back to article ZX Spectrum cassette player lost? There's an app for that

Those with a working ZX Spectrum in their cupboards but lacking a working cassette deck with which to load programs need fret no more: there's an app for that. The app in question, Speccy Tape for iOS, allows users to access the World of Spectrum database of abandonware. Once loaded into an iOS device, it then plays back the …

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  1. David Glasgow

    Love it

    For two reasons

    1/ it gives me a chance to dig my Speccy out

    2/ there is no way Eadon can comment FAIL MICROSOFT from his spittle flecked screen.....

    1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Give him an hour or two to wake up

      I have confidence in Eadon's ability to embarrass peguinistas everywhere.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Windows

      Re: Love it

      +1

      4 2

      The post is required, and must contain letters.

    3. hplasm Silver badge
      Meh

      Re: Love it

      But it's iOS!!

      Er, FAIL?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Love it

        Which means it will work. With an Android tablet you have no idea if the output volume will be sufficient as it may vary from each model, some being more weedy with their headphone output than others.

        1. Graham Dawson

          Re: Love it

          Oh look, it's eadon's mirror-universe counterpart.

          1. hplasm Silver badge
            Happy

            Re: mirror-universe counterpart.

            With evil goatee....

            1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

              Re: mirror-universe counterpart.

              Ho will that look alongside Eadon's no doubt fullsome neckbeard?

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Love it

          "Which means it will work. With an Android tablet you have no idea if the output volume will be sufficient as it may vary from each model, some being more weedy with their headphone output than others."

          What can you say about this stupidity? Other than how fucking stupid!

          Bloody iPhone owners, send 'em back to school.

    4. Rob Moir

      Re: Love it

      I'm sure he'll be along as soon as he's worked out that Sinclair sold the spectrum without open-sourcing the rom contents.

  2. Neil C Burns
    Go

    I have a old Acorn Electron, and have all my games saved as wav's. they are also on my s3's memory card and with the audio lead, I can load from my phone to the Acorn with no problem. First tried a few years ago with my nokia n80 with 100% sucess.

    1. Toxteth O'Gravy

      Same here, but I use an old MP3 player I had at the back of a drawer. Don't need an app for this.

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Midi

        about twenty years ago I tried converting stuff to Midi - it seemed to work but I never thought to keep all that - I've still got the MPU401card somewhere.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Midi

          MIDI? are you sure?

          You tried converting game data into MIDI? you do realise that MIDI is musical notes, control changes etc.

          Okay, you could be clever and store data in SysEx packets, but how on earth would you convert that back to audio for a speccy?

          1. Tom 7 Silver badge

            Re: Midi

            I dont know if you know but the spectrum stored data on cassette as audio frequencies or ...notes - use midi to recreate those notes on a synthesiser, feed the audio signal to the spectrum and the spectrum cant tell the difference. And you dont get wow and flutter with midi!

            I may have had to slow down the spectrums audio conversion but this was a long time ago .

            1. Colin Miller

              Re: Midi

              I don't know about the Speccy, but the Dragon used one tone for a 0 bit, and a second tone of double the frequency for the '1'. Both bits were of the same duration. As long as MIDI allows the representation of pure sine waves at arbitrary frequencies, then you can MIDI it.

              1. Simon Harris Silver badge

                Re: Midi

                I think as well as getting the frequenciess right you probably also need to make sure that the sine waves are syncronised so that each bit starts on the beginning of a cycle of a 1200Hz or 2400Hz tone (well, for the Acorn tape interface that used the Kansas City tones anyway - not sure whether the Spectrum used the same frequencies)

  3. AndrueC Silver badge
    Boffin

    Strange to say I had to do the same thing in the 90s. I worked for a data recovery company and a tape came in from a suspected kiddie fiddler. I already had quite a lot of knowledge of the 'format' because when I was at college I modified the ROM code to see just how fast the routines could reliably go.

