Get that warm analog sound again
September 3, 2015 7:26 AM   Subscribe

 
Thanks for this.

That clicking sound you hear? That's me in high school, sitting in math class, using a pencil to rewind a mixed tape to avoid draining my Walkman batteries.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 7:37 AM on September 3, 2015 [9 favorites]


The neat thing about this is that they held on long enough for the entire industry to die, but then when there was this long-tailed residual demand that still needed to be filled - and they're the only ones left to do it.

Also, those machines to package the tapes they use are pretty cool and I guess one-of-a-kind now.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 7:42 AM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


I get that kids suddenly have a hard-on for cassettes, but where the hell are they playing them? Cars haven't had tape decks in over a decade. Hell, most boomboxes haven't had tape decks in probably about as long.

But yeah, it's neat that they're still doing this. I personally don't have any fondness for the sound of cassettes, but hey, whatever floats your boat.
posted by uncleozzy at 7:44 AM on September 3, 2015


...but where the hell are they playing them?

I don't think I've ever been to a yard sale, flea market or thrift store that didn't have tape-playing devices being sold by the pound.
posted by griphus at 7:56 AM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]




Tape decks are still in production, and if you check on Amazon, Ebay, etc, you can still get new TDK and Maxell cassettes. Plus there's a near-infinite supply of second-hand gear.

This company may be the last cassette making/duping house in the USA, but it's certainly not the last one. Not that I don't think it's a great story and love that they're doing it.
posted by Devonian at 7:57 AM on September 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


mandolin conspiracy, that's what I was thinking as well. It made me wonder what other "dead" things still have one company producing & they're making a buck doing it.
posted by Laura in Canada at 7:57 AM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


I love this.

Regarding the question of "how do people even listen," I remember a guy on a niche electronic message board I used to frequent that distributed an album on cassette tape, and had scrounged a bunch of old walkmans (walkmen?) that he would package up along with the tape for folks who bought it.

Also, tangentially-related! Metafilter's Own Narrative Priorities wrote a fantastic short story about analog music wizards that got published in Strange Horizons a few months ago: Noise Pollution.
posted by Sokka shot first at 7:58 AM on September 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


still being manufactured, and they're sold by major electronics retailers.

Holy wow. I figured on yard sales, etc., but new decks? Interesting.
posted by uncleozzy at 7:59 AM on September 3, 2015


The death of tape came about because the kids realised it was illegal and killing music.
posted by Devonian at 8:04 AM on September 3, 2015 [24 favorites]


Devonian: SNORT
posted by tigrrrlily at 8:09 AM on September 3, 2015


Fuck. Cassettes.

I mean, seriously. Snake people who fetishize tape are just being fashion victims. As an audio format, they completely blow. They're prone to tape-path fuckups (keep a pencil around!), are substantially more vulnerable to environmental damage than CDs, and sound flat-out worse than vinyl, CD, or decently-converted digital.

I get the appeal of vinyl, a little. I mean, I have a turntable I bought in the last 6 or 7 years. Used vinyl bins the world over are full of $2 treasures that still sound great, because vinyl actually COULD sound great. It doesn't sound as good as digital or CD, but it's still pretty incredible if you have halfway decent gear, and you get a neat fetish object in the bargain that, properly cared for, will last decades more. None of this is true for cassettes.

I came of age in the interregnum between vinyl and CD, so most of what I bought growing up was cassettes. But by the time I was really picking music -- say, 12 or 13, so '82 or '83 -- CD was already coming, so everything I bought I bought knowing that, if I liked it well enough for long enough, I'd end up re-buying it on CD, because cassettes sucked. They were only ever a stopgap.

(Though I do pour out a little for the Tascam/Teac/Etc 4-track recorders that would work with conventional cassettes; every teen musician in the 1980s lusted for one, but only a few were lucky enough to own one. They were pretty cool. And, of course, drastically less capable of recording your band than the average student laptop today.)
posted by uberchet at 8:10 AM on September 3, 2015 [18 favorites]


There is apparently nothing that 20-30 year olds will not fetishize, as long as it had its heyday just before they were born/became sentient. I look forward to the return of minidisc.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 8:13 AM on September 3, 2015 [10 favorites]


I have two tape decks. One of them is a vintage Sanyo that needs repairs, and what seems an early 90s Sony that I bought to put my album on tape, but doesn't even power (then again, it was like €5).

Recently I've heard the last tape factory in Portugal and Spain is a 2 hour walk from where I live. According to the article, tape sold well until 10 years ago, if I had to guess, powered by pimba musicians, and now survives because of metal bands.
posted by lmfsilva at 8:17 AM on September 3, 2015


I remember "stuffing" newpapers (LA Times) almost 50 years ago when one of the guys on the crew showed us a box in the back of his station wagon. Inside were blank cassette tapes. He said these were going to be the next big thing (at the time 4- and 8-track tapes were the thing and those were mostly used in car players).

