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5 Reasons Why Cassettes Were the Best Gosh Darn Playback Medium Ever! 

Let’s celebrate the technology whose sound quality was exceeded only by its mechanical perfection


by Craig Anderton




1. Cassettes used tape. Everyone (yes, everyone) knows that suspending a bunch of teeny-tiny little magnets in plastic, blasting them with supersonic energy, then making them line up using a method that resembles herding drunken and disorderly cats is the surest way possible to create a peachy-keen sound.


2. Cassettes were designed for lo-fi dictation applications, not music. Being perversely contrary is in a musician’s DNA. So of course, upon first seeing the cassette, musicians realized immediately that this was clearly destined to be the playback medium of the future. Even better, cassettes distorted like crazy!


3. It was ahead of its time. The widespread adoption of low bit rate MP3 formats, played through 34¢ earbuds from China, proved that what people really wanted was not incremental, but excremental, changes in sound quality. The cassette delivered on that promise long before digital technology figured out how to take truly bad sound to a hitherto uncharted level of wretchedness.


4. Cassettes had little reels that rotated. Back in the 60s, if people had communed sufficiently with a mind-altering substance, they could be amused for hours watching the little reels go around—even if the music wasn’t any good. Decades later, music videos would exploit this very same principle by making elaborate videos for forgettable music.


5. They made spectacular road kill. When people got frustrated with cassettes jamming in their car stereo and threw them out the window, the tape would unravel like some strange kind of post-industrial intestine, literally spilling its guts all over the interstate. Can a CD do that? A download? Vinyl? No! Need I say more?




 Craig Anderton is Editorial Director of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.


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Mikeo  |  March 22, 2017 at 12:39 pm
Back not that long ago, I was at a smaller theater concert in Northampton Massachusetts. I always have a habit of checking out the merchandising table at shows Many bands rely  on the cd's, and T shirts they sell at shows, just to keep afloat.  At times, I bet it can be the difference between sleeping in a rent Ford Econoline van, or a warm bed at a Motel 6.  Many of the bands I have seen,  sometimes I have never heard of the warm up act, but many are very good. While at one show  recently, I saw the band not only selling there latest cd and clothing line at the table, but the also had a cassette  version on there most recent release. I wish I could remember who the band was. I guess, the format has not totally died out.
Back in the early 80's I was fortunate to own a Tascam 246 desktop recorder. This was my introduction to home recording. Down the road some ten years later, I purchased a Tascam 488MKII.  I still have both of these units up in my attic. 
Recently, for some crazy reason, I purchased  some new old stock 60 minute High Bias type II tape, that works well in either unit.  I would be up for the challenge of recording on 8 tracks again. There's quite the bleed over on tracks if you run the inputs to hot, so it's nicer to get a track done right on a first, second or third take.
I believe Maxell, TDK and others that made blank cassette tapes back a few decades ago, have stopped doing so. I want to let folks know, the National Audio Company in Springfield MO, still works with cassette tapes.  As funny and archaic as cassette tapes may seem, it's not a totally dead format. 
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