    It's actually a very simple format. You just need to time the interval between signal transitions and differentiate between long and short. Pretty much just Morse Code for computers. The tricky bit for us was that it turned out to be an adventure game (featuring bronze tanned boys which was where I stopped reading it) written in BASIC and I had to find a table of tokens and codes to complete the job.

    Rather amusingly at the time we were trying to develop off-spindle HDD platter reading and had an expensive analyser rig in the office. So there was one guy trying to come to terms with MFM recording with signal analysers and there was me decoding Spectrum tapes. At least I completed what I was working on :)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      There were kiddie porn text adventures for the Spectrum? Bloody hell, I thought I'd heard it all, this being the Internet.

  4. ForthIsNotDead
    Happy

    HOW DARE YOU!

    ...so we've not been able to test the app to see if it meets the Speccy's notoriously finicky audio ingestion requirements.

    RIGHT! You and me, on the playground, by the history block at lunch-time. You're 'AVING it mate!

    Finiky audio ingestion requirements! Pah! The old Speccy was a BREEZE to load tapes on compared to the Vic20 and the C64! Pah! Don't get me started! (It was also easy to copy the tapes with my Dad's Amstrad tape-to-tape deck, not so the C64 tapes with their crappy turbo loaders (cos the built in loader was so shit!))

    Ohhhh.... I get it.... You're an ORIC owner, aren't you!

    Naaa na na naaaa na!!! Simon owns an Oric! Simon owns an Oric!

    See you at playtime, pleb!

    :-)

    1. Mint Sauce
      Devil

      Re: HOW DARE YOU!

      R Tape loading error, 0:1

    2. AndrueC Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: HOW DARE YOU!

      The old Speccy was a BREEZE to load tapes on compared to the Vic20 and the C64!

      Would have been better with some more parity though. I loved the way the BBC format was stored in blocks. If one failed you knew fairly soon and could rewind. With the Speccy all you had was a final byte(**) which (IIRC) made the total either even or odd. So you could churn your way through over 40k of data and have it fail just because the very first byte got blatted.

      Firebird produced a block based loader which was nice.

      My favourite though was the Fairlight loader. They dispensed with the lead-in. So you got a normal short load to get the reader in memory. Then silence for 10 seconds. Then the screeching started and the screen loaded from the top down(*). Seriously cool. And when loading was complete it had polyphonic sound coming from the piezoelectric buzzer. Clever stuff considering the only thing you could do with that speaker was move it in or out by writing 0 or 1 to a port 254.

      (*)Which took a little bit of effort because the in-memory layout was a bit odd. Split vertically into three blocks then within each block the top row of each group of eight rows, followed by the second row of each group. The ROM used mathematics to work out the address of the byte for a pixel coordinate but I worked out the logic and managed to shave a minute amount of time off it by bit shifting. Happy days.

      (**)Pretty sure that's right. If you saved 100 bytes of data the tape contained 808 bits - 800 bits of data and 8 bits of 'parity'. Oh the anticipation of loading a game from a dodgy tape :)

      1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

        Re: HOW DARE YOU!

        I actually wrote a couple of utilities so that you could load and save data in blocks just like the Beeb: http://mdfs.net/Software/Spectrum/Coding/MCODE1.TXT

    3. TheVogon Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Re: HOW DARE YOU!

      That was because someone with half a brain at Commodore decided that instead of using a checksum, they would write 2 entire copies of all data to the tape!

      And if one copy was corrupt it would fail to load - without any option to select the other copy!

    4. Annihilator
      Windows

      Re: HOW DARE YOU!

      "The old Speccy was a BREEZE to load tapes on compared to the Vic20 and the C64! Pah! Don't get me started! (It was also easy to copy the tapes with my Dad's Amstrad tape-to-tape deck, not so the C64 tapes with their crappy turbo loaders (cos the built in loader was so shit!))"

