The best cassette to MP3 converters let you hang on to all your old music and mixtapes by digitizing them, enabling you to listen to the music stored on them via your computer or smartphone. As an added bonus, most cassette to MP3 converters also double up to work as a regular cassette player, so you can plug in headphones and listen to your tapes on the go, just like the Walkman’s of old.
So what should you look for when choosing the best cassette to MP3 converters? Price isn’t going to be a deciding factor for most people, as the vast majority of converters cost around the $30-$50 price mark, so there isn’t a huge gulf between top-end and cheap models. Ease of use is one of the big factors to consider though, as you want to process to be simple and hassle free. Reliability is another concern - you don’t want to buy a cheap product that chews up your tapes, or doesn’t record the audio properly.
Audio quality is another important thing to discuss - no matter how good the cassette to MP3 converter you buy is, the end product won’t sound like it did on tape. Digital files are cleaner, with crisp sounds that lack the crackle and hiss of a cassette. This is both good and bad, depending on your preferences. At the same time, the audio files you create won’t be nearly as high quality as pure digital recordings. If you want high quality MP3s, you’ll need to go out and buy them from somewhere like iTunes.
With all that said, here is our roundup of the best cassette to MP3 converters on the market, taking audio quality, price, ease of use, and reliability into consideration. If you're also interested in converting your old VHS tapes, we also have a guide to the best VHS to DVD converters too.
1. DigitNow Cassette to MP3 converter: Best overall
DigitNow are specialists in the converting of older formats to digital. This cassette to MP3 converter is simple to use, light and compact, and comes with all the functionality you need to both copy and listen to music from cassette tapes. While the unit itself does feel cheaply made... that's because it is, and this is reflected in the price. You can usually pick up the DigitNow converter for less than $30, which makes it much cheaper than most other cassette converters. And, to be clear, all the similar models we considered for this guide had similar build quality, but didn't quite offer the same audio conversion fidelity, so you're getting a good deal here.
This one comes with a USB cable that plugs directly into your PC or Mac, and a software CD and instruction manual. We recommend using a different piece of software like Audacity (which is free) to digitize your cassettes, as the included software CD is increasingly struggling to stay compatible with the latest versions of Windows or Mac OS. You also get a pair of earbuds with this one too, which are cheap and poor quality but can serve as a decent back-up pair if your main headphones are lost or left at home by mistake.
It runs on AA batteries if you want to use it as a straightforward Walkman, and will also draw power from a DC power connection if you have one. Neither power options are included, so make sure you have batteries at home. At under $30 this is a cheap piece of tech, but it works just fine and is perfect for most needs.
2. Marantz Professional PMD-300CP: Best audio copy
If you're serious about the quality of the conversion from cassette to MP3, you should look to get a specialized at home deck, like this one from Marantz. You'll pay a lot more for it - around $150 is standard - but you'll get a reliable cassette player and copier that will make perfect digital files from your old music and audio recordings.
The Marantz Professional PMD-300CP has a full range of features, and does just about anything you want with a cassette (except untangling it if the tape has looped out). You can record in normal or high-speed dubbing, and there is a noise-reduction feature to boost the sound quality of the original copy. While the Walkman-style converters produce fine copies, and you can clean up the digital file with a separate computer program, the Marantz will create superior original copies, meaning you'll be able to make your digital files even cleaner and sharper.
You can also hook this up to separate speakers to play cassette music in your home, and copy from tape to tape, if you need to make duplicates. The only missing features are autoreverse, and recording from both decks (you can only play from one of the decks - not record), but these are far from essential features. Overall, this is the one to get if you need audio quality and reliability above all else, and you want to pay the extra bucks.
3. Ion Tape Express Plus: Best quality player
If you don’t need a full-bodied tape deck, but still want high-quality audio conversions, consider the Ion Tape Express Plus. This converter is constructed of sturdier materials than some other Walkman-style converters, like the DigitNow, and that is reflected in the price, as you'll pay close to $40 for it. This makes it an effective player, but how does the copying stand up?
