The cassette tape industry's growth has hit a snag due to material shortages

Polycount

TS Evangelist
Staff member

Unfortunately for the comparatively small (but growing) group of people that still buy these tapes for one reason or another, production has hit a bit of a snag. According to a report from Pitchfork, the National Audio Company -- one of the biggest tape makers in the United States -- has been unable to meet customer demand due to a lack of materials; "gamma ferric oxide," specifically.

The outlet says that the only factory that still refines this material (we don't know the name of the factory) has been "under renovation" for the better part of 2019. Without those materials, the National Audio Company has struggled to fill orders.

For end-users, the situation might not be too noticeable for now. Several popular online storefronts still seem to have a stockpile of cassette tapes -- blank and containing content -- available for purchase (though the numbers are dwindling and pricing varies).

However, for the National Audio Company, the dilemma is undoubtedly a frustrating one. Existing stock may not have dissipated just yet, but new orders from corporate partners are likely coming in as fast as ever; especially with the Stranger Things Season 3 soundtrack arriving on the format. Other cassette tape makers are probably not faring much better.

With all of that said, cassette collectors and the National Audio Company itself shouldn't be too worried. Gamma ferric oxide production should resume again in the next few months, which is when the previously-mentioned factory is expected to finish its renovations.

Image credit: Shutterstock, Disney Music Emporium

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p51d007

TS Evangelist
I know those National Audio guys. They've had a hard time sourcing equipment since the entire "tape" industry pretty much scrapped tape when the "digital" stuff came along. I work on some of their printers and the like and they are constantly looking for equipment because no one makes anything related to tape. They sometimes have to make their own parts from scratch because they just can't find it. But that bunch is dedicated to tape. It's an amazing place. Still in the same "old" building, but modern offices.

https://www.google.com/maps/@37.2108303,-93.2904175,3a,75y,330.55h,95.45t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sf30A1aPTfjY3_wzckL-zVg!2e0!7i16384!8i8192
 

Uncle Al

TS Evangelist
With the quality of pressed disks (also rising in popularity) I am surprised that the tapes are making a comeback. The range of sound on disks actually surpasses digital sound; (probably because of the filtering of pop's and other erratic sounds) has been demonstrated by a number of different platforms and one disk pressing house in Nashville has recently doubled it's capacity in an effort to keep up with demand.

Personally, I prefer the digital file but my hearing won't allow me to hear the very highest notes but those tapes .... they begin degrading almost immediately so I'm guessing it's a retro thing for those that have dug back in their closets and found some old players!
 

Capaill

TS Evangelist
With the quality of pressed disks (also rising in popularity) I am surprised that the tapes are making a comeback. The range of sound on disks actually surpasses digital sound; (probably because of the filtering of pop's and other erratic sounds) has been demonstrated by a number of different platforms and one disk pressing house in Nashville has recently doubled it's capacity in an effort to keep up with demand.

Personally, I prefer the digital file but my hearing won't allow me to hear the very highest notes but those tapes .... they begin degrading almost immediately so I'm guessing it's a retro thing for those that have dug back in their closets and found some old players!
I suspect it's either the retro thing or the newer generation who are amazed at how us old folks used cassettes. Somebody must have made cassettes cool again.

I'm trying to track down this "factory" or refinery. So far I've found:
Audio recording using magnetic acetate tape was developed in the 1930s. The German magnetophon utilized magnetite powder as the recording medium.[44] Following World War II, 3M Company continued work on the German design. In 1946, the 3M researchers found they could improve the magnetite-based tape, which utilized powders of cubic crystals, by replacing the magnetite with needle-shaped particles of gamma ferric oxide (γ-Fe2O3).
γ-Fe2O3 has a cubic structure. It is metastable and converted from the alpha phase at high temperatures. It occurs naturally as the mineral maghemite. It is ferromagnetic and finds application in recording tapes.
Magnetite crystals with a cubic habit have been found in just one location: Balmat, St. Lawrence County, New York.
The mine was closed in 2001 but reopened in 2018 by Titan Mining Corporation, although online articles say they are only mining zinc there.
 

captaincranky

TechSpot Addict
In the past, people confused the tape hiss, (even that from the studio recorders), with high frequency information on the final recording. Thus, when Dolby was invented, people perceived high frequency musical information as "missing".

Record (LP) to tape transfer does normally lose some high end. Granted that the cassette tape was a miracle in it's day, because of how faithful its recreation could be made to sound, at the very slow speed the tape traveled across the heads, (1 7/8" per second). A cassette deck which which would realize the tape's full potential was often a very expensive proposition.

In fact, I owned many cassette decks which outperformed my Teac 4 channel reel to reel .

Tape noise is predicated on the size of the oxide particles, and the speed at which the tape is being pulled.

Analog studio recorders are making a comeback of sorts as well. But the tricjk there is the tape is being pulled a 15 (!) inches per second, which places the tape hiss noise above the range of human hearing.

Myself, I still do buy CDs of any music I truly like. As for going back to cassettes, given the experiences I've had with then, IMHO, that's a fool's errand
 
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