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Hardware FiiO CP13 Review

The CP13 cassette player is the first in FiiO’s Retro line of products. Does the audio specialist do a good job at bringing back analogue music players?
 
 

General Information

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After vinyl players and records, cassette tapes and players are having some sort of renaissance. These compact hardware, while limited to playing one album in most cases, have some charm with the retro appeal, pocketable form factor and a quasi-ritualistic process to play music. There are even video game soundtracks that are being released in this format. If you're looking to (re)discover the world of cassette tapes, you might be looking for a new cassette player. Would FiiO's first attempt at such a product suit your needs? Let's find out in this review!

Contents and specs of the FiiO CP13 package

FiiO's CP13 retails for €120 on the official AliExpress product page. It comes in a range of colors but the one under review is the Sky Blue variant. The package contents are as follows:
  • CP13 cassette player
  • User manual and warranty card
  • USB-C cable
  • Protective cover
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Specs of the cassette player can be found below:

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FiiO CP13: retro inspirations in a modern hardware

Aesthetically, the FiiO CP13 strikes as a minimalist cassette player. With the soft color palette and lined up physical controls on the top and right side, the hardware adopts a no-frills design that is personally appealing. As with its other products, this hardware is of quality, bearing a sturdy aluminum shell. The overall finish makes the CP13 look and feel like a premium product, reflective of its price.

Being rather compact and relatively lightweight at 310g plays in the device's favor. It is easily carried in the pocket or backpack during your commute without being excessively large or heavy.

As an analogue device, you won't find any touch screens here but only physical buttons. These provide a nice resistance and audible feedback when pressed while the volume knob delivers a satisfying feeling whenever the volume is adjusted.

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While I'm fond of the overall hardware quality and minimalist design, I have some gripes with the cassette door opening mechanism. There's only a small groove at the top right side where you can use your nails to pull on the door. It's not a very easy nor intuitive process due to its location and the small size of the groove. A better option would have been to have a larger groove at the top side of the door or a dedicated latch/button. This would make opening/closing much easier and intuitive. Hopefully, FiiO takes note of this and improves on its next model.

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FiiO also sells a protective cover for about €20. It is a handy accessory into which you can easily slide the CP13, which is secured with magnetic flaps. It is made of a nice-feeling faux-leather that adds a classy touch once wrapped around the CP13. However, it does not allow you to swap cassettes. To do that, you'll have to remove the CP13 from the cover, change the cassette and fit the cover around again. It's a cumbersome process which I hope FiiO addresses in its next cassette player iteration.

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Audible nostalgia with the FiiO CP13

If you've used a cassette player in the past, the CP13 will be a breeze to use. And even if you've never used one before, the process will be equally easy. Just plug in your favorite pair of headphones, pop in a cassette tape, press the play button, and voilà! your music is playing. No need to sign in to any online accounts or any need for WiFi connection; that's the joy of analogue music players.

Now, you do need to ensure that the built-in battery has enough juice for your audio-listening session. This is where the main improvement that FiiO brings to classic cassette players comes in and it's a welcome one. Most retro cassette players would rely on AA batteries or similar to operate. But these might not be handy or accessible as much as rechargeable batteries. The CP13's built-in 1800mAh battery can provide up to 13 hours of playback and I myself easily had several days of use during my commutes, totaling around 10 hours or so.

As for the audio quality, this will depend on the quality of the cassette tape (and its recording) as well as the headphones you are using. Popping my new and old tapes in the CP13, I found that the audio was faithful and of decent quality; but more than anything, the experience was nostalgia-inducing.

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While I highly appreciate the minimal and no-frills approach that FiiO adopted with the CP13, some additional features would be welcome on such a device. On retro cassette players, it would not be uncommon to have a record option but this is not included in the CP13. In addition, some cassette players would integrate a radio, allowing them to work as standalone devices, should you be looking for new music to listen to. This would work well with a record option where you'd want to record a music you encountered that was playing on air. However, the CP13 is devoid of such extra features which feel like a missed opportunity at delivering an all-rounder cassette player that would have truly signified a resurgence in such hardware.

The CP13 is not going to replace your phone or digital music player. It has less features than such devices and the audio quality output is highly dependent on the cassette tape's own quality and recording. It is ultimately a niche device for those seeking to revive past memories or those looking to discover cassette tape audio. At this, the CP13 does a good job as it offers a quality device to experience analogue music. It's a welcome product to extend the use of cassette tapes beyond old hardware and I hope that FiiO outputs more such retro products.

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