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Because I’m old and lame now
September 11, 2013 9:44 PM   Subscribe

Why Would Anyone Buy a Cassette Tape? "I went back to the merch table to see what was on offer and saw - among other things - a cassette tape. I figured that participating in a weird economic trend would be worth the $5, so I bought it. Needless to say, I don't own anything that could play a cassette tape."
posted by paleyellowwithorange (122 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Anyone who thinks buying a cassette is a good idea is clearly not old enough to have had to deal with them on a regular basis.
posted by evil otto at 9:46 PM on September 11, 2013 [48 favorites]


"I only listen to cassettes," Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore told CBC radio [in 2009].
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 9:48 PM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


I still have a walkman and a clock radio that play cassette tapes. Not very well, but they play!
posted by Kevin Street at 9:50 PM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Cassettes are obsolete, but get kind of a bad rap these days. A type II or type IV tape recorded at the right level on a decent and properly maintained tape deck still sounds surprisingly good. Add Dolby C or S and most casual listeners won't know it from a CD. Push the recording level a bit and you get a nice analog-y compression sound.
posted by TrialByMedia at 9:52 PM on September 11, 2013 [6 favorites]


Oh so that rest stop I was at in New Jersey was actually participating in the latest trend? I felt existential dread for nothing?
posted by steveminutillo at 10:01 PM on September 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Anyone who thinks buying a cassette is a good idea is clearly not old enough to have had to deal with them on a regular basis.

I'm old enough to remember the hassle and I love cassettes. I definitely did not love cassettes in bad tape-eating cassette players with low-quality heads and inconsistent speed, which was the real problem most of the time, but now you can score a surprising number of old high-end decks for a steal (unless you're looking for something approaching a Nakamichi Dragon).

Plus, y'know, super easy for independent artists to produce for the merch table. And handmade cassette releases are just the best thing (doubly so when it's really handmade instead of a Kinkos job for the cover).

And there's a wealth of stuff from the 80's/early 90's - especially a lot of hip hop and punk and metal - that actually sounds great on cassette. So many of the CD mixes were really thin at the time, and LPs in decent shape at a decent price from smaller releases back then are few and far between, but the cassette versions don't suffer from that at all. Especially when they were mixed hot enough for a touch of compression - which actually, for me, pushes some cassette releases ahead of some of the readily-available remasters for some bigger artists. Stuff like Fear of a Black Planet and 3 Feet High and Rising, give me the beat up old cassette with that warm analog compression just driving any day.
posted by jason_steakums at 10:26 PM on September 11, 2013 [9 favorites]


My 2006 car has a stock cassette player (plus CD). I figure this is Toyota's way of cleaning out old inventory. The first cassette I bought with my own money was RUN DMC, and I would lust after the radio drama collections that you could order from the public broadcasting catalog. All in all I must say I experienced a lot of memorable events that included a cassette, though I can't say I miss the headache that was the mix tape. It never fails that one track gets cut in half.
posted by Brocktoon at 10:29 PM on September 11, 2013


I have over 230 Grateful Dead cassettes. I now have all that and more digitized, but I still occasionally pull out a cassette and play it. I love how I have to flip it over to hear the rest of the 2nd set. I love that it is inconvenient to fast forward, so I don't, I listen to even the songs where Donna wails.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:48 PM on September 11, 2013 [9 favorites]


I bought a rehabbed 8-track recorder in July, and 20 8-track tapes since then. I had a junky player in the 70s (despite being new), and this used Sanyo deck plays these 40+ year old tapes better now than what I listened to back then.

Further, bass and electric guitars to my ears sound far better coming from these tapes than from the respective CDs and definitely better than mp3s. Forget Spotify, no comparison whatsoever. This isn't tape saturation either, as pre-recorded tapes weren't recorded anywhere near that level.

Also, I hear fuller cymbals and other high frequency content that is absolutely missing from the CDs. Although the reproduction isn't that great, that high content is unmistakably present and easily discernible from tape hiss. Likely, some of this has to do with CD mastering, but not all.

Ignoring the occasional gross lag, the wow and flutter is enough to drive me away after 30 minutes, but during that half hour, I am 16 again.

As for cassettes, I would consider looking for an dbx II deck if I ever start feeling nostalgic for them (although I doubt I would buy anything longer than a C45), but I can definitely state that I will never go back to CDs or vinyl.
posted by Ardiril at 11:00 PM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


According to this, 30 years is the upper limit of magnetic tape lifespan. If so, we are well past 30 years for when cassettes first became popular.
posted by stbalbach at 11:00 PM on September 11, 2013


Going back to cassettes would be like calling your girlfriend to ask when she's leaving work instead of just texting her.
posted by evil otto at 11:06 PM on September 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


For some reason the electronic music label 100% silk has been selling cassettes for the last few years. And even stranger is that apparently people have been buying them.
posted by aubilenon at 11:09 PM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Radio Shack continues to sell Maxell tapes, and Walmart still sells blank tapes and a mono cassette recorder of the style that has been around since the 70s.
posted by Ardiril at 11:15 PM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


And even stranger is that apparently people have been buying them.

When you can get music anywhere as easy as turning on a tap, physical formats of all kinds become cool things for a number of reasons from their particular audio qualities to the ritual involved in playing them (even in procuring and setting up and taking care of the required equipment) to just the appeal of the object itself and more besides. Joyful Noise sells out of their flexi-disc series incredibly quickly, too, and on the face of it that's a ridiculous format to release on. But practicality and obsolescence and technical standards of quality aren't prerequisites for enjoying a thing, and quite often run counter to it.
posted by jason_steakums at 11:23 PM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


According to this, 30 years is the upper limit of magnetic tape lifespan. If so, we are well past 30 years for when cassettes first became popular.

