Forget Vinyl, Now Cassette Tapes Are Making A Comeback?

from the retro-retro dept

Over the last few years, there have been countless stories about the supposed “return” of vinyl, as people have actually been buying more vinyl records in the past few years. It still remains a tiny part of the market, but it has continued to grow over the past few years. However, if vinyl is making a comeback, what about other supposedly “dead” formats? Brad points us to a report that cassette tapes are supposedly making a comeback as well, at least among a small group of garage rock bands. I have to admit, reading the explanations for why are pretty funny: “Tapes are great because they have a really nice warm and fuzzy sound.” I think that’s the first time I’ve ever heard audio cassettes referred to as having a “warm” sound.

Others complain that MP3s are simply too disposable, and by giving people a cassette, it makes it seem more tangible, real and permanent. I can understand the thinking, but I wonder if it’s more wishful thinking than anything. And I say that as someone who still regularly buys CDs, but is increasingly wondering why I bother with so much useless plastic.

Either way, if we’re going to be reviving dead formats, how about the 8-track as well? The band Cheap Trick released their last album on an 8-track, but I haven’t heard that it’s catching on with anyone else just yet…

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Comments on “Forget Vinyl, Now Cassette Tapes Are Making A Comeback?”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Vinyl has much greater bandwidth (useable frequency range) than mp3, just about every format has a better sound than mp3. MP3 encoding throws away a LOT of data (bandwidth compression) to get a smaller file size. Also, most CDs use amplitude compression where sounds at different volumes are pushed closer together – this amplitude compression allows the audio volume of CDs to be louder. Most people preceive a (perhaps slightly) louder volume as sounding ‘better’. For those that appreciate the difference vinyl can sound a lot better.

I know a bunch of folks that like the ‘warm’ sound of a tube amp. I suspect that the folks who prefer cassette tapes are looking for that same kind of ‘warm’ sound. In reality what you are hearing is noise. That noise can sound great in some instances and not so great in others. There is a reason that Dolby noise reduction used to be really popular, but without cassettes you pretty much do not need it.

deltaslide says:


If you have a decent cassette player and the tape is in good shape you will have a great listening experience. I burn CDs from vinyl and cassettes all the time and the ones from the cassettes sound fantastic with a huge, punchy bottom end that MP3s will never have. Now is the time to get cassettes cheap-I scored 400 sealed cassettes at a garage sale for only 20 bucks the other day, and most of them sound amazing. Mark my words-just like vinyl the price of these things is going to go up.

Vidiot (profile) says:

Warm and fuzzy

“Tapes are great because they have a really nice warm and fuzzy sound.”
Can’t help but think of a friend, a famous video engineer, working on a private HD broadcast of a Trailblazers away game for Paul Allen (in the days before HD was standardized). A local Portland video installer, viewing the HD feed, complimented the pictures, but noted that since all the coax was brand new, the picture would be much sweeter after some number of hours or days, once all the copper got “broken in”. Seems he thought that annoying crispness would be “rounded off” and softer once the cables were older.
Bet he was also a Monster Cable dealer…

Not Yet 50! says:

Re: Thats nice and all

Yes. I was wondering just how people are supposed to play that Cheap Trick 8-track release…last I saw those machines was circa 1976. Dad had one in his car and we had a portable that looked like a cartoon TNT detonator with the handle you push down…it was yellow and I could never figure out how to make it work right.

*dodders off to enjoy dotage*

KN says:

Why tape is better technology than CD

Frequency response of tape exceeds CD. CD rolls of at 16KHz where there is noticeable distorsion.

Even if tape record heards have cut offs as low as 10KHz for even cheap system, the sound distorsion in tape is less..

As far tape hiss, old improperly stored tapes would hiss. The newer TDK tapes have a very good shell life. Dolby B systems dont hont hiss. At any rate, the “noise” is better than CDs distorted upper frequency sounds.

CDs also conveniently “eat away” bass sounds. CD sound is defintely NOT ORIGINAL.

abc gum says:

Re: Why tape is better technology than CD

“Frequency response of tape exceeds CD”

[citation needed]

“CD rolls of at 16KHz where there is noticeable distorsion”

Where did you get this tidbit ?

“Even if tape record heards have cut offs as low as 10KHz for even cheap system, the sound distorsion in tape is less.”

Again, where is this documented?

I agree that the method of producing some CDs these days is subpar, there are many CDs out there that are much better than anything an off the shelf cassette device can produce.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

Re: Why tape is better technology than CD

“Frequency response of tape exceeds CD. CD rolls of at 16KHz where there is noticeable distorsion.

