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Cassettes Are Back, and It’s Not About the Music (bloomberg.com)
80 points by pseudolus 75 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 126 comments

Cassettes were also the first and last audio storage medium where mainstream consumers could purchase an affordable, ready-made appliance for home listening that could also act as an audio editing system, recording the result onto another cassette. This is what enabled mixtapes.

With formats that came later, CD-recording remained expensive until personal computers were becoming widespread, and while CDs could be ripped or mp3s could be remixed on computers, you needed software that was often commercial and rarely included.

Digital audio then de-emphasized removable storage, re-introducing friction between exchanging music and listening to it on a portable player. Nowadays, most music exchange happens online, but the appeal of exchanging music in person endures even for generations that grew up with the Internet.

Cassettes had excellent usability for sharing: ease of duplication, ease of remixing, more rugged than vinyl, easier to hold than CDs, and maintaining its playback position at rest [1]. Couple that with authentic nostalgia, or yearning for an aesthetic and mood of times past. While the vinyl revival is centered around the deliberate experience of browsing, playback, and large-size album art, like enjoying an artisanal product made by skilled craftsmen, cassette revival celebrates the versatility of the format, its lack of restrictions, the opportunities for creativity, and its physicality on a very human scale.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20332150

How many cassettes do you own? When was the last time you gave someone a cassette? I bet it's been over a decade, because cassettes suck. The backups are made in linear time, you can only share them with someone who is physically next to you, it's a giant pain to edit cassettes at a specific point in time, mashups are impossible because you have to have very expensive analog equipment to beat match, and pitch shift is then a problem. If you want to listen to a custom playlist you have to have thought of that well in advance, and you can only have as many as you have room for bulky cassettes.

There's a reason nobody has a cassette deck anymore. It's not some conspiracy, and it's not because the kids don't understand. It's because they aren't very good.

How many cassettes do you own?

None. But my wife has over 200; many of them new releases in the last two years.

When was the last time you gave someone a cassette?

Last week when I recorded one of the albums my wife bought on iTunes onto a blank tape so she could listen to it on her tape player in the backyard.

The backups are made in linear time

So what? It's not like you have to sit there and turn the spindles. You push a button and walk away for an hour or a day or whatever and when you come back it's done. Also, many tape decks duplicate at double speed.

you can only share them with someone who is physically next to you

Again, so what? What's so horrible about sharing with actual friends instead of pretend internet friends?

it's a giant pain to edit cassettes at a specific point in time, mashups are impossible because you have to have very expensive analog equipment to beat match, and pitch shift is then a problem

Using the incorrect tool for a specific job doesn't mean the tool sucks. A cassette isn't a 24-track studio recorder. It's music for the masses.

you can only have as many as you have room for bulky cassettes.

Being able to touch something is a feature, not a bug. Nobody ever lost their entire cassette music collection because of a hard drive crash or a virus or a bad SSD chip or a power surge.

There's a reason nobody has a cassette deck anymore.

And by "nobody," you mean you. If nobody wants tape decks, then why are new ones still being manufactured? The director or IT for the multi-billion dollar company for which I work has a tape deck and a CD/MP3 player in her car. She uses tapes because they can take the abuse of an automotive environment better than digital media. And if the tape starts to wear, she just records a new copy.

It's because they aren't very good.

They are very good for the purpose for which they were created. Just because that purpose does not fit into your mindset does not make them universally bad. It makes you small minded.

> mashups are impossible > If you want to listen to a custom playlist you have to have thought of that well in advance > you can only have as many as you have room for bulky cassettes

More and more - as we are incessantly buried in overabundance, indifference, and loss of focus - I realise these were features, not bugs.

> When was the last time you gave someone a cassette?

When was the last time you gave someone non-technical a song that's only on a streaming service?

Yeah, you can send a link, and it can disappear any time, forever. Might be blocked in their country, and so on. Meanwile, I still have cassettes of me and friends just derping around, ages ago. If I give you music that way, at least you actually have it. It decays, sure, but no worse than it does for people who don't know what a file is, who are at the whim of platforms.


> It's not some conspiracy... It's because they aren't very good.

Sometimes marketing is a conspiracy. To sell you something crappy.

If I recall correctly, I had a $400 HP Pavilion with a CD-RW around 2000 and used CoolEdit Pro ($20) to create fitness mixes. I used it to cross fade and beat match. CoolEdit was since bought by Adobe and is now Adobe Audition.

