A decade ago I was moderately surprised to find that companies like Sony were showing off portable music players at CES, because I figured most people had moved on to using smartphones to listen to music.

But that’s before I realized there was a whole world of portable hi-fi music products. So what’s new at CES this year? Something decidedly more analog… and not particularly hi-fi at all. A portable cassette player.

Chinese company FiiO makes portable music players and HiFi digital to analog converters. But late last year the company announced it was developing a portable cassette player called the FiiO CP13 that looks a bit like a Sony Walkman with a (very) few modern touches.

The company showed off the CP13 at CES 2024 this week, and plans to begin selling it in early March, 2024 for about $165.

So what does it do? It plays tape cassettes and looks pretty nice. That’s pretty much it. But maybe that’s all it needs to do.

Tape cassettes are having a moment, with many musicians and music fans adopting the technology for its analog properties… and ephemeral characteristics. Digital music sounds the same every time you play it on the same equipment, but tape cassettes degrade over time, leading to warping and other imperfections in the audio.

I’ll always have a soft spot for tapes… even if I have no urge to ever listen to them again (or bother with trying to repair one that’s come unwound). When I was growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, tapes offered an inexpensive way to record music off the radio or from other tapes to make mix tapes, among other things. And when my friends and I started a band together, we recorded our music first on a boombox with a tape recorder and then at my guitar teacher’s house, using a 4-track tape recorder.

The FiiO CP13 doesn’t have a record function. It’s just for playing music. But these days, a growing number of bands are distributing their music on tape cassettes as well as CDs, vinyl, and streaming, and a portable player like this could be the perfect way to listen.

FiiO’s portable cassette player is an entirely analog device with a 3.5mm headphone jack, large play, pause, fast-forward, and rewind buttons, and ana auto-rewind function when you get to the end of a tape.

It does have a few modern touches including a built-in Lithium Ion battery that lasts for up to 13 hours of music playback (or longer at lower volumes) and offers 268 days of standby time. There’s a USB-C port for charging.

The company says using a built-in battery rather than removable batteries leads to longer playback time and a slightly thinner design (including removable batteries would increase the thickness of the CP13 by about 1 millimeter).

But there’s no support for Bluetooth audio. You’ll need to use wired headphones or speakers or plug in a Bluetooth dongle if you want to use wireless audio. And the USB-C port is just for charging, not for transferring music. That’s because there is no hardware in the FiiO CP13 for storing or playing digital music.

The FiiO CP13 isn’t the only modern cassette player. In fact, it uses off-the-shelf components that are widely used by other companies operating in this space, and FiiO acknowledges that while it’s made some changes to the hardware, this portable music player won’t be much better than the competition (and honestly probably isn’t as good as discontinued classics like Sony’s Walkman DD series cassette players).

But it has an attractive design, support for a nice looking protective case (sold separately), and is a first-generation product that FiiO can improve upon in the future if the first model sells well.

What else could be on the horizon? A company representative hints that a modern portable CD player isn’t out of the question, as could be cassette decks for home use.

via Gearnews, What HiFi, and TechRadar

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  1. Are they using a good mechanism, or is it the same cheapo Tanashin that’s been used for years?

  2. It will be a cheap Tanashin (or clone), you can pick them up from AliExpress for allot less

  3. I wouldn’t be surprised if CD players make a comeback as well. 90s fashion is back in full force, check out any store that is hip with the youths, kids are wanting what their parents had.
    And then there’s people like me who enjoy the nostalgia, the thrill of the hunt, collecting physical media in world where all of your media can disappear at the snap of a finger. Whether it be your hard drive crashing, or a big streaming company failing, or a big company thriving and deciding you can’t use their platform anymore because you’re guilty of wrong think.
    I’ll take a long slow decaying process over abrupt departure any day… Talking about physical media, not my physical body, I’d rather leave more abruptly 🙂

  4. I hope someone made storage from tape like these to replace hdd that will only available to companies or expensive hdd.

  5. Selling nostalgia is a big business. I grew up with walkmans, and cassettes were all terrible, I hated them and it was a revelation getting my first Rio MP3 player, even though it only held 32MB, less than a tape.

    1. I don’t think anyone who speaks English actually cares. Both are arguably correct and everyone will understand you’re talking about an IEC 60094-7 compliant sound recording and reproducing cassette.

  6. Too much and quite “poor”.
    Got mine walkman on Amazon for about 40 dollars and it can record MP3 from the tapes I’m listening.
    Much better and one third of the price

  7. I would be buying this for sure if it weren’t for the price. Are they really serious asking 150€ for this? I used to find very good cassette players for 20€, so no, thanks 🙁

  8. “… tape cassettes degrade over time, leading to warping and other imperfections in the audio …” — this is the motivation for their revival?!?

    1. Basically. The adherents rarely say it, tending to use arguments that look like “Analog has more fidelity than digital because it doesn’t have quantization”, which is basically wrong and hard to understand, but often it comes down to the sound that was generated by older equipment. Tape degradation produces some similar sounds that people sometimes like, which is why it can be added to digital music if the artist wanted that effect or, with sufficient effort, to any music of your choice. People will instead use actual tapes because they think this is not possible or somehow worse than using the original hardware to do it.

  9. There’s something about digital audio that is harsh and tinny. I remember back in the day, analog sounds SO MUCH better and was so much easier on the ears than digital audio is, for some reason. I can’t explain it, but I’m not the first person to bring this up over the years.

    Analog sounds great, it’s very warm, not harsh and tinny.

    Also, I had a Soundblaster Live! back in the 90’s, never had anything come as close as sounding that good on the PC since….

    It’s surprising with all the technological innovations we’ve made in the last 25+ years as a species, but audio sucks compared to 25 years ago….

    1. Oh, and I’d like to add… my $75 Sony walkman mp3 player, and $35 Sandisk Clip Jam sound far better than my $200 Ipod does. The Ipod, even playing with the equalizer, is too harsh for my ears. The Sony and Sandisk sound FAR better. Which shows, for music, the Ipod is a piece of junk.

      Since Apple discontinued the Ipod, I don’t know if they’re Iphones are better. But I’m serious, it was harsh on my ears. It literally hurt listening to music in my Ipod.

    2. This is often one of two things:
      1. presence of high frequency noise which analog systems could record if you wanted to but often would not. Cassette recorders weren’t leaving out the high frequencies because analog couldn’t manage them, but because they weren’t important enough to design into consumer equipment and the storage media used by it.
      2. Your headphones or speakers and their interface with the equipment. Your problem with your iPod could have been a cable making a worse connection, the speakers being worse, or the equalizer settings being better on one than the other. In some cases, the right equalizer setting might be no changes, and a music player that automatically applied one would be the problem.

  10. They might appeal a bit more if they offered some features that were considered high-end back in the cassette days. Like some high end cassette players had a feature called AMS (auto music search), which worked like a “next/previous track” button works on a modern digital player, it jumps to the next track (it basically listened for a gap in the audio, so it wasn’t always accurate).

    But then again, where would the appeal be if your can’t show off the struggle of your generation not being able to listen to music with those conveniences.

  11. Until a better analog media than cassette, it will be hard to get HIFI folk for it.
    I own LG V20 and I fail to see why this concept was not developed further for audiophile audience.
    Removable battery and SD card, second screen, quad DAC, a phone and HIFI player in one. It can drive most of the headphones (not DT 990 600Ω).
    Connect it with USB-C to monitor and can use it as computer.

  12. I wonder if they’ll be any less hissy and muffled than the tape player I had back when everybody didn’t wish everybody else was dead.