- Jun 27, 2018
- Boquete, Chiriqui, Panama
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.
I guess these folks never heard of Shannon-Nyquist, work widely published in the 1050's.“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.”
Again, CD's especially, and self-copied USB flash drives come to mind as portable physical digital media.“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.’”
“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.