What a cool concept: now you can take all of your old cassettes and dub them in-line to CD, using your PC. Those tapes — full of great mixes, a musical snapshot of where you were at a given point in time — can now come off the shelf, get dusted off, and can find new life in the digital age.
I’d love to report that the Plus Deck Cassette Converter is perfect. Installation? A snap. It works great, and the results are flawless. I’d like to be able to tell you that.
Failing that, I’ll admit I’d get some perverse satisfaction out of letting you know that this gizmo is a complete piece of garbage; I could help you save your hard-earned cash so you could spend it on, say, a ten-year subscription to Skope, Harp, Musician or Look.*
Sadly, I can report neither. Evaluation units were unavailable. What’s more, detailed information — you know, the sort of stuff one gathers when writing a story for a magazine — was initially a bit hard to come by; I was directed to the Firebox web site, where, it was promised, all my questions would be answered. When I pleaded for more info, they sent me a copy of the manual. To their credit, they didn’t tell me to “RTFM!”
Admittedly, there’s not a heckuva lot to know. As best I can tell, PC owners (sorry, Mac people; the PDCC is not Apple-compatible) running XP, 2000 or even 98 (no word on compatibility with Microsoft Big Brother…I mean Vista) remove the cover off their CPU, slip this baby into a spare 5.25″ internal bay (just like a CD or DVD drive), pop in an expansion card, link up the 20-pin cable, attach the audio cables to the existing sound card, install the software from the provided CD, and you’re ready to rock and roll (or rap, or whatever). Sounds easy, huh?
Me neither. On Firebox’s user feedback section, a customer writes, “I installed it in about 20 [minutes] with relatively no problems.” Forgive me, but Mr. Daniel Jenkins’ use of the word “relatively” distresses me a bit. I’m no technophobe, but I think I’d leave installation to a specialist; I rely on my computer for work, natch, and if I screw something up trying to install what’s arguably a discretionary item, I’m in a world of hurt.
On the site’s “What You Said” section, a consumer who wishes to be known only as Wolfman shares these sentiments about the Cassette Converter: “I’d snag this in a heartbeat if it were a peripheral.” I can’t help but wonder why the Firebox folks didn’t slap the thing in a case, making it an external USB-linked peripheral. The idea’s not so far-fetched: Firebox also markets a USB turntable that plays 33s and 45s (ask your parents if you’ve lost me here). Alas, the turntable (also $129.95) has been out of stock the last few months.
Now, I’m not suggesting you don’t purchase one of these fine products from the nice folks at Firebox; it’s a cool-looking product (judging from the website and from the pictures they sent me), and the price is reasonable.
The Plus Deck Cassette Converter is really a clever idea. Me, I’d love to have those mixtapes I made way-back-when transferred to CD. Thing is, I’d have to edit them down; Red Book (standard audio format) CDs play a maximum of 80 minutes; most of my old Maxells are 90 minutes. What to eliminate? I kind of tired of Shelleyan Orphan’s “Amanita Muscaria” on my Various Artists 1990 Vol. 1 mixtape, but tracks like “E=MC2” (Big Audio Dynamite), “Souvenir” (Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark) and “Time and Time Again” (Smithereens) are keepers, seventeen years later.
The Firebox site in general is worth a visit. A lot of the products cater to the has-too-much-money crowd. I mean, who needs to drop $8.95 on a banana guard, $12.95 on doggles(!) or $49.95 (plus, heh-heh, handling) for the Naughty Weekend Kit? Most of what’s found on Firebox’s site falls into the “novelties” category, and in a sense I guess that’s an apt a description as any for the Plus Deck Cassette Converter. The ad copy on Firebox.com is just smart-alecky enough to be both informative and entertaining. It’s a bit like woot.com, but the stuff on Firebox is available for longer than a day. At least I think it is.
* all defunct, in case you missed my feeble attempt at a joke.