But if all you wanted to do was create mix CDs. While not especially cheap, parallel port CD writers were available for PCs for less than $300 by 1999 and bundled with Eazy CD Creator. This was also around the time where ISPs were giving away PCs to sign up for dial up.

Cheap, yes. But horribly unreliable. Underruns and other mysterious errors were so common that the failed burns gave us the notion of using compact discs as drink coasters.

Even after the transition from parallel port to internal burners, disc burning was largely a crapshoot.

By 1998, I was using an HP parallel port CD writer with a Gateway Solo laptop. By then, they were decently reliable. I don’t remember getting any bad CDs.

The easy recordability of cassette tapes had another bonus. Both tapes and records wear out a little each time you listen to them. But you could buy a record and dub it onto a tape, then listen to the tape. If you eventually wore out the tape, you still had the original record with only one playthough on it, so you could always dub it onto another tape.

It's nice these days being able to listen to music and not simultaneously feel like you're treading a slow path to destroying the music you're hearing.

Agreed. I had a mixtape that my wife made for me back when we were dating in the late ‘90s, and it stayed on loop in my car tape player for years. To this day, my pitch memory of those songs is still about a half step flat.

> Digital audio then de-emphasized removable storage, re-introducing friction between exchanging music and listening to it on a portable player.

And then, ubiquitous mobile internet (including to the most common portable music players) happened and re-removed that friction. DRM-free digital files are a lot simpler and lower friction to edit and share than audio-on-cassette ever was.

how do you like rewind and seeking capabilities?

It's slower than random access mediums, but tapes have built in memory for track location which is nice when you're listening to something (in the car) and want to switch devices and carry on from your last listening point (books on tape).

Most other media has terrible UI for rewind, fast forward and seek compared to tape, whether audio or VHS. Digital video and audio in particular, nearly never have workable (live playback) rewind and fast forward.

Use a real video player from anywhere in 2002 or so onward, e.g. mplayer, xine, vlc, Media Player Classic (mplayer is the fastest), with a real video file on your local disk. Fast forward and rewind are nearly instantaneous.

For audio, look up a really old program called alsaplayer that could play forward, backward and at any speed.

It's not "digital" that makes rewinding and fast forwarding crap on crap devices and services, it's the lack of care for user experience.

Or use mpv. It even works with URLs, supporting youtube-dl to handle many streaming sites.

VLC also supports this, if you Open Network Stream.

It's funny they were included in this list, because they are strongly against including a good rewind feature. Modern video codecs refer back to previous frames a lot, so it has to be decoded forwards. It would take a ton of RAM to keep the decoded frame data for "previous" frames so you could play them in reverse. With some video files you won't notice a delay while skipping around, but some you will.

Cassettes aren't actually that bad. A local radio station I worked at for a while used them for reruns. With a good cassette deck, brand new chrome tapes and Dolby noise reduction, it's hard to hear much of a difference between that and a digital recording. Cassettes only sounded low-fi because most people listened to cheap tapes on cheap players with cheap speakers. Even some of the better portable players from the 1990s sounded very transparent if you attached them to a good pair of headphones or a good stereo system.

I feel we reached transparency for professional analog recordings some time in the 1980s, and I would argue that this applies to analog film as well. Pee-Wee Herman's Big Adventure (1985) and Top Gun (1986) don't look blurry or grainy at all. Analog media kept improving until they were made obsolete. Everyone was trying to approach digital perfection long before it actually existed. Actually wanting artefacts and colouration is more of a recent phenomenon.

Cassettes have terrible fidelity. Dolby attenuates some of the hiss but doesn't remove it, so it's always there in the background.

The original Type I tapes have the same frequency response as an old person with hearing issues. Type II Chrome is a bit better, but the low end has a hump and rolls far short of 20Hz, and the top end is nowhere close to the ruler-flat response of a 44.1k WAV or FLAC.

You needed $$$$$$$equipment$$$$$$$ to get real hifi out of cassettes. The only brand that really solved the hifi problem was Nakamichi. The engineering on their high-end decks was legendary, but so was the price - the Dragon would be around $6500 in 2019 dollars.

But... the terrible fidelity makes the sound more interactive. I started listening on cassettes, and when I moved up to a more revealing mid-fi vinyl system I was surprised to find that sometimes I liked the music less.

With cassettes, I could interpolate and imagine details I wanted to be there. When I moved up to hearing the details that really were there, I didn't always enjoy them as much.

