Defining a generation: The audio cassette turns 50 today

By on September 13, 2013, 1:30 PM

The audio cassette is now officially “over the hill” as it was 50 years ago today when the format launched at Philips' headquarters in Amsterdam. Originally designed to replace reel-to-reel tape for dictation, the audio cassette ultimately became a household staple for those that grew up in the 80s.

Tucked snugly between the days of the 8-track and the compact disc, the audio cassette helped to define a generation. Outstanding audio quality was never attributed to cassettes – in fact, they degraded in quality the more you listened to them and it wasn’t uncommon for a cassette player to “eat” your tape.

A number of advancements like Dolby noise reduction, better magnetic oxides and higher-quality tape players did help to make matters a bit better but it still wasn’t enough by most standards. So then, what was so great about cassettes? One word – versatility.

Back in the 80s, you couldn’t just hop online and craft a playlist of your favorite songs. Instead, you’d have to sit by your stereo system and manually record songs from the radio. This required a bit of precision, patience and a lot of free time but as someone that did it countless times, I can attest that it was well worth it.

Cassettes have long since given way to digital media but they aren’t completely dead. That’s right, some metal bands and “hipsters” are attempting to revive the platform although it’s not likely to reach the level of success enjoyed in the 80s.




User Comments: 24

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psycros psycros said:

I recently put an aftermarket radio in my car and am kind of sad that I no longer have a cassette player. I never liked CDs and own a grand total of three music discs. Fortunately, BlueTooth and USB are pretty much standard features now.

1 person liked this | VitalyT VitalyT said:

Missing the days of glueing a chewed up tape together. Trying to chew on a CD or USB stick isn't as much fun.

Somebody make a new 8-track, self-playing, with WiFi-AC in it, so you can listen to it remotely without chewing anything! I'm just your average genius...

TomSEA TomSEA, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

I still have a couple of cases of cassette's stashed in my closet somewhere. A lot of it pretty rare stuff (bought overseas when I was in the military). I should take the time to dig it out and get them converted.

tonylukac said:

They don't officially make cassette players anymore. My brother usually bought the vinyl album, the 8 track, the cassette, the cd of the same thing, altho has not gotten into mp3s and never listens to any of his recordings. He may have over a thousand albums (not just songs). He usually listens to youtube on laptop speakers. Sounds like a joke, but that is reality.

captaincranky captaincranky, TechSpot Addict, said:

At the end of its useful life, a cassette recorder could acquit itself admirably as a medium for copying from vinyl records.

While the prerecorded tape quality of cassettes was garbage, using chrome or metal tape in a better deck, yielded recordings difficult to tell from the source, and quite likely, better than some of the studio recorders used on your favorite, "golden oldies".

In the late 70's, I had a 4 channel Teac reel to reel, which needed an outboard Dolby NR unit to sound anywhere near as good as cassette, while eating tape at 4 times the speed.

For true audiophiles, the cassette deck probably died in the early to mid 90's, when freestanding audio CD recorders (*) were routinely available.

(*) And computers, obviously.

Bruce Springsteen's "The River" was one of the first big name artist's album to be mastered on digital audio tape. Those pioneering efforts could be shrill, tinny, and nasty, which "The River" surely was.

JC713 JC713 said:

As much as I love CDs, Cassettes are still awesome.

tipstir tipstir, TS Ambassador, said:

TDK one pictured cost me $20 bucks those were made with aluminum shells. Metal was the way to go back then. Chrome was okay some TDK high end ones were good. SONY PRO were really good. I don't have my Pioneer Dual AutoReverse Deck with me left it behind.

Did a lot of tape mixes back in the day.. In the end they served me well the Cassettes.. Today it's SDHC and CD, iPod 16GB Nano in the my SUV Alpine Media Touch Player with voice commands.

1 person liked this | captaincranky captaincranky, TechSpot Addict, said:

....[ ]..... My brother usually bought the vinyl album, the 8 track, the cassette, the cd of the same thing...[ ]...
I think the RIAA should make your brother their poster child, or at the very least, send him a Christmas card. How about you?

free4rm said:

Missing the days of glueing a chewed up tape together. Trying to chew on a CD or USB stick isn't as much fun.

Somebody make a new 8-track, self-playing, with WiFi-AC in it, so you can listen to it remotely without chewing anything! I'm just your average genius...