Even if tape record heards have cut offs as low as 10KHz for even cheap system, the sound distorsion in tape is less..”

C30. C60 or C90? Each one as different properties because the thickness of the tape decreases as the time increases.

As for frequency response, bull twaddle. There are two unrepairable factors on CD recordings that will cause roll off, hiss and other problems the first is the width of the tape the second is the slow recording speed. The slower the recording speed the less fidelity there is.

“Dolby B systems dont hont hiss.” Maybe not but DolbyB plays some tricks to get rid of hiss that result in a cut off or depression of certain frequencies in the high end that further reduce fidelity.

Also, all tape deteriorates over time. It’s just a fact of life considering how they’re made and what they’re made of.
And the more the tape is played the more deterioration of the signal there will be particularly on a cassette as you’re running the tape across both record and playback heads with the resulting magnetic field nibbling away at the fidelity until both the high and low ends are, to use your phrase “eaten away”.

No techology is ideal. Still most of the things you’re complaining of are a result of poor mastering and poor manufacturing.

I have CDs that display all the flaws you complain of and CDs that have crystal clear sound across the audible range.

Incidentally no recorded sound is ORIGINAL as no studio recording performance is ORIGINAL in the sense that the band did it all in one take and the producer didn’t fiddle with the sliders and knobs.

Closest you’re gonna get is a live recording. Maybe.

Wolfy says:

I for one, won’t be happy to see cassette tapes return. Just think back(those of you old enough,)and remember those brown, shiny-on-one-side streamers hanging from the utility wires and running along the gutters for six blocks thrown away cassette tapes and at the end you find the empty cassette laying in the street. No thanks. Discarded and broken CD’s are about as ubiquitous these days as tapes used to be. No need to add to the trash volume that the underdeveloped like to strew about.

Anonymous Coward says:

If I want “warm”, I’ll go dig up an effect filter to replicate vacuum tube distortions.

When I want bandwidth, I’ll use a lossless compression format like FLAC paired with speakers and an original recording that aren’t total garbage.

I don’t know about you, but I prefer digital data I can easily make countless backups of any day.

Speaking of which, I don’t suppose anyone here knows of a good source for FLAC-compressed orchestral music that hasn’t been gelded by dynamic range compression?

Scott Neuman (profile) says:

Cassettes making a come back?

Wish I could say that Cassettes are making a comeback. I just picked up thousands of them still sealed from a former record guy with CBS. All original but good luck getting anything for them. I’ll stick to Vinyl. More fun, cleaner sounds and lots of better memories like how to open a sealed record. Did I mentioned we got thousands of sealed vinyl from him also??

Karl Schlecher says:

Cassette Sound Quality

I doubt 99.9% of the population has heard a properly bias and recorded cassette tape.The music industry sure has and
killed it quick just like DAT.We are doomed to listen to MP3
garbage on ipoodz.It is sad than in 10 years no one will even know what an analog recording sounds like.Some may be hoarding cassette tapes but they will be worthless with no
parts for the cassette decks that play them.Tape heads are no longer manufactured and motors are becoming extinct as well.

Anonymous Coward says:

I tend to buy all by music used, and tend to have an “outdated” taste it seems.

Vinyl, CDs, open reel tape, 8track, cassette. Those are the formats I find myself working with most, CDs the most infrequently. If we have to revive a magnetic medium I’d say go with open reel. That beats cassettes by far and 8tracks by a bit in terms of sound quality. Of course it depends on your equipment. In general I find the difference in audio quality between playback on a cheap and high end unit is highest with cassettes, followed by vinyl, 8track, open reel, and lastly the CD. CDs tend to sound the same to me either played on crap or not. Though that is the “quality” of the player, I always use my same amp / preamp / speakers combo.

Also keep in mind that cassette tape passes the heads not much more than 1 inch per second. Open reel either 3.25 (about?), 7.5 or 15. Not sure about 8track but I assume it’s somewhere between two of those.

Tape sounds different than vinyl, which is different than the relatively consistent sound of digital. Personally I always have, currently do, and likely always will, prefer the sound of a well-dubbed open reel tape to any of the other ‘classic’ consumer formats. But I digress, most of this is likely being done for the “hipster” factor of it, not for sound.


Guest says:

Cassettes are more of a nostalgia thing, like VHS. The reason they were around was because they could be used in the car, the Walkman made them portable and you could easily record on blank tapes. CD’s and iPod’s have replaced them.

Revisiting cassettes can be sometimes be fun, but vinyl is still around because of the high quality analogue sound. I haven’t listened to cassettes in a long time, but a lot of people say they have crap sound, and CD’s are better.

