However, the process is fussy, requires a lot of steps and is mightily time-consuming. The iPod doesn’t know when one song has ended and the next has begun, so after each track, you’re supposed to pause the turntable, choose a command called Stop and Save on the iPod and then restart the turntable for the next song. It’s a lot of baby-sitting.
It’s easier if you connect the LP Dock directly to your Mac or PC with its U.S.B. cable (as you do with the less expensive iTTUSB turntable). In this case, you run a supersimple importing program called EZ Vinyl Converter; at every track break, you just click a New Track button. Actually, the Windows version of the software detects track breaks automatically, and even tries to fill in the song names by consulting the Gracenote online database of recordings. The whole imported album is conveniently deposited in iTunes, ready for its new digital life.
But what about tapes? Meet the Tape2PC, a full-fledged dual-cassette player and recorder, also from Ion, with a U.S.B. jack in the back. It works exactly as described in the preceding paragraph: You connect the deck to your Mac or PC with a U.S.B. cable, run the simple software (now called EZ Tape Converter), click New Track at the end of each song and marvel as a tidy set of MP3 files appears in iTunes.
Over all, it works. There are three obstacles between you and digitizing nirvana, however. First, although you can dub one tape to another at double speed, converting tape to a digital file on your computer must be done in real time.
Second, the only way to adjust the recording level is to use a tiny knob on the back of the tape deck, which seems scientifically engineered to be as awkward a location as possible.
Finally — and this is a big one — why do you need a special tape deck at all? Why not just run the audio output from a regular tape deck into your computer’s line input, and use some free or shareware recording program to record the signal? (You could make this argument for Ion’s U.S.B. turntables, too, although recording from them to a computer generally requires buying another component — a preamp.)
Ion argues that for the nongeek, finding the proper audio cable and audio software is too complicated. And sure enough, the EZ Converter software is the high point of Ion’s tape deck and turntables. It doesn’t get much easier than clicking Record, then clicking New Track after each song.
Both Ion products, however, also come with a far more complicated program called Audacity, which lets you do things like hand-splitting an album into separate tracks, manually excising audio pops and so on.
Both the tape deck and the turntable feel cheaply made, although they’re fine for the price and the technophobic target audience. The audio quality is very good, right down to the faithful reproduction of those vinyl pops and tape hisses.
No matter how you decide to proceed, converting old photos and music is a big investment, either of time (baby-sitting the transfer using equipment like Ion’s) or of money (sending your stuff to a commercial transfer house).
To avoid full-blown AFLS depression, try not to contemplate the likelihood that the hard drive that holds all your newly rescued music and photos — or any hard drives at all — will still be around 50 years from now.
David Pogue is a columnist for the New York Times and contributor to CNBC. He can be emailed at: firstname.lastname@example.org.