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back to article Happy 50th birthday, Compact Cassette: How it struck a chord for millions

On 30 August, 1963, a new bit of sound recording tech that was to change the lifestyle of millions was revealed at the Berlin Radio Show. The adoption of the standard that followed led to a huge swath of related technological applications that had not been envisaged by its maker; for Philips, the unveiling of its new Compact …

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Fascinating article

Thank you :-) The Cassette Tape was as much a part of my youth landscape as smartphones are now, how times change

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Unhappy

Re: Fascinating article

Granted cassettes were the bomb for early copying of CDs but when it came to tape drives for computers they were pants. Kids today have no idea what its like for a game to literally take 15 minutes to load. So I guess at my age its a bit of love hate with the tech. I am sure if I would have owned more 8 tracks or lugged around a reel to reel I would loved cassettes more for how compact they were.

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Re: Fascinating article

Or if you had a Commodore 64, 15 minutes to try and load a game, followed by a crash and much fiddling with the alignment.

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Re: Fascinating article

But I'm still awaiting the explanation of how every tape left in a car for more than a fortnight could mutate into a 'Best of Queen' compilation.

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Re: Fascinating article

Or the C64 '4-in-1' games, that seemed great value, but inevitably the game you wanted to play was the 2nd on the tape.

There was a way of using the tape counter to skip to a certain point, but I found it to be always off slightly.

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Re: Fascinating article

I recently retrieved my C64 from my parents' garage where it had sat for many years, along with many cassette tapes (and some discs for my "Enhancer 2000" disc drive from Evesham Micros. Why they felt the need to name it like a sexual aide I was never sure...)

I connected the Commodore up to my 42" TV (a little different to the 13-incher it was previously connected to), stuck in my Daley Thompson's Decathlon cassette, and am happy to report it loaded first time.

In this 'test' the cassette certainly showed good reliability over nearly 3 decades.

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Re: Fascinating article

Yes great article, very interesting to those of a certain age or just anyone curious.

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Remote control

Those remote control sockets came into their own with home computers. Many Reg readers will remember the little "click" as the tape was stopped/started by your Dragon/Oric/Speccy. Actually not sure about the speccy.

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Re: Fascinating article

I agree that loading software from tape was horribly slow and frustrating and something I'll never be nostalgic for. (*)

But to be fair, the format was never designed for that. It was adopted in the mid-70s as a much more affordable alternative to disk drives and the like (which were *expensive* for home users at that time).

I wonder why the systems that required dedicated decks anyway (e.g. the Atari 8-bit and Commodore 8-bit formats) didn't run the tape at two or three times speed to allow improved frequency response. (**) It'd still have been compatible with standard commercial cassette duplication facilities. The Atari 8-bit had a "stereo" system that could play audio from one channel while data loaded from the other, but IMHO it would have been a good idea to allow both channels to be used for data (i.e. increased throughput).

(*) My Atari 800XL was *horribly* slow when it came to loading from cassette, probably because the original version- the Atari 400 and 800- came out in the era of much smaller memories (i.e. 8 or 16K) and it didn't matter as much for short programs. Excruciating when you were trying to load something that used 48K or 64K though. It was 100 times worse when you got the infamous "LOAD ERROR - Try Other Side".

(**) I appreciate that cassettes weren't designed to be run at high speeds, so there would have been limits. But apparently the late-80s "Pixelvision" camcorder- designed for kids, and based on standard Compact Cassettes- got away with running the cassette *8* times faster to get the necessary bandwidth!

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Re: Remote control

The Spectrum (and other ZX machines - even the +2) did not have computer tape control. The BBC Micro, Master and Acorn Electron certainly did.

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@asdf

It wasn't that bad! Many people already owned tape recorders, so cassettes offered a free and pretty reliable way of recording data. C15 for your programs, C60 for storing 40 games on one tape, indexed by tape count

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Re: Fascinating article

Or why you still see the spewed remains of a cassette round many a traffic light even today....

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Re: Remote control

The BBC and Electron had the tape remote too, but it was a 2.5mm jack on those.

I don't remember having the remote as part of the 5-pin DIN, but most of my tape decks had 3.5mm audio in and out, and 2.5mm remote.

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Re: Remote control

The tape control was only on 7-pin DIN.

7-pin DIN to 5-pin + 2.5mm remote cables were common, tape decks that had 7-pin DIN sockets were rare.

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Just remember...

...home taping is killing music.

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Holmes

Re: Just remember...

When this slogan and its icon first appeared, it was pointed out that the skull'n'crossbones was almost but not quite a blatant rip-off of artwork which had appeared some months previously in (IIRC) a Sunday Times article. An early example of 'do as I say not as I do'.

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Pirate

Re: Just remember...

Home taping is spreading music.

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Re: Just remember...

No. Home taping KILLED music.

From free concerts in the park, financed by record sales, to punkjunk in just 5 years.

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Re: Just remember...

