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Some Gems earn their ratings by offering lots of features at a reasonable price. Others gain their status by making it dead-simple to do useful things. Today’s Gem, TapeDeck, streamlines the process of making and organizing audio recordings—and does it with a user interface that will bring a smile to those of us who used an actual cassette deck back in the day.
Launch TapeDeck, and you see a window that looks like an old portable cassette recorder, complete with cassette tray, record and playback buttons, and (fake, of course) speakers. To start recording, simply click the Record button; a new “tape”—TapeDeck’s term for a recording—is created and “loaded” into the deck, and the app starts recording. When you’re done recording, click Stop.
TapeDeck can record audio from your Mac’s built-in microphone or any Mac-compatible microphone or audio device connected via USB, Bluetooth, or your Mac’s audio input(s). You choose the desired input using TapeDeck’s Preferences window, which also lets you choose which channel(s) to record, if applicable. TapeDeck can pass audio through to your Mac’s audio output, letting you monitor your recordings in real time. Unfortunately, you can’t record audio that’s playing in other apps on your Mac. For that, you’ll need something like Audio Hijack Pro or Wiretap Studio.
Just above the record and playback buttons are a few useful controls and displays. You can view the recording time and the recording and volume levels, and buttons let you choose between stereo or mono recordings, as well as to set the recording quality: high (HQ), medium (MQ), or low (LQ). The HQ setting records to Apple Lossless files at 44.100Hz; MQ gives you 128kbps (stereo) or 64kbps (mono), 16-bit AAC files at 44.100Hz; and LQ records to 48kbps (stereo) or 24kbps (mono), 16-bit AAC files at 22.050Hz. During playback, a scrub control lets you quickly move around within a recording.
You can listen to the currently loaded tape using the playback buttons. A nice touch is that, just like its real-world counterpart, TapeDeck lets you skim through your recording (i.e., listen to the sped-up audio) by using the Rewind and Fast Forward buttons during playback. I wish you could adjust the forward-skimming speed, though, as it's too fast for you to be able to understand most speech. A slightly slower speed would let you quickly scan recordings to find a particular spot.
You can also customize the current tape’s label. Click the title to edit it, and click the “side” (A) graphic to toggle the recording’s color label; eight label colors are available. Click the Notes field, and you can add plain-text notes—the digital equivalent of liner notes.
Any recording you’ve made shows up in TapeDeck’s slide-out, scrolling “tape box,” which, of course, looks like an old cassette rack, allowing you to see the label for every tape. Each tape’s label includes the recording’s title, label, date/time of recording, recording length, and recording quality. To listen to a recording, simply click it in the tape box; the tape is immediately loaded into the deck. (As with most of TapeDeck’s functions, you hear sounds and see visuals that mimic those of a real cassette recorder, although you can disable the sound effects if you prefer.)
To prevent you from accidentally overwriting an existing recording, TapeDeck automatically creates a new tape each time you stop a recording and then start recording again. This is a nice safety feature, but I wish there was at least the option to continue recording on an existing “tape.” (You can pause a recording and then resume recording on the same tape, but you can’t come back to a tape later and add to it.)
The tape box is sorted chronologically, but you can also filter the list of tapes using the search field. In addition to filtering by tape name and notes, you can use Spotlight-style search queries: color: to filter by label color; quality: to filter by recording quality (hq, mq, or lq); and date:, month:, and year: to filter by full date (in M/D/YY or YYYY-MM-DD format), month (in text or numeric format), or year (in YYYY format), respectively. You can also combine search terms for more-specific filters. Although these search features work well, it would still be great to be able to sort the tape box by, say, name or label.
TapeDeck isn’t limited to managing its own recordings. Any .m4a file you drop into the TapeDeck recordings folder—by default, located in ~/Music—or add using TapeDeck’s Import command will appear in the tape box. You can then load these recordings into the deck to play them and edit their labels.
TapeDeck also provides a number of features for sharing your tapes. You can Command-drag tapes out of the tape box to open the underlying audio files in, or copy them to, another application. This makes it easy to get your recordings into your favorite audio-editing or podcast-production program. You can also email audio files using the Email Tape command; export a tape to any QuickTime-supported format; and use the convenient Copy To iTunes command to add a recording to iTunes, where you can then sync it to your iPods and iOS devices. There’s even a neat Send To YouTube feature that will create a movie—the tape’s audio combined with video of your actual tape “playing”—for a tape and then upload it to your YouTube account. (The developer has provided an example video.)
Finally, Tape Deck provides handy keyboard shortcuts—the Z, X, C, V, B, and N keys across the bottom row of your keyboard mirror the Record, Play, Rewind, Fast Forward, Stop, and Pause buttons. You can also configure global Record, Pause, and Stop shortcuts, and you can activate a systemwide menu, to control recordings from within any application.
TapeDeck makes it easy to make—and, just as important, manage—basic recordings at various levels of quality, and it offers most of the features a non-pro user, and even many podcasters, will need. I also really like the interface. Developers sometimes go too far with skeuomorphic representations of older, non-digital devices, but in the case of TapeDeck, the retro user interface works. It makes the most-important features obvious, and the sounds and visuals are just, well, fun. But whether you like the retro look or not, TapeDeck is a standout tool for easy audio recording.