      Really?... Don't recall ever having a C64 game fail to load, even with copies of copies that were so endemic at school! Spectrums on the other hand I recall being very pernickity at what would load.

      1. Anonymous Coward 15
        Joke

        Re: HOW DARE YOU!

        When I were a lad, we had to hand-punch our programs with an arrow head on a piece of buffalo hide.

        1. Elmer Phud Silver badge

          Re: HOW DARE YOU!

          "When I were a lad, we had to hand-punch our programs with an arrow head on a piece of buffalo hide."

          You had arrow heads?

          We had to wait until one of granny's teeth fell out and sharpen it on a rock.

          Granpa had been out in the sun all his life so we didn't need to hunt for buffalo.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: HOW DARE YOU!

          I saw your joke icon, but when I was at school, our introduction to computers course consisted largely (as far as I can remember) of making holes in punch cards (in exactly the right place) following instructions. The only feedback we got was a week or two later, when we were told if we made the holes in the wrong place. It's a miracle it didn't put us all off computers for life. Best. Lessons. Ever. (Not)

        3. Simon Harris Silver badge

          Re: HOW DARE YOU!

          Arrowheads? Buffalo hide?

          Luxury... All we had were scraps of old bark and pointy twigs to punch the holes.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: HOW DARE YOU!

      Commodore didn't supply a fast loader. Thus every company created their own. Which at least meant you had the freedom to do what you wanted. There were loaders with music playing and even one with a simple space invaders loader.

      Commodore was a very crazy place to work, you should read about it, there is a good book called Commodore A Company on the Edge. It does explain why (despite their brilliance) their computers and software were a bit unfinished in places. Their employees were very clever and devoted, but Tramiel was a tough boss.

    6. Mephistro Silver badge

      Re: HOW DARE YOU! (@ ForthIsNotDead)

      "It was also easy to copy the tapes with my Dad's Amstrad tape-to-tape deck, not so the C64 tapes with their crappy turbo loaders"

      I copied dozens of C64 games with my tape to tape deck. The only one that gave me serious trouble was a game called 'StarPaws", which as I finally found out relied on the length of tape left after the first part of the program was loaded. Took me a while to figure that one, but some fiddling with scissors, a ruler and a screw driver finally fixed the issue, by cutting the excess tape. The girl got her copy, but I didn't score. :^(

    7. Paul Shirley

      Re: HOW DARE YOU!

      "It was also easy to copy the tapes with my Dad's Amstrad tape-to-tape deck, not so the C64 tapes with their crappy turbo loaders"

      Any difficulty in copying was completely intentional ;)

      I think the reason it worked better at making copies fail on C64 is better hardware. A suitable hardware timer and nothing stealing CPU cycles meant we could use much tighter timing. I remember setting turbo speeds based on its effect on copying as much as the speed improvement. It's a miracle anything every loaded!

    8. Unicornpiss Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: HOW DARE YOU!

      Maybe the Vic's 'turbo loader' was crap, but the basic Commodore tape tech was pretty good. You had a dedicated tape deck hooked up to a dedicated port on the machine. No levels to fuss with and the computer could control the tape motor (somewhat) The programs were stored twice for redundancy, and you could verify and do limited searching (if you didn't mind waiting) Just sayin...

  5. Richard Wharram
    Thumb Up

    Finally a use for my iPhone!

    I applaud this for it's "just because" attitude \o/

  6. Ken Y-N
    Go

    What I really want it to do...

    Do an OCR of a magazine listing, compile it up, then do the tape emulator bit.

  7. spodula

    Yeah, but

    This app accesses the archive on WOS directly so you dont have to keep the MP3;s around.

    Also, WOS isnt an archive for "Abandonware", they get permission for all the stuff they make available on there.