Tape is still an very efficient and durable archive media.
posted by rmmcclay at 8:17 AM on September 3, 2015


The death of tape came about because the kids realised it was illegal and killing music.


That's why private copying tariffs were introduced on cassettes. Those darn kids and their mixed tapes damn near destroyed music for all of us!

As an audio format, they completely blow.

I think the nostalgia factor for some of us (Gen X here) is that there was a period where vinyl was on the way out, CDs were coming in big time, and bargain bins everywhere were filled with cheap cassette albums you ACTUALLY WANTED (i.e., not Johnny Mathis Greatest Hits, YMMV) and were like four or five bucks.

So there was a point where I ended up with a pretty substantial cassette album collection. Also, in the pre-digital landscape, mixed tapes were the only feasible option for a good selection of tunage on the go.

If you had told 15-year-old me that "This will be how much music you will be able to pack onto a phone in your adult years," I would have shit my pants.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 8:20 AM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


It made me wonder what other "dead" things still have one company producing & they're making a buck doing it.

There's something to be said for being "the last buggy whip maker." The one company that can survive the decline of the industry can end up with a secure monopoly (who, after all, would open a buggy whip factory in 2015?) and make a handsome profit on a niche product.

As far as I know, the last buggy whip maker in the US is Westfield Whip (founded 1884), which still makes a line of carriage and driving whips in addition to the more popular dressage whips and riding crops.

They have some overseas competition, though, primarily the German company Döbert (founded 1880).
posted by jedicus at 8:20 AM on September 3, 2015 [8 favorites]


I look forward to the return of minidisc.

Sony stopped making MiniDisc players in 2013. Since it's a proprietary format it's unlikely to undergo a renaissance.
posted by jedicus at 8:22 AM on September 3, 2015


Its proprietary-ness is also probably what killed it in the first place.

I had a recorder/player as a portable music source for a while in the 1990s, before Mp3 players became reasonable things to use (which, to be completely honest, basically means before the iPod). It was neat, well made, and the player + a few disks took up less space in my bag than a Discman and a CD wallet. But it was only useful for a really narrow window.

Few recall, but Sony was also trying to push MiniDisc as a purchase format, too. For fucking YEARS -- and maybe still -- Sony was obsessed with getting control of a platform in a way that has been transparently impossible for a really long time. No other music label would have issued stuff on MiniDisc if their competitor controlled the platform, and no music format could get traction without near-universal availability.

Sony tried to repeat the error with Mp3 players, which typically required the user to re-encode their music in a proprietary Sony format, because Stupid.
posted by uberchet at 8:26 AM on September 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


I was a MiniDisc victim - I never bought recorded music in that format, but was trying to use it to record my own playing.

It worked GREAT for that, except that little part about how you can't get it anywhere else digitally because stupid/ anti-piracy / stupid.

I agree with uberchet - Sony is apparently managed by old men who are still trying to corner the market on something. Hard to get your head around a company in the media business at their scale who doesn't get the internet.
posted by randomkeystrike at 8:32 AM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


The best thing about tapes is that they are dead easy to record onto. You need a fairly simple piece of equipment and a blank tape. That's it. I made tons of tapes of myself doing fake radio shows or plays or what have you as a kid. Meanwhile, my kid finds fiddling with his ancient iPhone a pain, and he needs a good connection to upload it, and if he wants to edit it he needs an app, and so on. And then do the files just live on his phone? Or does he store them somewhere...where? CD, the cloud? Oh and now his phone's out of charge, anyone have a charger?

I think this will all get easier eventually, but right now, there's nothing as easy for a kid or tech-skittish adult to use as tape recorders were.

You know what, I might buy him a simple recorder and some tapes. I think they'd be a smash the next time he has friends over.
posted by emjaybee at 8:35 AM on September 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


"you can't get it anywhere else digitally because stupid/ anti-piracy / stupid."

Oh, yeah, I forgot about that, since for me it was always a "dub down from CD source" format.

Sony has, for much of the last 15 years, been entirely too willing to allow Sony Entertainment to wag the dog over there. The movie & music arm has had greater revenue than Sony Electronics, but never have they had greater EARNINGS, so you'd think the political will and power would have followed the money, but apparently not.

It's still pretty amazing that the company who essentially invented portable, personal music players wasn't even an also-ran in the digital player market that by rights was theirs to lose.
posted by uberchet at 8:37 AM on September 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


>Meanwhile, my kid finds fiddling with his ancient iPhone a pain

I think the problem here isn't that digital recording is worse or more troublesome than tape. The problem is that he's trying to do it all on a telephone.

A proper computer would be a better choice -- even an old, cheap one. You'll need an app to record and whatnot, but on a Mac wouldn't Garage Band do the trick? Storage is local. Burn to CD is dead simple.
posted by uberchet at 8:39 AM on September 3, 2015


I might buy him a simple recorder and some tapes. I think they'd be a smash the next time he has friends over.

