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Today we are pleased to have one of the most unique devices found in a modern computer. Coming from Korean BTO, the Plusdeck 2 is a full flavored cassette deck that can listen again to  your old forgotten cassettes and allow to convert them, within minutes, into undestructible computer files...

Presentation

The
Plusdeck 2, arrived straight from
Korea in a well packed box with all
the necessary accessories:

- 5.25” Reader device
- Driver CD
- User manual
- 20-pin cable
- Serial cable
- 3 x 3.5mm jack cables
- Connection card
- Mounting screws




The blue and white front panel looked terribly attractive and we were very excited to have it connected as fast as possible…












Mounting the baby was not too hard but beware of the length of the device which is way deeper than what we are used to see (i.e. 215mm vs. 177.5mm for a Plextor PA-716SA known as “Short Length Design”)























Once inserted, we had then to insert the connection card in any free I/O slot. The
Plusdeck 2 deck being more like a stand-alone audio device it does not request a bus, and it was theoretically possible to choose any slot but the length of the 20-pin cable did not allow using the lowest ones. This 20-pin cable made to connect the connection card to the back of the cassette deck with a foolproof design that does not allow connecting it the wrong way.










































After that, we had to connect the card to the serial plus with the ad hoc cable and the audio cables. This is surely the trickiest part of the job for reasons that are easy to understand: All the audio wiring is utterly dependant upon the type of audio card you wish to connect the deck to. For that, the manual was of great help and we encourage you to look at
BTO first what kind of connection you will need here

First, the
Plusdeck 2 recording source has to connect the audio out of the sound card, which implied to put the Plusdeck 2 connectors in between (bridge). This particularity also explains why the recording level, and therefore the overall quality of the recording, will highly depend on the output level.  This can be a bit tricky because Plusdeck 2 does not offer any mean to control the input level with a great deal of accuracy. This also means that any sound coming from the PC with be recorded too!

Second, the audio out has to be connected to the audio in of the sound card and this one might be already used by some other device (in our case we had to share with a TV card using a Y-shaped jack, which is not recommended due to potential loss of signal).

Finally, the final power supply 12V Molex connected to the device was the last step before the final check. It was time to power on and to insert the first cassette found in the forgotten stock of outdated relics of the audio renaissance…

The first impression was stunning. The 26 years old, Carlos Santana’s Marathon's tape sounded like new! It started right away without a hiccup and provided incredibly good sound with crisp high frequencies and profound basses.

Therefore, after this first successful experiment, we tried a truckload of more than 100 Adult (all of them older than 18 years old!) cassettes and drew up some conclusions:

If kept in dry environment, tape can survive much longer than we thought it would. Still, around 10 percent of them were not in sufficient condition to be readable. Some were rescued after being played on both sides (this put back the tape at the better position inside the cassette). This is something definitely to try before dumping a cassette that does not sound good at first ;-)

After playing like fools for a whole day, we started looking a bit deeper in what the Plusdeck has to offer. This divides in two parts:

- Reader
- Recorder

Reader
The device surprised us for the smoothness of the operations. A push on each key generates fast response from a very silent mechanism. Fast rewind and forward were way  too slow without any possibility to detect the start of the next song. This was a big disappointment because after enjoying the CD era it was hard to accept the numerous blind attempts needed to seach a track… This is hardly forgivable for a 140$ device :(

Now back to the positive points. The Plusdeck 2 can read and record in both direction with smooth and fast auto-reverse. Aside from manually controling all operation  from the panel,
BTO has supplied a complete control software that handles every operation right from the PC!

















However, before installing it we would strongly advise you to check for the latest version at BTO
here.

Once loaded, the program gives full control of the device as to say: play, record, reverse, fast forward, fast rewind, 3 reading options (one side at a time, 2 sides once, 2 sides non-stop), and all the options of the cassette-to-file feature.

The cassette-to-file allows you to transform your good old cassettes into more modern numerical files reusable at will.

Several formats are available and the
Plusdeck 2 software handle all the conversion step except the level control, which, as we said earlier, is not automatically setup and will request many trials before being optimized for each conversion. This process is cumbersome and this is a point that, in our sense, BTO should definitely look at in coming version.