You make it sound way worse than it was. That mild hiss would barely be detectable once the song started and masked it out. Calling mild hiss terrible fidelity is an exaggeration.

Some 16-bit consumer sound cards had outputs with way more hiss than the better tape decks.

As for the high end, the differences aren't exactly easy to pick out. I don't know where these peaks and troughs are in the spectrum, but I'd have to listen for them explicitly to pick them out, because I have no idea what you're talking about.

I mean, I've heard bad cassette audio with warbling and pronounced hiss and high end loss, but if you take a brand new high quality tape and record to it from a CD and play it back from the tape, it's damn close to sounding identical.

I have a fair bit of experience with audio. I have a home studio. I can pick out subtle quality differences between sound sources. I stand by what I have said.

Vinyl also has hiss, and pop, and is why some people prefer it, like the motion blur of film, it feels more nostalgically arty, separate from reality.

> I feel we reached transparency for professional analog recordings some time in the 1980s, and I would argue that this applies to analog film as well.

Not sure what you mean by 'transparency'. Either way, go back and look at an 8k scan of 'Lawrence of Arabia' or 'The Sound of Music'. The image quality is robust and resolves everything perfectly.

Even an '80s title captured on 35mm that is scanned properly will hold up against something shot on an Arri Alexa today. The 'blurry' reputation comes only from the subsequent formats like broadcast television and VHS that people caught a lot of these titles on.

I recently watched this video by the 8-bit guy https://youtu.be/P00QS3lXJeI That goes into pretty good detail with comparisons about the difference the quality of vhs tape made in the end recording. The ones used by tv studios were far superior to both consumer recordable ones and even the ones consumer movies shipped on.

Dolby isn't licensing their NR tech anymore, so "new" cassette players sound hideous. AND there is only one company making the mechanical movements, and they're not very good quality.

I found this out when I was trying to archive some books on tape and had to resort to buying 20-year-old decks, as opposed to new electronics which I naively assumed would be better. There are some decks with something equivalent to dolby B which I believe was a 9db roll-off.

Shouldn't any NR tech from the 80s/90s be out of patent now? I'm sure a lot of cheap decks would neglect enhancements anyway, but why would licensing still be a hurdle?

Should have expired decades ago - B was introduced in 1968, there's no way that would still be patented.

But since it's only a simple high frequency boost/cut it probably wasn't ever patented, just protected with trademarks to the point where if you can only call it 'generic NR' and not 'dolby B' or 'dolby C' noone would be interested.

S and HX Pro were more complex, but S was rare on consumer gear, and HX Pro is more than just NR.

I honestly don't know. What I've said about the movements / Dolby I learned from Techmoan.com, who I assume to be reliable.

My friend has an old cassette boom box hooked up in his garage to nice speakers and plays The Cure and old Industrial music from cassette tapes and it honestly feels like the music was written for that specific medium.

The first time I heard Nine Inch Nails was Closer, from The Downward Spiral. It was being played on one of those tiny set of speakers plugged into the headphone output of a walkman... and it was glorious :)

> With a good cassette deck, brand new chrome tapes and Dolby noise reduction, it's hard to hear much of a difference between that and a digital recording.

When I was in my 20s, I could easily hear the difference between cassettes and vinyl on the same stereo. The cassettes had an annoying SSSSSS and the crispness of the notes was mushed over. The 12" vinyl singles sounded even better, especially the "promotional" ones.

Now that I'm older, I no longer hear the difference and so it doesn't matter to me.

A video on the subject of cassette tape audio quality from Techmoan:

"Cassettes - better than you don't remember" https://youtu.be/jVoSQP2yUYA

You should watch Top Gun again. The Blu-Ray version is good, and parts of it were definitely cleaned up (eg the title cards), but there are plenty of film scratches and grainy moments throughout the film.

Personally i enjoy listening to vinyls becaule of the whole "ceremony" browse the albums, pull one, take it out of the sleeve, clean it, put it on the turntable, lower the tonearm and listen to the small imperfections until the music starts. Its like cooking vs ordering food.

It used to be that when you visited someone’s place, you’d see their collection of books, or music, or movies, or games sitting on a shelf and it was a low-friction way to find something in common to talk about. Now that everyone’s collections are digital, it’s all “out of sight, out of mind” and nothing has really replaced that function.

