Sometimes you want or need an unusual audio product that doesn’t cost a fortune but does a very specific task. I’ve been able to evaluate a couple of products like those from Ion Audio. The company makes audio and other kinds of products such as speakers, record and cassette tape digital converters, job-site sound systems, plant pot speakers, musical instruments, slide and negative scanners, and more.
I was most intrigued by the affordable digital audio hardware that converts records and cassettes to digital files. I have a slew of records from my childhood, and a couple of cassette tapes, including some of my sister and me recording ourselves being silly (who doesn’t have something like that from their childhood?) that I would really like to keep for posterity.
For converting these audio sources, I used the Duo Deck, which converts both records and cassette tapes into .wav files. The required EZ Vinyl/Tape Converter software is included on a CD with the product, but is also downloadable from the Ion website. The Duo Deck will convert either 33 or 45 albums, and cassette tapes. It has its own speaker, so don’t worry about having your own hi-fi. Additionally, you can plug in your own speakers or headphones. It is powered by connecting to your computer via USB, by 4 AA batteries that you install yourself, or by plugging into the USB converter to use with a wall outlet.
Converting the audio feels a little bit like the old habit of recording songs off the radio, since you click “Record” in the software, and then hit play (or lower the arm) on the Duo Deck. And then, unlike with CDs, you just have to wait until the thing finishes playing. If you have your computer speakers on, there is a slight delay in what you hear out of them compared with the Duo Deck’s speakers. I recommend turning off your computer speakers while you’re enjoying the playback.
Once the music has played, you click Next on the software, and enter the artist, album, and track titles. You can also choose where to save the files. Once they are saved, you can record something else, open the saved location, or quit the program.
I started with digitizing some childhood records. My attempts to record The Muppet Movie Soundtrack were mostly successful. The first side had five tracks, and it separated them correctly. The second side had six tracks, but the software only divided them into four. The last two tracks got lumped in with number four, so I’ll have to go back and separate them manually. Generally, though, the program works well. It just depends on there being long enough quiet bits between the tracks, and sometimes the silence isn’t long enough.
Digitizing records, though, means you are recording one particular playing of the record. So watch out for the skips! How many of our old albums have skips on them? All of them? Yeah, pretty much. And you’re recording those, too. So make sure the records are as clean as possible before starting.
I’ve digitized quite a bit of my record collection, everything from Barry Manilow to New Order to Rory’s copy of Alice’s Restaurant. I’m so glad to have some of these recordings because some of them just aren’t available on CD. I’ve also digitized 1970s era Sesame Street records, among others, that definitely aren’t available any longer.
If you move from albums to tapes, don’t forget to switch the machine to Tape mode, and don’t forget to rewind your tape before you begin. The digitizing works the same here as for records, except tapes are longer, so they require less babysitting. And don’t worry if your tape has more than 10 tracks. The software gives you a second (or third, or fourth) page to type in more track names.
I was especially excited to try the tape digitizing. My sister and I made the aforementioned audio tapes when I was a little kid (<cough>32 years ago<cough>), where we pretended to have a radio station. We played all kinds of songs, and talked in between. So between the likes of Styx and Queen, we have little-kid-us talking about random stuff and being extraordinarily silly. Definitely the kind of thing to keep for posterity. I’ve had them so long that I’m relieved to have them digitized.
Being able to digitize tapes in addition to records has been much more fun and enlightening than I thought it would be. It’s allowed me to save all the music on my mixtapes, the playlists of the pre-iTunes era. Some of that music I’d totally forgotten about, even if I still have the corresponding CDs.
How do the digital files sound? The files sound as good as the original media sounds. So if it’s an old recording, the .wav file will contain all the squeaks, crackles, or skips that the original contains. If the original recording is mint, or new-ish, the .wav file will sound quite good. But even my 20+ year old records sound pretty good, if occasionally slightly warped. Generally, it just gives an accurate capture of your original recording.
Pro tip: Don’t bump the device while records are playing, and remember those lessons from when you were a kid: If you jump too hard too close to the device, the record will skip. Our Barry Manilow records were never the same.
The Duo Deck ($79.99) is a perfect and affordable solution to all of your digitizing needs. Even when you’re done digitizing your ancient media, it still serves as a very functional portable turntable and cassette deck. And it might just have you digging through record collections at garage sales and antique stores.
Next, I evaluated a portable Bluetooth speaker called the Clipster. It is rechargeable with the included USB cable, and you can attach it, carabiner style, to a bag, belt loop, or anything that will fit the clip. The Quick Start Guide tells you everything that you need to know to get it booming out tunes (or audiobooks or podcasts) from your iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, Android device, or other device.
Once you pair the Clipster with your device, you shouldn’t have to pair it again. It just plays the audio when it is turned on and close enough to the device. It has a range of up to 30 feet but the maximum connection range is best achieved with a device that has Bluetooth 4.0. I tested this with my iPhone by standing in different places in my house, which is filled with walls. I found that it easily kept the connection while I was 30+ feet away, even through walls. It only started getting choppy when I walked downstairs, where the connection had to go through the floor.
On the Clipster itself, you can control the volume and play/pause the audio. There is an LED that changes depending on what the device is doing. It is solid red for charging, blinking red for when it needs to be recharged, blinking blue for Bluetooth pairing, and solid blue when connected to a Bluetooth device.
The Clipster was super simple to pair with my iPhone. I followed the instructions in the guide, and could even pair it while it was still plugged in for charging. You can even use it while it’s charging. The battery charges up pretty fast, and lasts up to 10 hours on a charge. If you receive a call on your phone while it’s playing music through the Clipster, the music will stop and your phone will ring as usual. The music will continue when your phone call is concluded.
How Does it Sound?
The sound from the Clipster’s speaker sounds great. The music filled the room and didn’t have that slight vibrating sound that you tend to get with the iPhone speaker. The music could be turned up pretty loud, and it sounded really clear. Even when the speaker was pointed away from me, it was just as clear.
Available in a rainbow of colors, the Clipster ($29.95) is an affordable solution to a durable, portable speaker that you can hook just about anywhere. It’s a good value and is versatile in its use. It’s a great solution for playing music from my iPhone or iPad, which, with their cases, don’t easily plug into the stands of a lot of counter top speakers. If your device’s built-in speakers aren’t enough for your needs, but you don’t want a big, stationary speaker, the Clipster can serve your needs.
GeekMom received the loan of these products for review purposes.