If our era is obsessed with the constant evolution of technology, the inner desire to remain connected to our past can’t possibly be erased. In 2013, vinyls took the music market by storm. For that year only, vinyl sales increased by 33.5 percent. Following in its brother’s footsteps, another forgotten item, the cassette, could become the “new vinyl”. Two years ago, Billboard observed this spurt of popularity. The renowned American entertainment brand revealed that U.S. cassette album sales increased by 74 % with the “Guardians of the Galaxy” soundtrack as flagship. An official report in 2017 indicated that cassette sales had doubled in one year. Ever since their introduction in 1963 in Belgium, cassette players have fascinated for their simplicity and capabilities. In this article, we go through their characteristics and give you some of the best cassette players on today’s confined market.

Advantages of cassette players

When we think about old technology, we have the false assumption that everything that is old is cheaper. The truth is that some products gain value over time because of their specificities and rareness. Moreover, the cassette player or deck market is not immunized against a differentiation between high-end and low-end cassette players. However, as a rule of thumb, cassette players are affordable products. Probably more so, in comparison with the products that use the latest technology.

An undeniable asset of cassette players is their portability. These handy devices operate on batteries and can be taken everywhere. Even more than before, a notable feature of tape players is the fact that they incorporate recorders. Built-in or remote microphones permit recording. If cassette players can give you a creative spark as a producer to implement some sampled old records in your tracks, they also make great companions in restricted learning environments such as school classes. When sound fidelity is not as important as affordability  and durability, cassette players make a great choice.

Surfing on the hype wave, tape players will also benefit you if you want to look fashionable and stylish. How often will you see someone using a cassette player ? There is an unmistakable nostalgia that surrounds this device. Vintage and retro artifacts contribute to this particular esthetic. Some fanatics are also collecting audio tapes. As they come at a lower cost than vinyls, the collection of cassettes is more accessible.

VIDEO: “Cassettes are back” 

Disadvantages of cassette players

While there has been a rise in demands, and a profound desire to revive the past, Cassette players are still scarcer and more difficult to find  than MP3/4 or CD players. Some retail stores have stopped selling them or only provide a limited selection. Therefore, your best ally here will be internet. You can browse the net on Amazon, Ebay or even dedicated websites such as TapeHead City

Another disadvantage is the technological gap. But, then again, why would you buy a cassette player if you want the latest technology ? That being said, logically, cassette players don’t have the same dimensions or weight as more recent technological products. Moreover, they are also incapable of providing you with the same storage capacity as more recent devices. The technological gap is also revealed by the fact that the loudspeaker on tape players won’t produce the most satisfying result. Therefore, if you are looking to retain the quality of the sound, you should definitely consider a tape player with a headphone jack or a computer compatibility. Luckily, most of the models that are available today provide you with these features.

What are the constituting parts of a cassette ?

What would be a cassette player without a cassette ? An empty vessel. When you consider a cassette player, you should also be aware of the essential components of the cassette. Most compact audio tapes are comprised of two spools that hold a length of magnetic plastic tape between them. This mechanism happens inside a rigid plastic casing. There are openings at the top to allow the magnetic tape to be read by a receiving mechanism. For this mechanism to work, several holes have been pierced on the cassette for external components to assist with rotating the spools.

How does a cassette player work ?

For the most part, cassette players have two main functions. These are playback and recording.  Both functions rely on the magnetic coating that covers the exposed side of the roll of plastic tape contained within a standard cassette. The cassette playing mechanism relies essentially on its magnetic coating. Therefore, the quality of the component which is used for the coating is very important since it carries electromagnetic signals specific to its contents. The most popular material used to fabricate the magnetic coating is ferric oxide.

During playback, four electromagnetic signals run side by side along the full length of the tape. The particularity, and what many people ignore is that a cassette player only reads two of these signals at a time. This is because each pair makes up the left and right stereo signals for one side of the tape. At the moment when you switch your tape from its A to its B side, the aforementioned  mechanism which is responsible for reading the tape accesses and reads the other pair of channels.Reading and recording functions of a tape take place on the length of tape exposed to the play head. Guide rollers are stretching the exposed tape flat.

