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Old 9th Nov 2019, 4:56 pm   #1
dave walsh
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Default Back To The future with a C90

Today's Guardian has a full page article "Rewind! Welcome to the cassette revival" featuring fifty odd examples in full colour. I know there have been regular features of this sort over the last 15 years or so re cassettes, vinyl and other "vintage" technology and even the author admits the tape revival is still modest "in the scheme of things" but it seems that at least 100,000 tapes will have been sold by the end of 2019-an amount not seen since 2004 apparently .

Two factors seem different to previous retro interest. High profile established artists are releasing work in this format and cassettes are being bought as collectables not just a cheaper audio format. There are parallels with the last, significant, vinyl revival, which is only just running out of steam, to some extent. It's claimed that music fans want something more tangible than a download [again] and that factories were "scrambling" to find more tape earlier in the year. All this chimes in quite neatly with the recent "Obsolete Techology That's Not" thread but I see that is closed. I'd commented on No 1 in the BBC link [The Pager] and Cassettes were No 3. Mods are free to add this in if that's thought useful or keep it separate.

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Old 9th Nov 2019, 5:46 pm   #2
Uncle Bulgaria
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Default Re: Back To The future with a C90

I've bought a couple of things on cassette this year, most notably the first compilation of Walter Gavitt Ferguson, the now-99-year-old Costa Rican 'King of Calypso'. He hardly recorded anything professionally, but if you visited him and asked to buy his music, he'd ask you to return the next day and in the interim would record you a cassette of some of his songs. It seemed apt to buy the release on cassette rather than a high quality vinyl release...pressed from a home-recorded cassette master!

One thing I have noticed about new cassette releases is that they don't make claims to high-fidelity. None of the new ones I've bought make reference to Dolby or even to tape type on the cassette or packaging. I think a case of medium before message.
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Old 9th Nov 2019, 6:54 pm   #3
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Default Re: Back To The future with a C90

I can't help but believe this - and the 'rebirth of vinyl' heralded over the last decade - are more driven by puff-pieces in middle-class newspapers/magazines than anything else.

My collection of cassettes - at least 1000 of them, some pre-recorded, some I recorded myself - got junked when I moved house a decade and a half back: my musical tastes had moved on (and I no longer had cassette-players in any of my cars).

My most-recent exposure to cassettes was the 'microcassette' in a phone-answering-machine that had failed aftee around 25 years use. To my amazement I was able to buy a new [well, new-old-stock] microcassette for under a fiver!
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Old 9th Nov 2019, 9:34 pm   #4
dave walsh
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Default Re: Back To The future with a C90

You're probably right about middle class origins Tanuki but on the other hand something is definitely happening.... even if it's a bit naive and self aggrandising from our point of view! I wish I'd spent more money on the vinyl jazz revival [in the nineties] when HMV Manchester had a giant basement full of Jazz re-issues, posters, literature etc. One day it was all gone until the rather more recent vinyl resurgences. "Fashion" as Bowie would say!

I've got a few thousand cassette tapes, many ex Beeb program recordings. In a moment of madness, I did once dump some high end auto reverse player/recorders thinking I couldn't get them repaired. Then I found the Forum As for the lack of Hi Fi Uncle B, the article mentions that many new converts regard the hiss as a part of the ongoing charm-just like the surface noise with 78's perhaps

This notion of presenting something in a different medium or format is probably as old as the technology itself. A single from one of Roger Waters solo albums was issued on reel to reel in a presentation box in [I think] the late 80's. I gave it to a friend of mind who is a devotee and thinks RW is the real Pink Floyd!

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Old 10th Nov 2019, 12:04 am   #5
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Default Re: Back To The future with a C90

The recent revival in interest in cassettes has coincided with my own interest in them. In the process, I've learned some things which I wish I'd known back in the 1980s when struggling to get good results from cassette recordings.

In particular, experimenting with a three-head deck with built-in setup tone generators has revealed that, far from just selecting 'ferric', 'chrome' or 'metal', getting the bias and record level right for a given tape type is actually incredibly critical, and small adjustments make an enormous difference to the sound. It turns out that the tape manufacturers played tricks with the magnetic characteristics of their tape formulations. You pay more for the tape (for example, buying a TDK SA-X instead of SA) and its optimum bias level is a bit lower so, on a common-or-garden hi-fi deck with fixed bias, you get more treble. Had I discovered this back in the day, I could have saved a fortune on expensive cassettes and got results just as good from the cheaper ones.

