professional Walkman cassette recorder, and for the first time since 1972, it didn’t work. I had another one around the house with a double well: it too was broken. I looked online and saw that they do still exist, but being impatient I went to my local Best Buy, Radio Shack, Guitar Center, and Target — all looked at me like some relic of the past and said that they don’t carry cassette decks. Blushing, I left to return home and placed my order on ;Amazon for an Ion cassette deck that outputs to USB so that I can archive the cassettes that I have not yet digitized.

If any of you have valuable cassettes, transfer the data SOON, or you’ll lose it.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

daviddas June 27, 2009 at 8:24 pm

I’m right there with you, Roger. I’ve got a stack of a few dozen cassettes that need digitizing…just waiting for me to have some free time to digitize and archive somewhere permanent. Some things from decades ago too precious to lose. I need to do this sooner rather than later. Thanks for the reminder. 🙂

How much was the Ion?

Roger Bourland June 28, 2009 at 5:07 am

Hi David. It was around $118. Actually, Amazon is having a sale, so if you buy it before June 30, you get a discount!

daviddas June 29, 2009 at 6:58 am

I wonder if your USB one is any better quality than a standard professional deck from 10 years ago. I still have one cassette player — hasn’t been hooked up in several years. I keep thinking I’ll hook it up to my good A/D converters and start playing those tapes in. The quality isn’t going to be fantastic — it’s cassette after all — but for archival copies of important historical memories, it has to be done.

Roger Bourland June 29, 2009 at 7:06 am

The USB cassette deck arrives tomorrow. I’ll let you know how it works. I also found a used Sony Walkman Pro cassette player that is newer than mine on Ebay that I got for $130. Over the years, I’ve used that technique which has served me well.

One thing that is a mystery to me is the Dolby. Should I digitize the files with it engaged or not? I assume if it is recorded using Dolby, one plays it back with it engaged.

Brad Wood June 29, 2009 at 7:49 am

Your USB deck and associated software might allow the complementary Dolby B processing to be done in the digital domain—similar to some LP transfer code that requires a flat frequency response preamp, and then does the RIAA compensation in the digital domain.

Otherwise you will definitely want to use analog-domain Dolby on playback and transfer, or you will have some strange level-dependent high-frequency excesses. To recall, Dolby works by boosting levels at lower levels, then undoing the process on playback (since, properly calibrated, it “knows” how much that boost was).

Dolby A did this in multiple bands. B worked on high frequencies, where the preponderance of tape hiss is. C tried to be more aggressive, but often failed because calibration was so critical; and since there is no easy time delay operation that facilitates lookahead in the analog domain, Dolby tends to mutilate transients—but it’s a tradeoff that most have come to accept as worth the distortions.

BTW Ray Dolby is apparently the first real audio engineer to become a billionaire, I just learned. Of course he is a hell of a businessman too =]

Mark Carlson June 30, 2009 at 10:17 pm

I just ordered mine! I can’t wait to finally have some things on my computer that have been inaccessible for a long time, now.

Roger Bourland July 1, 2009 at 5:04 am

Mine arrived yesterday and I love it. So easy to use without any coloring by going through the preamp. It imports into Audacity which is relatively easy to use and can save as AIFFs, WAV, or MP3s.

daviddas July 3, 2009 at 7:27 am

Well, you inspired me, Roger, so yesterday I pulled out my last remaining cassette deck (not used in at least 7-8 years) and plugged into my interface and gave it a whirl. Shutdown…every cassette I tried to play exhibits noticeable and unlistenable distortion.

I’m not sure if a head cleaner or head demagnetizer is going to do the job. It might be worth a try, but I’m not even sure where to find those anymore…Sam Goody and Tower Records are all out of business. 🙂

At some point I will solve this, as I’ve got a few dozen archival tapes that I will want to transfer. I’m just hoping not to spend $100+ to do it.

Roger Bourland July 3, 2009 at 8:48 am

Brad, what do you say?

Sounds like you need a new deck. This Ion has been a dream. Goes right in with any coloration from the preamp.

Try your tape on someone else’s deck, that is if you know anyone else who has a cassette deck.

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