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Looks aren’t everything -- and despite the stereotypes to the contrary, this is something Mac users take to heart. Sure, our iMacs and MacBooks looks a hell of a lot slicker than those giant bricks everyone else calls a computer. But when it comes down to it, we love our Macs for how they work, not just how they look. And it’s exactly that standard that dampened our initial enthusiasm for Crosley’s Memory Master II, which packs a turntable, tape deck, AM/FM radio, iPod speaker, and CD burner into a sweet-looking retro package. Yes, it looks great -- but unfortunately, neither the build quality nor the functionality can justify the hefty price tag.
The marquee feature of the Memory Master is the ability to burn your old LPs and cassettes onto CDs without any additional hardware. The Memory Master also features a USB connection in the back, so you can connect it to your Mac -- but unless you know (or want to learn) how to use an audio editor, that process can be cumbersome. (More on that in a bit.)
Memory Master II is like a Monet—good from far, and far from good.
At least creating discs is a fairly straightforward affair -- just insert a blank CD and hit Record. Play your tape or LP, and the Memory Master will convert your audio and burn it onto a CD in real time. It’s simple, but not without a few potential pitfalls.
For starters, the Memory Master’s wooden case gives it an air of refinement, but pro gear it ain’t. Buttons feel flimsy, and the tape deck’s controls are slightly out of alignment with each other, ruining the classic look on closer inspection. Worse, the lever that lowers the needle onto the record isn’t dampered. It literally drops the needle into the groove -- bad for needle and record alike. And when you sit down to convert audio, you’ll have to make sure you’ve picked a tolerable volume…because once you’re recording, you can’t adjust it. Then get comfortable because you’ll need to be within earshot the whole time. The Memory Master can’t separate tracks automatically, so you’ll have to hit the Track Split button every time you want to mark a new track on your CD. Yeesh.
After all that, we were relieved that the resulting CDs sounded fine. Obviously, they can’t turn your dirty, scratchy old records into pristine CD-quality audio, but they played fine in a variety of players, including a PlayStation 3, a car stereo, and of course, a Mac. Interestingly, a few burned discs would not play in the Memory Master itself, even though they worked in other devices. If you want to go all digital, iTunes had no problem ripping discs from the Memory Master, although you’ll have to input your own metadata. Or you could use the USB connection to record files straight to your Mac, but the included Audacity software can be intimidating to novice users. For $400, it would have been nice to see Crosley include a custom app with a few simple editing tools, rather than give out the same free software that everyone else uses. But if you’re already comfortable in Audacity or another audio editor, then the Memory Master makes a decent all-in-once playback machine.
Speaking of playback, the Memory Master features its own speakers. They’re not particularly detailed, but they’re acceptable for (very) casual listening or monitoring recordings in progress. They’re all mids and highs, lacking satisfying bass, and sound sort of muddy overall. That said, the Memory Master also features an AM/FM radio and a stereo input suitable for use with an iPod or other MP3 player, which are welcome touches.
The bottom line. If your audio needs are modest, the Memory Master II will suffice. It makes an okay listening device, but the only real reason to buy it is as a simple option for converting analog formats to CDs.
CR2413A Memory Master II
Records or cassette tapes, USB port
Converts records and tapes to CD with only a few button-presses. Plays 78- 45- and 33-RPM records. Audio input for connecting iPod or other device. USB output to a Mac.
Average sound quality. Audacity software can be intimidating to new users. Build quality looks good but doesn’t hold up on closer inspection. Burned some discs that it wouldn’t play.