There seems to be a lot of people around who still use, or want to be able to play cassette tapes, and are looking to buy a new or second hand cassette deck. After all you may want to be able to transfer your old cassette tapes to your PC, convert them to MP3 format or burn your tunes to CD.
Before you buy, here is some vital information that will make your purchase easier and could save you money in the long run.
When looking at new cassette decks the first thing you should ask yourself is:
Do I want to transfer cassette to cassette.
Will I be making new recordings.
Will I be mainly playing back my old tapes, perhaps with a view to transferring cassette to CD.
If you need to transfer cassette tape to cassette tape then you will be looking for a twin or dual cassette deck.
Surprisingly enough dual cassette decks are not that much more expensive than single decks. The reason is their quality. The majority of dual decks use just one motor to drive both decks. Even the top brands like Pioneer and Technics use this system. In my experience, having spent many years repairing and servicing cassette decks, the mechanisms tend to be rather flimsy (cheap!) increasing wow and flutter figures especially when using both cassette decks at once. Any problems with tight tapes and varying loads on one deck, will affect the smooth running and accuracy of the other deck.
For this reason I am not a big fan of dual cassette decks unless you spend a lot of money on a really high quality deck.
There is one advantage of a single motor dual deck, all be it small, is when recording cassette to cassette. Because the same motor drives both decks, regardless of whether the deck is in normal or high speed, the cassette copy should run at exactly the same speed as the original tape so the pitch of your music should be identical to the original. Ideally I would use two single cassette decks although you will not have the advantage of high speed dubbing. However if you still want a dual cassette deck I would suggest you buy new.
If you want to make new recordings, then unless you are sure about the quality of a second hand deck, then once again I would suggest you buy new.
If your main objective is playing back your old cassette tapes maybe to transfer cassette to CD, then it would be best to buy a single deck and look at second hand. You will need to check out the condition of a second hand cassette deck. Things like tape head wear for instance although many decks use ferrite or glass tape heads which hardly wear at all, in which case tape head wear would not be an issue, but there is the problem of the mechanics i.e. motors, gears, clutches, belts and pinch rollers. If there are problems with any of these then you will get high wow and flutter, and incorrect running speed. Always take along a cassette tape recorded with music (speech will not show up problems well) know well. Listen to the high frequencies (treble) - is it clear? Listen to long notes - are they steady, and do not sound wowy or warbly? Let the cassette deck run for as long as you can and listen for any change in, or excess mechanical noise. All these tips will tell you if the deck is worth buying or not!
It is worth mentioning that if there is some head wear, tape playback quality is not affected as much by tape head wear as record, so this should not be an issue unless the heads are very badly worn.
If you want to buy second hand I would recommend an article on buying a new and second hand cassette deck on our website. It gives you some more information to make sure you buy a decent, reliable deck. With the right knowledge, you can buy yourself a much better quality deck for less money.
David Grant is an audio electronics engineer and owner of http://www.soundabout.net . Transferring Vinyl LP to CD, 78 to CD, Cassette to CD. For more information on Professional Services or understanding more on how you can transfer your own LP or cassette to CD visit our website.
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