Maybe there's a market for a bookshelf populated with (OLED? E-Paper?) digital label displays that mimic real book spines and upon which are displayed the titles from your digital book library. It can also have shelves with displays mimicking CD spines with the titles taken from your music library.

It would serve no purpose beyond being a skeumorphic conversation starter and visual reminder of your media. Of course, it'd have an app that allowed the user to vary the logic used to choose the titles to be displayed by genre, chron, or some social purpose, i.e., I want to look smart or I want to impress a date, I don't want a political fight on Thanksgiving, etc.

I think even if this existed it would naturally become a vanity thing ("oh yes, I've read War and Peace") and not include Shades of Grey or whatever you're actually reading.

Physical shelves already suffered from that a bit (people would use them to display books they were prod of), but it being a purely display and not necessary storage would do the rest.

Open their fridge.

That's very invasive. I keep all of my underwear in there in the summer.

There you go - something interesting to talk about.

Especially if you're close to one another, and they happen to say something like "There's nothing to eat".

> Its like cooking vs ordering food.

Or pulling a cork out of a wine bottle vs opening one with a screw top. The screw top is superior in every way in terms of its ability to protect the wine from spoiling, but people still prefer corks because of the romance of the de-corking ceremony.

I never got into the corking thing, but I enjoy my auld skool clutch and gearshift.

Amen. One underinvestigated aspect of streaming is "people" (and I'm talking about my kids here) don't know what they are listening to, it's super easy for them to skip/change, and lots of what was "relation to artist/album" is lost.

On the upside, streaming is sup for discovering new music.

It might be easier to discover new music with streaming, but I'm not sure one discovers music of as high a quality.

Back in the album days, an artist needed a song or two or three on the album that would would have wide appeal and be easy to quickly like, so that they might become hits. These would get played on mainstream radio, and based on them people would buy the album. They would listen to that album for those songs, but because it was a pain to skip around on an album they would listen to the whole album.

Artists could put deeper, more complex songs on the album. Songs that people might not instantly like. Songs that people only come to appreciate after hearing many times. Songs that eventually become people's favorite songs on those albums.

With streaming, a lot of people will just jump to the newest hit from another artist instead of listening to the less immediately accessible songs from the previous artist whose hit they just checked out.

Imagine if records were still the best known music technology today. You'd buy a record ad half of it would be ads. People would make paper templates to tape to records to block ads.

I use streaming radio to find songs that are similar to a song I like, then look up the artists for some of the new songs that caught my attention. This allows me to find both new songs (immediate win), but artists whose other songs may influence my musical tastes (longer term win).

On the other hand, it encourages artists to make songs worth listening to. I've purchased way too many albums because I liked one or two songs only to discover every other song on the album was complete trash. But at that point it was too late, they already had my money.

People who jump from hit to hit will always do that. Don't worry about them. People who seek new and interesting music are immensely helped by risk-free streaming.

> lots of what was "relation to artist/album" is lost

I've literally no clue what this means or why it might matter. I love music, but it comes off an album and is produced by an artist. I could not care less about the album, or the artist (other than to pay them for their work).

What is this 'relation' thing and what is it's relevance?

Maybe you're being facetious, but here goes anyway:

Many times albums were created as works themselves, with songs as components. Rock operas like Pink Floyd's The Wall and The Who's Tommy as obvious examples. Each produced great singles, but the album was the creation. Even less cohesive albums were created with a song order in mind, so listening to them as a unit was the artist's intention. A small example: ELO's "please turn me over" lyric at the end of Mr. Blue Sky, telling you to turn the record over.

Thanks for the answer. Not remotely facetious and your suspicion that I was suggests we may be too far apart to understand each other.

The fundament of it for me is I like particular tracks, not albums, not artists, not genres (although I have preferences in each). I listen to what I like, I skip what I don't. I couldn't care less about the artist's intention, song ordering or anything - they are so peripheral I have never thought about them. That's all.

I think what put my back up about the original post was "...super easy for them to skip/change, and lots of what was "relation to artist/album" is lost". I don't expect everyone to necessarily understand the musical tastes of others, but should always respect them, which this quote seemingly didn't.

It's like going to Amazon and getting paragraphs instead of books. Or how we get just headlines instead of deeply informative news articles.

If you are going to get defensive about someone pointing out something you didn't know, that might be a sign of insecurity.

If that's what I want, that's my choice. Don't tell me it's wrong just because it's not yours. (and music is entertainment, not informational).

I can't see what it is I don't know, or am getting defensive about, and implying "insecurity"? That's a childish comeback.