20-30 years is also supposed to be the upper limit of capacitor lifespan in a lot of old audio equipment. THE PERFECT STORM.
posted by jason_steakums at 11:25 PM on September 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


But practicality and obsolescence and technical standards of quality aren't prerequisites for enjoying a thing, and quite often run counter to it.

This is the thinking behind me buying art. There's more to life than everyday utility.
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 11:27 PM on September 11, 2013


Maybe someday wireless broadband speeds will be fast enough to have this property. But for now you still can't beat analog for sheer impulsiveness.

Yeah, except, you don't have anything that can play it. So the speed is actually zero.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 11:29 PM on September 11, 2013


"physical formats of all kinds become cool things"

When I was at Georgia Tech in '99, the idea that physical artifacts like CDs and game discs would soon be replaced by online storage and on-demand downloading was still foreign enough that undergrads scoffed. Only when I explained the then radical ideas of subscriptions and micropayments did they come around.
posted by Ardiril at 11:35 PM on September 11, 2013


One of my greatest cassette tape treasures is a lecture given by Ray Bradbury when he came to town to attend the premiere of a musical version of Something Wicked This Way Comes. I recorded him live, and probably illegally, but he didn't seem to mind. Nearly froze to death getting home that night.
posted by Kevin Street at 11:36 PM on September 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Marimac, an old-time music label which operated from the mid-80s to late 90s, mainly put out cassette releases. It kills me to read message boards from a few years ago (when you could often still get the tapes, if you knew who to write to) recommending all these tapes as must-have additions to your collection, because 1) who has a tape deck any more? and 2) even though I would be willing to buy a tape deck to rip these tapes to mp3, I can't buy the tapes any more. Actually, I should probably buy a tape deck anyway, so I can find out whether the field recordings I made in the late 80s are still any good, and rip those if so. And then I can finally dump this box of cassettes I've been storing for the last 25 years.
posted by hades at 11:47 PM on September 11, 2013


Cassettes, I have some. Some date back to the early 70's, likely not playable. Others are from the late 90's, and contain my own material, and others from the same period are mixtapes from a DJ friend. There are a couple cassette players in the house, but I'm not sure if they work.

But the article said:
The cassette format is just a more attractive souvenir.

Boldly stating as fact something I find a rather dimwitted opinion. The most attractive souvenir of a concert I ever got was a memory stick. It contained the first half of the concert (recorded live, that very evening), and a link to download the second half (which, of course, there was no time to get on the stick to pick up on the way out). WOW! Had to pay for it before the show, but that was fine by me. Not like it was some new band of unknown quality. You may have heard of them, called "Super Tramp", in Zürich a few years ago.
posted by Goofyy at 12:18 AM on September 12, 2013


conspicious consumption
posted by mary8nne at 12:19 AM on September 12, 2013


The Return of ... the Cassette is a pretty good write-up in The Austin Chronicle on the whys and wherefors and what-fors of cassette tape resurgence..
posted by dancestoblue at 12:35 AM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I know several bands who have done it. Even my own. It's a great way to get 100 copies of something for cheap, and it's distinctive enough that people tend to hold onto them in a way they won't with CDs. We can sell a vinyl album for $12 and make $3. Or we can sell a cassette for $6 and make $4. They'll come with downloads, too. They're not my preferred means of listening by a long shot, but when I go on tour they actually make us gas money.
posted by l2p at 1:36 AM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Possibly relevant: Cassette Store Day. Some good comments on DrownedInSound here - apparently the noise/experimental scene is big on cassettes, but I don't know anything about all that (see comments in that thread from Cementimental, who does know about all that).
posted by Infinite Jest at 2:13 AM on September 12, 2013


A type II or type IV tape recorded at the right level on a decent and properly maintained tape deck still sounds surprisingly good.

Sometimes the more-expensive type II tapes were worse. Probably better (I never found out) on your hi-fi cassette component or high-end car stereo, but lots of hiss and just generally wrong-sounding on my cheap boombox and "walkman". It was a revelation that I could spend less money and get much better sound.

I just googled for the first cassette boombox manual I could find, and came up with this. Sure enough, on page 9: "For the best results, use TYPE I (normal) tape".
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 2:42 AM on September 12, 2013


I went to a show about a year or two ago featuring some really young local bands, and the only thing on offer at the merch table was cassettes for two of the bands, and free cards with a URL for the rest. I'm hoping it's not like vinyl and is just a fad.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 2:49 AM on September 12, 2013


The indiepop scene is big on cassettes, though I'm not sure whether that's down to cost or kitsch value.

When I was growing up in the 90s, happy hardcore sets were released on tape packs, then a few years later were on DAT. The tape packs were seen as something of a status symbol, but then that's probably because repetitive high-pitched beats had killed braincells.
posted by mippy at 3:25 AM on September 12, 2013


Damn, I remember when cassettes were the futuristic new medium. Something about the shape of them still evokes 60s optimism about our bright tech future somehow.
posted by Segundus at 4:02 AM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sometimes the more-expensive type II tapes were worse. Probably better (I never found out) on your hi-fi cassette component or high-end car stereo, but lots of hiss and just generally wrong-sounding on my cheap boombox and "walkman".

Type II tapes have different composition and thus are equalized differently. Cheaper cassette decks didn't bother with the extra circuitry involved.
posted by neckro23 at 4:17 AM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, except, you don't have anything that can play it. So the speed is actually zero.

Ain't nothing faster than zero.
posted by LogicalDash at 4:20 AM on September 12, 2013


~hugs his BX-150. Smiles.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:22 AM on September 12, 2013


I haven't played a tape in decades but back in the eighties they were our bittorrent. Buy a ten pack of SA-90s on sale and pirate 20 of your friend's albums. Still have them all somewhere.
posted by octothorpe at 4:26 AM on September 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


Great. Now I've got something I can listen to in my '86 Reliant wagon with the busted heater.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 4:31 AM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have a way to play records AND cassettes. Fortunately, it also digitizes things.