    Its a good example of doing it properly.

    http://www.worldofspectrum.org/permits/

  8. Lee D Silver badge

    Not really anything special. Just about any emulator will let you play back the noise and, quite literally, the noise IS the data that the Speccy used to use. Spectaculator has a way, even back to Gerton Lunter's old DOS Z80 program. Hell, most of them let you load in from audio sources which is the same thing in reverse too. How do you think those TZX's on WoS got there in the first place? (and WoS is missing an awful lot of titles that it used to have because of various copyright assertions - I have any number of games as TZX's from my own tapes that have never been on WoS or have been removed)

    Hell, I remember Codemasters putting out a CD (when nobody could afford a CD player) that was basically an audio-CD recording of a load of their games. You could just play one track (no searching through the tape) and it played the same "screeches" to load the game (so it still took just as long to load). I even remember an instance where my brother and I were desperately trying to work out what was on an old tape we found and couldn't work out why it would load halfway and then fail. Then we hit play without the lead being in and discovered that it was actually a recording of us playing about with the tape recorder and mic while the Speccy was loading something in the background. Just the hint of a background noise of the loading sounds was enough to convince the Speccy to start loading data.

    The Speccy's tape loading routines were genius for the time. Just a shame their Interface 2 ROM's never really took off. Again, I still have some of those that aren't available on WoS or other places.

    1. cheveron

      "I remember Codemasters putting out a CD... that was basically [a] recording of a load of their games... so it still took just as long to load."

      Well no. It used a much higher data rate than cassette and came with a special adapter that had to be plugged into a joystick interface. Unsurprisingly they didn't sell many.

      1. Lee D Silver badge

        "Well no. It used a much higher data rate than cassette and came with a special adapter that had to be plugged into a joystick interface. Unsurprisingly they didn't sell many."

        Not "much higher", in fact. Nothing more than a turboloader, really (the first part of each track is basically a truncated cassette waveform, nothing more, the next is just a slightly higher speed like tape turboloaders used - I reckon they were actually intended to just use it direct as audio with the tape loader at all, but something got in their way - probably the quality of their mastering given that it appears to be an analog -not pure digital - recording on the CD!). Hell, parts of it use pretty much the same format as the original ROM loading routines, just without quite so much lead-in and syncing. Each track is 25K, from what I can find out. That's not outside the bounds of any program intended for a 48K/128K Spectrum on cassette.

        And it was only really available for Speccy, C64 and CPC because two of those used the same chips and had very similar loading routines. Sure, it used an "adaptor", I'll give you that, but it was basically just a transistor or two using the joystick pins rather than the audio cable (it wasn't "intelligent" at all). Probably was just their way of overcoming the default ROM to cram on more games rather than anything particularly fancy.

    2. Anonymous Coward 15
      Pirate

      I'm sure you can find a torrent including all the ones that were removed. (Such a collection certainly exists for the Beeb, which is how I rediscovered Granny's Garden, which legit emu sites also don't have.)

    3. Chris Walsh
      Trollface

      Actually the code master CD loaders were much faster as they required a special (well, bespoke, nothing complicated) to connect your CD player to your joystick port as this was more accurate than using the ULA's EAR socket.

      I think they did miss a trick however of not usilising more than one bit of the 16 available on CD.

  9. Andrew Oakley
    Happy

    Works on ZX81

    I've been using FLAC & WAV files to load stuff on to my ZX81 for years. Absolutely no reason why this app won't work for the Spectrum - and if it includes binary-to-audio on the fly, then that's impressive.

    1. Badvok

      Re: Works on ZX81

      "and if it includes binary-to-audio on the fly, then that's impressive."

      That is exactly what this is, it isn't playing a recording of the raw tape noise, it is an app that takes the actual binary data and generates the appropriate wave forms. It is something that is built into most emulators but this allows you to provide the data to a real ZX Spectrum.

      1. Simon Harris Silver badge

        Re: Works on ZX81

        "and if it includes binary-to-audio on the fly, then that's impressive."

        Is it really impressive? That's what 8-bit computers were doing in 1980.

