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U.S.A.'s last cassette tape manufacturer spews B.S.

Xulonn

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The Smithsonian Magazine online has an article dated January 31, 022 [LINK] about the "renaissance" of audio cassette tapes that contains worse B.S. and inaccuracies than I've encountered since I last watched a Danny Ritchie or Paul McGowan YouTube video about audio cables or power cords. Although I normally expect more scientific accuracy from the likes of an organization such as the Smithsonian Institution, it was written by a travel writer who apparently is totally clueless about audio science, and who did not challenge any of the obviously bogus audio claims.

I found the article interesting, and understand the nostalgic and novelty appeal of audio cassettes, and the connection with a physical object containing the music. However, I cannot imagine how any aspect of cassette "sound" could be considered by anyone to be superior to any decent digital format. Also, the aspect of having something physical that contains the music is not foreign to digital music. Ever hear of CD's? USB flash drives? Like cassettes, they can be pre-recorded - or you can record or copy your own music to them.

Today, the company [National Audio Company] is making 25 to 30 million cassettes for record labels annually—making them the largest manufacturer in the world, and the only manufacturer of magnetic audio tape in the United States.

Here are some quotes from the Smithsonian article:

...tapes work by running magnetically charged cellophane strips under an electromagnetic head, which sends electromagnetic sound waves to speakers. Because tapes pick up everything in the room during the recording process, the sound can have a bit of a hiss. And due to limitations in tape recording, high treble and low bass can be a little fuzzy. For some listeners, that distinctively muddy or distorted sound inspires novelty or nostalgia.

“Your ears are analog,” Stepp says. “The world around you is analog. When you hear music and it’s an actual artist, band or orchestra playing, you’re hearing all levels of frequencies at each millisecond. Your ears are built to listen to that. It’s called harmonics. But in a digital recording, there are no harmonics. You’re listening to the dominant frequency at each millisecond.”

...the problem is that digital music has an inferior sound, because the files are so compressed. Plus, earbuds aren’t the best speakers.

Producers of digital recordings continue to strive for the harmonics cassettes can capture.

“The higher the sampling rate [the speed at which samples, or measurements throughout audio tracks, are taken] of a digital recording, the better it sounds,” Stepp adds. “As the sampling rate gets high enough, the recording begins to approximate an analog recording. It is a digital picture of an analog recording.”
I guess these folks never heard of Shannon-Nyquist, work widely published in the 1050's.

“When you download music, there is nothing in your hand. It goes out of the ethersphere into your phone, or whatever you’re playing it on. You may pay some money for it, but you don’t feel like you really own anything. You can’t lay it on a table or trade it with your friends, or anything like that. The audio cassette gives you something tangible. It is something that you can hold in your hand and say, ‘I bought this, I own it, if I want to give it to somebody or trade it, I can do that.’”
Again, CD's especially, and self-copied USB flash drives come to mind as portable physical digital media.

“There’s the nostalgic side of it and then there’s the meaning side of it,” he says. “It feels like you can’t truly appreciate the music you really love unless you have some connection with it, and streaming as a whole doesn’t allow you to connect in the physical way you need.”

There is a certain truth to this, but cassettes are not a high-fidelity answer to this issue.

 

Joe Smith

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Yeah, there's some inaccuracy there - analog love hype machine, that's Steve. Smithsonian should do a little more editorial fact-checking.

I still use cassettes and like having them in the mix. NAC is making new cassette tapes for home recording now, unfortunately the quality is not what we all would like to see. The only other new ones of quality are from RTM out of France with their "Fox" cassettes, now in C-60 and C-90 formats. Other than that, buying good condition or NOS tapes from the 80s and 90s is still the best bet. It's kind of amazing how good a well recorded Type II or III cassette can sound on a decent machine.

NAC's new Type II tape is OK - it doesn't sound awful - but is not like the Type II tape of the glory days.
 

Doodski

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NAC's new Type II tape is OK - it doesn't sound awful - but is not like the Type II tape of the glory days.
How is the new tape for head wear and tear? It would be a big pain to have new abrasive tape eat a tape head in nice old classic 3 head dual capstan cassette player.
 