But man, does this make me feel old.
posted by corb at 4:55 AM on September 12, 2013


I've recently digitized 30+ year old cassette collections that held up great in storage. Surprised at how great, actually. Had to replace some felts and rollers and housings, but the tape was in sweet shape.

Maxwell type II tape from the early 1980s, to be precise. And it was precise.

I've seen plenty of optical discs not last as long.
posted by spitbull at 4:55 AM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


see but the art of making a good mixtape (handwritten playlist, decorated cover and all) was really the thing that makes me miss cassettes. spending that time on one, especially when its for someone else (i used to make my roommate tapes every time she went on the 14 hour roadtrip home), was always enjoyable. my chance to listen to records, carefully imagining what it would sound like to someone else, makes it almost new again.

the easiness of everything now, has catered too much to my laziness and 'just get it done' sensibility, so that now i hardly listen to the songs all the way through when making a playlist, if i even bother at all.
posted by fuzzypantalones at 4:56 AM on September 12, 2013 [10 favorites]


I don't miss remembering the exact point on my Aiwa walkman where the cheapo NiCD batteries would run out enough to stop the anti-roll mechanism working, so all your music would go "boing!" every step you took, then about ten minutes later eveeryythiing gooot sloooowww and it stopped.

Still, it's how The B-52's used to sound to me…
posted by scruss at 4:56 AM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


I haven't played a tape in decades but back in the eighties they were our bittorrent. Buy a ten pack of SA-90s on sale and pirate 20 of your friend's albums. Still have them all somewhere.

Same here. There was also the public library, my favorite radio station would occasionally do something like play all of Led Zeppelin's catalog in alphabetical order (I know, but what the hell), and for a short time my college town even had a commercial LP lending service that sold blank cassettes at the counter. Putting stuff on cassette was especially helpful after I had to sell my stereo and lost my whole LP collection. In fact, I was mostly a cassette user until nearly the end of the millenium, when I finally broke down and got a CD player. (It was a boombox that also had a cassette player, so I still have a way of playing tapes, plus one of those cassette players that fits in a standard-size PC drive bay so that I can digitize my old collection. I really should do that, one of these first days.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:04 AM on September 12, 2013


TASCAM broadcast decks, which have always sounded pretty good to me, can be had fairly cheaply on eBay. I picked up a 112 MK II for around $100 a couple years ago, less than a tenth of the original retail. Here's someone's video intro on the model. As he mentions, I became acquainted with the model at my college radio station (where I used one to tape my show). The 122 MK II has a few more features, but nothing essential.
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:07 AM on September 12, 2013


My nostalgia for cassettes is definitely love/hate. If you were a junior high/high school kid during that period where vinyl was on its way out and CD players were still new, expensive tech, cassettes were what you wound up with. I hated buying new music on tape; artwork and liner notes were even tinier than CD inserts, and the things just plain wore out with heavy listening. Even if you had a high-end tape deck and cleaned/calibrated the heads often (which I certainly didn't) the tape would eventually stretch and the coating would gradually rub off.

Cassettes were great for mix tapes, though; the time constraint and the real-time planning and effort required to assemble a compilation reflected such deliberateness; if you made a mix for yourself it was going to be real cream of the crop (except for that one two minute track which maybe isn't an absolute favorite, but fills out the end of side A) and if you made one for a friend it was really quite a thoughtful gesture, and appreciated as such by the recipient. Dragging MP3s into a playlist and copying it to a CDR or flash drive isn't quite the same. (On preview, what fuzzypantalones said.)

Somewhere I still have a rosetta stone cassette, dubbed in the late 1990s from my small collection of pre-Napster MP3s so I could listen to it in my car.
posted by usonian at 5:08 AM on September 12, 2013


Also, although its a dying niche, analog tape based dictation-transcription equipment still works better than most of the proprietary and rather crappy digital solutions out there (still, the cost and hassle of servicing transcription machines, which is inevitable given mechanical wear and tear, is going to force a reckoning pretty soon).

For those who might have one in a box or drawer somewhere, late 90s Sony Sports Walkman models (the ones with the yellow plastic) are more or less bulletproof (or as much as anything mostly plastic for that era can be). And can be used with a cassette adapter as an outboard amplifier for your anemic MP3 player in a pinch. (I did this with my Discman in the back seat on car trips growing up.)
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:23 AM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I usually used to dub LPs onto cassette for listening to, to help the LPs last longer.

Also, I liked the way they sounded if you put the VU meter just enough into the red.

And I was tangentially related to the cassette culture scene - your one-stop-shop for impenetrable noise with imaginatively devised containers.
posted by Grangousier at 5:33 AM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


I wish I still had the cassettes that I made when my friends and I had sleepovers and we just blathered and sang and acted like arseholes when I was 14 - 16. But man, I hated it when a cassette got chewed which they pretty much all did in the end as the heads got ever nastier.

I sent a cassette to an invisible internet friend in 1999 and was told that he didn't have anything to play it on, which was a real mind fucker. That was one of my first real visceral experiences in this horrible getting older thing.

