Cassette-to-MP3 Converter for a USB Flash Drive (Personal Review)
I had a massive supply of old cassette tapes with music that I wanted to keep. I decided to convert them to MP3 files.
At first, I considered connecting an old cassette player to the mic audio input on my computer and downloading software that would convert audio to MP3. But I'm always weary of downloading software that might have viruses or malware.
With some research, I found the BlumWay USB Cassette to MP3 Converter on Amazon. This $26 cassette tape player converts the audio to MP3 files and stores direct to a USB flash drive. It does the conversion internally, so no computer or software is needed.
After the conversion, you can copy the MP3 files to play on an iPod or MP3 player. You can also burn to an audio CD, but you’ll need a laptop or desktop computer for that. I’ll explain that later.
When I got this neat little player in my hands and started using it, I discovered that it’s better than I imagined. It took me a little while to study the user guide and experiment with playing tapes and creating MP3 files.
I quickly got the hang of it. I’ll explain everything I learned about this nifty unit, so if you decide to get one for yourself, the information in this article will help. I have a way of explaining things better than that guide included with the unit since I have a background with technical writing.
Why Is it So Cheap?
They kept the cost down by not including the following required items:
Flash Memory Drive
You need to supply your own flash drive. It works with USB 2.0 and 3.0 drives up to 64GB and formatted as FAT, FAT32, or exFAT. I used an older 4GB drive, which holds about 1,000 songs.
It uses two AA batteries to play tapes. You can also use a 5-volt USB power adapter or plug it into a USB port on your computer. The cable (shown in the image below) is included, but the batteries and 5-volt adapter are not.
The AA batteries are fine for playing tapes, but I discovered that conversion to MP3 and writing the files to the flash drive requires more power. You can use a USB power adapter/charger such as the one you use for your smartphone, or use a portable battery power bank as shown below. That’s what I used.
Earbuds and Audio Cable are Included, but No Speaker
I guess they eliminated a speaker to keep the cost down too. The unit does include stereo earbuds to monitor while digitizing, or to listen to tapes if you just want to use it as a tape player.
You can also use the player to listen to the MP3 files on your flash drive. An audio cable is also included in case you want to connect another audio device to the 3.5mm AUX jack. I had a little speaker that I used instead of the earbuds, but that was just my preference.
One thing worth noting: I discovered if you use an SD card adapter, it’s too wide, and it blocks the AUX audio jack, as shown below. You need to use a stick type flash drive, as shown in the two earlier images above.
It's Not for the Clumsy
One last thing I noticed that is probably due to its low cost, is the cheap construction of the case. I didn’t consider this a problem, though. The notable aspect of the unit is its phenomenal ability to convert tapes to MP3.
Nevertheless, you should know that I realized how careful I needed to be with opening and closing the lid over the tapes. If you tend to be a clumsy person, you might end up breaking the lid off its hinges.
What else? The mechanical clicking sound I hear when I push the “Play” button, or the fast forward and reverse buttons, make me feel like they might wear out after using it a few hundred times. Don’t expect it to last forever.
The important thing is that it does a tremendous job of converting audio to MP3. And it makes the task so easy.
I got through converting close to 100 tapes with no problem, but I’m careful with how I handle things.
Remember that you won’t be using this unit often anyway since its primary purpose is to get your tapes digitized for playing elsewhere.
Why Is It so Easy to Use?
I like the fact that it doesn’t need to be connected to a computer. It does all the work itself and saves the converted MP3 files to the USB flash drive.
It automatically creates a directory called TAPEMP3, and it stores all the files in that directory. The filenames go from FV0001.MP3 through FV9999.MP3. If you delete the files after copying to another device, it starts over again with FV0001.
I loved how I could walk away and let it handle the difficult tasks. You can set it to "automatic" mode, which detects the silence between songs on a tape and starts a new file for each song.
I’ll explain how manual and automatic mode works, below.
You can also set it to automatically reverse at the end of one side and continue converting music from side two, without you needing to flip the tape over.
- Cassette player/converter
- User Manual
- USB to 3.5mm cable used for power
- Earbuds with 3.5mm jack
- Audio cable with 3.5mm jacks for optional use
- Protective carrier case
The unit has a switch to select playing just one side and stop, or automatically reverse and play the other side. The tape runs backward while playing side 2, so it ends up fully rewound when done with both sides. There’s no need to rewind it in that case.
When digitizing, it will capture all music from both sides if you select the option to play both sides.
The Fast Forward (FF) and Rewind (REW) Buttons
I discovered a strange oddity. The function of the FF and REW buttons are transposed when the tape is playing the other side without physicality reversing the tape.
That logically makes sense, but it is confusing. It took me a while to get used to it and to remember to press FF when I wanted to rewind the tape while playing the reverse side backward. Got that?
I noticed some people left comments on Amazon saying that the unit doesn't have a rewind option, only fast forward. I found that both buttons work fine. I think people just got confused because of the flipped functionality of the forward and reverse buttons when playing the other side, as I just mentioned.