Bow Wow Wow:

C30 C60 C90 Go

off the radio I get a constant flow

hit it, pause it, record it and play

turn it, rewind, and rub it away

....and yet, music survived, contrary to the prophecies of the BPI.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Just remember...

"Home taping is killing record industry profits! We left this side blank so you can help."

-- Dead Kennedys, "In God We Trust, Inc."

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Re: Just remember...

>...home taping is killing music.

Thank god - otherwise we would have had the Spice Girls and TakeTaht

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Anonymous Coward

Re Just Remember

Home F**king is killing prostitution !

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I remember my dad winning an in-car cassette player, which I had to fit. Then he joined the local cassette library (remember them?) to get music. That led to us getting a music centre, and I was really chuffed when I was able to buy a combined radio/casette for my car some years later!

I also remember some of the creative ideas cassette recorder companies adopted to save costs. Permanent magnet erase heads, what a nightmare! The hiss got louder with every recording.

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Anyone else remember

Printthrough?

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Re: Anyone else remember

Yes - Even on 2" 24 track tape - which was always stared tails out so that the print through would be from behind the content rather than precluding it. The more you saturated the tape the bigger the problem.

Life was simpler when it was analogue.

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Re: Anyone else remember

I think autocorrect got in there - you meant 'preceding'.

One thing you missed was that by winding the tape back it reduced the print through after storage.

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Anonymous Coward

Ah yes the cassette tape

How I wonderfully remember yards of jammed tape around the pinch roller meaning you couldn't eject the effin thing.

How the music industry loved it when you had to go back to the shop to buy another cassette at full price as your old one got damaged.

All I can say is thank the heavens for MP3/FLAC - saved me a bloody fortune.

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Pint

Re: Ah yes the cassette tape

Right after I graduated collete, when I could finally afford a decent component stereo deck, the first thing I did was to buy a couple of 10-packs of chromium oxide cassettes and dub every LP I owned that was still in decent shape. I continued buying vinyl well into the '80s, and immediately dubbing them to cassette to use in my Walkman and my car stereo. The only albums I owned on pre-recorded cassettes were given to me as Christmas or birthday gifts; they never did sound quite as good as the chrome Maxell dubs from vinyl.

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Treat them with respect and they *didn't* do that (well, not often)

I got a cheap cassette deck for Christmas when I was 7, and later a Matsui Midi system (*). Cassettes were my dominant listening medium for over a decade, and I continued to use them for several years after that. Yet, I can count on the fingers of one hand (at most) the number of times I had problems with unspooled tape, (**) and I never lost any altogether.

Some of my most heavily listened to tapes were still in listenable condition almost 20 years later, with only occasional muffled patches and dropouts.

Maybe this is because I treated my cassettes with respect, putting them back in their cases when not in use (and to be fair, my Dad would occasionally clean the tape heads, which probably helped).

If people had treated LPs as badly as they treated cassettes (e.g. left lying out of their cases under a car seat gathering dust or exposed to the midday sun), they would have been rendered unplayable. I'm not saying the format was perfect, but it does deserve a lot more respect than it gets in that respect.

(*) Was going to say "Hi-Fi", but I'm not sure something with shoebox-sized speakers qualifies as "high-fidelity" ;-)

(**) Did have PITA problems with wobble until I realised my habit of constantly stopping, starting and rewinding the tape was causing unevenly-wound "ridges" to build up which were easily removed by fast forwarding the entire length of the tape.

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To the moon and back?

I daren't think how many miles I did between home and which ever RAF station I was stationed at the time were accompanied by the scatter of cassettes on the passenger seat / floor / actually in the box. Certainly enough to know exactly which track on which tape was where the tape had stretched with customary "fall in audio quality".

Thank you Phillips for helping provide the soundtrack some very happy days.

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Alert

Four page article on cassette tapes..

and not one mention of the ubiquitous plastic biro?

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Re: Four page article on cassette tapes..

Biro Pen...didn't Shakespeare invent that?

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Re: Four page article on cassette tapes..

Some pencils worked just as well...

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Horrible, horrible, horrible!

One of the worst bits of consumer technology of the 20th Century; I should know, I spent a large amount of my tiny teenage and student disposable income through the 70s and 80s on useless tape-mangling pieces of electronic crap. Good riddance.

[is led away from the soapbox with flecks of foam dripping from mouth and a deranged look in the eyes]

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Re: Horrible, horrible, horrible!

Maybe you should have spent a bit more on something that worked. I had plenty of shitty tape recorders when I was a kid so I know what you're talking about. In my teens I eventually forked out on a decent tape deck and it was worth every penny. Dolby S and everything. I even bought type 4 cassettes sometimes.

It now takes pride of place in my attic.

It was a great solution in its day, and its popularity backed that up.

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Re: Horrible, horrible, horrible!

Nope, sorry. I've owned reasonably decent compact cassette kit, and as far as I'm concerned the format had only one redeeming feature---portability. Apart from that from the consumer's [and I use the word deliberately] point of view it was crap. From a capitalist seller's point of view, however, it was a wet dream as people had to regularly replace ruined tapes---perfect 'disposable/limited lifespan' product with a high profit margin.