Paying $5 for a cassette is silly. But nostalgia is powerful. Cassettes are just a medium. It's the content that's important, regardless of what it's contained within.
posted by h00py at 5:35 AM on September 12, 2013


I'm biding time till the cassingle revival.
posted by clavicle at 5:43 AM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


your local pawnshop or thrift store has decent cassette players for 50 bucks or less - not to mention tapes for them - 3 bucks or cheaper

anyone with an interest in 80s music who wants something better than mp3s but doesn't want to spend the money on cds should consider it

the author of the article seems to think that cassettes are an inferior format, but well made ones really aren't - in the 70s there were a lot of inferior commercial tapes, which is why they have a bad reputation - in the 80s, the music companies finally figured out that they needed to use decent materials

the hiss on a well made tape with dolby applied is minimal - certainly better than the surface noise of a record - and the frequency response can be a little worse or a little better than the vinyl version, depending on the release

the one thing you do want to stay away from is 8 track tapes - those were awful - i thought they were awful when they came out - very hissy. boxy sound and songs interrupted in the middle so the machine could switch over to the next part of the tape, which is just unacceptable

But man, I hated it when a cassette got chewed which they pretty much all did in the end as the heads got ever nastier.

you do have to clean them from time to time with a cassette cleaning kit - a tape and some alcohol based cleaning solution - also, it's more likely that the capstans in the cassette are seizing up and chewing up the tape - sometimes you can loosen them back up and rewind the tape using a pencil in the hole - it's also possible to splice a broken tape with ordinary scotch tape, if you're neat about it
posted by pyramid termite at 5:45 AM on September 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Cassettes are warm like vinyl, but fit in your pocket, no? Is that the appeal? Or is the appeal "having stuff that nobody else has."
posted by oceanjesse at 5:48 AM on September 12, 2013


I'm biding time till the cassingle revival.

We were playing volleyball at the beach the other night and they had the XM 90s on 9 station playing. C+C Music Factory came on and I said, "Man, everybody had this cassingle." And then I realized how weird that sounded.
posted by uncleozzy at 5:53 AM on September 12, 2013


octothorpe: "I haven't played a tape in decades but back in the eighties they were our bittorrent. Buy a ten pack of SA-90s on sale and pirate 20 of your friend's albums. Still have them all somewhere."

I spent an inordinate amount of time driving around in my grandmother's '81 Aries with an aftermarket cassette player pop-riveted under the dash listening to the entire Led Zeppelin panoply on what I think were 'copied from a friend' C-90's?

That was the same car where I first heard Licensed to Ill on a poorly copied cassette tape.
posted by Sphinx at 5:55 AM on September 12, 2013


back in the eighties they were our bittorrent.

That's clever. Yeah, I used to make "playlists" by sitting with the stereo beside me, blank tape loaded and my finger hovering over the record button waiting to hear the opening notes of songs I liked. Then when I had the songs compiled, I'd sit mine face-to-face with my friend's, one to play and one to record, to arrange the tracks in proper order. Kids today are spoiled with iTunes. Drag-and-drop, click a button, no flipping sides or time constraints. Making a compilation used to be hard.

The idea that cassettes are making a resurgence cracks me up. I honestly don't intend to create any kind of trolling derail, but it feels exactly like the silly mysticism that surrounds vinyl. I guess someday we'll see the same happening with CDs, or with that antiquated "MP3 compression."
posted by cribcage at 5:56 AM on September 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


Relevant Mitch Clem Tumblr post (comic at link): "Honestly, you guys, I’ve been into punk rock for literally more than half my life now and this tape resurgence is easily the dumbest goddamn trend I’ve ever had to stand by and watch happen."
posted by General Malaise at 6:01 AM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


back in the eighties they were our bittorrent.

Home Taping is Killing Music
posted by Grangousier at 6:01 AM on September 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


I haven't been to a flea market lately to check - but I really hope this results in the resurrection of generic branded boom-boxes - the giant silver-plastic rectilinear ones with the metal "handles" mounted on the front to protect the speaker grills in case you kicked it over while attempting "the windmill", and whose labels proudly proclaim "DOBLY" and "REVERSE AUTOMATIC FUNCTION".
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:07 AM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


This reminds me - I must digitise my dad's reel-to-reel collection...
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 6:13 AM on September 12, 2013


NO. You must migrate your lossless FLACs to reel-to-reel.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:15 AM on September 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


Wax cylinders, I would've thought ...
posted by Sonny Jim at 6:17 AM on September 12, 2013


My Jeep only has a stock cassette player, although I also use a cassette adapter to play songs off my iPhone. I digitized my CDs long ago, but I still have tons old cassettes that I play in the car.

I find it hard to believe this is a novel situation.
posted by Room 641-A at 6:19 AM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


So nobody can actually play the things eh?

Note to self: Repackage old (bad) cassette collection from box in basement in some band's album cover and sell each for $5 a pop.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:21 AM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


C30, C60, C90, GO!
posted by gimonca at 6:25 AM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh so that rest stop I was at in New Jersey was actually participating in the latest trend?

Ha ha, that Great White tape nestled in there is just perfect.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 6:26 AM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I had to borrow a cassette player with a headphone jack in order to digitize this recording. It was actually for my nephew, I just changed him to my niece in order to throw off my lurking brother. Follow-up: it went over well with both child and parents.

Then, a couple months later, my mom cleaned out her house to prepare for a move. Among other things she found a cassette we made in 1977 of our family watching my mom on Candlepins for Cash, which was a locally-broadcast bowling show. It's not a recording of the show, though you can hear that in the background, but a recording of us eating dinner while watching the show. That's how we did things in 1977.

Weird hearing my voice from back then, and my mom's Irish brogue is much stronger. She'd only been in the country 14 years at that point. She hit her 50th year in America last October. The host of that show, Bob Gamere, hit some tough times later on. He's currently in jail on child porn charges, but back then he was probably the first celebrity my mom ever got to talk to and you can hear her nervousness very clearly. I'm working on digitizing that one.

As part of the clean-out we had a garage sale last weekend. She had a shit-ton of cassettes, mostly recordings of various sermons and faith healers and other religious crap. She also had a bunch of blank cassettes. None of these things sold, or even went for free. They'll end up in a landfill if we can't find someone who will take them as a donation.

