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    FiiO CP13 Portable Cassette Player Review

    The FiiO CP13 is a portable cassette player with a straightforward design, large buttons, and a minimal feature set. The cassette player, which was first introduced at CES, features a rechargeable Lithium Ion battery and a USB-C connector, among other contemporary features. However, it is primarily an analog audio device, as it does not allow MP3s or music streaming, nor does it support WiFi or Bluetooth.

    FiiO began selling the CP13 in late January, with pre-order pricing as low as $100 for the first 200 customers who ordered from AliExpress. The CP13 is now out of stock for the first batch, but a second batch is already began on sale in March. The company has begun shipping the cassette player to customers though, and the first reviews have begun to appear online.

    Before starting, yes, I was present when the 1979 TPS-L2 Sony Walkman was released. I loved it. I also understand the importance of the HB pencil; you’d better believe there was hell to pay the first time I pulled that important piece of audio equipment from the glove compartment of my mother’s Citroen 2CV6, complete with an Audioline tape player. Finally, I recall Julia Roberts singing to Kiss in the film Pretty Woman with her Walkman sat dangerously on the brink of the bathtub in a bathroom that (and I quote) was larger than the Blue Banana. Check, check again. I am qualified to discuss about cassettes!

    And I’m here to inform you that cassette cassettes and Walkmans are making a major comeback. I don’t mean Sony’s redesigned digital audio players, such as the Sony NW-A306 (which is one of the greatest high-resolution audio players available at a reasonable price), but rather portable tape players that accept actual polyester-type-plastic-film-with-magnetic-coating tapes.

    My recent personal quest to expand my tape collection beyond the much-played and mostly decaying albums of my youth – Roxette’s Tourism, Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814, Prince’s 1999, INXS Kick, Les Négresses Vertes’ Mlah, Robert Palmer’s Heavy Nova, you get the picture – also strongly suggests that tapes are far from retro, quaint, or passé. In fact, they are in high demand. But see, I’m getting ahead of myself.

    Never gonna give you up

    DESIGN

    FiiO CP13

    We covered the FiiO CP13 debut at CES earlier this year, but we were not allowed to carry one with us. That has changed, and now that I have one, I don’t want to give it up.

    The one significant technological advancement FiiO has adopted here is the one I expected to see: a USB-C charger instead of a battery recess, which provides up to 15 hours of gaming on a full charge. I would have preferred two 3.5mm headphone connectors (which are now available in ZTE’s Nubia Music Phone), but I don’t mind the absence of Bluetooth transmission. I listened to it largely through the Campfire Audio Solaris Stellar Horizon, but it also drove the Audeze.

    When pushed, the massive buttons provide a comforting mechanical clang. Fast-forward and rewind make the supply and take-up reels spin as smooth as butter, and while FiiO is tight-lipped regarding the tape head employed here, the whole construction seems durable and substantial. It’s nothing if not angular; forget about curved edges; Sony’s 1979 Walkman didn’t have ’em, and neither does FiiO’s tribute. Although some write-ups mention a ‘Auto-reverse’ option (which simply means that your tape will rewind when it reaches the end), my sample neither states nor supports it.

    FiiO’s marketing for this player is a touch, eh, wellness-centric, with a user gently peeling the wrapper off a color-coded tape (part of a curated selection that can be sent with my version of the CP13, if you wish) and listening to a classical selection.

    I performed the auditory time capsule thing and listened to every cassette I still had. I loaded a bag with tapes and took the CP13 on a long stroll along the Weymouth, Dorset beach. En way, I stopped at every vinyl dealership, vintage outlet, and thrift store I saw. Everywhere I went to add to my collection, the response was the same: “Cassettes – music ones?” There’s no chance. As soon as we bring them in, they sell like hotcakes.”

    A vintage store owner stated that his vinyl supplier is now dealing in cassettes as well as records due to “fresh and fervent demand”. A thrift store volunteer informed me that a young man came in only yesterday and paid about 5$ for “every music cassette you’ve got”.

    FiiO CP13 front

     

    I appreciate cassettes, notwithstanding my concern about audio quality. The cassette tape is more durable than a CD for carrying about (anyone who remembers trying valiantly not to touch their CD while changing albums on a crowded train compartment – and eventually dropping it – will understand), and the sound is unique. Personally, I appreciate how the physical state of your tape impacts its sound; I also like how nothing lasts forever (even chilly November rain). I also prefer the warmth and minimal hiss of magnetic tape, and because I’ve had all of the testing to determine that my ear is quite sensitive to treble frequencies, the dampened highs frequently work for me. If an album has been mixed for it, I feel that reducing dynamic range results in a more broader soundstage than CD.

    Perhaps the youngsters like vintage. But perhaps they want to collect something inexpensive (I was able to buy a double-tape for 20p on my travels, which is around 27c); perhaps vinyl is getting too pricey, pricing off would-be collectors; or perhaps our kids want to disconnect from social media. Maybe they just want something authentic.

    FiiO CP13

    FiiO is best known for its superb and reasonably priced high-tech hardware, which includes a variety of hi-res DACs, the excellent FiiO FT5 and FT3 over-ear headphones, a hi-res audio keyboard (yes, keyboard), and, most recently, the five-star R9 just-add-speakers bijou music streaming box. For me, the CP13 is another big success. It’s delightfully simple to use (no setup necessary) and restores the physical audio product’s superlative portability.

    For whom?

    The black-white model of the FiiO CP13 resembles the iconic Sony Walkman of yesteryear. As a result, it appears that the target audience for this sort of technology is precisely those who long for the past. These might be die-hard enthusiasts who still have hi-fi demands from the 1970s and 1980s. But there are also younger hipsters who want to hear how it all sounded in the past.

    In hand, everything felt quite comfortable, like taking up a guitar after years of not playing. It took some time for my fingers to warm up, but muscle memory returned quickly, and before I knew it, I was playing the control buttons (for play, pause, rewind, and fast forward) like a six-string.

    The metal shell provides the player a great tactile touch, while the front of the device is made of plastic and features the usual peephole to observe your cassettes doing their thing.

    The Sound :

    So, how’d it sound? awesome, This is when things become tough. I tested the player for a minute or two with a tape (indie band Vigilantes and their album Ambedo Auras) and a pair of Hidizs in-ear headphones that were available in the demo area, neither of which I was familiar with.

    As a result, it wasn’t the type of demo that allowed for any meaningful qualitative judgments. For some, it will be simply reconnecting with a classic piece of portable audio, but for others, sound performance will be critical – ideally, we’ll be able to assess this further down the road.

    Was my time with the Fiio CP13 a wholly positive experience? entirely YES. Also I found it frustrating for a couple of reasons, but only one of those was down to the tape player.

    Price :

    For the price of $129 in their official website, the construction quality and finish were satisfactory. It’s a simple rectangular box with some nice, crisp lines. I’m not sure how simple it is to knock the volume dial with the CP13 in your pocket, but it has a pleasingly smooth motion.

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