Much as I hate cassettes, there's still a case for the portastudio. I'm sure they're being snapped up left and right by tape fetishists, but that would be even more fun for a kid, I think, if you can find one.
posted by uncleozzy at 8:40 AM on September 3, 2015


So pretty much the one thing MiniDiscs had that really no one else did at the time was no seek time on individual tracks. Now with ubiquitous digital music that's nothing special but tapes, CDs, albums all had seek times. The one thing I ever saw that really took advantage of this was Gescom's album Minidisc. It came on a minidisc and had 88 tracks ranging from a couple of seconds to a minute. You'd play it on random and get more or less a unique, seamless composition each time.
posted by griphus at 8:43 AM on September 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


Tape is fun. It has its own aesthetic, it is easy to muck around with, and for people like me it has a huge nostalgic quotient. It's not, by modern standards, a 'good' way to reproduce music with technical proficiency, but there are many ways to enjoy it even now. I certainly regret losing my tape collection, which included a LOT of important markers in my life (old radio shows, stuff I recorded for fun at school, mixtapes, synth experiments, stuff people gave me) and which was a lot more accessible than the pile of 'to be copied' hard disks I've got knocking about that have been removed from various junked systems.

For example: I nagged my parents to death for a cassette recorder, and eventually got one that was a piano-keys/4 C-cells/electret mike mono job. I went out into the garden and recorded some bird song. Until I lost that tape (not so very long ago), I could have played it back with any of a zillion cheap devices I could get off eBay. I doubt there's going to be anything like that an 11 year old could do today that'd survive in an easily-playable format in 2056.

But absent that collection, I've no real wish to buy a deck. Heck, I don't even have anything that can play CDs any more (there may be an old discman in a box somewhere, and one of the to-be-chucked gutted PC hulks has got a drive), but if someone wants to have some fun with cassettes then go for it. It's not like shooting meth.
posted by Devonian at 8:47 AM on September 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


"I doubt there's going to be anything like that an 11 year old could do today that'd survive in an easily-playable format in 2056."

I'm not sure that's true. The broad ubiquity of several formats -- Mp3, but also formats like WAV and whatnot -- at this point probably means they'll survive far longer than you might initially expect. I suspect there are more devices capable of playing an Mp3 file today than there ever were devices capable of playing a cassette tape.

Fretting about this is a little like fretting over JPG or GIF or whatever -- those formats aren't going anywhere. They've become de facto archival formats.
posted by uberchet at 9:02 AM on September 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


When the cassette was being invented there were a lot of competing approaches. Philips invented the cassette, then took the then radical decision to just open it up. They published the specs and didn't require any licenses or royalties. It took off and dominated the portable tape market (with some competition from the Lear Jet inventor's other invention: the 8-track player).

There were a lot of competing approaches to digital disks too. But there were too many technical details and patents involved for them to do the same thing when they joined Sony in coming up with the CD (and, later, the DVD, and then Blu-Ray).
posted by eye of newt at 9:08 AM on September 3, 2015


" I look forward to the return of minidisc."

They were the best format for voice recorders for a long time, and even as Mp3s basically took over, they usually had better mics and playback options than competitively priced all-digital recorders. But I didn't ever buy one because no fucking way was I going to be stuck with another proprietary format.

(Also, is there another link for this video somewhere? I'm still learning the ropes with NoScript and it seems like Bloomberg has 50 kajillion dubious scripts they want to run, and even going through them I can't figure out what specific bit is blocking the video from playing and I don't trust them enough to just open up all of it.)
posted by klangklangston at 9:12 AM on September 3, 2015


There was a lonnnng period before CDs when your only choice in the car was a cassette, an 8-track or (god help us) actually listening to the local radio station. Yes, I said the local radio station.
posted by Mogur at 9:18 AM on September 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


Y'know what happens to twenty year old tapes? Adjacent windings that have touched each other for decades pick up a little bit of residual magnetization from each other, so your music has a little bit of both post-echo and pre-echo (or whatever the correct term for it is). Aesthetically, I prefer the crackle of an LP.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:26 AM on September 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


klangklangston: Here you go.
posted by Laura in Canada at 9:34 AM on September 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


Re: 8-track, yeah, my parents had 8-tracks in the 70s, and the ugly secret of my musical history is is not that the first music I bought for myself with my own money was Billy Joel's then-current Glass Houses, but that it was an 8-track.

Cassette quickly took over, at least for me; 8-tracks seemed like a bit of a flash in the pan at least in terms of in-car play, so by the early 80s my parents were asking me to dub their "tracks" onto cassette so they could listen in their newer cars that didn't come with 8-Track decks anymore.

My favorite 8-track story is this: when my father died in 1986, I helped to clean out his office. In a drawer of his desk, several layers down, I found a magazine folded over with part of an article on one page and a full-age ad on the other.