        The Acorn Atom with its 1MHz 6502 processor did most of its cassette interface in software - admittedly it did have a 2404Hz timebase derived from dividing the 4MHz master oscillator by 16x13x8 to use as the high tone, but generated the low 1202Hz tone in software from this and sorted out the start and stop bits and data shifting in software. To make it a bit more sine-y than a square wave, there was an RC low pass filter on the output.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: binary-to-audio on the fly

      that's what it is and it's not such a big deal if you think how any audio is stored on your phone

    3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
      WTF?

      Re: Works on ZX81

      and if it includes binary-to-audio on the fly, then that's impressive."

      Wot, sort of like the SAVE routine built in to all those old 8-bit computers?

  10. ToggleMaudlin

    Cause to dig the speccy out I reckon

    I just need to find someone with an iPhone willing to sit still long enough for me to load up River Raid.

    I still find the screechy white noise comforting in a way.

    1. Matthew 3

      Re: Cause to dig the speccy out I reckon

      "I still find the screechy white noise comforting in a way."

      I was startled to realise that my kids had never heard dial-up internet either.

      1. Anonymous Coward 15

        Re: Cause to dig the speccy out I reckon

        I was half expecting that dial-up link to be a dubstep track.

    2. AndrueC Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: Cause to dig the speccy out I reckon

      still find the screechy white noise comforting in a way.

      Load up your favourite emulator. Type the keys 'T' 'CTRL+SHIFT' 'L' then '1' '3' '3' '1'

      Then hit 'ENTER'.

      Enjoy :)

      This starts executing machine code at that ROM address. The colours will be off but the sound is there. Press 'SPACE' to cancel.

  11. Rob Crawford

    Funny enough

    Last year I ended up writing a tape loader for the Design Design anniversary releases which are included with the iOS version of Spectaculator (about the best spectrum emulator)

    I suppose I should finish off my spectrum mastering system which requires no spectrum emulators whatsoever (but playing with GoLang has lost its appeal)

  12. This post has been deleted by a moderator

    1. juice Bronze badge
      Thumb Down

      "with a few notable exceptions"

      I shouldn't feed the troll, but...

      WOS has managed to get permission from approx. 250 publishers, including notable companies such as Gremlin, Firebird and Hewson), and around 800 individual developers. And more people grant permission every month, as even a cursory glance at the What's New page will show.

      Then too, where the copyright owner has stated that they don't grant permission (e.g. Ultimate, Codemasters), WOS removes the software from their website.

      It's not perfect - the original developer may not own the copyright on their games, and for some titles, it's far from clear who the copyright owner is. And there is an argument to be made that if permission hasn't been explicitly granted, the software shouldn't be offered for download at all.

      But equally, WOS (or at least the volunteers behind it) is making a proactive effort to track down copyright owners and obtain permission - and they've achieved this for a significant percentage of the gamebase. Dismissing that as "a few notable exceptions" is rude at best and trolling at worst.

      1. cheveron

        Re: "with a few notable exceptions"

        This list includes the publishers who gave permission:

        http://www.worldofspectrum.org/permits/publishers.html

        Given the number of titles in the archive and the relatively small number for which permission has been granted by the copyright owner I don't think "with a few notable exceptions" is a disproportionately unfair term.

        Developer permissions are worthless unless the developer owns the copyright, which in the majority of cases they do not. These permissions are being accrued but the publisher list has been around the 250 mark for a long time now.

        Archiving all that stuff is a worthwhile cause, but the legal thing to do would be to only distribute software for which explicit distribution permission has been granted. In fairness to WoS, The Internet Archive doesn't even bother to try to get permission for the software it distributes.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "with a few notable exceptions"

        Speaking as a permit granter myself... Happy that WOS prefers to verify - unlike some places ....

        1. cheveron

          Re: "with a few notable exceptions"

          As a rights owner I have also given WoS permission to distribute most of my Spectrum stuff. I just think they should stay on the right side of the law. Of course that opinion doesn't go down well with the "something for nothing" crowd and their cronies.

