Your expert guide to the best portable cassette players on the market, used and new.
Buying your first portable tape drive can be daunting. A quick search online and you’ll be bombarded with a ton of confusing options spanning styles, sizes, and eras. The good news is that even the best cassette players, whether new or used, can be purchased at relatively low prices.
Sites such as eBay, Gumtree, and Facebook Marketplace are great places to look, and all have sellers with varying prices and varying degrees of build quality. As you’d expect, extra features and superior build quality (metal-bodied drives, for example) will drive the price up. Garage sales and yard sales, thrift stores and charity shops are also places where you can expect to pick up some bargains.
There are a few modern brands that manufacture new portable cassette players. Most of these manufacturers focus on turning your tapes into digitized copies over a USB connection. However, these new models don’t tend to have the best build quality compared to their predecessors.
If you are buying in person, we recommend testing the drive yourself, as you will most likely be buying a used machine and mechanical issues may occur. Fast forwarding and rewinding a tape will let you know if something is wrong with the player, and since most models have 3.5mm headphone jack inputs, a listening test should be fairly simple too. .
If you’re looking online and don’t have a chance to try before you buy, be sure to do your due diligence and ask all the right questions about your potential player’s condition.
While there’s no definitive approach to choosing the perfect portable cassette player, we recommend looking for built-in features that match what you want from your listening experience – and opting for the best conditions that your budget allows.
Below, we explore the pros and cons of seven of our favorite portable cassette players.
ION Tape Express Plus
Advantages: Allows you to digitize your tapes
The inconvenients: No registration; no radio
Verdict: This player is designed with digitizing your cassette collection in mind, and is a snip at this low price.
At this price, the ION Tape Express Plus cassette player over-delivers. Offering a streamlined approach that plays tapes like any other portable cassette player, it has one thing that older cassette players lack: a USB connection. This port gives the player the ability to convert tape recordings to MP3. Its build quality is also surprisingly good for its price.
RecordingTheMasters Mulann B-1000 Walkman
Advantages: Modern; good sound
The inconvenients: Lack of features
Verdict: A modern cassette player that lets you focus on the music and nothing else.
RecordingTheMasters is proud to be the premier manufacturer of professional, long-playing analog audio tape. The B-1000 doesn’t offer too many features besides basic play, stop, rewind and a record option. However, it is a modern-build player, which means it is built brand new and won’t need repairs anytime soon.
TASCAM Porta ONE Ministudio 4-Track Cassette Recorder
Advantages: Two mic/line inputs; four track channels
The inconvenients: Big size
Verdict: A portable, analog, cassette-based mini audio studio capable of battery or DC operation – what more could you ask for? Well, it could be smaller.
Although the TASCAM Porta ONE Ministudio could not fit in your pocket, it was still marketed as a portable cassette player, recorder and studio. Cassette playback is rudimentary, but where this cassette player shines is its ability to record instruments or mics through its inputs on multiple tracks and manipulate the mix on the fly, wherever you are.
Marantz PMD 221
Advantages: Built-in speaker; separate record and playback heads; height control
The inconvenients: bulky
Verdict: Marantz’s PMD 221 is a hard-to-beat analog portable cassette player for both listening and recording.
The Marantz PMD 221 remains a solid piece of equipment. Gaining popularity with journalists and sound engineers from the mid-80s to the late 90s, this cassette player made a name for itself with its built-in features. Having separate record and playback heads lets you check the quality of your recording while it’s being recorded to tape, without having to rewind the tape and play it back later. A pitch control lets you adjust playback speed, and a cue and review feature can be used to easily locate any section of your tape for playback.
The inconvenients: Fewer features than higher-end models
Verdict: Compact and reliable cassette player with a rechargeable battery that delivers impressive analog sound.
At the height of the cassette boom, Sony’s portable units reigned supreme. Years later, these players still stand up to scrutiny. Released in the late 90s, the W-MEX677 offers compact size, useful features, and hard-to-beat sound quality. The super smooth ‘WALKMAN’ font also provides a nice retro solution.
Advantages: Great sound quality; good build quality
The inconvenients: N / A
Verdict: When Sony dominated the portable cassette player market, the AIWA HS-Px303 is what every cassette player should have aspired to in terms of sound quality.
The PX line of cassette players was already loved by consumers, but the arrival of the PX303 took that love to the next level. While offering a good number of features, this cassette player really shines with its sound quality, unparalleled clarity and unparalleled bass response. To this day, it’s still a mystery how this cassette player didn’t dethrone Sony.
AIWA HS-JX707 (HS-EX3000)
Price: Â£600 – Â£1300+
Advantages: All the features you can imagine
The inconvenients: The resale market can be expensive
Verdict: If you find this at any thrift store for a cheap price, don’t look anywhere else – buy it!
Awia’s HS-JX707, also known as the EX3000 in Japan, is often considered the most feature-rich cassette player ever. Have an AM/FM radio, 10 station presets for each tuning band, digital clock with standby/play/record modes, Dolby noise reduction, voice navigation that tells you which function you’ve used, record from tuner or from the microphone input, and remote controller all packed into a single unit was absolutely revolutionary for its time – and still holds up now.