Synthwave and Analog Vibes 🎹

A brief review of the HITACHI CP-201R Portable Cassette Deck


I recently got into listening to a genre called synthwave, according to Wikipedia:

Synthwave (also called outrun, retrowave, or futuresynth) is an electronic music microgenre that is based predominantly on the music associated with action, science-fiction, and horror film soundtracks of the 1980s.

I particularly enjoyed the two albums produced by Gunship: “Gunship” and “Dark All Day”. I usually don’t buy many music CDs because I have a Spotify subscription, but in some cases I make an exception if I particularly enjoyed that album.

I went to amazon to buy it and I noticed something: there is also a cassette version! Usually it is not uncommon to find the vinyl version as they are still popular today but I had never seen the cassette versions. I remember listining to a cassette audiobook of " Little Red Riding Hood" but also to other Italian folk artist.

Long story short, taken by nostalgia, I bought the cassette version of Dark All Day.

Dark All Day cassette version from GUNSHIP. The cassette is realized in a very cool purple transparent plastic.

Ok nice and all but, how do I play it now?

At my parents' house I have a PHILIPS CD and cassette player that was given to me as a child but which my mother now often uses to listen to some CDs or simply play the radio. Since I don’t currently have much space in the flat I live in I would have preferred to get one of those walkman-type players. Unfortunately, some of these models are prohibitively expensive given their rise in popularity due to TV series (Stranger Things) or Films (Guardians of the Galaxy).

After a long search on various second-hand sites, recently I bought an HITACHI CP-201R portable cassette deck from a second hand shop for as cheap as 10€. I could not find much information about it on the web, anyway the model seems to be from 1986. In addition to playing tape cassettes, it also allows listening to FM and AM frequencies, which can be selected via a slider at the top of the player.

HITACHI CP201-R Portable Cassette Deck.

Unfortunately, the original packaging is in very poor condition. In addition, the player had functional defects due in part to the accumulation of dirt and dust on the internal circuitry. However, it was possible to solve the problem with a little alcohol and a few cotton buds especially for cleaning the battery compartment contacts.

I have been using it for a few weeks now to listen to some cassettes and have had no particular problems and the tapes are played without any slowing down.

For what concerns the audio quality, I am not an Hi-Fi expert so I could not evaluate. In any case, I believe that nowadays, with the availability of various advanced media such as CDs or even BluRay audio, the choice of listening to music on an analogue medium is also linked to the user experience, which is not only limited to the quality of the audio but also to the ‘physicality’ linked to these media: inserting the cassette or the vynil, playing it forwards or backwards, etc…

HITACHI portable deck with a pair of Revolver headphones from AQL and the BANCO album cassette from Banco del Mutuo Soccorso.

After a few uses, however, I found it inconvenient to always have to listen with headphones on.

Trying to mimick the beautiful aesthetics of the Teenage Engineering synthesiser, without succeding, I bought a portable electric guitar amplifier from Marshall and a 3.5" - 6.3" jack audio cable then I connected the headphones output signal to the guitar input of the amplifier and that’s it.

The final setup with the Marshall Mini Stack Series MS-2R amplifier.

Recently I purchased some other cassette from a local music store: two interesting cassettes from famous Italian progressive rock band from the 70s and two from Italian songwriters:

  • Antologia 1970 - 1980 from Le Orme (progressive rock)
  • Banco from Banco del Mutuo Soccorso (progressive rock)
  • De Andrè in concerto - (Italian songwriter)
  • Incontro con Stefano Rosso - (italian songwriter)

My cassette collection.

I recorded a quick video to show the setup although unfortunately the audio quality of the recording does not allow one to judge the actual sound. I also tried connecting the player to some higher-end JBL speakers and as you might expect the sound quality was highly enhanced.