The first amusing thing was that the magazine was a late-1970s copy of Playboy, not something I associated with my straightlaced dad -- though it *had* been set aside in the oft-quoted mode of "just for the articles."

The second thing was the ad itself, which was for a Sony in-car cassette deck. It showed a sad-looking would-be Lothario in a convertible at a "lookout point" type parking location seated next to an annoyed looking blonde. The caption was something like "What if she wants to hear 'Light My Fire' again right now?"

Extra MeFi points if you're old enough to remember what the ad was referring to.
posted by uberchet at 9:36 AM on September 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


I bought a Minidisc player during that weird period between MP3 players coming out and actually useful MP3 players/iPods coming out. My Creative Nomad was great for what it was, but at 64MB couldn't hold much more than a single album's worth of songs. Minidiscs, on the other hand, could be swapped out so I could carry a whole day's worth of music with me and it was still smaller than the old Discman/CD folder combination. So my minidisc player got a lot more usage. But looking back, they were like cassettes in that they could only ever be a transitional technology. Physical formats were already on their way out.
posted by downtohisturtles at 9:37 AM on September 3, 2015


I mean, seriously. Snake people who fetishize tape are just being fashion victims. As an audio format, they completely blow.

GOOGLE TYPE IV METAL

Tapes were awesome. I had more fun making mix tapes and pause tapes than with any other format I can remember. It was dead simple, just an RCA cables I/O and you could record from just about any source, and go back over it until you got it just so. You could record on to them live, too. For like $5, you'd get a blank tape and there was a whole evening of fun. AND! if you didn't have a blank tape or $5? You could put some tape over the little holes at the top of some crap tape you didn't like and use it like a blank tape! Making a comparable mix CD? It was bullshit. You needed like 4 different programs to add little clips from movies or TV or to edit things out of the audio file and then mix it all together. And then to burn it.

They're prone to tape-path fuckups (keep a pencil around!), are substantially more vulnerable to environmental damage than CDs

To be honest I still have tapes that work. CDs, in the days before ripping to your computer or backing up was practicable without a significant investment in hardware, got trashed constantly. I swear they had a lifespan of no more than a year and a half before they got scratched and skipped around. And that's if your shitty CD player (Technics, dudes, you shoulda stuck to turntables) decides it wants to read the CD at all.

Also, remember trying move while listening to a CD on a discman? Shit would skip if you blinked too hard. Even in the car, you drive over a curb or a speed bump and oops! It's the plunderphonics remix now. Tapes: way fuckin better than CDs.

Ad I say all this as someone who hasn't played a tape in 15 years and no longer owns a device to play them on. Tapes were the best, CDs sucked.
posted by Hoopo at 9:41 AM on September 3, 2015 [6 favorites]


Lol. I went hunting and found the ad, which is more or less as I remembered it, except the tagline I remembered was in the text of the ad:

"One big advantage of the new Sony Model 20 is that is plays cassettes instead of cartridges. [...] What's more, if she wants to hear 'Light My Fire' right now, her fire can get lit. Right now."

That's right. Sony is promising their deck and the cassette format will help you get laid. Don Draper would be proud.
posted by uberchet at 9:42 AM on September 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


My wife and I just picked up a pretty good '90s-era Sony tape deck in perfect shape at a thrift store for $15 because we wanted to be able to listen to the mix tapes we made each other (and that others made for us), and because she wants to digitize some stuff she won't be able to find online (like recordings of she and her friends goofing off).

I don't really miss tapes as a format, but I do have fond memories of that era and actually popping the tape into the player beats listening to our old mixes in playlist form.
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:49 AM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


I record everything into the box then make mixes from my DAW directly to cassette tape (using a early 80's TEAC deck). Using the same final mix in my DAW for both digital and tape, my tape deck mix downs (as opposed to my lossless digital mix downs) have a compressed sound that brings the mids and highs together and rounds off and raises the levels of the bass frequencies as opposed to my lossless mix downs losing only the slightest bit of fidelity from the DAW playback (I probably need to be better with summing and gain stages, I'm definitely an amateur...)

So yeah, I look at tape as a super cheap compressor option for my final mixing stage. People can poke fun of other people for making mix downs to cassette, but I have like, an actual reason for doing so that's audible and musical and worth doing so, yeah I dunno. Make of it what you will.
posted by Annika Cicada at 9:50 AM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


GOOGLE TYPE IV METAL

You speak my language. Type IV Metal 100-minute tapes were my go-to for recording off CD when I was anywhere from 15-18.

I'd used the "peak level" function on my dad's CD player to find the peak level on the CD, set the record level to just shy of clipping when it found the peak (it would repeat that peak section over and over so you could set the record level), then start recording. Of course, was also careful to use "pause" when switching between albums I was recording to avoid the "clunk" between songs you'd find on far too many mixed tapes recorded by my peers.