She had not one, but three tape players/recorders to sell, including the device I used to save programs to my TRS-80 Color Computer. One of them actually sold, which was an Emerson Walkman ripoff still new in the package. I have no idea where this came from or why she had it, but knowing my mom she got it for free with a coupon and she planned on giving it to one of us as a gift. I think it sold for a buck to a guy who bought up a few other broken electronic devices.

I've mostly grown to hate cassettes, none of my old music tapes sold (or went for free) when I had my own garage sale, but it sure has been nice to go through some that captured certain moments from my life.
posted by bondcliff at 6:29 AM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have three tape players, one for my house, one for work, and one in the car. I bought 11 cassettes just the other day.

Maybe you have to have grown up in the cassette era for this, but I don't have a problem with tape hiss. It's part of what listening to music sounds like. I would no more complain about it than I'd complain about the sound of people cheering when I go to a concert.
posted by escabeche at 6:32 AM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Steely-eyed Missile Man: "Ha ha, that Great White tape nestled in there is just perfect."

Oh man. I'm glad I wasn't the only one to notice that... (Amazingly, the band is apparently still together? I'm can't tell if that speaks of extreme perseverance or extreme poor taste...)

I find it pretty amazing that anybody in the NY Metro area who's old enough to remember cassettes would want to buy that..
posted by schmod at 6:32 AM on September 12, 2013


Cassettes are awesome - I've never stopped using them, and they feature largely in my musical work. They've made quite a resurgence in the underground Chicago music scene too.
posted by agregoli at 6:38 AM on September 12, 2013


Also, I don't understand his premise that music on cassette always sounds bad- it doesn't have to. I primarily use cassettes as an instrument though.
posted by agregoli at 6:48 AM on September 12, 2013


Or is the appeal "having stuff that nobody else has."

There is no appeal. The appeal is an illusion created by a) heavy drug use b) not being alive when technology sucked.
posted by IvoShandor at 6:52 AM on September 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


I remember having a tape that had been stepped on and broken, and noticing that nicer blank tapes had the front and back halves joined with little Philips screws instead of glue. I am not very mechanically skilled, so I felt really great when I pried the broken case open, unscrewed the case on a blank tape, and then carefully lifted the reels of the broken tape out and dropped them into the new casing. There was some threading to do (I had made careful note of where the blank tape went over and under various pads and pins) but I was able to get it in there, screw the new casing together and voila! Asia - Asia or some similar album was good as new.

Also I remember getting my first Walkman that had auto-reverse (an Aiwa actually) and thinking that music listening would never get any better. Ha!
posted by freecellwizard at 6:59 AM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Cassettes are too modern for me. If I really like a song I transcribe it and invite my talented friends over to sing and play it for me, the way music was meant to be enjoyed.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 7:11 AM on September 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


The best thing about cassettes was making mixtapes with carefully selected tracks and handwritten liner notes for girls you liked. CDs just didn't have the same charm.
posted by Rangeboy at 7:15 AM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


one of the Eureka moments of my recent move to a new apartment was opening boxes that had been in storage for the last five years and rediscovering two large overflowing boxes of cassettes and one of my Walkman players. i am not a Nostalgist, but i was surprised at the sound difference between tape and MP3. just as vinyl is vaunted for retaining a certain warmth, cassettes have that same warmth, and there's something to be said about both formats' forced patience with regards to listening.

i did not have the same feeling on finding two boxes with even more CD's. Compact Discs are the scourge of decoration; and storage. terrible terrible. i can put the ones i'm still interested in on my computer, but then what? while i might be able to sell most of the store-bought cassettes i own for $10-$15 i'm stuck with these rainbow-shiny albatrosses for years to come. maybe i can pave a highway in China with them. or maybe anyone unfortunate enough to grow up in the 90's will have a hankering for Musique Concrete, 90's Space Rock, old-time, bluegrass and country music, and any Indie Rock that i don't already own on vinyl. i still like (some of) the music, but hate the format. C30 C60 C90 Go!!

it's probably safe to say that anyone who doesn't appreciate cassettes is most likely a causal music listener (notice i don't say music lover here). now i just need to find some way to play all of my 78's.
posted by Conrad-Casserole at 7:18 AM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I figured that participating in a weird economic trend would be worth the $5,

Can't quite articulate why I hate this so much, but this is a form of "participation" that can be put to bed.
posted by spaltavian at 7:23 AM on September 12, 2013


> including the device I used to save programs to my TRS-80 Color Computer.

Being a terrible packrat I still have several program cassettes that came with my Apple II, and it's still fun to stick these into the ancient but functional cassette deck and listen for voices in the bitstream. (I hear 'em, too, though I don't think they're speaking Earthling.) Interestingly, though I've tried ripping these cassettes and have quite a lot of experience doing this (mostly from digitizing the unabridged Books On Tape LOTR trilogy and Hobbit, incomparably well read by Rob Inglis) these particular cassettes do not digitize well.
posted by jfuller at 7:24 AM on September 12, 2013


I'm biding time till the cassingle revival.

Because you promised when it happened, you'll return...

I recently cleaned out my cassette drawer and sent off most of my Shrimper tapes to a friend, but kept The Hound Chronicles by The Mountain Goats. But those Elephant 6 Neutral Milk Hotel/Apples cassettes, you'll have to pry those from my cold, dead hands. And maybe some day I will digitize all those tapes of Peel sessions an old boyfriend used to send me in the 80s (I keep telling myself, anyway).
posted by plasticpalacealice at 7:40 AM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have an 8 track in my 1975 classic car. Forget the cassettes I mention earlier, the 7 8-tracks I have rock. 4 Tops Live and In Concert cannot be beat! Chicks dig a guy with sideburns and an 8-track. (Or so I heard.)
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:44 AM on September 12, 2013


This guy, right?
posted by h00py at 7:47 AM on September 12, 2013


A type II or type IV tape recorded at the right level on a decent and properly maintained tape deck still sounds surprisingly good. Add Dolby C or S and most casual listeners won't know it from a CD.

