Who Needs A Cassette Deck in 2019?
Maybe you do, if you have a closet full of cassettes from your high school or college days, and, for nostalgia's sake (or maybe even something commercial) you want to digitize them.
An old friend of mine, a musician, film maker, documenter and such wanted to re-access several hundred cassettes, mostly interviews, family history, and living room music, and, like so many of us today, no longer had anything to play them on. In trying to find a reasonable new cassette deck that she could buy, I was rather shocked at the meager choice once you get beyond those $20 things. I found the Marantz PMD-300CP for $150, and next up was the TASCAM 202 Mk7 for $500 along with what appears to be a consumer-market version of each, a bit cheaper.
Anyway, I got my hands on the Marantz, a two-transport cassette deck with a built-in USB interface for plug-and-play transfer to a computer, and posted an extensive review of it on my web page. I can't post a link to it because I'm not a frequent poster here, but you can find it if you do a web search for mikeriversaudio.
Short story - The Marantz is OK, but doesn't sound as good as my nearly 30 year old TASACAM 122 Mk2. I went into a fair amount of analysis and discussed some measurement methods that might be new and a bit interesting to those who have never been exposed to analog tape or have, but always wished it would go away. Its main problem, as I suspect you suspect, is the use of a too-light-gauge tape transport which results in excessive scrape flutter. That's the mechanical equivalent of (digital) jitter, and has the same audible effects.
What we really need here - in case any manufacturers are reading this - is a cassette deck with a well made transport. It could be single-deck, playback only, so as not to encourage the sneaky proliferation of new material distributed on cassette.