I actually discover most of my music on the radio, then at the record store (including online stores like Bandcamp). I hardly ever discover good music while streaming.

I enjoy the same things but with CDs. CDs are gonna come back big time as they offer all the conveniences of quality and the ritualistic aspects of vinyl records.

Also advert- and DRM-free.

Can't say I've ever heard an advert on my $10/month Spotify or Apple Music plans. I've also never noticed the DRM.

But monthly fee for the service plus an internet subscription and active connection, plus interest if you pay with a cc a dont pay it off that month. Its a never ending cost.

If I was to purchase the albums of music I listen to every month, I'd be spending literally hundreds of dollars on music per month. Compared to $10 that might increase $1 or $2 every few years.

I'm going to ignore the monthly internet/mobile bill, because music streaming is a fraction of what it's used for.

Cassettes records, and the equipment used to listen to them eventually wear out, so you'll have to rebuy them at some point (or limit how often you listen to them).

> If I was to purchase the albums of music I listen to every month, I'd be spending literally hundreds of dollars on music per month.

Are you counting only the things you listen to for the first time each month? Because once you buy it, you don't need to buy it again.

> Cassettes records, and the equipment used to listen to them eventually wear out, so you'll have to rebuy them at some point (or limit how often you listen to them).

Sure, though purchased music that you can (both legally and practically) make lossless digital copies of to insure against that is very much a thing. Heck, some of the platforms offering all-you-can-eat streaming arrangements with their catalog also let you sync and stream your owned-music collection, and will even sell you DRM-free, copyable music, so that you don't need to rebuy or limit listening.

Yes, I listen to enough unique music per month for it to be hundreds of dollars.

Im not saying streaming is a bad deal, just that the requirements to use it make it far less portable, more temporary and removes any sense of ownership.

I don’t care about the concept of ownership, I care about being able to listen to my music.

My phone is much more portable than a cassette, record, or CD player.

> I don’t care about the concept of ownership, I care about being able to listen to my music.

Well, they're kind of related. You won't be able to if Spotify terminates your account for whatever reason (which happened to me once, due to claims on their end the payment ran into some issue, which I could never verify) or if it goes out of business.

So then you switch to Google Music or Apple Music and keep listening. Meanwhile if your CD collection is stolen or destroyed, you have to go buy all of them again.

Assuming any of these services actually have all of the music you listen to at any given time. Entire albums, songs, artists could be lost to you not because they were so forgettable but because they became lost in the sea of abundant music streaming. Your favorited artists went from something like a count of 237 to 230. What was lost? And when were you supposed to notice? This is what you lose by not owning your music. Not to mention music that simply does not exist on streaming services, which a very large amount of worthwhile music. At the end of the day, why are you giving so much control to others about what music you would have shared and preserved?

You can also rip your CDs so that the music is no longer tied to the physical media.

Hundreds of dollars? Maybe if you’re an audiophile. Normal people buy most of their music second hand. If you are really poor, prerecorded cassettes are a quarter to 50 cents at your nearest thrift store. CDs can go up to a dollar and you can get a decent vinyl record from half a dollar to 2.

If you are willing to spend it you can buy second hand CDs or vinyls for less the 10 dollars at the record store, and they usually have a good enough selection such that you can most likely pick up that record you never found in the thrift store.

I only buy new music from newer artists (mostly from Bandcamp) and yet a CD is usually around $10-15 with vinyl maybe $5 more (+ shipping). But I take comfort that this money goes to supporting the artists, so it is worth it.

Usually I spend about $20-30 dollars on music a month (with some months spending more on expensive records). But with every new album I buy, it is added to my collection so I can listen to it again without needing to buy it again.

> Hundreds of dollars? Maybe if you’re an audiophile.

No, the math works out even if you're a less-than-average consumer or casual listener.

An album is at minimum $10. If you listen to more than one new album a month, you're coming out ahead if you use a streaming service. If Spotify shuts down, there's at least two other competitors in this space for me to go to. But none of them look like they're going anywhere.

> But with every new album I buy, it is added to my collection so I can listen to it again without needing to buy it again

Until the record wears out, or gets stolen, or breaks for a variety of reasons.

Parent specifically said hundreds of dollars per month. Hundreds of dollars per year is not a lot of money to pay for music.

Also when buying new albums it is not unreasonable to expect the artist to get some money for their work. And its quite hard to reason that they do if they have to share your $10 subscription fee every month.