Plusdeck 2 offers WAV and MP3 saving format with many 7 bit rates for this latter (from 8 to 256 kbps) and a passage cut with 2 positions: one file and auto sync. "One file" will store the whole side(s) in one unique file while, the "auto sync" will slice the tape into a number of files that mainly depends on the number of silences met and will automatically numbered them. To be honest this features does not perform too well and we ended up to many times with worthless 3 sec files that were amputating the start of the next file.

Recorder

The recording option allows you to record on cassette (avoid Chrom and Metal) anything coming from the PC of from a microphone connected on the front panel. One more time Plusdeck does not deal with the level and you would have to adjust them with the Windows Volume Control. The recorder options are very bare with no automatic level adjustment during recording and no noise limiter like Dolby.
















The only help found with the
BTO control program concerns the organization of the tape. Choose the length of this latter (from C30 to C120 but you should avoid C90 & C120 that are way too fragile), then chose the different files to put on each side according to their respective length and your favorite order and the program will automatically handle the recording on both side. As we say earlier you should never forget that recording uses the audio card out signal as input source and any additional sound coming from the PC like beep or else will be recorded too! On the recording quality front we had very good recording result on brand new C60 cassette but finding the perfect recording level was quite a drag...

Conclusion

When it comes to give the final impression of the
Plusdeck 2 cassette deck, we end up with a mixed bag of comments. While the audio quality, the front panel design, and the smoothness of the whole machinery were truly impressive, we were disappointed with the software part. On the firmware’s side, we must say that fast rewind of forward not able for perform a fast search, was something we did not like at all! The PC’s program itself was not as efficient as we would like it to be. No automatic level and strange passage-cutting, while converting tape to files, did really ennoy us.  We strongly encourage BTO to work this out in a next version… For all those reasons we cannot give BTO Plusdeck 2 more than an overall 7/10 even though the sound quality was just excellent. So, if you are not looking for more than playing you old favorite cassettes, then go ahead, you won’t be disappointed otherwise look for an external deck with more features and easier access to the moving parts...














 
We liked most…
- Great sound
- Great look
- Smooth and fast mechanism
- Easy to mount
- Well-illustrated manual (but strange translation though)

…and less
- Hard to maintain
- No automatic sound level control
- Managing software far from perfect
- No fast track search
- Slow “fast forward” and “fast rewind”
- Price is way too high compare to external deck
- 20-pin and audio cables are too short

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Audio Special - Review 09/28/05
BTO Plusdeck 2
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  Plusdeck 2 Sony TC-WE475 
Deck 1 2
Dolby No B/C
Dolby HX/Pro No Yes
Tape speed 4.75cm/sec 4.75cm/sec
Wow & Flutter (WRMS) 0.09% 0.10%
Frequency response 20-18,000Hz 30-19,000 Hz (±3dB) metal tape 
Separation 40dB N/A
Signal to Noise Ratio 55dB 55 dB (Dolby off) 
Size (WxHxD) 145x40x215mm
430x120x290 mm
Price (USD) 149.99$ 124$-149.99$
Plusdeck main control menu (left) and LED states on the deck front panel (right)

Note to heavy users

The BTO Plusdeck 2 works more like a stand-alone cassette deck with the shape of a computer device connected to the audio through external cable and to the serial port for piloting the mechanism. Any problem arising for the daily use can be quite painful. Stuck tape, dirty heads, hairs in the capstan, or bad azimuth will request you to open the computer, unplug the deck, remove and open it. It you plan to use it heavily then you should consider buying an external deck instead…
Many are selling
here for the same amount of money with more features and less hassle on the long run…
- Plusdeck 2 Manufacturer: BTO
Recommended Retail Price
149.99$
- BTO Plusdeck 2 is also available in Europe at
129.95€
-European Distributor 
Conrad de
Plusdeck 2 recording options for chosing:
- Sides to record
- Type of files and bitrate (for MP3)
- Auto cut for making one file for the whole or a single file for each track.
Microphone plug on the front as a recording source
Select the tape length and Plusdeck 2 will offer an optimized  organisation of the files to record  on each selected side
Easy connection of the Plusdeck 2. Aside from a 12V Molex, a 20-pin cable connect the deck to the I/O card  (right)
Y jack (not supplied) is a poor way to connect 2 devices on the auxiliary input.