Having recently rounded up a range of audio recording apps, we wanted to spend some time taking an in-depth look at another contender: TapeDeck. This particular piece of software stands out on account of the retro concept, interface, and functionality.
Rather than fit in with the standard OS X look-and-feel, TapeDeck takes a step back in time to the day of the humble audio cassette. It’s a great idea, and is executed very well in this quirky application. Whether you regularly record audio on your Mac, or just take an interest in application design, this review will be particularly fascinating.
Exploring the Interface
The most striking and obvious aspect of TapeDeck is the unique interface:
The left hand side features a giant (and completely unnecessary) speaker and logo, with the currently loaded “tape” underneath. Even the recording and playback controls resemble those you may have found in an 80’s cassette deck.
The right hand side is your tape drawer, where all recordings are placed. Clicking a saved recording will “eject” the current tape, place it in the tape drawer, and load the one you’ve selected.
Let’s take a look at the functionality itself. Recordings in TapeDeck are called “Tapes”, and each new recording you make is placed on a new tape. There’s no way to append extra content to an existing recording, or overwrite a previous tape – this is, for better or worse, where the app fails to perfectly mimic the TapeDeck experience. It certainly makes everything simpler, but personally I would welcome the functionality for appending new material to the end of an old tape.
Before you start recording, there are a few different options that can be altered. First is the quality, which will affect the file size of your resulting recording. Second is the choice between recording in stereo or mono.
When you commence recording, a predictable animation sets the tape in motion. A recording level shows the volume being captured by your microphone, so it’s immediately obvious if something isn’t working correctly.
You’ll be pleased to know that recordings are saved as standard .m4a audio files behind the scenes. This makes them fully compatible with iTunes and your iPod, and simple right-click will let you export the recording directly into iTunes.
Recording can also be initiated and controlled through a series of keyboard hot-keys (Z, X, C, V, B and N mimic the onscreen playback and recording controls), or through the OS X menu bar.
Organisation and Searching
There are three ways to customise and mark your tape after recording: title, colour, and notes:
To change the color of a tape, you simply click the letter “A” to the left of the title. Click it repeatedly to cycle through all the different colour options available.
Where a traditional audio cassette had a label and a case liner, TapeDeck has a “virtual” label, and a “notes” field where you can write to your heart’s content. These are fully searchable, and make it easy to manage a large number of files.
You can command-drag any tape in the box to drag it to another application, such as the Finder or Mail. Dragging a tape to the trash this way is the same as choosing “Move Tape to Trash” from the File menu. Command-clicking a tape will reveal the tape in the Finder.
Searching appears remarkably simple at first glance, but there are a few advanced options available – particularly useful as your tape collection starts to grow. The following filters can be used for narrowing down results further:
- “color:” – The colors you can search for are as follows: ‘red’, ‘blue’, ‘yellow’, ‘green’, ‘orange’, ‘purple’, ‘black’, and ‘gray’.
- “quality:” – The supported quality search terms are, ‘hq’, ‘mq’, and ‘lq’.
- “date:” – For instance, ‘date:2009-01-01’ would return tapes recorded on New Year’s Day in 2009.
- “month:” – For instance, ‘month:may’ will return all tapes that were recorded in May (in any year).
- “year:” -You can also search for tapes that were recorded in a given year. ‘year:2008’ would return all the tapes you recorded in 2008.
TapeDeck is fairly limited on the preferences front – usually the sign of a well-designed application. You can alter the folder in which recordings are stored, turn on/off sound effects, hide the menu bar applet, and select the input and output devices to use for recording and playback:
Upgrading to the full version of TapeDeck unlocks features such as high quality audio recording, and removes the time limit imposed on the free download. If you like the app and plan to use it regularly, upgrading is a must.
The main thing that I love about this app is the way in which it abstracts away the notion of managing files. All your recordings are stored and presented within the app, and – although the ability to export is present – everything is incredibly simple. It reminds me of the “Notes” iPhone app in this respect.
I feel that the execution of the “retro” interface could have been done slightly better, but it’s a fantastic start. After using it for a few days it becomes apparent that it’s more then just a gimmick; this really is a simple and addictive way to record and organize snippets of audio.
I’d strongly recommend giving TapeDeck a try – particularly if a cassette tape appeals to the nostalgic side of your mind. It’s fun, simple, and has virtually no learning curve. If you’ve read to this point, you’re fully equipped to get the most out of the app.