It's far from perfect when it comes to copying cassettes but, for the most part, does a good job. When we tested this model it actually improved the sound quality in some instances, but this is something Audacity does more effectively once you've actually copied the music to your PC. So, you're not gaining much (if anything) in conversion over the cheaper models.
The Ion is simple to use, and we do like the sturdier materials and simplified design. If you're looking to carry it with you and play tapes on the move, it's definitely the best option. If you're looking for a pure converter, it does the job, but at a higher price than some.
4. MyPin cassette to USB converter: Works without a computer
There are plenty of Walkman-style cassette to MP3 converters out there, but the MyPin is different to most for a couple of reasons. The first is the jazzy design, that throws back perfectly to when cassettes were the dominant audio format. It's slim, compact, and very simple to operate. The MyPin comes with a 3.5mm jack input that allows headphones to be plugged in, and for it to be used as a personal listening device, and it has a USB input too. Much like all the other entries here.
However, this allows you to copy straight from tape to USB stick, so you don't need to mess about with audio software or cables. It copies direct to the USB drive, and converts the songs or tracks to MP3, making it wonderfully easy to use. The downside here is that the quality isn't perfect, so we'd very much recommend post-processing your new MP3s using audio editing software, after you've copied them.
It's cheap and easy to use, which does mean build quality suffers a little. This doesn't feel like an expensive product... but it works, and it's a stylish way to listen to cassettes if you just can't let the 80s go. It even comes bundled with headphones, making it a good buy for $35.
How cassette to MP3 converters work
Most of the products we reviewed come in the form of a small handheld cassette player with a USB port that connects to your computer. These devices are usually coupled with a software component that you need to install on your system.
Once you have the cassette you want to convert in the deck and connected to your computer, all you need to do is press Play on your deck and Record in the software and it will capture the audio as it plays back. After the converter software has captured the audio, you can export it as an MP3. Then you can do pretty much anything with it. You can burn it to a CD, sync it to any of the best smartphones, upload it to the internet, or import it into an audio editing application for further work.
Converting the audio found on cassette tapes can be a time-consuming process. That’s because it’s not a simple file transfer that only takes a few seconds. Cassette to MP3 converters must record the audio in real time as it plays in the deck. If you’re converting a whole cassette, this can take up to an hour. Then you have to go into the application to listen to the captured content, edit the audio, separate the tracks and a few other things. These are all pretty simple things to master, but it can be quite involved as well. Just know that if you’re converting a lot of tapes, you’re probably looking at a long-term project.
Key attributes of MP3 converter
There are a couple of ways these converters connect to your computer. Most have an integrated cassette deck that allows you to easily slide in the tape you want to convert. Others require you to connect your own deck to your computer via RCA cables. These ones let you hook up any analog device, like a record player or 8-track deck, and convert audio from those devices as well.
All of the products we reviewed can connect to your computer through a USB port. This is the most convenient way to connect, because all computers have multiple USB outlets. Most of the products can draw their power through the USB connection. But there are also alternate power supplies for these devices; some have DC adapter outlets, some also take AA batteries.
The conversion software that comes with these products is critical to their performance. The best cassette converter applications have the ability to automatically detect and segregate tracks on a music album. They also allow you to control the volume of the audio as it is being recorded. Additionally, the best applications work on both Windows and Mac. However, made of these cassette players struggle with compatibility, as they - and their software - are older products. If you can't get your chosen converter's software to work, try any of the best audio converter software packages from our guide.
Most of the devices we reviewed double as portable cassette players, good for everyday use. While this is nice for retro-style lovers, they don’t offer any functionality outside of playing and converting tapes. Our number two pick, the Marantz Professional, is a full bodied, double-deck unit with additional ports in the back that allow you to connect not only to your computer, but devices such as record players and your home entertainment system.