Goodbye 1980s

When one of my friends stopped by my place a few months ago, he looked at my CD rack and said something like, "Dude, what is this, the 90s?" He didn't take notice of any of the collection, let alone the beautiful construction of the rack. No, just that a CD collection is considered outdated. That rack is a woodworking project I did with my Dad, constructed from oak, ending with a nice 10-shelf housing, with each shelf holding 100 disks. There's also room for cassettes, as a bunch survived each move I've made. I had peaked at about 250 back in the late 80s, when I made the switch to CD. The ones I had left were double stacked on the bottom shelf, out of view, and perhaps saved me the ignominy of a "Dude, what is this, the 80s" retort.

I liked cassettes. You could purchase them by the album, or record your own songs on to them. They were great for the car. They didn't scratch easily like CDs, and could be changed while driving without ever taking your eye off the road--you would just smash it into the car stereo until it went in. There was no worry about breaking or dropping it or storing it carefully in its case--you just picked it up from wherever in the car it was lying, loaded it and kept driving.

Finding specific tracks on a cassette was a bit more irritating, and they had a finite shelf life, sounding warped or not playing at the right speed after awhile. And, song recordings (say, from the radio, or, especially in my case, from old vinyl) were far from perfect, usually ending with a song cut off, or with just too long or short a gap between songs, and always managed to pick up the scratches or skips that made you know it was from your record, etc. As my CD collection built, however, my cassettes did get tossed. I ended up holding onto a bunch of mixes and a really nice collection of classical tapes.

From 1987-1988, I worked in a bookstore. Like a lot of bookstores, this one sold some music--on cassette. I remember that I had just purchased my first CD player, but took notice of a collection of about 20 cassettes being sold featuring everything from Bach to Wagner. I knew this would be better to have on CD and that I should probably back off buying cassettes, but I also couldn't turn down a bargain: The cassettes went for something like $3 each, and one of the best perks of the job was a 30 or 33% discount. So, I bought them all. Beethoven, Chopin, Grieg, Handel, Mendelsshohn, Mozart, Rachmaninov, Schubert, Strauss, Tchaikovsky, Vivaldi--they were all in there. And I can say that I played them plenty for awhile.

At some point in the mid 1990s, I bought what I knew would be my last good cassette deck. No backwards-and-forward-playing dual cassette player, just a solid recording and playing device to fit in with my other stereo components. At this point, I was just playing my remaining store-bought and previously recorded tapes, and recorded songs off of CD, mostly for playing in the car. I eventually bought a CD recorder for my system, and had intended to burn these cassettes onto CD. Rarely finding time for that, and now not driving a car that plays cassettes, the deck got very little use the last few years.

Some time last year, I did go to listen to a cassette, and the damn thing wouldn't play. Then, I couldn't get my damn cassette out of it. I figured it was toast. I know that cleaning and fixing tape players wasn't too difficult, but I noticed that they weren't carried in stores anymore. I eventually broke the cassette door (accidentally) while trying to force it open, and figured it just wasn't worth fixing. But, I didn't feel like spending a lot of money on a new cassette player either. So, what was I to do?

Let me first say that iTunes is going to love me this month. I won't get into what I bought, as Sliced Tongue has given me an idea for another post, but let's just say that I've received a fistful of emails all showing $40 purchases in their store.

All in all, there were about 30 cassettes I wanted to lose once and for all, including those 20 or so classical ones that I had owned for over 20 years. But, I had no intention of shelling out the money to buy every single song I owned on cassette either.

After considering the different ways to digitize cassettes, I settled on Ion's Tape Express ($40 on Amazon). Amazon reviews were very mixed. Some complained about a flimsy door--it's not flimsy; it's just hinged on the narrower side of the player rather than on the wider side, but it doesn't feel fragile by any means. Some struggled with installation, while others describe it as plug and play. The favorable reviews said what I wanted to hear, that it will simply convert your cassettes to a digital format, and load them into iTunes. If the source isn't great, the recording won't be great--no surprise there.

But, it worked seamlessly for me.

I couldn't be bothered breaking most of my remaining cassettes into separate tracks, especially the classical ones, which are often one song to a cassette side anyway. This cutting up cassettes can be done with an automatic function it has, or by tapping a button to start a new track if you don't mind sitting near your computer for the length of the cassette playing time. For the three cassettes where I tried using its automatic track finder, the first two were cut up perfectly, but the third ended up with about five extra tracks. When I just let it record straight through, there were no problems. And, when done recording, the user can type in song and album info, which appears in the iTunes console--definitely a nice touch.

My CD rack will stay where it is for awhile, but it is nice to know that no cassettes are hidden on it, and more importantly that I preserved everything I wanted.


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