Archive | May, 2004

Stupid Tech: PlusDeck2, PC-based Cassette Deck

Electronic Music 411 reviews the PlusDeck2, which is a cassette tape deck that plugs into a PC’s empty drive bay in order to digitize analog cassettes, and also spit PC audio back out to cassette. As someone who still owns hundreds of audio cassettes, I can see the value of having a device that makes it easy to digitize these tapes, but this thing is really just a poorly-conceived solution in search of a problem.

First off, the design of this deck looks like an el-cheapo car cassette stereo since it uses a slot-in type mechanism, for obvious space-saving reasons. There’s a reason why you don’t see this type of mechanism on home cassette decks (or even boomboxes) — that’s because it’s unreliable and much more prone to breakage, than the typical door-type mechanism.

On top of that, I see no provision for specifying or detecting the type of tape — old-school tape users will recall that cassettes come in three different formulations, type I ferric oxide, type II chrome, and type IV metal. For best sound, a good deck needs to know what type of tape you’re using in order to adjust to its unique characteristics.

There’s also no provision for decoding Dolby noise reduction, which has been standard for prerecorded cassettes since the early 1980s, and which most home cassette decks have supported since that time, as well. While you can play a Dolby-encoded cassette on a deck that doesn’t have decoding, that does affect the quality of playback.

In theory, you could do Dolby decoding in software, but there’s no indication that such capability in included with the PlusDeck.

Unfortuately the Electronic Music 411 review barely addresses the sound quality of this deck, and doesn’t make any mention of the tape-type or Dolby issues. I get the sense that the reviewer is operating under the expectation that cassettes are inherently low quality, and so is simply tolerating hiss, noise and any number of tonal aberrations.

However, anyone over the age of 30 with any amount of experience in recording music should know that very high quality audio can be obtained with cassettes, although it often requires a bit of tweaking. From the 1970s into the 90s, a fair amount of high quality cassette equipment was available. However, I’d bet the majority of people used pretty low quality equipment, like boomboxes and all-in-one integrated stereos, where the cassette deck was often substandard, which perpetuated the cassette as inherently lo-fi myth.

But the most stupid aspect of this product is the fact that it’s simple as hell to attach a cassette deck to your PC’s sound input — all you need is a $3 cable from Radio Shack. I argue that this is much easier for most users than cracking open the case to install the PlusDeck in an empty drive bay, installing the PCI card, and then installing the drivers and software (which, apparently, isn’t completely in English). …

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Rebel Video: Free Radio Austin and TV Piquetera

Demand Media is a community video portal where folks can submit links to independently produced video available on the ‘net, especially videos with an underground, radical bent.

A pointer to a documentary of the Free Radio Austin bust, which happened back in 2000, was just posted (the video resides at Indybay).

I saw the raw video that FRA volunteers shot when I attended the Reclaim the Media conference in Sept. 2002. Readying themselves for FCC action, FRA volunteers had encased the station’s transmitter in a weatherproof container and buried several feet deep behind the station. When the FCC came to shut them down, the DJ on air called for listeners to come and observe, and so on the video you get to watch a gathering of angry listeners jeer the FCC agents as they roll up their sleeves and dig up the transmitter.

My pal John Anderson from DIYmedia.net conducted an interview with FRA volunteer Reckless at Reclaim the Media, which aired on the Sept. 20, 2002 edition of the radioshow (and is available for download).

Another very cool video is a documentary on TV Piquetera, which is a mobile Argentinian TV station run by and for the Piquetera movement of the poor and unemployed that played a key role in toppling the Argentine government after the fiscal collapse, and has since enabled workers to take over abandoned factories and businesses, turning them into worker-run collectives.

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