Remember audio cassettes? They were all the rage once. People even took them quite seriously.

But what we have here is the Ion Tape2PC USB cassette deck, a handy device targeted quite unashamedly at the more occasional taper, who probably has some interesting old cassettes floating around and nothing convenient to play them on.

Retro device

So, says Ion, transfer your cassettes to MP3 and you can continue to enjoy their contents from hard disk, CD or iThingie. With that express aim in mind, the Tape2PC is a cassette player with a USB output, allowing easy connection to any modern home computer.

You also get some PC software to make things even easier, though you don't have to use it. Just plug the Tape2PC in and it is instantly recognised by the computer as an in/out device. If you already have audio software installed, you can use it to save MP3 or WAV versions of your treasured tapes.

Ion has gone for the full retro look, with mechanical 'piano-key' operation and two transports. It does seem slightly illogical to feature dubbing and recording when the main point is copying from cassette, but it could be handy now and then. Tape type selection is manual and 'noise reduction' is included.

One extra control, hidden at the rear beside the USB socket, deserves attention. 'Gain' controls the signal level going to the A-D converter that precedes the USB output and we found that if it is set anywhere beyond halfway, distortion is quite likely to occur.

Drop in quality

A hundred quid is not a lot of money and we weren't expecting anything amazing. All the same, the sound is basically decent. The biggest problems with cassette were always pitch stability, background noise and high frequency extension and this deck makes a reasonable job of all three areas.

Hiss is pretty good and there is very little hum injected into the sound, too, though the mains transformer produced a prodigious amount of mechanical hum from our review sample.

Ion's own software is basic and facilitates making MP3s from cassette tracks. Audacity, a well-known audio editing package, is included too and offers rudimentary noise reduction and other signal-tweaking functions, plus the ability to save recordings as uncompressed WAV files.

As MP3 wastes resources and bandwidth trying to accurately encode the hiss, there's a distinct drop in perceived audio quality. So we strongly recommend saving anything of the remotest importance in WAV form.

The Tape2PC does a respectable job of salvaging forlorn and forgotten cassettes. It does what's claimed without pretension and is, in the very best sense, both cheap and cheerful.