It varies from person to person. For someone who listens to a lot of different music on a regular basis, a subscription clearly makes sense. For someone who listens to music infrequently or a small number of albums, it is going to add a reoccuring expense that will quickly exceed the cost of purchasing the music.

It can be both. I buy CDs and have a streaming service subscription. The good stuff gets bought, the OK stuff just gets added to an online playlist.

Digital music you buy has been DRM free since 2008. When the iTunes music store came out in 2003, it came with the ability to burn regular CDs.

Ya, it's a ritual. The other thing I like about Vinyl is that you have to actually listen to the music. Well, you don't have to, but if you're going to all that trouble it's likely because you want to actually listen to the music -- I mean, listening to the music is the activity that you're doing. With spotify, I usually flip it on to fill the background while I do something else. That's not true for vinyl (for me). Spotify is for hearing music, vinyl is for listening to music.

Agreed so many times over. Music on the radio, or from the computer/ipod and most of my CD listening is background music. Putting on a record is a ritual, a conscious choice to sit in front of the stereo and listen intentionally.

CDs do sort of straddle the boundary between background and intentional listening. I own music that I treasure on CDs that I don't own on vinyl. While it's more convenient than records, I sometimes put it on with the intention of focusing on the music.

What's interesting is that a few recordings work better on CD than LP for me. I came to love the Allman Brothers Band in University[0], and Mountain Jam spans two sides of a Eat a Peach on LP[1], requiring an interruption to change the record and hear the whole thing. On CD, it flows seamlessly.

[0] I got into them backwards from most people. Blues Part II by Blood Sweat and Tears got me into longer-form rock, and I found Mountain Jam by searching for mp3 files over 10 or 15MB on the school's network. I have since bought perhaps half a dozen albums I'd have never discovered otherwise.

[1] The Eat a Peach version is the definitive version. The July 5th version from Live at the Altlanta International Pop Festival remains my favorite, but I digress.

I found vinyl a bit annoying in college--but that was probably because as the only person at my end of the hallway who didn't smoke marijuana I kept getting asked by people to handle operate their turntables when they wanted to listen to music while high.

Cassettes can be operated by even the most baked person with little risk of damage to the cassette or the tape deck.

As a former rave dj, you are talking out of your ass. A record player, even a manual one, is plenty easy to use even while quite intoxicated. Marijuana specifically should not impair your record playing ability at all.

Yes, couldn't agree more, the whole experience of manually browsing and playing records physically is something else. I also find that visiting record stores is great for discovery, at least in my case. One reason probably is that when browsing online I get lost in a sea of options and waste more time. Not saying its better but its a fresh change.

My son has gotten into cassettes. From what I've observed, a lot of it is "the thrill is in the pursuit." He rides his bike across town to the used record shop, where he meets his friends, browses through bins of cassettes (and vinyl records), brings them home to play. All of that effort and expectation before he can hear if it's any good. All for a buck. He's brought home everything from classical to hip-hop.

May I ask what format you listen too? Probably digital audio. Now what kid would listen to the same format as his dad? How uncool would that be...

Well, he's listening to his cassettes and LP's through his dad's old cassette deck and phonograph. ;-) I came home from work one day, and he was listening to a digital copy that he had downloaded, of an LP that was recorded from a radio broadcast, of Schoenberg.

> an attachment not just to a record, but to a specific record, which hiccups in a specific place and has a specific rip on its sleeve

My first rock album was a CD copy of Nevermind, which I found in a roadside ditch while walking home from school one day. It was so scratched up and many tracks were damaged or not playable. I listened to that broken CD for years. Opened my eyes to a whole world beyond the country I was raised with.

The thing is, at least according to Techmoan's videos, no one makes good cassette decks any more. They are all made at the same factory as cheaply as possible with bad motors and no noise reduction at all. So unless people are using old equipment the sound they are getting out of their cassettes is really terrible.

I'm surprised someone hasn't tried to kickstart a high end cassette deck

As I mentioned in another comment on this thread, the place to start such a high-end cassette deck effort is with the late 70s Nakamichi 550. It is a true standout. Kind of like the Porsche 911: a bad idea raised to the level of perfection.

>” ...a vinyl record will often sound more nuanced than music in a compressed digital format”

?? Compression doesn’t mean lossy. Nuanced, does that mean introduction of sound artifacts due to the mechanical nature of the medium?