I'd run the peak level process for each song or album I was recording. They sounded pretty darn good on my Sony Sports Walkman, with a relative minimum of tape hiss.

Although I will say there was an elevated risk of a "tape path fuckup" with the 100-minute tapes - I think the medium was a little thinner on those and could get tangled more easily.

But still! 100 minutes of non-stop tunes.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 9:53 AM on September 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


uberchet, that ad is 70s gold.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 9:58 AM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh god I am so taken in by that ad. Light my fire RIGHT NOW PLEASE.

Why. Why Sony.
posted by Annika Cicada at 10:01 AM on September 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


A 100 minute cassette is exactly the correct length to hold Pavement's Westing (by Musket and Sextant), excluding "Summer Babe" (which would reappear on...), Slanted & Enchanted, the Watery, Domestic EP, and the Trigger Cut single, excluding "Trigger Cut" (which was also on S&E).
posted by radiosilents at 10:02 AM on September 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


The type iv metal tapes are really good. With a nice 3 head deck like a nakamichi or tascam 122 it sounds close enough to a record or cd that I usually can't say.
It's kind of incredible considering the technical handicap cassette is starting from.
posted by switchbladenaif at 10:04 AM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


There's a lot going on in that ad, but one of the things I'm struck by -- aside from the creepy seductionism -- is how much text is involved. They assumed the (Playboy!) reader would actually read the text of the ad.

And there's actual information in it, too, beyond tips on getting laid. They explain the flexibility of cassettes vs. carts in language you'd use with another intelligent person, not the drooling halfwit most ads are written for today.
posted by uberchet at 10:11 AM on September 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


They assumed the (Playboy!) reader would actually read the text of the ad.

Well, they were reading it for the articles.

"If you've got 400 horsepower and things still aren't moving fast enough..."

Oh no they didn't!

"...Sony's Insta-Load feature makes it so easy to insert..."

Oh yes they did!

"...You never heard it so good."

Naughty copywriters.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 10:23 AM on September 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


Those Nakamichi decks were sweet. I listed after them way back when. I bet I could get one cheap now....

Of course, I'd never listen to it. I haven't listened to a cd in 5 years.
posted by persona au gratin at 10:27 AM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


I was just looking at the Nakamichi decks on eBay. They still look like the future.
posted by persona au gratin at 10:29 AM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Just found a Nakamichi deck, used, for $1650. That's absurd. I don't care if it cost $10k new.
posted by persona au gratin at 10:32 AM on September 3, 2015


I always made sure to record and play back with Dolby turned on - cassettes sound good then, just a little bit below LPs. CDs didn't exist yet. I never bothered with the metal bias tapes.
posted by rfs at 10:58 AM on September 3, 2015


my lossless mix downs losing only the slightest bit of fidelity from the DAW playback (I probably need to be better with summing and gain stages, I'm definitely an amateur...)

Eh, in-the-box gain staging is overrated. Sure, you should try not to clip anywhere, but unless you're running plugins that are sensitive to it (stuff with analog modeling, mostly), it's not really a big deal. You shouldn't clip your master, though; that's about the only thing that should make your bounced mix sound different from the playback. And in most cases, you can just turn down the master fader until you're not clipping and you're good. Or hell, run a limiter on the 2-bus for safety if it sounds okay.

Anyway, if you like the sound of your mixes into a cassette, rock on... it definitely has a distinct sound which, strangely enough, is almost "modern" again, if only briefly.
posted by uncleozzy at 11:20 AM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


My guess has always been that current cassette tape demand is purely about the object and not its function. Lots of small touring acts in underground music will press them to have an interesting object to sell without having the overhead cost of pressing vinyl.

I also saw this yesterday: a limited box set of Braid's catalog on cassette. It's nostalgia on nostalgia.
posted by ndfine at 11:21 AM on September 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


I still have my cassette collection, and a couple of devices that will play them. A Radio Shack auto tape deck was my most prized possession, and I moved it to three cars before I finally got a car that had one in it already. It was such a huge deal to be able to listen to an album without the inevitable weak tracks, by recording my own tape version. Having that thing in my car was the end of radio-listening for me.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 11:32 AM on September 3, 2015


My rationale behind the "trying to put my shit on tape" attempt is exactly that people would be far more likely to spend €5 on a tape with a bandcamp download code than just a business card, postcard or even small poster with one in the back.
posted by lmfsilva at 11:35 AM on September 3, 2015


"Warm analog sound" always meant a tube amplifier to me. It didn't matter what source was plugged in to it (turntable cartridge, 8-track, cassette, CD...).

At least with digital, we can play new storage formats with the same device. No need to throw out the old and reinvest in new players/decks and get all of your music in the new format!

