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Retro Music Apps Aren't Just a Novelty (for iPhone and iPad)

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The iPhone, iPad, and Android smartphones may not be the best-sounding portable devices we've ever heard -- that would be this -- but they can pull crazy stunts like pretending to be a cassette player, vinyl turntable, or boombox, one of the reasons they rule so hard as music players. And to be fair, they sound pretty good too.

Live a little, this November, won't you? For starters, liven things up by turning your iPhone, Android, iPod Touch, or iPad into a retro music player from yesteryear. Yes, they're amusing, gimmicky, and make good conversation pieces, but don't be fooled: These apps can subtly change they way you experience your music, even down to that awesome vinyl crackling sound.

At your next party, wouldn't it be nice to let guests flip through your "record" collection on an iPad to cue up the next track? And wouldn't that cute girl/guy on the subway be amused to see your iPhone or Android playing a shareable "mixtape"? Here are the best options we found for iPhone, iPad, and Android.

For iPhone

AirCassette ($2): We're kicking off this list with a real showstopper: AirCassette, which lets you choose from any of a number of vintage cassette styles and has an on-the-go queue that lets you add to playlists as they play as well as a sharing feature for sending your mix to friends via Facebook or email (30 second samples only), sort of like we used to do with the real mixtapes. And unlike many of the others listed here, it packs the hyper-modern ability to stream music to Apple AirPlay devices.

VinylLove for iPhone ($2): For the true(ish) turntable experience, you're going to want an iPad (see below). If you don't have one, or if you're looking for a vinyl player that's portable in a way the real ones can never be, try this pocket-sized version of VinylLove. You can browse your record collection in crates and listen to entire albums, just like in the olden days, or drop the needle onto a certain spot on the record to pick a specific track, as indicated by variation in the grooves. And it also supports AirPlay.

CD Player: Finally, although it's nowhere near as interesting as the previous options -- perhaps because CDs are really just another form of digital music, and at that point, why pretend? -- you might check out the CD Player app, which is pretty similar to Apple's standard Music app.

For iPad

The iPad's large form factor makes it more suitable, retro-wise, to boomboxes, DJ decks, and civilian-style turntables. Bonus: You won't throw your back out walking down the avenue with these boomboxes, and if your music starts an impromptu dance party, you don't need to switch the anti-skate control on your record player to stop it from skipping.

Retro Boombox Music Player ($4): Unlike other boombox apps we've seen, this one delivers more than just a pretty skin of your usual music app. In addition to playing all the music on your iPad, it adds the ability to play hundreds of AM/FM radio streams based on your location (Australia, US, and UK only) and lets you record your freestyling as voice recordings. But it's the details that really count: moveable antenna and handle; speakers that move; bass presets; and dials, switches and lights that actually do stuff.

There's just one thing missing: AirPlay compatibility. We know, boomboxes are designed to be portable, but they also need to sound "big," and AirPlay does that in the home without requiring totally uncool wires everywhere.

Algoriddim djay ($20 -- and another $20 for the optional cable): Winner of a 2011 Apple design award, this app brings the classic two-turntable DJ setup to the iPad better than any other DJ app we've tested. Twenty bucks might seem a lot to spend on an app, but similar software has cost upwards of $50 and up on the PC and Mac -- and those don't even have touchscreens (talk about "retro").

If you're an actual DJ, as opposed to a person who plays certain music in a location, you'll definitely want to pick up the cable that lets you preview mixes over headphones by fooling the iPad into outputting two distinct channels. Both of them are mono, but that's cool. There's no AirPlay, but that adds about a second of lag time, so we understand why a DJ app like this wouldn't include it.

VinylLove ($2): Now that the Swedish app developer Color Monkey has released a universal version of this well-designed app, you can purchase VinylLove once and use it on iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad.

That said, it really shines on the iPad, especially if you prop it up on a stand next to your stereo system. It includes all of the features of the miniature version above (crate digging music selection, AirPlay, and that authentic vinyl crackle), but at a size more reminiscent of your actual turntable.

  • Honorable mention: the same app running on an iPhone or iPod Touch

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