Somewhere jammed into the nether regions of the Random Junk Closet upstairs, I have a ~1986 TEAC deck with dolby *and* dbx noise reduction. The dbx was just about magic.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:49 AM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was just thinking about this mixtape I made as part of a cultural exchange program with a sister school in Japan, in 1992. It had everything on it: TMBG, Soundgarden, Public Enemy, Disposable Heros of HipHopracy, Cure, Kitchens of Distinction, Wedding Present, Scatterbrain, just like--everything. I wish I could remember that track listing. I wonder still whether such a weird artifact was life-altering to the Japanese kid who received it, like so many tapes I got over the years were. Actually I probably still have it--I still have a carton of tapes I carry around from apartment to apartment. Almost 30 years now. I'd better have a party and play them soon, because they're going to melt away.

The two real treasures of that collection are tapes of college radios shows when I used to do college radio, full of my nasal ramblings, and the first mixtape my older brother ever made me when I was around 13, mostly rap (NWA, Doug E Fresh, Above the Law, BDP, Tribe) but right in the middle was Cult Of Personality by Living Color. For some reason the rap all sounded nice to my ears but the first time that riff blazed through my cheap ass walkman headphones-whoo shit I nearly died. I had to fast fwd. Then the next time I listened to it, I just turned it down. By the 3rd time I heard it, I was hooked on loud guitars forever.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:59 AM on September 12, 2013


I've got a cassette copy of zoviet france's "Garista". The inlay is a thick cardboardy fabric that was apparently soaked in some sort of oil. I've had it since the mid-eighties and it still has the oily smell. Download that, kids.
posted by davebush at 8:16 AM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Does anyone else recall the Nakamichi unidirectional auto reverse cassette deck? My brother was the licensing tech at Dolby Labs who tested the first one. He says everyone gathered around his test bench to watch, and when the carousel popped out and rotated the tape, they all burst into laughter because it looked so ridiculous.
posted by ogooglebar at 8:16 AM on September 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Also people complaining about labels releasing stuff On Tape are too young to remember Teenbeat Records apparently.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:23 AM on September 12, 2013


Isn't the appeal of cassettes really that they made recording yourself (no matter how badly) easy? I spent hours with my old cassette recorder, making radio shows and plays and fake commercials and singing playground songs and jokes and just rambling. I made messages to my friends. I'd slap it up against the speakers of the stereo and tape a song, or up against the TV and tape a theme song (I was obsessed with them for a while, also commercials). Because the sound quality only sort of mattered.

You can do that with cellphones now, I guess, but you also need a computer to mix those files/add in songs/delete things, where with the old recorders, that was just a matter of hitting buttons/rewinding and taping over. Even if you have a device with a sound mixing app, it's not going to be as simple to listen, play back, edit and redo, is it?

Or am I just being overly nostalgic?
posted by emjaybee at 8:26 AM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Does anyone else recall the Nakamichi unidirectional auto reverse cassette deck?

I had a friend who had one of those (or a similar one). I asked him why that was better than my deck that just ran the tape in the other direction to play the other side and he went into some long indignant audiophile rant that I understood none of.
posted by octothorpe at 8:29 AM on September 12, 2013


Surprised nobody's mentioned that fun thing about cassettes where your dog eats one and when he shits the tape comes out of his ass and you have to sit there and pull and pull that tape until finally the hub pops out, while your dog stares off into space like a fucking idiot thinking about god knows what, probably food.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 8:35 AM on September 12, 2013 [14 favorites]


some long indignant audiophile rant

All about azimuth control and head alignment, right? That stuff would make my brain hurt.
posted by ogooglebar at 8:37 AM on September 12, 2013


Appeal for bands: you can produce a run of 100 cassettes for a couple hundred, which anyone working a waitressing job can scrounge up. LP runs are 500+ at a minimum and will be a few thousand, which is impenetrably large for a lot of bands already in the hole from buying expensive equipment and working shitty jobs.

Appeal for listeners: all physical media is totemic at this point. Yep, even records, despite all the (sorta complex and subjective) stuff about how it just sounds better, it's easy to see that it's treated as a fetish object and that's part of the appeal (limited run of 100 copies in blue-specked 180gram vinyl, comes with 50 page book of random embossed nouns, $200!) More importantly, these music totems force you to carve some space and time and attention out of your life, they become a weighty something you can hold in your hands rather than an etheric idea of something, which is what mp3s are and always have been. So if it's all totemic fetish object stuff at this point, if cassettes serve the same function as records, why is it a stretch to pay $5 for a cassette rather than the typical $15-20 asking price for an LP? And if "it just sounds better" is a mystical concept, why can't I decide that cassettes just sound better to my ears that grew up on the distinctive cassette sound, the tape hiss wrapping around me like a warm blanket?
posted by naju at 8:45 AM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


The first cassette tape I bought (with MY money) was Pink Floyd's live double album, The Delicate Sound of Thunder. I loved it.

Then one day some idiot sat on my bed and left a butt-outline crack in the hard clear plastic case, and I cut my hand on one of the sharp shards that came off. Ugh.

The Wikipedia link above says: Delicate Sound of Thunder became the first rock album to be played in space, as Soviet cosmonauts took it aboard Soyuz TM-7. They left the cassette box on Earth to save weight.

Smart cosmonauts.
posted by RedOrGreen at 8:47 AM on September 12, 2013


I think an element of the indiepop cassette revival is based on creating artificial scarcity. It seems to be the modern version of the picture disc; it sounds worse, doesn't last as long, and has higher markup.

I can't blame a band for getting gas money making them, but anyone who buys one is a sucker.