I probably purchased hundreds of albums on vinyl, then again on cassette, then again on CD...now again on .mp3/4/aac Never again!
posted by CrowGoat at 11:45 AM on September 3, 2015


Back in the early 80s, my college had a store near campus that rented out albums for a few bucks, and also sold blank tapes--IIRC, they were even the kind that had rounded-off corners on the cases. It was basically our version of Napster.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:47 PM on September 3, 2015


I dunno, I like working on tape because it sounds terrible, and not just for all of the "analog warmth" or lo-fi reasons. It keeps me from being too perfectionist about getting the right drum sound and gets me to actually produce something. Who cares if it sounds great? Who cares if the guitar part is a little off beat? A finished song is way better than a little stub on a harddrive somewhere - working with the little portastudio helps me with that.

Also the lack of fine-grained multitracking and cue-in means I have to be a lot more on with my actual performances, and I've been getting noticeably better at that as well. Just to say that it's not all about the cool physical and sonic aspects - tape helps me think a bit differently about the process of making music.
posted by taromsn at 1:25 PM on September 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


Back in the early 80s, my college had a store near campus that rented out albums for a few bucks

I don't know why there wasn't more of this. When I lived in Japan 10 years back, the video rental chain Tsutaya used to rent music CDs, and yes, I was told it was pretty customary for people to duplicate the CDs. But video game rental was apparently not a thing, whereas back home it was the norm. I figure there must be some explanation for this involving all kinds of copyright law I don't even really understand in my own language, let alone Japanese.
posted by Hoopo at 1:36 PM on September 3, 2015


I get that kids suddenly have a hard-on for cassettes, but where the hell are they playing them? Cars haven't had tape decks in over a decade.

And even when they do, they tend to be mistaken for defective iPhone docks.
posted by acb at 2:22 PM on September 3, 2015


"I probably purchased hundreds of albums on vinyl, then again on cassette, then again on CD...now again on .mp3/4/aac Never again!"

Someone once said that every audio format is dead the day it is introduced. They just have varying life-spans. I often think of Tommy Lee Jones in "Men In Black" where he's checking out some new alien tech and mutters "Looks like I've gotta buy the "White Album" again!".
posted by TDavis at 2:28 PM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Cars haven't had tape decks in over a decade.

But my car has one! Oh wait, it's 12 years old.
posted by drezdn at 2:28 PM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, drezdn, my ol' reliable truck still has a cassette deck and I still make tapes to use in it. I also have a cassette/adaptor thingie that I can plug my ipod into and use that. Truth be told, no matter what format you use in a truck, the whole concept of hi-fidelity is pretty much moot.
posted by TDavis at 2:34 PM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


I had Skinny Puppy's Remission on cassette. Their music gets pretty weird, but man the B-side of this album was weird. It almost sounded like the entire thing was backmasked. But whatever; I was into weird electronic music, and smoking a goodly quantity of weed, so I was into it.

Many, many years later, I learned that there was a defective production run of that album on which the entire B-side was, in fact, backward. My beloved avant-industrial tunage was just some hungover manufacturing plant employee's fuckup.

I still can't listen to the "right" versions of the tracks on the second half of that album without thinking they sound completely wrong, though.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 2:40 PM on September 3, 2015 [11 favorites]


We had a 2005 Mercedes wagon (shut up) that was modern enough to lack a tape deck, but not modern enough to have any provision AT ALL to play music from an external device. It was CD or radio, and that's all. No iPod or iPhone integration, and not even an aux jack. We really wished for a tape deck, because at least then we'd have had a decent signal path.
posted by uberchet at 2:44 PM on September 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


As far as I know, the last buggy whip maker in the US is Westfield Whip (founded 1884), which still makes a line of carriage and driving whips in addition to the more popular dressage whips and riding crops.

I hope they are riding the 50 Shades of Gray wave to success.

We had a 2005 Mercedes wagon (shut up) that was modern enough to lack a tape deck, but not modern enough to have any provision AT ALL to play music from an external device. It was CD or radio, and that's all. No iPod or iPhone integration, and not even an aux jack. We really wished for a tape deck, because at least then we'd have had a decent signal path.

I had a Subaru that was the same, which got very old on long drives.

I still have a box of tapes, but I haven't owned a way to play them in years. I am slowly coming to terms with the fact that I should probably keep the very few with real sentimental value and just toss the rest, because I know I will never listen to them again.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:27 PM on September 3, 2015


There is nothing about magnetic tape (of any kind) that makes it sound better than vinyl or digital. There isn't actually any so called "analog warmth", there.

What the retrofetishists are hearing is tape bias noise/hiss, wow, flutter and general tape warping and transport issues. The bandwidth of a tape is severely clipped and distorted, too.

What they're also hearing is a recording medium messy enough to hide errors in their gain path, and warped enough to hide/modulate errors in the performance, with the added bonus of a clipped/distorted bandwidth/spectrum that gives a recording a fake "mastered" feel that really should just be a hi-pass, lo-pass EQ to bring a recording closer to RIAA spectrum specifications.