I remember those days when the tape would get chewed up in the rollers and break. Scotch tape was my fix, trimming it on the sides. I still have a crate of cassettes and a player so that I can still to them.

free4rm said:

Listen to them, oops!

1 person liked this | Skidmarksdeluxe Skidmarksdeluxe said:

They were great at the time because that's all we knew back then. It was cutting edge stuff, especially the chrome & metal tapes but you had to have a suitable player to enjoy them to their fullest. I still have my cassette players & a whole collection of tapes. I used to spend hours recording songs from the radio & vinyl.

I wonder if I can still be held accountable for piracy...

captaincranky captaincranky, TechSpot Addict, said:

They were great at the time because that's all we knew back then. It was cutting edge stuff, especially the chrome & metal tapes but you had to have a suitable player to enjoy them to their fullest. I still have my cassette players & a whole collection of tapes. I used to spend hours recording songs from the radio & vinyl.

I wonder if I can still be held accountable for piracy...

Since you've already admitted guilt, it's a little late to be thinking about that now, wouldn't you say?:oops:

I can show you what the RIAA gestapo thinks: [link] Pretty scary stuff huh?:eek:

And BTW, copyright entitlement has been extended to 75 years!!!

Guest said:

For children^

But what about when you own ur own place and want to "listen" to music..? What do you do then..?

captaincranky captaincranky, TechSpot Addict, said:

For children^

But what about when you own ur own place and want to "listen" to music..? What do you do then..?

I can't help but think you're about to tell us....

Myself, I do own my own sound controlled "place". So, I pretty much do whatever I want, whenever I want to do it.

dennis777 dennis777 said:

Pencil + cassette tape = Perfect match :P

bobcat bobcat, TechSpot Paladin, said:

I got a taste of old age when I tried to buy a portable cassette recorder 5 or 6 years ago and couldn't find one. Then I realized that my huge collection of cassettes created after endless hours of selective recording, was thereafter destined to lifetime confinement in a cupboard shelf...along with my equally valued vinyl record collection, which suffered similar fate about a decade earlier.

My hope now is that my newly (re)created MP3 music collection will last as long as I do.

captaincranky captaincranky, TechSpot Addict, said:

I...[ ].....along with my equally valued vinyl record collection, which suffered similar fate about a decade earlier...[ ]...
Actually, last time I checked, USB turntables were available, along with phono cartridges.

Vinyl records are making a comeback, selling at a premium.

A quick search of J&R Audio in NYC, netted 32 results...: http://www.jr.com/category/audio/turntables/

I have a low mileage, one owner Technics SL-1400 Quartz lock TT. (Circa 1975(?)) Bought a Shure M95-ED for it. (They've discontinued the V15 Type III).

So, if you still have the records, no need to pout

Emexrulsier said:

Still got a sony deck up in the attic with cassette player and halve a dozen cassettes. Never ever gunna use em cause compared to modern digitial stuff it is proper cack!

Guest said:

I was so glad to see the TAPE go .. and welcomed CD's ... because I loved the instant gratification of skipping a terrible song!

captaincranky captaincranky, TechSpot Addict, said:

I was so glad to see the TAPE go .. and welcomed CD's ... because I loved the instant gratification of skipping a terrible song!
If you record mix tapes, doesn't that accomplish the same thing? Unless of course, you record horrible songs in the mix.

Myself, I get into CDs because of the 90+Db signal to noise ratio, and dynamic range.

Railman said:

I used to have a small computer device which you could program simple basic programs. The back up was to cassette tape.

bobcat bobcat, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Something else worth mentioning is that the cassette provided a convenient, low cost form of present. When I was invited at a friend's house for a drink or snack and didn't want to go empty handed, I'd record music of his liking on a cassette from my vinyl records. I'd then stamp it with the impressive sounding:

"HiFi, DOLBY STEREO"

and could see the glow in his eyes as he received it. And all at the cost of a blank cassette.

Guest said:

They did their job but what a pain in the neck they were really. Compared with digital data mediums they are dinosaurs fading into the dust of time. Same with vinyl. After the glow of nostalgia has subsided the reality is so clear. You just can't beat the CD and newer systems of digital storage.

Xtreme gamer said:

+1 agree ^

Initial nostalgia glow.... Then frustration and time wasted.

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