Joe Smith

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How is the new tape for head wear and tear? It would be a big pain to have new abrasive tape eat a tape head in nice old classic 3 head dual capstan cassette player.
Yeah - I would say, caution flag is on that track. You can read more reactions to it at the Tapeheads forum. It has some striations that are visible. Seemed a little less uneven than their ferrochrome type I tape, but is not a nice smooth surface like your vintage TDK or Maxell tapes. I personally did not order a box of them (for now), as I still have a lot of the Fox cassettes and NOS Type IIs on hand. Recordings sound OK to me; other users' reactions varied widely. Basically, I would say NAC new product is continuing to improve and is "better than nothing"... The Fox cassettes are good but price for them keep going up, definitely a niche product. But that tape is smooth, no head wear issues, and is an improvement over the generally-available but mediocre Maxell UR cassettes.
 

JeffS7444

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I sent the Smithsonian link to a buddy who is a cassette tape fan, hope it makes him happy! I know better than to try and "convert" him.
 

dorakeg

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One thing I do agree with the article is that earbuds are never the best speakers. I don't recommend anyone to use earbuds for prolong periods esp. at high volume. it can damage your hearing in the long run.
 

restorer-john

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Love their retro computer running the duplicator

1663631766979.png


Look at the keyboard. Looks like "P" and enter and maybe "D" are the keys they press a lot...
 

irontortoise

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G|force

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I worked in a dupe lab in 1986-1987 and seeing those 'cakes' of reeled tape give me the heebie jeebies.
Those cakes have no reel guides, no edges like a typical R2R machine, so If they are not warmed up enough when handling, half of it just falls off and your 1000' reel is now 300' with 700' in the bin. I got better at that but I wasted a lot of stock just loading the machines with bulk. Ughh.
 

EJ3

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Because tapes pick up everything in the room during the recording process, the sound can have a bit of a hiss. And due to limitations in tape recording, high treble and low bass can be a little fuzzy.

I still both play (tapes originally recorded by me, family stuff & whatnot). And record tapes (still Maxell TYPE II) on both a higher quality KENWOOD cassette deck & a higher quality JVC cassette deck. But I know and admit tape limitations.
But what the heck is this DICHOTOMY that ('it's so good that it picks up everything in the room & therefore has a hiss BUT: due to 'limitations in tape recording, high treble & low bass can be a little "fuzzy") HUH???
 

DMill

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I suppose even the reputable sources are mining for content to fill their pages now. Kind of depressing.
 

DonH56

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Hmmm... I'll wait for the eight-tracks.

Not!
 

Cars-N-Cans

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“Your ears are analog,”

Of course the irony is that the auditory center shares nothing in common with analog tape technology, but it does share some common themes with digital audio and digital signal processing. Its almost like nature hates cassette tapes as much as I do. As someone who had to suffer through them, I was delighted to see them shove off into relative obscurity.
 

Cars-N-Cans

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I worked in a dupe lab in 1986-1987 and seeing those 'cakes' of reeled tape give me the heebie jeebies.
Those cakes have no reel guides, no edges like a typical R2R machine, so If they are not warmed up enough when handling, half of it just falls off and your 1000' reel is now 300' with 700' in the bin. I got better at that but I wasted a lot of stock just loading the machines with bulk. Ughh.
I was going to say the same thing. Metric f-ton of skinny-ass tape with nothing to keep it there on the reel. Looks like its just waiting to go "swoosh" and make a huge mess.
 

kemmler3D

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. But in a digital recording, there are no harmonics. You’re listening to the dominant frequency at each millisecond.

To give some extreme benefit-of-doubt here: This could be a hyperbolic but otherwise directionally accurate description of how lossy audio formats like MP3 work. They reduce the data needed to store audio in part by dropping harmonics that are inaudible due to masking. It's certainly not just one frequency switching every millisecond, but this isn't 100% wrong either, if they're talking about lossy formats.

I am not saying this supports a conclusion of "tape is better" but I was struck that this seemed more familiar with the tech than the usual anti-digital mumbo-jumbo you hear.

the problem is that digital music has an inferior sound, because the files are so compressed. Plus, earbuds aren’t the best speakers.

This might have been a fair critique of digital listening if we were talking about people who only listened to iPods on stock earbuds with 96kbps files back in 2002... only 20 years out of date, not bad for a tape evangelist.
 

G|force

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Here's a gift to cassette player aficionados that fancy adding a Nakamichi Dragon to their collection of obsolete gear- seek the true top of the line Nak instead, the ZX1000 :)
 

DMill

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Nakamichi did tape as good as it could be done. They had a moment In time when people wanted decent playback in their cars. I had one in my car. I remember hearing the drum hit from Robert Plant‘s In the Mood driving down to the Keys from Ft. Lauderdale thinking it was the most amazing thing ever. Might have been the weed or just being 17 doing something stupid. But they did a good job with cassettes that really sucked for the most part.
 
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