Spindles which are built into the player are all contributing to this function. A capstan is holding the tape into place, ensuring that it moves past the play head at consistent speed. Moreover, there is a soft pressure pad which ensures that there is no unwanted friction between the tape and the metal play head. Importantly, the tape head has two small electromagnets, both playing and recording onto two tracks of the tape at a time, depending on its setting. These electromagnet can either read the existing right and left-side signals or write new signals onto the magnetic coating. Many cassette players posses a secondary electromagnetic head that erases existing signals on the cassette just before new signals are re-recorded on the main head.

Did you know that ?

Cassettes were not meant to be used in the mainstream market. In fact, they were thought as replacement for “reel-to-reel” tape cartridges which were primarily used for professional audio recording. Nonetheless, since the beginning it was made clear that these small plastic cases constituted a technological revolution. Phillips, the brand that had licensed the product, was forced to allow other manufactures to license the format for free due to industry pressure. The fact that the format was democratized greatly contributed to its popularization.

VIDEO: “How to clean cassette players” 

Review | 6 Best Cassette Players 

Sony WM-FS222 S2 Cassette Player

sony WM-FS222 S2 cassette player
  • overall rating 90%

Pros & Cons 

L

Quality sound for such a small unit

L

Easy to use

L

Features headphones

K

Expensive

K

High levels of distortion at low volume

Sony has always been one of the leading brands for portable cassette players. The WM-FS222 is another high quality product. Its design proves to be at the same time ergonomic and durable. Overall, the product has been ruggedly constructed.  Action grip and belt clip functionalities make it the perfect companion for when you are on the road or exercise. If the product is not waterproof, its water-resistant seals make it impervious to water, moisture and dirt. Offering at the same time a digital-synthesized FM and an AM stereo tuner, this small device will be able to save up to 40 radio stations. Moreover, TV and weather forecast functions are also enabled. With this cassette player, you will travel back into the 90s.

Whilst it doesn’t offer the best stereophonic sound in the world, it provides acceptable left/right channel separation for musical diversion. However, users have complained about the absence of an auto-reverse functionality and a loose and insecure attachment for vigorous walking or running.

Dansrue Cassette Player

dansrue cassette player
  • overall rating 80%

Pros & Cons 

L

Earphones are included

L

Easy to use

L

Runs on battery and USB power

K

Low-quality fabrication

K

Average sound properties

The main feature of this cassette player is its USB compatibility that allows you to convert your music into MP3 files or CD format. This is a game-changer, because it give so much opportunities with creative sampling. One very useful tool you get with this cassette player is a software CD that explains the process of converting your cassette tapes. By following the given tutorial, you will easily grasp how to convert your cassette collection and edit the audio. Customer service is helpful and the website of the product even mentions that if you don’t have a laptop or PC, the company will send you a digital copy. As a lower tier product we cannot really complain about quality of fabrication or sound properties because the cassette player does the job.

However, you should know that this cassette player is by no means a high-end product. Although materials seem cheap, the device is lightweight which makes it easily transportable, and its USB/battery powering makes it flexible. Furthermore, this tape player also supports 3.5mm AUX Jack, allowing you to plug in earphones or use it with your car speaker.

Reshow Cassette Player

reshow cassette player
  • overall rating 80%

Pros & Cons 

L

Functional and does what it says

L

Light and small

L

Runs on battery and USB power

K

Unappealing design

K

Buttons and manufacturing feel cheap

Reshow made the cassette player accessible and multi-functional. For an entry level-product, the sound coming out for this plastic box is fantastic. Small and light, this device can be easily transported around wherever you go. The manufacturing will make you think of Sony’s Walkman, even though this cassette player seems less resistant. While this product isn’t for audio tape purists, great attention is given to the product packaging. All accessories are wrapped with individual packaging for extra protection. Even though the construction is entirely reliant on plastic, you still get that nostalgic feel with this tape player.