But dig this, vinyl is much better than both CD’s and cassettes. If you have the best pressing of an album, only hearing the master tape in the studio itself will sound better.

carl1 says:


I have two cassette machines which have 80db s/n, 0.02% flutter 0.7% thd and 20-22khz freq response. This is way better than vinyl and better than most open reel machines. CD audio has no flutter and 108db s/n but brick wall at 20khz by comparison. Vinyl would be lucky to get to 60db s/n and it takes a good turntable to get below 0.05 flutter, but they do have the capability to go to 30kHz with the right cartridge. Each format will give a very good performance if maintained correctly, which is really more to the point.

Mike S (user link) says:

Cassette comeback?

Uh, no…
Circa 1982:
cassettes were clunky, noisy, prone to wrap-up, wow and flutter, lock-ups, and all sorts of problems. They really didn’t sound that great honestly. But it’s all we had for the car other than 8-tracks (they were worse).
The best? TDK and Maxell made the best tapes, and the height-of-art was achieved in 1985-1990 (I think, don’t quote me) with “metal” and silver oxide, and that was as good as it got.
But a comeback? maybe, but to be any good would make it very expensive.

Lewis says:

I think that people are starting to realise that fidelity is a dimension, rather than just some parameter to be maximised. It’s a dimension, and consistency of fidelity (ie, always high fidelity) is a one dimensional perspective.

It’s not just people interested in buying tapes to listen to, but also people using tapes in the production process.

Elvis (profile) says:

I use tapes on a daily basis to record my vinyls Ive been a long term tape user for many years and in my experience anyone who says tapes sound rubbish clearly doesn’t have a clue about the format and how to work it, trouble is folk who say this have come from using crappy equipment and automatically think that’s as good as it’s going to get, I can tell you now that a good metal or Chrome tape on a med to high end deck with proper calibration / bias mode will wipe the floor with anything digital has to offer, there is a reason I use tapes and that is because it’s really the only format to capture vinyls warmth and soul, plus the added Dolby B, C and S system is very handy if you have very old vinyl with studio hiss

Anonymous Coward says:

There were lots of junk cassette decks and most people remember cassettes played on those junk decks.

However a good quality deck sounds great. Good as vinyl. That’s right, try a Nakamichi high end deck and be blown away.

Cassettes can sound great. But you cant throw them around the car, leave them in the sun, on top of speakers, play them in an uncared for player etc …. that will ruin them FOREVER.

Benny BeNosey says:


This supposed “cassette craze” is part of the new hipster wave of adopting old and seemingly unpopular things. They started with vinyl but when most people caught on to the fact that vinyl actually has a much wider band and more musical information stored (thanks to being 100% physical), the hipsters’ sanctity of being “innovative” and “different” died out.

Enter cassettes. I imagine this is another hipster revitalization. However, this time, only the truly hipstery and those who can’t think for themselves will actually buy into the bs. Cassettes were introduced solely as a means to allow a larger collection of music (smaller medium means higher sales), portability, and cheaper to produce as compared to vinyl and 8-tracks. Their quality is crap even with “a decent cassette player”.

You want my crappy old tapes that I just found in the attic? You’re welcome to them. $20 a pop to feed your hipster needs. Meanwhile, I’ll use your cash to buy a real medium for quality music. Hell, I’d even take a low bit-rate MP3 before I start using cassettes again.

bullzi says:

digital vs analog

A good quality analog media, cassette or vinyl, will sound much nicer on high end headphones speakers and amplifiers. The mp3 being sold now like in itunes have some of the frequencies cut out, therefore sounding crappy on high end revealing audio setups. Also you have to convert digital signals those 1 and 0s to an analog signal which is used by your speakers. Starting with analog input would reduce the degradation of audio signal when it is not transcoded properly. Ps the new digital media format often have very crappy transcoding. Its like listening to spotify vs high quality flac files

David says:

Why tape is better technology than CD

Actually, I just got new double capstan belts for my AIWA tapedeck (the old ones had disintegrated into a chewing-gum like yucky mass) and played back a number of old tapes (CrO2 usually, with Dolby C). No discernible talkover/echo (supposed to be one of the storage fault modes of tape), very good quality. Most of them had been recorded from vinyl more than 20 years ago.

I was pleasantly surprised. Of course, the people decrying CD mastering for too much compression apparently have no clue just how much compression went into classic vinyl (and consequently also my tapes).

They really seemed as good as new. Not better, mind you, but also not noticeably worse. Not sure whether self-burnt CDs would have fared as well.

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