This clipped spectrum response is why most tape sounds "warm". It's distorted and tends to be hot in the midranges, because it's not at all flat.

There are audio production plugins that can recreate these effects for digital recording/production whether at home or in a studio.

Meanwhile, there used to be and there still is hardware and software tools designed (almost entirely for pro studio use) to detect, analyze and remove the artifacts of tape from a recording. Like, NASA grade signal processing to get rid of the sound of tape.

Further, electronics manufacturers collectively spent billions of if not trillions of dollars to build tape machines (pro and consumer) with the lowest possible distortion they could manage, including noise reduction schemes (like Dolby's) and advanced tape transport techniques, including the use of multiple playback or recording heads.

And this tape distortion/noise is why there was a revival in (I think) the 1970s about "direct to disk" recording, which is how they originally used to make records before analog magnetic tape recording, mastering and post-production was a common thing.

The problem with direct-to-disk recording is that it's essentially limited to live, one take recordings of limited length, because you can't pack as many tracks per inch into a live direct-to-disk recording as you can with a carefully calculated RIAA-limited master.

The costs were also much higher, and the runs of direct-to-disk recordings were much smaller, because once you used up your master recording lacquer making stampers, the original master recording was basically lost to physics and history.

If you really, really want "analog warmth" in your pre-recorded music or your self-produced and recorded music, just record digital at high bit depths and rates, like 96k at 24 bit. Master and produce as usual, then either send stems through a tube preamp or record using tube preamps, track inputs live through tube pre/amps, or use tube amps in your final output mastering chain.

I remember recording on 1/4", 1" and even compact cassettes, and I've done full on digital home recording.

I can get a measurable standard metric fuckton more "warmth" out of a live recording with a pocket stereo field recorder and an SD card than I ever could out of a beat up old SM58 and any given tape drive.

For fuck's sake. With any good mic, a clean gainpath and a digital recording solution with a good ADC/DAC chain you can record a cat purring from across a quiet room and it sounds like a giant and very warm and fuzzy cat suddenly crawled into your speakers and may be threatening to sit down on your house and crush it.

And by "any good mic" I mean you can get a mic that good in a cheap ZOOM portable field recorder that fits in your pocket. Throw one of those things in a shockmount stand and you've basically got not just one but often four different large diaphragm mics, all set up in perfect 45 or 90 degree XY field recording patterns for, oh, less than $100. Sometimes less than $50.

And not only will they record straight, raw PCM at high definition rates internally with no moving parts, but you can usually to an SPDIF or ToSLink optical/digital connection to bypass the analog patch cables entirely.

Now take that high resolution 96k/24bit recording of a cat purring, crank the gain way up (you have an intense amount of overhead at 24 bit, like from the tiniest whispering feathers to the loudest rocket launches loud kind of overhead) play it back through a good DAC with a proper clock on some nice monitors - Say, the Mackie HR 824s, ADAMs or KRKs ...

...and you are now standing so close to the pinnacle of high quality sound, that the only way to climb higher would be to drop hundreds of thousands on super high end bespoke speakers, a dedicated and properly baffled listening room and tube/monoblock amplifiers hand crafted out of unobtanium, and you're still really only going to gain fractions of a percentage point for however many thousands of dollars spent.

I've heard and played with those kinds of sound systems. They're nice, but not half a million dollars nice. Yeah, no, I don't care if they're hand-carved from teak. MDF or marine/instrument plywood is just fine for speakers.

I'd rather have a nice 2.1 set of ADAMs and spend the rest on vintage analog synths or a whole lot of computers and drive space to make my own music.

Because if you really crave analog warmth, you should hear an old Sequential Circuits Pro-One recorded digitally or played live through some decently nice speakers, like ADAMs. It doesn't really get any warmer than that.

Obviously, I don't miss tapes. I don't miss hauling around a clunky "portable" tape deck the size of a small toaster that ate batteries like Cookie Monster eating cookies. I don't miss carrying around a giant stack of tapes and still having only 10 to choose from. I don't miss my friend's car with all of the footwells and door pockets filled with tapes, nor the terror of having a driver digging around while driving looking for just the right tape. I don't miss broken, fucked up tapes getting eaten by tape machines.
posted by loquacious at 6:44 PM on September 3, 2015 [10 favorites]


Thanks, Laura in Canada.
posted by klangklangston at 6:47 PM on September 3, 2015


All you anti-cassette grumps are probably why my previous post about the band's Le Cassette's album wasn't very popular ;)
posted by rebent at 6:55 PM on September 3, 2015


There is nothing about magnetic tape (of any kind) that makes it sound better than vinyl or digital. There isn't actually any so called "analog warmth", there.

What the retrofetishists are hearing is tape bias noise/hiss, wow, flutter and general tape warping and transport issues. The bandwidth of a tape is severely clipped and distorted, too.