Materials that only exist on cassette should be played once to transfer to something better.
posted by Mad_Carew at 8:47 AM on September 12, 2013


LPs are not 500+ at a minimum - I just received my 100 vinyl records yesterday for a hard-won project...but you are right about cost. It was around $1000.
posted by agregoli at 8:55 AM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I got a cassette tape as part of a kickstarter, and I do have an old boombox I could play it on, but I'm not sure I trust it and I have no tapes to test it with, having gotten rid of them years ago. Dilemma!
posted by tavella at 9:09 AM on September 12, 2013


I remember buying Megadeth's "Peace Sells But Who's Buying?" on cassette from Sam Goody's in the mall at the tender age of 13 or so. Ah, the memories. It was the first, and only, cassette I ever purchased, now that I think about it.

It was promptly destroyed by my crappy walkman. Those were the days.
posted by diocletian at 9:16 AM on September 12, 2013


Pocket-sized golden rectangles infused with nostalgia and a sense of the handmade. The size and heft is like an iPhone, with which we already live on intimate terms. Old but new. The appeal is self-evident, and that's without even addressing any of the music inside, which can only be unlocked using a hard-to-find machine you'll have to go up into the attic to get...
posted by gentian at 9:54 AM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Fuck cassettes, and good riddance.

Good Christ, what could be more precious and hipster than "I only listen to cassettes" at this point?

Physical media is either delivery mechanism or fetish object, and sometimes both. The resurgence of vinyl is tied mostly to earned nostalgia (great vinyl rigs really DID sound great back in the day) and fetish, but a nostalgia for cassettes is like a nostalgia for smallpox or a three-channel TV landscape. Burning CDs for distro is easy, and produces an objectively better package -- more fault tolerant, higher fidelity, easier transfer to digital, and playable nearly anywhere.
posted by uberchet at 10:16 AM on September 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


All that is true -- but I can't fit a CD in my shirt pocket.
posted by Rash at 10:21 AM on September 12, 2013


My van, purchased new in 2008, had a cassette player. I couldn't believe it. Granted, it was a Dodge Caravan that likely just got recycled parts used in it because dodge is cheap like that, but still. A 2008 model?

On the defense of cassettes - an old friend and I were driving around late at night, and he popped in a CD of some 80's hair metal, and we were brought back to our glory days until I stopped the music and said "it just doesn't sound right."

And that's when we realized that it wasn't a cassette, we weren't listening to it through cheap Walmart 6x9 speakers, and it wasn't being powered by an amp from JC Whitney.

Good times.
posted by bradth27 at 10:31 AM on September 12, 2013


I digitized all my local indie music tapes back around 2004 or so. What a horrible pain in the ass that was, but I'm glad I did it. Unfortunately, one of my favorite albums sounds like it it coming from the surface of the moon because I played it so much. Around 1993 or so, I ended up buying two copies of many of my favorite bands' tape-only releases-- one to listen to and one to stick on a shelf to put on CD down the road.

Got rid of all my tapes except for a few mixes and the local bands a long time ago. There's still something about the weight in your hand and the rattly plastic sound they make. Yeah, this new cassette craze is an affectation, but affectation is one of the privileges of youth. Have fun, you crazy kids.
posted by entropicamericana at 10:35 AM on September 12, 2013


I assume this is all a Decepticon plot.
posted by ckape at 10:51 AM on September 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


There is no appeal. The appeal is an illusion created by a) heavy drug use b) not being alive when technology sucked.

I'll give you a) sure, but how does b) explain why I bought so many cassettes back in the 80s then?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:05 AM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


> Isn't the appeal of cassettes really that they made recording yourself (no matter how badly) easy?

And cheap. The first (at all affordable) home 4-tracks for bedroom recordists were cassette-based. Now all you need is Audacity and a mic.
posted by jfuller at 11:19 AM on September 12, 2013


Man, I have a huge box of tapes that are mostly weird stuff taped off of freeform radio, including, like, Italian psych performances and stuff like that. I got those from a DJ coworker of mine, and they're all pretty great.

But after three consecutive tape decks have died, I just don't know if I want to invest in a new one.
posted by klangklangston at 12:06 PM on September 12, 2013


I'm biding time till the cassingle revival

Because you promised when it happens you'll return.

Shit, plasticpalacealice beat me to it. Still, I shed a tear for my favorite band ever.

In the waning days of my car's cassette player (liberated by a junkie one night), I used to enjoy picking up classic prerecorded albums on cassette (something that no one in their right mind would have bought back in the day) at the thrift store for 50 cents. Sound quality? Who cares? You're in a car, for chrissakes, tell me more about your noise floor and frequency response? You're punching midrange through four-inch speakers. I might still have those tapes of The Chills's "Submarine Bells" and Everything But The Girl's "Idlewild" and even Scritti Politti's "Cupid & Psyche 85". Crank it up, they sounded great. If there was a dropout or something, who cares? If it breaks, throw it away.
posted by Fnarf at 12:06 PM on September 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Oh, yeah, and I still have the cassette I made by putting a figure-eight in the belt of a belt-drive turntable and playing "Revolver" backwards. No clues, alas, but it sounds terrific, like a whole new Beatles record, but even trippier. Love those psshhhump-psshhhump drums.
posted by Fnarf at 12:09 PM on September 12, 2013


20 years ago I worked at a record store. One of our regulars, whenever she bought a tape, would have us "crack" it for her. Hold it in both hands and give the tape a quick twist. I haven't thought of that in years.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:12 PM on September 12, 2013


I'm biding time till the cassingle revival

Cassingle sales TRIPLED in 2012 in the UK!