Automatic Detection of Individual Songs
I love this feature. When recording, you can set the option to split each song on a tape into individual MP3 files automatically. It detects the silence between music selections and starts a new file.
I only ran into trouble with the detection of silence with a couple of songs that had a long pause. It reacted to the gap in the music as if it were the end of the song, and it split it into two files.
It was an easy fix. All I had to do was digitize that song in manual mode. When recording in manual mode, you need to listen while recording, so that you know where to start and stop the recording while the tape is running.
Digitizing Control Buttons
Refer to the image above as you read this section.
Before digitizing a tape, you first need to plug the flash drive into the USB port. A green LED light will indicate that it’s ready, and is in manual mode by default.
The digitizing feature is separate from the physical playback of a tape. That’s a powerful feature that I consider was proper planning with the development of this unit. It makes it very easy to get things right. I’ll explain what I mean.
The “PLAY” button starts the tape, and then you can control the digitizing process with the control buttons while the tape is playing. You flip the unit on its back. The control buttons are all on the back.
When I want to digitize a tape, I place it in the unit, and I press the play button. Then, before it gets to the first selection, I press the “Recording Start/Stop” button on the back of the unit. See the image above. I added the text bubbles to make it clear what's what.
It starts in manual mode, and I can start and stop the recording any time while the tape continues to play. So between each song, I quick-press the “Next Track” button, and the unit starts recording a new MP3 file.
If I want to walk away and let it automatically digitize the entire tape with separate files for each song, I switch it to automatic mode before the first song starts playing. I do that by pressing the “Next Track” button and I keep pressing it for three seconds until the green LED light turns blue. That indicates that it’s in automatic mode.
Once in automatic mode, I can leave it alone, and it will create individual MP3 files for each song automatically, including all songs on side two of the tape. I was delighted with how well that had worked.
When I first tested it, I watched the blinking blue light while it was recording a song. When it got to the end, and there was silence, I saw that the blue light stopped blinking momentarily. Then it quickly started blinking again. That proved to me that it detected the silence and started a new MP3 file.
Later, when I stuck the USB flash drive into my Mac to check on it, I saw that all the files were created correctly.
One thing I want to make clear. You don’t need to press the “Recording Start/Stop” button between songs while digitizing an entire tape in manual mode. Just quick-press the “Next” button as I mentioned earlier. That will quickly start recording a new MP3 file without missing the start of the next track.
The additional buttons are for playback in case you want to use the unit to play the music you already have on the flash drive. The “Previous Track” and “Next Track” are just what they sound like.
The "Next Track" button is also used to change modes from manual to auto, by holding it a few seconds until the LED turns blue. I'm repeating that because it took me a while to get used to that myself. So it's worth repeating. The “+” and “-” buttons control the volume on playback.
How to Burn an Audio CD With MP3 Files
Burning CDs is not a function of the BlumWay converter. If you want to create an audio CD with the MP3 files, you will need to do that from your computer with a writable CD/DVD drive and the proper software that can burn a CD. Just use a recordable CD (CD-R). Don’t use a rewritable CD (CD-RW) because they may not work with older CD players.
You can copy the files on the flash drive anywhere. After I converted some tapes, I connected the flash drive to my Mac to copy the files to my hard drive. You can do that with a PC too. Both Apple iOS and Microsoft Windows recognize MP3 files.
As I mentioned earlier, the files are saved on the flash drive in a directory called TAPEMP3, and all the files are named FV0001.MP3 through FV9999.MP3. Remember, it starts over again with FV0001 if you delete the files on the flash drive.
I renamed the files to the artist and song names on my Mac, but that’s not necessary. I just did it for my own reference. From there, I burned them into a CD that I could play in my car. A 650MB recordable CD (CD-R) can hold about 74 minutes of music.
CD players in most vehicles these days can play MP3 files, so instead of burning audio CDs, you can create MP3 data CDs. The BlumWay Converter makes high-quality 128 Kbps compressed MP3 files, so you can fit about 200 songs on a single 650MB CD-R disc if you format it as an MP3 CD.
You can find free MP3 CD burning software with a Google search. Microsoft recommends Express Burn, a free burner for Windows that creates audio discs or MP3 discs, as well as DVDs.1
You already have CD burning capability on your computer if you have an Apple. The Music app on macOS Catalina, and iTunes on prior Mac OS, both have the ability to burn a playlist to an audio CD or MP3 CD.2
Copying the MP3 files to an MP3 player is even more straightforward. Just connect your MP3 player to a USB port on your computer and the flash drive containing the files into another USB port. Then just drag and drop the files with your mouse.
My Conclusion and Where to Buy
I digitized my old tapes to burn to audio CDs, and I ended up buying another converter for a friend’s birthday. She had a lot of cassette tapes too, and she always said she wanted to listen to the songs on her MP3 player.
No matter what you decide to do with your converted music, you’ll have endless enjoyment now that you can hear those songs from the past once again, in any modern player.
© 2019 Glenn Stok