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Re: Horrible, horrible, horrible!

Couldn't disagree with you more. Never bothered with buying prerecorded cassettes. I bought vinyl instead. I took advantage of my Dad's decent record player and recorded the first play of every album to cassette. Isn't that what most sensible people did? I never had any problems with mangled tapes, warped tapes or anything else.

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Re: Horrible, horrible, horrible! @pPPPP

Yep, decent player essential. Sony Walkman Pro served me well as a car player in mid 1980s -- installed an amp behind the blank for car radio -- nothing visible to steal.

Also as main home recorder, I seldom used it as a "Walk"man because it was so heavy but these were a favourite with journalists. Main virtue was hub drive (no wow and no belt to fail) and decent headphone which I still use with a Sony MP3 player and an iPod.

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Happy

Re: Horrible, horrible, horrible! - Have an upvote!

...for your acknowledged foam-fleckery, even as I deplore your lack of analogue love...

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Re: Horrible, horrible, horrible!

You'll never have heard - or owned - a Nakamichi then.

Genius engineering. Lovely sound.

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@TheOtherHobbes - Re: Horrible, horrible, horrible!

Right, I've still got my Nakamichi 680 and it still works too.

P.S.: I presume the 'first' Hobbes had 'T' begin his initials. ;-)

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@ RobHib

I still have my Nakamichi BX-300 - which served me as a mastering deck for mixdowns from my Tascam Portastudios, of which I still have three - one with Dolby and two with DBX, all for archiving purposes.

After having had a Tascam 244 and, especially, a 144, I considered the 246 to be a luxurious machine.

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@Turtle - Re: @ RobHib

This type of gear classically illustrates the development and end-evolution of a technology. It well demonstrates the extent of the progress made in cassette technology over a 20-year period. Clearly, the cassette wasn't going to evolve much further than this but it was damn good audio medium by the end of the 1970s.

As with much of the hi-fi gear of that period, it was remarkably well built and engineered. Back then, it seemed that Japanese industry generally put its reputation on the line for quality. Not only do I still have the Naka 680 but also Sony, Pioneer, Yamaha and other audio gear from that period. In fact, much of my digital equipment still gets played through this 40-year-old gear into a pair of Tannoy Monitor Gold dual concentrics.

It mightn't be Rolls Royce by today's top-line standards but it's still pretty good. What's truly remarkable is the longevity of the equipment. Most of it has never been serviced and works well, and in the case of recorders, only heads have been replaced and the occasional alignment with a standards tape. Compare this with today's throwaway computer market.

BTW: useless factoid, I actually met Nakamichi himself during a promotional tour and demo of the 680. I suppose it was that that convinced this cassettes-for-hifi skeptic to acquire a 680 several years later.

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Ah me ...

Still remember those early Sony boxes with the dots. And how many C64 Turbotaped games could you fit on a C120 ...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Ah me ...

The C64 casette decks were really good for wiping old music tapes before doing a tape-to-tape recording of a cassette copy somebody had lent me. (Which I would do while out of the room because although my double cassette player would do tape to tape it would read from its crappy microphone while doing it.)

Oh, and I used to buy Sony D90s. C120s always seemed more likely to get mangled and unreadable..

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And no mention of Sunday evenings spent recording the top 40 off Radio 1... perfecting the art of starting and stopping the recording to avoid the ramblings of the DJ. Wonder how many tapes were out there with the first and last 10 seconds of every song missing?

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the art of starting and stopping...

Oh, man, yeah. I can't describe the joy I felt when i was finally able to afford a decent dubbing deck, so I could just roll on an entire set on one of the two really sweet "alt" stations we had around here -- commercials, station breaks and all -- then copy down the sets as the DJ read them off, pick out my faves, and use the "B" deck to build a mixtape of all the choice bits from several weeks' worth of my favorite weirdo/obscuro rock/jazz/reggae programs.

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Being away a lot I had a machine programmed to record John Peel's show. When I got home I'd edit it down to another one.... Oh happy days indeed.

(yes I realise editing John Peel is tantamount to sacrilege but he did play some strange stuff at times...)

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The tape is dead,

And good riddance!

As an older if not wiser observer, I can appreciate the wizardry that went into making tape recorders work. However, as a consumer, my memory of tapes is of being infuriated that my commodore 64 would refuse to read the damn program which I'd saved to tape a few moments earlier.

On a separate note, I don't recall Apple having much to do with the death of Sony's minidisk players. IIRC, it was that minidisks were expensive compared to CDs, it ran on the "yesterday's news" of magnetic storage, but it did come with bonus DRM. The final nail in the minidisk's coffin was the release of the mp3 format which was DRM free and increased, by about an order of magnitude, the number of songs people could store, back when the file size of a song was a big deal*.

* I remember really getting to like Roxette's album, "The Look" in the early 90s. Because after ripping the songs as a bunch of WAVs, I couldn't fit much else on my HDD.

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