Link: Reloop — Price: $129/€99/£90
For some reason, I came into this review expecting to hate the Reloop Tape. At face value it feels gimmicky. After all, it’s shaped like an old-school audio cassette tape like we used to sit by the radio and record our favourite top 40 hits on. But minus some niggles, I far from hated it and here’s why.
Let’s start by explaining: what is this little gadget? The Reloop Tape is a nifty little portable device you use to record your mixes and vinyl rips. It’s versatile, and allows you to record straight to any USB storage device you plug in. The Reloop Tape comes with a recommended price tag of US$129 / £90 / €99, but shopping around, you should be able to get it cheaper.
In the box
Firstly, we need to review the packaging. As I’ve said in previous reviews, packaging should not cause risk to life or limb. Reloop clearly feel the same and slapped everything between two bits of clear plastic stapled together, along with a sheet of card designed to look like a 70s tape deck.
You get everything you need in the box to get recording. The tape recorder, power cable, RCA-to-3.5mm input cable give you all you need to get started (minus the USB storage, more on which a bit later).
Looks and build quality
The Reloop Tape is light, plastic, with mostly plastic connectors. It doesn’t feel particularly solid, and my first instinct was to avoid giving it too much abuse. I’m of the philosophy that anything utilitarian (like a smartphone) is there to be used, and it’ll get bruised along the way, but I’m not convinced this will take much more than a drop. A second opinion from the wife came to me as simply “cheap”.
All the buttons, switches, ports and LEDs are easily accessible on the unit. Along the bottom are the input and “thru” connectors, along with a full sized USB port for plugging in your storage. On one of the edges is a ground screw for attaching a turntable, a phono/line level switch, a toggle switch for 192/320kbps recording and DC-in socket.
Along the top are four LEDs for power, USB, REC and signal/peak to give you the visual feedback you need to make sure it’s working. In the centre is a big fat button to record labeled REC/STOP. You can’t miss it.
A quick recording at both quality settings lets you hear for yourself how the unit rips audio.
Audiophiles in the audience would no doubt balk at the idea of using piddly plastic-housed 3.5mm jacks to record from source. But for the rest of us mere mortals, the small headphone jack is ubiquitous enough that it wouldn’t make sense to have anything else. For its primary purpose, the Reloop Tape does the job really well.
Real world use
Setting this unit up is straightforward once you know how. I admit I was genuinely surprised the unit didn’t come with any memory onboard and couldn’t work out why the REC light was flashing angrily red at me… until I plugged in a thumb drive. With a price tag pushing £100, I notice two glaringly missing features:
- You have to have an external storage device to record. With the feel of the unit, there’s clearly space inside to at least fit micro SD slot, if not some internal storage of some sort.
- You have to use up yet another precious plug socket to run the thing.
You can either set this up between the main output on your mixer or controller, using both the input and “thru” plugs, or record from the booth/record-out if you have one. Once it’s all plugged in, you just hit the big REC/STOP button and off you go. Whilst testing it out, I never once managed to get the peak LED to flash a warning. This thing has some serious overhead!
The thing I need to make clear at this point is that this device really, really makes recording your set a doddle. So much so that it encourages you to record every time you hit the ones and twos. When you literally just hit a button to do it, there’s no reason to record each time!
And I guess that’s probably a reason why this is a cool little gadget… it reduces the friction of recording and publishing your set so much it’s a no-brainer. I did a quick 25 minute set and had it up on Mixcloud in 15 minutes. No messing about with recording software, no encoding to MP3 on your laptop.
Something that could be useful (although possibly impractical on the current model) would be some sort of gain function. Not all mixers and controllers are created equally, and those that offer punch will output too quietly. The built-in functionality of DJ software usually gives you this flexibility.
Which leads me on to another real world issue: With so many options already out there for recording, and many people already staring at a multi-purpose computing device’s screen while they mix, is there a place for this little gadget? Another quick, completely unscientific poll of my peers [wife] garnered the reaction of “What?!” when I mentioned the £90 price tag.
The fact that there doesn’t seem to be any competing devices with similar functionality in the DJ space gives it a massive leg up. I want to end this article by saying that for this price, it’s very difficult to overcome the fact it feels so cheap, that it needs DC power, and has no onboard storage. If Reloop either slashed the price, or added the missing features, they’d be onto a winner.
The bottom line
When I factor in the price, it’s a very tough sell in the market, but apart from some missing features, I really like the Reloop Tape.
A Second Opinion from Mark Settle
You’ll recall when we first saw this back at BPM 2012. Being the old duffer that I am and cassettes being a huge part of my DJ life, I was immediately drawn to this obvious feel-good device. Yes, Reloop has shamelessly tapped the never-ending wave of nostalgia to attract people who remember making mixtapes onto actual tape.
So having got my attention, it was a matter of seeing if this thing was capable of doing what it’s supposed to do. And as Dan has shown perfectly in his above review, it does do that perfectly. There’s no denying that as a workflow, recording to an external device without additional strain on your laptop, and recording exactly what you would pump out through your mixer is ideal.
But for me, I have to echo Dan’s plus points and main downsides. My biggest problem is having to power this up. I don’t mind so much that I have to plug in USB media, but am less impressed that I can’t just carry this around and plug it in whenever I need it. In some ways, it’s a safeguard so that you don’t run out of power 30 minutes into your 2 hour set. I remember how quickly the iKey ate through batteries in the past, and I feel that the Reloop Tape’s size would have been compromised somewhat. A Reloop 4 track doesn’t have the same ring really.
Is it too expensive? Well you can buy all manner of recorders for the same price, and ones that run on batteries too. You could also record into your phone as well. That said, none of these recorders I saw can act as an inline device. But for me, this is one of those very rare occasions where form does seem to triumph over function for me. I adore the Reloop Tape for the memories it conjures up, especially when so many of my own tapes got wrecked in a flood. So yes, it has faults, and yes, other cheaper more capable recording options are available, but none of them are as cool as the Reloop Tape, which for me is the whole point.