It's indeed compression, but not the mp3 / ogg / whatever compression.

It's the dynamic range compression [1] that makes everything louder, makes everything "pop" more, so there are no nuances left. This is, of course, a mixing / mastering step. But vinyl records of 60s-80s applied it much less than the CD records of 90s-2010s. Those who produce vinyls now still follow the tradition, and the customers expect it.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dynamic_range_compression#Musi...

It got ridiculous in that I would buy vinyl because they were often mixed better, and differently, than CDs that for most of the late 90s-00s were too often a distorted over clipped wall of sound.

I'd then record the vinyl and burn it onto CD for the car. :)

Vinyl has the benefit of a physical limitation, if you add too much loudness the needle will bounce out of the track. You have to master a record in a specific way or it won't work at all.

Maybe the article author is confusing data compression with dynamics compression [0]. The latter is a real problem with the terrible "loudness war" [1] going on for a long time, with many audio pieces (dynamics-)compressed to death. And in that regard, many albums are indeed better on vinyl: not because the format is better than modern digital formats... but because the vinyl version is often mastered separately, with much less dynamic compression than the digital versions. It's really sad that one has to buy the worse format to get the better mastering...

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dynamic_range_compression

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loudness_war

No, different master.

A mainstream master, intended for an ordinary consumer, is created with low dynamic range to sound "loud", which is perceived as "better". Also, mastering engineer knows that most of listeners will listen to this on a very shitty speakers and adjusts frequency balance accordingly.

However, when you do a separate vinyl master, you can safely assume that your audience will not compare this version to others on youtube or radio, and that they will have better equipment - so you relax the compression settings, switch off L2 maximizer and allow the track to breathe a little.

Mmkay, so you should just rip the vinyl master once and then use differently/better mastered version digitally.

Yes. Doing that with well mastered 12" singles makes for great digital copies.

The funny thing is vinyl is compressed too. The RIAA curve trades bandwidth in less noticeable sections for bandwidth elsewhere where its better used.

Thus different frequencies have intentionally different noise floors.

The second album I ever bought was Fragile by Yes. There was a deep scratch in the first song on the second side, deep enough to cause skipping and jumping.

Even on the CD version of that album, I still "hear" the scratch. The unscratched perfect version sounds wrong. Can't get it out of my mind.

The fact that it’s digital, and not analog, means it’s (more) lossy in comparison to the original sound source. It’s not so much the compressed part, but the digital part. If it’s digital, it’s approximating points on the sound waves with “steps” (looks more like stairs than a smooth wave) and missing the nuance between those steps, where as analog, in this case vinyl, is a closer representation of the actual, continuous sound waves.

At least, that’s how I understand it.

That’s a misconception. Monty from xiph.org explains it well. see https://youtu.be/cIQ9IXSUzuM

What a fantastic demo!

This is engineering education of the highest quality.

I was about to take up arms and start explaining Nyquist to the parent comment, but I’m glad I chose to watch this video instead.

Thank you for posting it.

How are the Xiph guys doing? I followed them closely during the early days of their new video codec attempt. I’ve fallen out of the loop since then.

I agree. I had no idea just how many errors I had in my understanding of digital signals.

Excellent, and in my view mandatory viewing for anyone interested in audio and signal processing.

That’s a common explanation, and it’s true at low sampling rates. However, we can fairly provably sample at greater rates than the human ear can perceive. A lot of the actual difference between vinyl and more recent digitized recordings is different decisions made during production, most notably performing volume compression to increase perceived loudness, which definitively reduces the nuance of the final product (but also leads to higher ratings for singles).

You understand it wrong.

Read up on reconstruction filters.

> The hissing cassette was never music lovers’ first choice.

In fact, musicians used these things for recording demo tapes, well into the 1980's, using equipment like the Tascam Portastudio (a four-track recorder using both directions of the tape at the same time).


Check out some of the notable users, like Bruce Springsteen and Weird Al Yankovic.

Springsteens first album was recorded entirely on cassette. Not a big fan, but good songwriting, and it sounds great.

I get it, but I still prefer CDs because the sound quality is better, I can losslessly rip them, and they don't break. It's a little frustrating to me when the only physical version of an album is a cassette tape.

The best sounding cassette recorder I ever heard was a Nakamichi 550 portable. It produced amazing recordings.

My father's Walkman DD9 brings back similar memories :)

Had to go look that up. That was a special Walkman.