Well, yeah—when it comes to technical specs, there's absolutely nothing redeeming about the cassette format. But who actually champions cassettes, of all things, as a medium for high-fidelity sound reproduction (for whatever definition of "high-fidelity" you choose)?

People like tapes, and other obsolete / lo-fi formats (such as Brownie cameras, and the aesthetic of 80s VHS, and 8-bit video games) because of the emotions that those machines, and their distinctive audiovisual signatures, evoke. Because they remind people of their childhood. Or, if they're too young to have experienced those formats directly, because they evoke a mythic bygone era, so close to their own lived experience but just out of reach—a world whose traces they've seen all around them, in old books and TV shows, in odds-and-ends boxes at flea markets, etc.

People like these formats because they aren't perfect reproductions of the source material—they each have their own distinct pattern of imperfection, and that gives them character. It's the same reason that hearing a Victrola in a period movie evokes the era so vividly.

If anyone actually says they like cassettes because of their "analog warmth", it's probably just a clumsy way of saying "hearing this makes me feel things". I don't indulge in this sort of nostalgia as often as I used to, but I certainly understand it.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 7:26 PM on September 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


trillions of dollars

Come on.
posted by Sokka shot first at 8:19 PM on September 3, 2015


Oh man, FirstPost. Well done.
posted by benito.strauss at 8:39 PM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


CRAZY. I know this place fairly well. They are two blocks from where I currently work, down the street from where I live, and they were where I got my reel-to-reels back when I ran a studio.

One thing that did carry them through many years was the small to mid-size church market: sermons on tape are apparently a big deal. I've also been told another part of their market had to do with the fact you could put Braille on a cassette housing, and supposedly for a while there they were sitting on one of the last supplies of BASF 2" tape (a mainstay of professional studios).

I'm also starting to think that Springfield must be hitting the highest FPP to population ratio of any city on Metafilter.
posted by sourwookie at 10:03 PM on September 3, 2015


Man, thank you for this.

I used to tape the Grateful Dead in the 80's and 90's, so I *still* have a lot of cassette gear. For recording, my go-to gear was a Sony WM-D6C running Maxell Metal 100's ( Dolby C ) for the first set and 110's for the second. Sometimes the odd Sony Ceramic Shell, and a whole lot of AA batteries. ( 4 per set, just to make sure. Then they went into flashlights, other tape players, kids' toys... ) and a Marantz PMD-430 with Maxell's also, but DBX encoded ( We used to buy blanks by the case of 10 boxes of 10 each. 100 at a pop... ) ( and the 430 took 3 c-cells IIRC ).

Flipping 3 decks during a break between songs... Staging the 2nd set flips so that if it's long into drumz, you don't get burned ( Yeah, I got the WHOLE 2nd set in June of 95 in Albany because I flipped one of them at the first opportunity, like after the 2nd song... Then it was almost 45 minutes until the next chance.... Ah, the memories... )
posted by mikelieman at 10:21 PM on September 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


Oh, and I probably have a few thousand Max Points around here somewhere... And an ashtray full of the record-protect tabs....
posted by mikelieman at 10:22 PM on September 3, 2015


I still have hundreds of air check cassettes that I made of my reggae radio show over the course of 19 years.

Every once in a while I still play them in the tape deck of my 16 year old VW Bug and they have held up surprisingly well. (Even the tape that's been in the car since 2007 through all those Austin summers. It's a black car, too. Gets up to 140F in there regularly.)
posted by a humble nudibranch at 11:30 PM on September 3, 2015


I still have hundreds of air check cassettes that I made of my reggae radio show over the course of 19 years.

Probably spinning records, many of which were never released on CD, and are lost to our cultural heritage excepting the few hardy souls creating flacs from their own collections.

Some of my tapes don't have online equivalents, and some of them were gems. ( 25th Anniversary TRIPS festival hosted by Wavy with The Dinosaurs, for example... ) that are part of my perpetual to-do list... Oh well, archive.org and panicstream fill the gap and sat radio does not suck, so I'm not exactly deprived...
posted by mikelieman at 1:12 AM on September 4, 2015


Kind of surprised I didn't see Steve Albini anywhere in the video, even just hiding in the back.
posted by klangklangston at 9:06 AM on September 4, 2015


There are pretty damn good tape distortion plugins now but hey an old tape player is cheap and there's something to be said for the unpredictability.
posted by atoxyl at 12:49 PM on September 4, 2015


For the complete tape distortion experience I hope that plug-in also simulates getting the Type I / Type II setting wrong.
posted by benito.strauss at 1:16 PM on September 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


For the complete tape distortion experience I hope that plug-in also simulates getting the Type I / Type II setting wrong.

You can mismatch noise reduction schemes! I think the switch for different types of tape would mostly set bias and EQ and stuff like that? Those are adjustable individually over a pretty wide range. There are probably other good tape emulators out there but U-He is a fantastic company.
posted by atoxyl at 2:56 PM on September 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


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