... from 218 in 2011, to 603 in 2012.
posted by Kabanos at 1:15 PM on September 12, 2013


My tiny apartment is way overcluttered and I periodically go on a Throw Away ALL THE THINGS rampage, but I just cannot bring myself to get rid of the small shoebox of maybe a dozen cassettes that has traveled across the country with me for the past 15 years. They're all either mix tapes from my favorite aunt and dear friends, or my recordings of the long-defunct Cool Punk Alternative Progressive Whatever-Type Show from my hometown's long-defunct college radio station. The last time I stumbled across the box I ran out to the drugstore to buy a crappy COBY to play them on, and it was a really nice reminder of wonderful people and times.

Bonus: When preorders of the Mountain Goats' latest album came with a cassette of two songs that didn't make it onto the album, I had something to play it on! Though I really appreciated that it also came with a piece of paper with a link and a code to download the mp3s. Ripping vinyl to digital on my Linux system is frustrating enough, I don't even want to think about transcoding cassettes.
posted by rhiannonstone at 1:22 PM on September 12, 2013


"Maybe music snobbery that privileges obscurity has led the elite sheeple, deterred by rising vinyl sales, into the deep web spaces of Bandcamp tape labels."
posted by Kabanos at 1:22 PM on September 12, 2013


Don't Forget the Cassette series of wall prints, by Neil Stevens.
posted by Kabanos at 1:25 PM on September 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


"... from 218 in 2011, to 603 in 2012. "

Oh man, I have a pitch for NY Times Style section. You know how they count: "One, two, trend!"
posted by klangklangston at 1:37 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Tascam still makes studio grade cassette decks, fwiw.
posted by spitbull at 2:36 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


The great advantage of analog media — cassette tapes, vinyl records, paper books — is that they shield you from the lure of Neverending Novelty. If you have 10,000 songs at your immediate disposal, it's hard to just sit back and pay attention to just one. You're always skipping forward, forward, forward. With a cassette, the (artificial, self-imposed) scarcity makes those songs worth more, mean more. Hunter Thompson had only one tape with him on his drive to Vegas, that's why Sympathy for the Devil and White Rabbit mean something in Fear and Loathing. If he had an iPod with 10,000 songs or worse, unlimited streaming music, I doubt he'd even remember what he was listening to.

(also, Bumbum Sexy Tapes)
posted by Tom-B at 3:25 PM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


To me, the great advantage of a digital medium is that it shields me from Music Selection Regret. I have a significant commute, during which I listen to my iPod. When I leave my house in the morning, I have no idea what music I'll be in the mood for on my drive home in the evening. With 26,142 songs at my immediate disposal, it's easy to find an album or playlist that I can easily sit back and pay attention to. I don't have to be annoyed that I'm stuck with a cassette (or CD) that was a great idea at 5 am, but a lousy one at 4:30 pm.
posted by ogooglebar at 3:42 PM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


explain why I bought so many cassettes back in the 80s then?

Truly, I was mostly kidding around. I know why I did though (not that I bought or received many tapes in the 80s - I was kind of young), even into the 90s. It was because I couldn't afford a CD player. My Dad had a console stereo in our dining room until the mid-90s. Now there's something to be nostalgic about. It played vinyl and 8-track tapes. Good times.
posted by IvoShandor at 4:13 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Speaking of cassette tape, Ray Dolby died today.
posted by zamboni at 7:10 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


ogooglebar: To me, the great advantage of a digital medium is that it shields me from Music Selection Regret.

“Here is a tall bamboo; there is a short one.”
posted by Tom-B at 7:24 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Once a friend asked me what the hell this chillwave music thing was that he was hearing about lately, and I explained it as "Young musicians who find their parents' 80s pop-rock cassettes in the basement and leave in the desert for a week to melt, then repackage it with a new name using creative punctuation and profit."
posted by mannequito at 10:33 PM on September 12, 2013


To me, the great advantage of a digital medium is that it shields me from Music Selection Regret.

This is the truth. MP3 players (and modern flash storage density, as well as 3G I suppose) have freed me from the need to have a 50-CD wallet in my car, and to travel with three large Case Logic binders as I did as a teenager and in early college years. (Why did I do that?)
posted by snuffleupagus at 11:26 PM on September 12, 2013


What makes reel-to-reel so awesome...
posted by Lanark at 6:19 AM on September 13, 2013


20 years ago I worked at a record store. One of our regulars, whenever she bought a tape, would have us "crack" it for her. Hold it in both hands and give the tape a quick twist. I haven't thought of that in years.

Hmm... I bought/recorded etc many cassettes in my youth, but I'm not remembering this technique - what was this supposed to accomplish?

I *do*remember however, not having any scotch tape handy to un-write protect a cassette I wanted to be able to record on, and thinking I was rather clever to use an xacto knife to cut out two tiny rectangles from either end of the tape's label, which I could then peel off and stick to the top corners...
posted by stenseng at 9:27 AM on September 13, 2013


As I recall, she felt that cracking the cassette would make sure the tape played at a consistent speed. We did it because we liked her and she asked us to and it was important to her.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:51 AM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Right on... interesting!
posted by stenseng at 10:06 AM on September 13, 2013


If you're looking to buy a used cassette player to rip old cassettes to digital, this thread is worth checking out. It can be very involved (3 heads, bias and eq. adjust, play trim, 2 motors, 3 motors, dual capstan, quartz locked direct drive etc) so the experience here is worth reading.
posted by stbalbach at 10:18 AM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


At Pitchfork, just before Cassette Store Day, an op-ed from Nick-Sylvester: It's Just A Cassette
posted by Going To Maine at 10:24 AM on September 14, 2013


"the need to have a 50-CD wallet in my car, and to travel with three large Case Logic binders as I did as a teenager and in early college years."

300+ vinyl albums in the backseat, to and fro four years in a row, Erie to Penn State, '76 - '80.
posted by Ardiril at 4:18 PM on September 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


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