The Top Ten Reviews Gold Award for cassette to MP3 converters goes to Ion Audio’s Tape 2 PC. This device is a full-bodied dual cassette deck that connects to your computer via a USB cord. It also comes with an easy-to-use software counterpart that produces the highest quality audio files in our review of the best cassette converters.
The most important aspect of any cassette to MP3 converter is the quality of the converted audio. This is Tape 2 PC’s greatest strength. In our tests, we compared a converted song from a new cassette tape against the original recording and a digital version of the same song. The sound created by Tape 2 PC was as good as or better than both versions. In fact, this product produces better sound than any other cassette converter on our side-by-side comparison chart.
All of the other cassette to MP3 converters we reviewed are Walkman-style devices that hold a single tape. Tape 2 PC is a full-sized dual cassette recorder deck that has more capability than the other products we reviewed. Not only are you able to connect the deck to your computer via the included USB cable, but you also have the ability to connect other analog devices, such as an 8-track tape, vinyl record player or any device that has RCA ports, to capture and digitize audio. If you don't want a full tape deck, consider this product's little brother - Tape Express Plus.
Another big difference between this device and other products on our lineup is how it draws its power. The smaller, more portable devices drew their power either from AA batteries, a USB connection to your computer or a DC adapter you can plug into the wall. In contrast, Tape 2 PC plugs directly into an AC socket. This gives it a much more consistent and stable power supply since it’s not dependent on your computer or batteries.
The software that comes with the Tape 2 PC deck is Ion’s EZ Vinyl/Tape Converter. This is great because this application is specifically designed to work with Ion hardware. Most of the other programs we reviewed come with a copy of Audacity, a free audio recording and editing application. While Audacity is a fine application, it’s not ideal for capturing and converting cassette tapes. In contrast, EZ Vinyl/Tape Converter was programmed to carry out that particular task. This, in part, accounts for the superior sound quality produced by this tape converter.
Once you’ve captured the audio on your cassettes into the converter software, it asks you to input the metadata for each track. This information includes song titles, album and artist name. This is an important step because it is the metadata that allows media players like iTunes to identify the music you import.
If you have a large library of cassettes to convert, you may want to consider how much hard drive space the converted files will take up. The average song runs about three minutes. In our tests, a three-minute song yielded a file 3.5MB large. A digital download of the same song has a file size of 6.8MB. A smaller file size means you can fit more converted files onto your hard drive. In general, you can expect that 1GB of hard drive space holds about 280 songs.
One of the best aspects of the EZ Vinyl/Tape Converter application is that it walks you through the capturing and conversion process step by step. This takes all the guesswork out of converting your tapes. Other products that rely on Audacity require users to learn and use that application with no guidance. That’s a steep learning curve for people who have no audio-editing experience. EZ Vinyl/Tape Converter has no such curve; anyone can use this software right out of the box.
EZ Vinyl/Tape Converter has an automatic track-detection feature that detects the silence between tracks on an album, allowing it to separate each track automatically. However, there is one downside to this feature: The application cannot distinguish the silence that follows at the end of each song and silence that may occur during a song. If you have tracks on your tapes that have silent parts, you can turn off automatic track detection and capture those songs individually.
One minor flaw with this cassette converter is that it has no auto-reverse feature. Auto reverse means that when a tape comes to the end of one side, the player reverses the direction of the tape and plays the opposite side with no action required on the part of the user. This converter, though, requires you to flip the cassette manually when it reaches the end of one side.
Tape 2 PC has a few tools that allow you to customize your conversion. The deck itself has a knob that lets you adjust the recording level. This is essentially the volume control for your conversion. If you’re converting a relatively quiet recording, you can boost the volume using this knob. But use caution when using this feature since high volume has a tendency to cause distortion in the converted audio.
You also have the ability to adjust the gain during the capture process. Gain is essentially boosting the signal from the device to the software. You can adjust this in two ways: on the back of the deck there’s a gain knob, and there's a gain slider in the application. Usually the default settings are sufficient for general use. If you’re not sure how to use this feature, it's probably best to leave it be.
On the front of the player, you’ll notice a switch marked "Noise Reduction." This tool is exactly what it sounds like: It helps reduce or eliminate the imperfections in audio on magnetic tape. We found this feature extremely effective in eliminating pops and warble inevitably encountered on cassette tapes.
Ion Audio offers a 90-day warranty period. In the rare case you get a defective unit, you can return it within that time period. It should be noted that 90 days is the shortest warranty period of any product we reviewed.
Ion also has robust customer and technical support options. If you have a problem, you can contact the company by either phone or email. But if you need an immediate answer, you can consult the FAQ section found on the Ion website. You’ll also find video tutorials that show you exactly how to use this cassette converter to its fullest potential.
Tape 2 PC by Ion Audio is the best cassette to MP3 converter you can buy. It produces the best sound quality of any product we reviewed. The hardware is the best, most durable and stable of any converter on our lineup. We had some minor complaints, such as having to manually flip over tapes when they reached the end of one side, but, overall, you won’t find a converter that gets the job done better than this product.