    2. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  13. Anonymous Coward 15

    Do MP3 and other lossy audio formats work for storing computer tapes?

    1. garden-snail
      Meh

      Re: MP3

      Yes and no. I've had mixed results using MP3 to store Spectrum data. Reliability definitely suffers, especially with the turbo loaders, but for standard loading it can work.

      I've switched to FLAC now, which produces much better results.

    2. Rob Crawford

      MP3 etc are not a great and the format of last resort is .wav

      In the case of the spectrum there is .tzx which covers the vast majority of loaders (and if done properly makes for a tiny file) but it can also contain sampled audio blocks if required (such as the bleeps between speedlock sections)

      CSW (compressed square wave) also exists for some of the more extreme loaders (mostly for hacked games originating from Eastern Europe)

  14. Anonymous Coward 15

    Is there an Android version?

  15. a_milan

    If only

    ... the iPhone had a tiny hole for a screwdriver to "tune" the tape head....

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I used PlayTZX on OSX, but it was a PPC app and OSX doesn't run those any more.

    I tried to use an MP3 from my phone but it wasn't loud enough.

  17. David Given
    Thumb Up

    Just yesterday...

    ...I found a ZX81 emulator for my Android smartphone, loaded up a snapshot of 1K Chess (all 672 bytes of it), and was thoroughly beaten.

    Sigh. Do you long for the days when we used to be nostalgic?

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
      Happy

      Re: Just yesterday...

      Sigh. Do you long for the days when we used to be nostalgic?

      Yeah. Nostalgia nowadays is rubbish. It's not like the nostalgia we got in the good old days...

      I just ran the app. I have no Speccy, never owned one. Vic 20 then Amstrad CPC464 for me - both belonging to my brothers. But it was nice to hear the old sounds again. Happy memories.

      The last time a pooter I was operating made that noise was years ago, when my Dad's PC got a trojan dialler. I was rather surprised! Realised what was going on and pulled the modem cable out the back (it was still being used as a fax). I suppose this must have been about ten years ago, so people were still using dial-up.

  18. Wize
    Coat

    No spectrum to test it?

    How about loading a Spectrum emulator on your Android and loading the tape on to it?

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Speccy?

    I used to have Speccy, but then I took an two-coloured sprite to the knee.

  20. chris 50
    Angel

    Speccy?

    Now all I need is an app that will pretend to be the floppy for my +3...

    Scrrr-eech! Scrrrrrr-eeeeeeeeeeeeeeech! Oh wait, mean bzz, bzzz, zzzb, bzzzz. You know, I could load RoboCop in just 1 minute and 12 seconds on that baby, none of this waiting 40 minutes rubbish for me!

  21. Cyne

    Thanks Matthew Smith

    The number 6031769 has been stuck in my head for 30 years. I've come to the sad conclusion that I'll remember that number for the rest of my days.

    1. JaimieV

      Re: Thanks Matthew Smith

      Me too. Seen this? The lad's back in the game:

      http://matthewsmith.elite-systems.co.uk/

  22. techmind

    Well it should work

    I've successfully loaded BBC computer programs off a (non-Apple) MP3 player

  23. Joefish
    Stop

    I notice another site was credited with this discovery,

    but has anyone in the chain actually made the thing work? Most people who've tried pumping out a WAV file version of a Speccy tape from an MP3 player fail to get sufficient volume (peak voltage) in the output signal to load reliably and give up. I gather some have had success by inverting the signal for one stereo channel and building a mono cable that goes between the left and right channels, instead of just one and ground, but other than that an in-line amplifier is usually required. Such as, I don't know, an old tape deck with MIC and EAR sockets. So, has an iThing proved any more successful?

  24. Spoonsinger

    But where's the skill?

    i.e. the totally pointless ability to listen to the sound of the loading software and determine whether or not it's going to load or not by the change in the screech as the tape stretches over time.

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