The top performers in our review are Tape 2 PC, the Gold Award winner; Tape Express Plus, the Silver Award winner; and Cassette2USB Converter, the Bronze Award winner. Here’s more on choosing a system to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of these seven products.
The last 50 years has seen monumental advances in audio technology. In the 1960s, the dominant audio media was vinyl LP records. The 70s saw the rise of the 8-track cartridge and by the 1980s, the compact cassette tape had supplanted both as the bestselling audio format.
The cassette tape allowed people more versatility and freedom to easily perform tasks that would otherwise have been too difficult or expensive before the technology was widely available. Recordable tapes enabled users to capture songs from the radio, record dictations and even served as early form of computer data storage.
Like so many other analog technologies, the age of digital media rendered these technologies all but obsolete. CDs, MP3s, digital downloads and streaming services revolutionized how we consume audio media. In days gone by you had to go to a music store to buy an album. Today, listening to music only takes a few clicks on your computer or taps on a smartphone.
Even though the cassette tape is essentially dead, there are still untold millions of tapes sitting in cardboard boxes and cabinets all over the world. Many of these tapes contain content you just can’t get in digital format. Unique voice recordings, demo tapes, radio broadcasts and more are trapped on magnetic tape and disappear forever when those cassettes are finally thrown out. But there is a way to bring them into the digital era.
Cassette to MP3 converters allow you to recover the audio on your tapes by transferring them onto your computer and converting them into a digital format. This is great if you still have your old cassette collection that you want to resurrect or if you simply want to archive your tapes so you can finally get rid of them.
How It Works
Most of the products in our review come in form of a Walkman-style 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. You then can do pretty much anything with it. You can burn it to a CD, sync it to a smartphone, 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.
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. The former has the advantage of being very convenient while the latter allows you to 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 on our lineup 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 converters applications have the ability to automatically detect and segregate tracks on a music album. They also allow you control the volume of the audio as it is being recorded. Additionally, the best applications work on both Windows and Mac. To read more, check out our articles about converting cassette tapes to MP3 files.
In our tests, we acquired a brand new commercial cassette tape and used each of the products on our lineup to digitize it. We then compared the resulting file against a digital download of the same content. We examined the converted files for hissing, static, warble and crisp and clear sound. The results varied widely. The best products produced high-fidelity sound files that were nearly indistinguishable from the digitally downloaded versions. Other products that had lesser components yielded lower-quality sound. But none of the cassette converters we reviewed created files that were unlistenable.
Ease of Use
All the products in our lineup are fairly straightforward to use. All you have to do is connect your tape deck to your computer, start playing your tape and record it with whatever software you have installed. But there are a few features that make some products easier to use than others.
The best cassette converter programs have step-by-step workflows that take the guesswork out of capturing audio on a tape. They walk you through the program’s interface and tell you when to start playback on your cassette deck. Once you’re done recording, these programs allow you to input the metadata for each track. This includes data such as album name, artist, song name and more. Filling these out makes it easier to integrate your converted cassettes into your digital media library in programs like iTunes and other media players.
Automatic Track Detection
Another convenient feature is a converter application’s ability to detect when one song ends and another begins. These applications sort all the songs in an album. In general we found this feature to be effective. However, you should be careful if there are songs that have pauses or silence that aren’t at the beginning or end of a song; this can result in the application mistakenly splitting one song into two. You can easily avoid this problem by turning off the automatic track detection feature and recording those songs separately.
Generally speaking, content on cassettes doesn’t take up much space on your hard drive. The average song is about three minutes. In our tests we found that a converted track of that length can take up between three and six megabytes. This isn’t very much, but if you have a large library of cassettes you want to convert, it can add up quickly. But this doesn’t mean that you should pick a product that creates smaller files. We found a direct correlation between smaller files and degraded audio quality.
Top Ten Reviews seeks, whenever possible, to evaluate all products and services in hands-on tests that simulate as closely as possible the experiences of a typical consumer. We obtained the units in our comparison either on loan from the companies or through retail purchase. The manufacturers had no input or influence over our test methodology, nor were the testing methodology provided to any of them in more detail than is available through reading our reviews. Results of our evaluations were not provided to the companies in advance of publication.
At the end of our evaluation, we found that the following products are the best cassette to MP3 converters:
Tape 2 PC: The reason this product claimed the top spot on our side-by-side comparison chart is due to its dual cassette design, step-by-step directions on how to use the software, automatic track detection and perfect audio quality. It is the only fully functional cassette deck in our lineup. The rest are merely Walkman-style units that don’t have the high-quality components found in this device.
Tape Express Plus: The Silver Award winner is the little brother of the Gold Award Winner. Made by the same manufacturer, it contains many of the high-quality components as its larger counterpart. Unlike the other Walkman-style products on our lineup, it creates high-fidelity sound files that you would be hard pressed to find imperfections in.
Cassette2USB Converter: This product has some unique features that placed it in the top tier of our review. It comes with two separate programs that can capture the sound on your cassette tapes: Audacity and Cassette2CD Wizard. The former is an audio recording and editing program advanced users will appreciate. The latter is simpler program that offers step-by-step instructions to transfer your cassettes onto your hard drive. However, the sound quality produced by this converter leaves much to be desired.
At the end of the day, cassette to MP3 converters allow you to easily transfer songs and other audio onto your computer. The best products make this process as simple as possible, create high-quality sound files and offer applications that are specifically designed to work with the devices they’re sold with.