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Get the Goods: How to Choose the Personal Radio or Cassette Player that Will Bring You the Most Pleasure

CONFIGURATIONS

Portable radios and cassette players are available in various configurations and combinations. The largest units have carrying handles and built-in speakers. Small units come with headphones. Some are headphones with built-in radios, while others strap to your arm or wrist. A few stereo cassette units will also record, but this guide does not cover mono voice recorders for business or academic use.

Most radios with carrying handles are mono; you need to get to a boombox if you want stereo. These radios can be used anywhere in your home, on the patio, in the garage, at the beach, or any place you can listen to radio without bothering others. They are primarily intended for listening to news, sports, and talk shows on AM, but most also receive FM. Most models run off batteries or AC. At any given time, you can usually find one or two models on the market that include a cassette recorder/player.

Radios that come with headphones can be small enough to fit in your pocket. Ultra-portable radios generally are more expensive. Combination radio/cassette players are usually no bigger than cassette-only players. Check the weights of units you are considering.

Some portables have additional functions, such as the ability to receive television (audio) broadcasts or play MP3 files. A few receive shortwave radio broadcasts. 

Consider a “designer look” unit if you are buying for a child or young adult, or you want one that goes with your winter coat. Portable audio fashion trends change with the seasons. 

Headphones come in more sizes and shapes than the units do. Check the pictures on our site to find headphones that look comfortable to you. As bundled headphones frequently do not provide satisfactory sound quality, you may wish to upgrade your unit by buying better ones. 

Buy a "sports" model with a water-resistant chassis and an impact-resistant case for use outdoors or in other challenging environments (such as a child’s backpack). These models feature rubber reinforcement to protect the chassis against impact and moisture. Expect them to have a longer-than-average lifespan. 

RADIO FEATURES

digitally synthesized tuner

A digitally synthesized tuner uses a phase-locked-loop or a quartz lock to precisely find and hold a radio station’s frequency. By comparison, analog tuners use an inexact manual, “slide rule” dial. 

digital frequency display

Analog and digital tuners can have a digital readout of the tuned radio station’s frequency (for example, “102.7”). 

presets

You can program favorite stations into memory, then tune them by pressing one or two buttons. The number of presets ranges from zero to about 40. Some units dedicate certain preset buttons to AM or FM, while others can be used for either. 

preset scan

This feature lets you listen to a few seconds of broadcasts from each AM or FM station stored in preset memory. It’s an easy way to find a song worth hearing. 

FM local/distant (DX) switch

With the switch set on “local,” the radio only picks up strong signals, which reduces interference from more distant stations. When set on “distance,” the radio picks up weaker signals and receives more distant stations. 

FM stereo/mono switch

A stereo/mono switch lets you switch to mono when a stereo FM signal is too noisy to be listenable. 

CASSETTE FEATURES

Dolby noise reduction

Some players can decode tapes recorded with Dolby B® or Dolby C® noise reduction. Most pre-recorded tapes are Dolby B®-encoded. Frequency response is inaccurate if you play encoded tapes without decoding them, and the music sounds “wrong.”

tape types/automatic tape type selector

All units will play Type I tapes. Some units will play Type II (CrO2) and Type IV (metal) tapes. An automatic tape type selector reads notches on the top of cassette shells and adjusts the unit for the right type of tape. If you play a high bias (Type II or Type IV) tape in a player that isn’t made to play it, it will sound muffled or garbled. 

full-logic tape transport

Microprocessor, as opposed to mechanical, control of tape movement functions results in faster, smoother operation when you press a button (e.g. play or fast-forward) and lets you switch from one function to another without pressing “stop” in between. Full-logic (also called "soft-touch") mechanisms are more reliable than mechanical ones, and less damaging to tapes.

auto-reverse

With auto reverse, you don’t have to turn over a tape to play side B. You can switch to the other side of the tape at any point by pushing a button. This feature adds convenience, but degrades sound quality (in the reverse direction) and reliability. 

music search

A unit with basic music search capability will find the next track on the tape and the beginning of the current track. Some units will find any track in either direction (the unit looks for several seconds of blank tape).

tape counter

A three-digit counter makes it easier to find specific locations on a tape. 

anti-rolling mechanism

Extra hardware helps to maintain consistent tape speed, so the player can withstand jostling without causing warbling sounds. 

cue and review

You can hear the tape while fast forwarding or rewinding when you are trying to find a particular point on a tape. 

BatterY FEATURES (CASSETTE PLAYERS)

Battery playing time is increasing with each introduction of new products. Some units will run much longer than others, and are more cost-effective and convenient to operate. Some players come with rechargeable batteries, but regular alkaline batteries last much longer. Check specifications to see how long a model will play with both included and optional batteries. The best way to maximize battery life on a cassette player is to avoid fast forwarding and rewinding. This will also help to prevent your tapes from jamming or not playing. 

A unit with automatic shut-off will do just that at the end of a tape side, preserving battery life. A battery indicator or low-battery indicator will help you monitor battery life. Some players come with an AC adapter, and some have jacks for connecting an optional AC adapter.

OTHER FEATURES

limiter

Some cassette players have a limiter circuit that reduces dynamic range to prevent unpleasant increases in volume. 

tone controls

Most radios and some combination units have bass and treble controls that let you turn up or down low and high frequency sounds.

bass boost

Most units have a bass-boost control with a manufacturer-trademarked name, regardless of other tone controls. 

LCD display

Many units come with a backlit LCD display. Digital tuners all display tuned radio frequencies. 

exercise measurement features

Portable radios and cassette players come with a variety of features called exercise monitors, lap timers, and other things. Some can measure your pulse, while others claim to tell you how many calories you are burning. These units have a built-in stopwatch. 

clock/timer

Some models with LCD displays have a digital clock. A stopwatch is included on models with exercise measurement features. 

lock protection

A lock feature disables some controls to prevent you from accidentally changing stations or cranking the volume while on the go.

carrying case/hand strap attachment

Some units come with a case that will protect your unit and make it easier to carry. Others come with a hand strap or other carrying device. 

belt clip

A belt clip makes it easy to carry the unit, and keeps your hands free while exercising.

PRICE

While portable radios and cassette players vary widely in how they sound, few contain parts that will make one sound objectively better than the rest. Manufacturers generally market these products based on features, and features are the biggest factor in price differences. Accessories such as AC adapters, carrying cases, rechargeable batteries, and belt clips also add to the price. The length of the limited warranty also affects the price. Many units have a 90-day labor and one-year parts warranty, while better units have a one-year warranty for parts and labor. Off-brands, not carried by goodguys.com, only have a 90-day parts and labor warranty. Prices range from cheap to inexpensive. OK we’re exaggerating a little, but you’ll have a hard time finding a portable radio, cassette player, or combination unit with a 3-digit price. 

SUMMARY

A digital tuner will help with radio reception, and Dolby noise reduction and the ability to play Type II and Type IV tapes will get you better sound quality from cassettes. Make your buying decision based on what is most important to you. The major considerations are features (for convenience and versatility), portability (size and weight), and value (what you get for the price). Sound quality and reliability are also worth considering. 

You probably wake up to radio, and perhaps you listen to radio while you’re in the shower or in the car. The Internet is no more likely to replace radio than books, but you don’t need “serving suggestions” for radio, it’s already a many-faceted part of your life. We just want to help you take it with you. Pick a portable radio, cassette player, or portable radio/cassette player from our carefully selected assortment of products from the leading brands, and goodguys.com guarantees you will be satisfied with your purchase.

 

 

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