The Best Sounding Tape Deck for Under $200
Dual-well cassette decks provide a lot of features and tremendous convenience at low prices. To give you that extra set of heads and motors, and keep the price low, manufacturers are forced to sacrifice sound quality. You can solve that problem, keep all the features, and gain even more convenience by buying a CD recorder. Unfortunately, CD recorders cost a whole lot more than cassette decks. Fortunately, you have an alternative: a HI-FI VCR.
Videocassette recorders are tape decks, too. All HI-FI VCRs have audio inputs and outputs, and all can provide better sound quality than compact cassette decks. VHS tapes are **** inches wide, while compact cassettes (standard audiocassettes) are only **** inches wide. Because you can record on both sides of a compact cassette, you only record on a ****-inch tape width on each side. HI-FI VCRs use a rotating audio head, while compact cassette decks use a stationary head. The larger cassette size and rotating head allow video tape to move across the heads much faster than audio tape, and without breaking. That means that if youíre coating a Rhode Island-sized amount of tape with each second of music on a compact cassette, youíre coating an Alaska-sized amount of tape with each second of music on a videocassette.
Sony, Maxell, and TDK make special formulations of tape to maximize sound quality on a HI-FI VCR. goodguys.com recommends these models: ****, ****, ****, and ****. Set your VCR to SP (standard play) for the best sound quality. Top-quality tapes can be reused many times.
HI-FI VCRs offer other advantages, too. You can record two hours of music on a single side of tape. Compact cassettes are limited to an hour (50 minutes without having to use thinner tape), and CDs are limited to an hour and 14 minutes (an hour and 20 minutes with some newer media and hardware). All HI-FI VCRs have programmable timers. If your favorite radio station has an artist spotlight feature at midnight that you donít want to miss, set the timer to record the program. If youíd like to record the radio broadcast of your kidís high school football or basketball game, while youíre at the game, set the deck to EP (extended play) mode, and set the timer. You can record up to six hours on a single tape in EP mode; enough to cover the pre-game and post-game shows.
With all those advantages, youíre probably wondering about disadvantages. VHS tapes have one disadvantage: theyíre big. You canít pop a videocassette into a boom box or car deck. However, you can dub from videocassette to compact cassette and still have better sound quality than if you had dubbed from one compact cassette to another. Taping from a VCR is the same process as taping from a CD player. Youíll find that taking a level and cueing the tape is slightly less convenient, but no different than using a dual-well cassette deck.
Prices for HI-FI VCRs have dropped so low that they provide extraordinary value for recording audio as well as video. If you want to use a HI-FI VCR for audio only, goodguys.com recommends these models: ****, ****, ****, and ****.
Of course, you can use a HI-FI VCR for video, too. A high-end HI-FI VCR can be the most versatile component in your A/V system.
With a HI-FI VCR; a good, single-well cassette deck, such as ****; or a top-of-the-line boom box, such as JVCís Kaboombox; you wonít need any other taping equipment.