posted by Adam S on Thu 6th Oct 2005 12:00 UTC
IconWith each successive generation of technology, we collectively make each leap faster and with slightly less pain. However, as a music fanatic, the jump from tape to CD/mp3 was a tough one for me. Enter the Plusdeck2 Tape-RW PC Cassette Deck. This fantastic device, supplied by geeks.com, has been one of the best devices I've had the pleasure of reviewing. Read on for the complete story.

There is no doubt, the Plusdeck2 is not for everyone. It's an expensive device if you goal is simply to convert a few cassettes. However, if you have music that can't be easily made digital - such as recordings of live music with no digital source, tapes of music that hasn't been released on CD, or (especially) cassette tapes of your own bands or music that were recorded onto cassette, this device is perfect. In my case, I had well over 200 tapes that I would like to convert to both WAV and mp3.

Plusdeck2The Plusdeck2 fits directly into any standard 5¼" bay on your computer. Although it looks like it it might run via IDE, it does not - rather it has a a 20-pin cable that connects to a daughter board that rests in the back of your PC. The daughter board doesn't actually use a PCI connection, just the expansion slot on your case. The daughter board, in turn, connects to your soundcard, either via two cables for 2 channel cards or via 3 or 4 for your Dolby Digital cards. In my case, I have a Soundblaster card capable of 5.1 sound. Finally, you'll need to connect the daughter board to a serial port on your computer. This controls the device via the software.

Installation took about 15 minutes. The first, and largest complaint I have about the Plusdeck2 is the instruction manual. While it's really not very tough to hook up to anyone with much PC experience, the device appears to be very complex for someone who hasn't toyed with computer cabling before. Determining which cables are connected to which slots is a task, as there are several possible configurations and getting it right may initially take some tinkering to find the right combination.

That said, the requirements for the Plusdeck2 are very minimal:

  • Available 5.25" External Drive Bay
  • Available Expansion Slot (for connection card)
  • Sound Card (analog Line out, Line in essential)
  • Windows 98 and above

Once you have the device connected, you'll need to install the companion software. The software installs quickly and easily into Microsoft Windows and does not require a reboot. Seconds later, you should find yourself able to listen to cassettes through your computer; all controls are present in the software. While the interface is minimal and arguably not the most attractive, it's extremely simple to use and very concise, both positives in my book. There are no unnecessary options, and it was straightforward enough that I didn't need the instructions to begin encoding in seconds.

I immediately wanted to test conversion with no further manual reading. I popped in an old cassette tape - a fairly common Maxell XL-II type II chromium dioxide cassette from about 1993. The controls allow you to choose from several possible destination audio formats. Amongst them, you'll find WAV and mp3 at several bitrates ranging from 8 through 256. I converted the first song to WAV format, which is the general standard lossless format.

Audio CDs use a "format" called PCM, and WAV is Microsoft's digital representation of that. Because of Windows' prevalence, WAV was adopted nearly universally as the standard representation of CD audio. Therefore, it is very easy, on all platforms, to create audio CDs from WAV files without losing any data or performing any major format conversion. Read more at Wikipedia.

Conversion from tape to digital file is a snap. A single mouse-click lets you convert either side A, side B, both as a single file, or both as individual files. Recording to disk occurs in real time and you can listen to the content as it plays. You will want to note that the unit is suceptible to interference, so you'll want to keep additional noise, rattling, and computer movement to a minimum while recording. The result of conversion one were fantastic, the WAV file sounds incredible. Of course, the condition of your tape is paramount to a successful conversion.

For my second conversion, I selected 192 kpbs mp3. Again, in one mouse-click, I was able to convert the second song. When you record to mp3, it's interesting to see that the unit actually records a WAV file, and then encodes it once the recording is completed. Therefore, you'll want to make sure you have about 500MB available in addition to the space needed for the your mp3 if you are converting the first side of a 90-minute cassette. You'll get a nice warning box that pops up confirming that your mp3s have been created when the encoding is done. The mp3 quality is really nice. Unfortunately, when creating mp3s, the ID3 tags are left blank, which is really not a big deal, since there's no prepopulated information and certainly nothing like CDDB to use for this operation.

Plusdeck2

Table of contents
  1. "Plusdeck, Page I"
  2. "Plusdeck, Page II"
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