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Music conversion

PlusDeck2 cassette tape converter has solid hardware, but weak software that fails to perform

Friday, June 16, 2006
by Mike Adams, the Health Ranger
Editor of NaturalNews.com (See all articles...)
Tags: music conversion, Korean technology, cassette tapes

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This is a review about the PlusDeck2 PC cassette deck recorder. It is a tape converter that combines hardware with software to convert cassette tapes to MP3 files on your PC. It sounds like a promising combination. For those of us who have a lot of cassette tapes, this kind of one-step conversion sounds like it could be very handy. Unfortunately, as you'll learn in this review, the product doesn't deliver as promised, and it turns out to be a product that I would not recommend. I ultimately returned it to the reseller. Let me explain why.

First off, the product is a hardware/software combination. It is from a Korean company, and if you've purchased much computer hardware in the past, you may already know that a lot of the applications and hardware that come out of Korea are not quite up to speed in terms of quality control, and certainly not in documentation. This is unique to Korean products in my experience. Products from Japan, in contrast, are generally of very high quality and tend to have solid documentation. Products from Taiwan, Hong Kong and China can be all over the map. Some of them are very good, some of them are very bad, but Korea, in my experience, is consistently bad on user interface and software, and that's what I found with this product.

The hardware was solid and consists of a tape deck in a 5.25-inch form factor (which fits into an empty bay on your PC). The unit has a 20-pin cable that connects to a sound interface card that cross-connects with your existing sound card. There is no PCI slot or IDE interface. This unit plugs into an existing sound card and it has a serial cable for control.

The hardware seemed fairly solid. However, I experienced considerable trouble with the software. Specifically, the sound conversion simply does not work. The wav files that it saved were corrupted even though I was using the latest version of the software as verified by the web site. I was using 3.25 C, but the wav files would not play on one PC. I finally got them to play on another PC where they only played at half speed, so all the voices and music sounded like they were being played from a broken tape drive. Obviously, there was something wrong with the specifications of the wav files. Wav files aren't the only format that the software supports. It also supports MP3 files, but unfortunately, the MP3 files that it saved were of very low quality.

Also, at least on my system, the files mysteriously panned to the left, so if you were wearing a set of headphones and listening to them, they would be heard primarily in the left ear. I tried this with several different cassette tapes. I also recorded audio files streamed off the internet to verify that this wasn't a problem with my own hardware. It was a coding problem with the PlusDeck software. More importantly, the MP3 file quality it encoded was absolutely terrible. They were all mysteriously low-fidelity files, no matter what bit rate was selected.

To verify that this was a software problem and not a hardware problem, I whipped out the handy Windows sound recorder, the free utility that comes with Windows operating systems, and I recorded the audio from the tape deck. The Windows utility will only record 60 seconds of audio, but that audio sounded great. I also recorded other streaming audio with the Windows sound recorder, and it sounded great as well. Then I switched to the PlusDeck software and tried to record on that. Sure enough, I got the same terrible sound quality, so I know this was not a hardware problem. It was in fact a software problem. Again, it's no surprise because nearly all the software I've seen from Korean companies is of very low quality. Much of it just flat out doesn't work as advertised.

There was no technical support number offered on the PlusDeck web site, and there was very limited information offered there. No updates to the software beyond what I was already running were mentioned, so it was at this point that I decided, "Well, the product is just not going to work," and decided to return it.

One thing that's interesting is that the documentation was of acceptable quality, which is very unusual for a Korean hardware manufacturer. I've read elsewhere on the internet that some people weren't happy with the PlusDeck documentation, but I thought it was quite good.

Overall, I'm baffled by this experience with the PlusDeck product. Why would a company spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, maybe millions, developing a piece of hardware that seems to work quite well by itself, and couple that with documentation that seems to be of unusually high quality, and then bundle with it a piece of software that absolutely does not work? If the product had good software, it would be perfect. It would have received my recommendation, and it would have been quite useful for many people. However, with the weak software, it is utterly useless.

I can only conclude that this product is not ready for primetime. Its developers came up short on the software side, and this product will fail in the marketplace unless something very different is attempted with the software. I'm baffled because writing software that records quality sound files is not that difficult. There are thousands of shareware authors who have managed to figure this out. I don't know why an apparently well-funded Korean corporation couldn't make it work correctly.

For those of you out there who are looking to convert cassette tapes to CDs, or some other digital format, there is one other standalone product made by Tascam. Unfortunately, it's about an $800 product. It's a rack-mounted system designed for professional audio dubbing, and it converts cassette tapes to CD-R's. It costs about $800 at MusiciansFriend.com, but that's a whole lot of money to convert some old cassette tapes. This PlusDeck product was only about $135. Clearly, there may be room in the marketplace for something near the $100 to $200 range that does convert cassette tapes to wav files or MP3 files, but sadly, this PlusDeck product is definitely not it.

So for those out there who are looking for a cassette tape converter, you're going to have to keep looking. My recommendation is that you steer clear of this product, and that you take a very close look at any products from Korean hardware companies to make sure that they actually do what's promised. This is especially the case if they have a software component, because I consistently find that the software from Korean manufacturers is lacking, and a lot of it just flat out doesn't work.

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