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Review: Ion Audio Tape Express by Jayson
June 17, 2010, 12:54 pm
Filed under: Review | Tags: , , , , ,

The dingus and a much nicer laptop than mine.

So a long time ago I wrote a thing about tapes coming back. Tapes are back, and there seem to be more coming out since I wrote that thing. I am still not sure what I think of the format, but it’s becoming a moot point. There is music on tapes that I want to listen to, so I’m going to be buying tapes.

Unlike records, which have never been not-cool, tapes haven’t been a cool thing until the last couple of years. The reason I bring this up again, is that there really isn’t much left in the way of tape players today. Your have a basic Walkman or two, a handful of small portable stereos and some shoebox recorders. You also have Ion Audio’s Tape 2 PC and Tape Express, which are analog to digital converters.

Another thing I’ve said before is that while I’ve kinda come to enjoy the analog audio experience again, I also still listen to most of my music on CDs or on my Zune. So, ultimately I’d like to take some of these tapes and have decent digital versions of them. I tired this with my cheapo Walkman and the results were less than spectacular.

So I got this thing, using some credit card reward points.

You get the dingus itself, a USB cable, the CD-ROM with the software and a pair of over the ear-exposed style headphones.* There is a port for AC power, but you don’t get an AC adapter. You’ll need two AAs.

Installing the thing is dead simple. Put the CD in, run the thing. Plug the dingus in. You are ready to record. Except if you’re me. The EZ Tape Converter software requires iTunes, you won’ be able to use it without. Given Apple’s market penetration this is probably not a huge issue for a lot of people, but I don’t have an iPod, iPhone or any need or want for iTunes, but I got i now. iTunes for Windows sucks, plain and simple.

The EZ Tape Converter software is not pro. It is about clicking next. You click next a few times. Click record. Press play on the tape player itself and then you hit next again when you’re done. Not stop. Next.

Next.

The glaring issue is that the software is clearly not designed for weirdos and their weirdo music. It’s designed for people in their 60s and 70s who never really transitioned to CDs and have a ton of tapes they can’t play now. The software will try to look for quiet spots, and break your recording up into individual tracks. I tested this with two tapes, Gitche-Anahmt-Bezheu’s Wonder and Winter Realm’s Ouroboros. The results for Wonder were pretty predictable. The software decided that the whole Side 1 was a one minute long track. I thought the Winter Realm tape might give me better results*, with more distinct songs, but the software did the exact same thing. Now you can turn this off, which I did, and just get an entire side of a tape as one long track. You may or may not care, and it may or may not matter based on the music. You also cannot have iTunes running when this thing goes to do it’s export, which is kind of weird.

As a tape player, it sounds significantly nicer than the new Sony Walkman I picked up at Best Buy 4 months ago. If you really want to get into listening to tapes, it might be worth it. The Walkman was $40, this Tape Express is $56 from JR, that is where I got mine. As it stands, I feel ok about this thing because I didn’t pay for it. I may try to see if I can record directly into Audacity with it and bypass iTunes. At the same time that is one of those deals where I may have to cross the Effort Threshold, and shouldn’t I be out meeting girls and living life to it’s fullest?

– Jayson

* The Walkman I bought came with a pair of the same style headphones. The target demographic for tape players must hate inner ear and earbud style headphones.

*Aetas sent a download code with the tape, which I didn’t notice until today, so moot point again. Thanks Aetas, that is the way to do it.

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6 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Yeah Ion’s software sucks (I have an Ion record player). That said, it should just show up as an audio device in windows, so you can use any audio editor you want, i.e. Audacity. This solves all issues that one might have with iTunes. They only use it because they are too cheap to licence an mp3 encoder.

Comment by Eli Gundry

Thanks so much for your review! It’s so hard to find reviews for new products.

Comment by Barbara

its handy ,easy to use—my only criticim is there is a backround hum,altering the volume input doesnt alter or reduce the hum.

Comment by robin booth

It’s more work, but I am having a better time using it with Audacity than with the supplied software.

Comment by Jayson

Ya, not for any serious projects, for sure. Very cheap, feels like it would break right easy. I installed it on my Acer laptop with Windows 7 and it was quick and easy, straightforward.

I got it for free and not for anything important otherwise I would have returned it for something with a little more quality to it.

I don’t like that it automatically sends the track to iTunes; maybe there’s a way to avoid that, I dunno.
The tape player will pick up noise, like if you tap the player during operation, it will transmit to the digital version.
I get the feeling from listening to it that the playback head alignment is loosey-goosey so you may get that ‘wavy’ sound if everything is not tight or if you move the player around while sending to yer computer.
Plus – if you switch direction on the tape player, the ‘REW’ & ‘FF’ buttons become reversed but they don’t tell you that. Minor inconvenience but pretty slack. A counter would be nice too.

BOTTOM LINE: It works but it is on the very, very low end of the scale. Do all your tapes as soon as you can cuz it will prolly break in short order.
I think that’s about it.

Comment by dantzig

I’ve found you can just skip iTunes. It installs as a usb audio device if you just connect it and plug it in, you can capture tracks with Audacity and edit with that if you like. I just use it as a player now.

Comment by Jayson




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