Two slightly different versions are available for this product. There is a more expensive PC compatible version which is 3 $ more than the US flash disk compatible version. As with the Dansrue cassette player, Audacity software is provided to convert your music to an mp3 file.  If the software is thorough, the conversion may take a while. However, cassette content corresponds to less data when converted to mp3 and this should be a relief for audio tape enthusiasts.

Wikoo Cassette Player

wikoo cassette player
  • overall rating 95%

Pros & Cons 

L

Great value

L

Easy to install/use

L

Converts cassette content into durable audio

K

Playback speed a little inconsistent

K

Sound quality is questionable

Although Reshow and Wikoo are different brands, both cassette players share a lot of similarities. This cassette player is good at what it is aimed for. Namely, converting old mix tapes and cassettes to MP3 or CD formats. Another advantage is its portability. Its design lets you fit the Wikoo cassette player in any bag and lets you transport it everywhere. As with the previous product, this audio tape player is both battery and USB powered. A featured audio output lets you listen to it on your headphones or speaker system.  Once again a helpful and easy-to-use software is included. As with the Reshow player, Audacity is featured.

What you will instantly notice with this product is how easy it is to install and use. Whilst it is not particularly sturdy, for a product in this price range the sound quality is very satisfying. This is not always the case with entrance level products. Besides being a classical tape player, the main quality of this player is that it provides a simple and effective way of getting those old taps onto a durable and much more accessible format.

Digitnow Cassette Player

digitnow cassette player
  • overall rating 90%

Pros & Cons 

L

Comes in different colors

L

Voice recorder

L

Auto reverser function

K

Cheap manufacturing

K

Software could be more explanatory

Another ideal option for playing your old cassette tape, is the DIGITNOW cassette player. What you will notice with this one, in terms of design, is that it is very reminiscent of a radio. This is not only a physical aspect. With the AM/FM radio function, you can enjoy your favorite FM and AM stations. As with the other cassette players that made our list, this one is portable and lightweight with a detachable belt clip. A distinctive feature is its voice recorder which is enabled through a built-in microphone. Various other recording options such as Recording PC audio from/to cassette, or AM/FM Radio to PC/cassette are included. Once again, this device is both powered by USB and batteries. Furthermore, the auto reverser function is available to satisfy the purists.

The essential functions you should look out for with this cassette player is the simple fact that it plays, saves & edits your collected tapes with USB. Much like with the other audio tape players on the list this music player will allow you to travel in time and revive past memories.

Bigaint Cassette Player

bigaint cassette player
bigaint cassette player
  • overall rating 90%

Pros & Cons 

L

Lightweight & portable

L

Solid manufacturing

L

Voice recorder

K

Cheap headphones

K

Flimsy buttons

K

Bad battery life

The Bigaint cassette player has most of the qualities of the aforementioned audio tape players starting with its conversion functions. The cassette player covers old mix tapes and cassettes to MP3 through USB flash disk . Here, the novelty is that no computer is required for this process. Again, you have a cassette player which is both USB and battery powered. However, the batteries here don’t provide for a very long working time (about 1 hour). That being said, the device is small sized, portable and also supports external audio. Therefore, you can plug your headphones in it, or use it with your car stereo.

Bigaint has been praised for overall satisfying customer service. What we didn’t like are the cheap headphones that are furnished with the product and the flimsy buttons which don’t seem very resistant. Nonetheless, the manufacturing seems solid overall. Even though it is only a prediction, we believe this product will age well.

Conclusion

This concludes our quest for the best cassette players that are available today. In our opinion, the Wikoo cassette player provides the best value and quality-price ratio. While it may be true that it is not the most qualitative product on our list, it seems to have all the necessary attributes you would be looking for when searching for a cassette player. The latter model also proves to be the best suited for music producers who can easily convert their old mix tapes into sustainable formats. Moreover, its easy installation, helpful software and portable characteristics constitute main assets. You can also power the audio tape player both through USB and batteries.

We hope that this article informed you more about the best cassette players and their functions. Many explanations can be given to the revival of cassette players in recent years. However, one of the main ones remain the necessity to keep in touch with the past and preserve a certain musical heritage.