Almost every Indian home has a collection of audio tapes. Even as late as 2009, and despite generation after generation of digital formats and iterations, the venerable audio cassette endures. Who doesn’t own home-made compilations of songs on blank tapes?
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Finally, you need to overcome huge psychological inertia to connect a suitable stereo system with wires to a conveniently-located desktop computer or laptop, configure your sound card and sound settings, and begin the digitizing process. It’s much easier to just let the music on your tapes remain analogue.
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But imagine if you could just convert tapes into MP3 files without using any computer hardware or software, and with zero technical knowledge. Yes, that’s possible.
Step 1: Bring home one of these thoughtful new stereo systems (below).
Step 2: Plug in a USB thumb drive into the available port on the system.
Step 3: Just press a single button to directly rip and convert your analogue tape into MP3. Neat!
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But why would grandpa change his tape collection to MP3 files? Well, those precious tapes undergo some heavy wear and tear. Besides, new-generation home audio equipment has started skimping on offering a basic tape deck. And most importantly, everyone could do with freeing up racks and shelves of dusty tapes.
Depending on how your stereo system digitizes the music, between 80-150 tapes can fit on to a small thumb drive of 4 GB or 8 GB capacity. You could also keep the thumb drive permanently connected to the stereo to play back any track from your collection.
You can take these virtual music tapes anywhere: Plug the thumb drive into a car stereo or transfer the music to a mobile phone that offers MP3 playback. You could even email or share the music over the Internet.
However, do remember to legally conform to your fair-use rights, and be aware of any copyright infringements.
Almost all the models listed here allow you to record from multiple sources. So the next time your favourite song hits the airwaves over FM, just press the “record to MP3” button. Similarly, some systems also allow you to record an audio CD album as an MP3 on the thumb drive.
Unlike a tape, a thumb drive can simultaneously contain music, photos, and video in various formats. The more advanced stereo systems can auto-detect a connected thumb drive and play back any media file stored on it. Indeed, a few systems go as far as offering you the ability to record and convert video from a DVD or VCD into a DivX file. You may find this feature more easily in the newer breed of home theatre systems. But the ability to listen to old two-channel stereo tapes in full surround sound over five speakers is quite an experience in itself.
Some inconveniences remain, though. You have to play back an entire tape at normal speed to record and convert to MP3. You might, therefore, want to leave it unattended, and hope a power failure doesn’t scuttle your recording and make you start all over. The MP3 quality offered is usually at 128 kbps, which may not please the more discerning listener, who finds a bandwidth of 360 kbps or above more acceptable.
The most frustrating aspect is the lack of sensible and meaningful file names. You may just want to make a short trip to the computer to rename a generic “track0001.mp3” file name to something more evocative. Who knows, a year or two later, some manufacturers may offer models with built-in Wi-Fi to automatically search CD databases (CDDB or freedb) over the Web to correctly identify and name the files.
Meanwhile, even a trivial task such as transferring files from the USB thumb drive to an iPod or a mobile phone again demands the use of a computer. Finally, none of the stereo systems can yet clean up the noise and crackle from old tapes. You still need a copy of the free Audacity sound-edit software running on a computer to clean up the noise and “normalize” the sound.
Nevertheless, these stereo systems address a common and urgent need across millions of Indian households, and that’s good enough for most of us.
Coosh (pronounced “kush”) headphones look like standard ear buds but have long silicone earpieces that circle the entire ear. The headphones start at $25 for standard stereo headphones or $30 for those compatible with the iPhone and other music-capable phones. A built-in button and microphone control cellphone functions without you having to reach physically into your pocket. The audio is on a par with the Apple headset. Available at Coosh.com in pink, black or white (carrying case included).
©2009/ THE NEW YORK TIMES
In addition to its 6-ounce weight and 640x480-pixel resolution, the P1 Pico Projector from AAXA Technologies offers 1 GB of memory, a microSD slot and an on-board media player, which means the P1 can decode most media formats and play them straight from the projector. The projector is available from the company’s online store (aaxatech.com) for $260. You can also buy a $15 AAXA P1 iPod A/V cable to adapt audio and video files to your Apple iPhone, iPod and iTouch. Not bad for a device that fits in your pocket.
©2009/ THE NEW YORK TIMES
If you want to send attachments through email, the issue isn’t how many but how much. Many Internet providers limit the size of attachments. Resize photos before sending them as attachments. You can reduce the sizes to 100 kilobytes or less. With a 5-MB size, you can easily send 10 of these downsized photos. A better bet is to upload photos on the Web and send the url. That eliminates the need for attachments altogether.
©2009/ THE NEW YORK TIMES
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Video by Rahul Sharma