It was lovely, it had a VERY solid feel to it and the sound quality was as good as, if not better than, many full-size players. Thanks for the link to the review, it's been a fair few years since I've even seen that thing.

I grew up with cassettes, and random access (lack thereof) was always the big drawback for me. Even vinyl, their predecessor, gave you that. With tapes you're shuttling the tape for a seeming eternity, then going forward & back by trial and error, to find the beginning of a specific song. The technology is better for listening in order. Hence mixtapes.

Footnote: from hearing certain songs in the same order many times, like on my best & most-played tapes, I eventually grew to expect the next song upon hearing the previous one end. So even though I quickly and enthusiastically abandoned the technology of cassettes, I did recreate some of those mixes as digital playlists.

My music listening evolution: vinyl - cassettes - CDs - iPod - Spotify - Aiva.

One even reads nice things about the way cassettes sound, like in this Medium post from Aubrey Norwood: “The sound tape gives is warm. Saturated. It promotes a degree of imperfection, and creates an underflow of infamous tape hiss that leaves the format feeling nakedly honest, which is gold dust for the sincere-inclined musician.”

I hope this kind of sickly-sweet format necrophilia gains further ascendancy, making it easier to offload some of the defunct media on the bay to unsuspecting users; who want to justify this kind of 'authentic' experience.

Brian Eno: "Whatever you now find weird, ugly, uncomfortable and nasty about a new medium will surely become its signature. CD distortion, the jitteriness of digital video, the crap sound of 8-bit - all of these will be cherished and emulated as soon as they can be avoided. It’s the sound of failure: so much modern art is the sound of things going out of control, of a medium pushing to its limits and breaking apart. The distorted guitar sound is the sound of something too loud for the medium supposed to carry it. The blues singer with the cracked voice is the sound of an emotional cry too powerful for the throat that releases it. The excitement of grainy film, of bleached-out black and white, is the excitement of witnessing events too momentous for the medium assigned to record them."

Is it really that silly? Considering there's been many films that use artificial film grain as well as a resurgence of older graphical techniques such as dithering for video games as an art style.

The resurgence of Vinyl, Cassettes etc are all tied to the same core principle I think. It's incredibly easy nowadays to have a perfect or flawless copy of something stored digitally, that people are looking for and celebrating imperfections in the analogue counterparts.

After all, it's only a few clicks away to Spotify/Bandcamp etc to receive a digital copy. It's more effort to get a physical copy, let alone one on an older medium.

Tape certainly affects sound, in exactly this way. I don't think that I'll ever start buying cassette recordings, but I routinely use different tape-emulating plugins in my music production to get this particular type of distortion, and I don't think that there are better words to describe it.

You seem to have gone off on a tangent, with regards to emulating the 'sound' via plugins and distortion filters for music production, without actually having to invest in the physical medium. Whereas, I was commenting on the banality of resuscitating a flawed format based upon nostalgia.

The point is, the tape effect on the sound itself is very real, and it's indeed "warm and saturated" - it's not typical audiophile snake oil.

"Format necrophilia". Heh. Gotta remember that one.

My cassette recordings of the John Peel show from the late 70s and 80s are priceless. Most of the tracks are on Youtube these days but that can't capture the selections and John Peel's legendary commentary between each track. I hope to pass them on to my grandchild one day.

Why not share them for the rest of humanity?

Because the sound quality is fading fast and needs transcribing to MP3, which I'm in the middle of. Unfortunately cassette sound quality deteriorates after 40 years.

If you actually do this I can only hope that you'd use a lossless audio format like FLAC. Even if the fidelity of a cassette recording might not reach the limitations of a lossy codec, you should only consider lossless audio for creating a future-proof archive and collection of music.

I think you should do it and provide access to others - I'm sure countless like-minded people would love it.

I recently found a cassette of recordings of bedtime stories that my dad made with me over 30 years ago. I played it back on a ~15 year old very cheap “stereo”. The quality was excellent.

Cassettes were extremely popular in their heyday which means there are still quite a bit of them laying around, along with the hardware to play and record on them. It’s a very inexpensive medium, which is also why DIY musicians never completely abandoned the format. Add to that millennials driving around cars from the ‘90s and you get the mini resurgence you see now, with labels like Burger Records being defined by the format.

Regarding tape, I first heard The Who's Tommy on a reel to reel back in the 70's. I'll never forget how amazing it sounded.

Audio cassette can sometimes be good if you want to make recordings.

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