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The compact cassette

May 11th, 2007

The compact cassette has gone the way of the dinosaur. If we want to record something now, we do it on a cd or a hard drive or other digital memory device. But I’m old enough to remember when the cassette was really all that was available – though my dad heavily influenced me to greatly appreciate the open reel format, due to its far superior sound quality. While the open reel formal was much better, it couldn’t be used as a portable medium, and the compact cassette was born.

The cassette was originally designed for speech and data storage, not for music. The tape speed of 1 7/8 inches per second was far too slow to be able to record full range sound. Over the years different chrome and metal tape formulations were developed which could accept a much higher input signal with a wider frequency response, and these developments along with better tape heads and more stable transport systems from the equipment manufacturers, made the cassette work pretty well for music.

There is something romantic about a cassette. It was through the cassette that the mix tape was born, a dating ritual that would have been quite a bit more awkward if only open reel tape had been available. Who (assuming you’re over 25) hasn’t made and/or received a mix tape at some point in life? Sure you can burn a cd or email a pile of mp3’s or a playlist to someone special, but it’s not qutie the same thing. To make a mix tape you had to first come up with a set list – this component is quite important both in content and order. Once you had the content and order, you couldn’t simply point and click or drag and drop – you had to set recording levels, drop a stylus (if you’re old enough to have made the tape when vinyl was the only source), and record the songs in real time. Then you had to wait for the right moment to actually deliver the first tape. Not to early in the relationship, and you couldn’t wait too long either.

In honor of the cassette, click on the above pic for a gallery of very cool cassette tape j-cards. People were paid to design these things long before quark express, and a few are pretty interesting. Via Coudal Parnters.

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