The quality possible (apart from the background hiss) on a modest ferric cassette turns out to be amazingly good. I've used some Maxell UR cassettes recently, which is about all that's available new now, and with the bias tweaked just right, they sound great. There's no reason why modern prerecorded cassettes shouldn't be just as good, even without Dolby noise reduction. However, if you do use noise reduction, getting the record gain just right is absolutely critical for good Dolby performance.

I can highly recommend the 'Cassette Comeback' channel on YouTube, run by a cassette and music enthusiast called Tony, in which he auditions all manner of obscure and not-so-obscure tapes using good quality equipment properly set up. You can hear, in real time, an A-B comparison of the source and recording. Obviously the sound quality is limited by the YouTube streaming medium, but the results are still very interesting.

Chris
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Old 10th Nov 2019, 3:28 am   #6
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Default Re: Back To The future with a C90

In clearing out my loft I found 4 cases of cassettes that I recorded off the radio probably back in the 1980's. All of it classical concert broadcasts from Radio 3.
If they've survived in good condition I'm looking forward to listening to them again....just got to find a cassette player now!
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Old 10th Nov 2019, 10:43 am   #7
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Default Re: Back To The future with a C90

I have started picking up the odd cassette on the market. Only artists I like, often I've already got the album on vinyl or CD. I just find that some of them are nicely put together and pleasing to look at.

I play the odd one too!

I'm hoping I dont end up with 100s though.
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Old 10th Nov 2019, 11:01 am   #8
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Default Re: Back To The future with a C90

Nostalgia maybe but I was glad to see the back of the tangling mess that most of them seemed to end up. From a customer angle they were the best we had at the time for car entertainment.
The technology is now over 55 years old and of course interesting to members of this Forum but please don't bring it back! John.
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Old 10th Nov 2019, 11:19 am   #9
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Default Re: Back To The future with a C90

Quote:
Originally Posted by Heatercathodeshort View Post
Nostalgia maybe but I was glad to see the back of the tangling mess that most of them seemed to end up. John.
They did didn’t they.
The better decks with decent tape were usually not too bad but the budget players and cheap tape, often used in pre recorded tape were not nice.
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Old 10th Nov 2019, 11:22 am   #10
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Default Re: Back To The future with a C90

There is a big difference between a home recording made in real time and mass produced
tapes effectively recorded at high speed and cut and inserted in a cassette body.

Very few experienced the sound quality afforded by Type IV (metal) formulations and
dBx noise reduction.
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Old 10th Nov 2019, 11:38 am   #11
dave walsh
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Default Re: Back To The future with a C90

The tangling was very often a product of cheapo car players and rough handling in that environment. Domestic machines were much more reliable as I recall. I was very popular one Xmas when a friends young daughter put her much wanted Xmas Cassette in the car player [despite a warning from dad] resulting in a tangle and a break! Hearing this sad story over a Xmas Day pint I was able to offer a repair and had it done [pretty much as new] before they sat down in front of the Turkey. [Most people thought that a 1/4" splice was not achievable]. Free drinks too

I think you are safe from being overwhelmed with cassettes Martin but [at the time] being able to archive or mix your own material much more easily than on R to Reel [although I did that too] was a great boon. Especially as run times for C90 and C60's coincided very nicely with most Beeb programs.
[Which wasn't the same with 74 minute Mini Discs].

Dave W

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Old 10th Nov 2019, 11:39 am   #12
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Default Re: Back To The future with a C90

Don't be too sniffy about cassette revival, whether vested-interest-hyped or otherwise- it might at least help the dissemination of the knowledge base regarding spares such as belts, pinch rollers etc. and encourage a few more Youtube-type tutorials. Plus encouraging a few more East Asian sources to keep their spare belt production going.
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Old 10th Nov 2019, 11:55 am   #13
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Default Re: Back To The future with a C90

On the rare occasion I was fortuneate(?), a Nakamichi tape deck on eBay back when not many people were interested, paid 25!

Still use it, as our classic car retains its factory player.

I only have two unused (Fuji) metal tapes left, and somewhere a Sony 'Studio Master' which had a ceramic shell. As has been mentioned, if you get the levels right plus bias, the results are good.

If by reviving formats keeps knowledge and spares going, I'll raise a glass, especially as this interest is keeping vintage radios/TV's going.

I'm doing my bit with passing knowledge and equipment to the younger generation, always with mixed expressions and often with surprising interest.

Mark
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Old 10th Nov 2019, 12:12 pm   #14
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Default Re: Back To The future with a C90

By the time my cassette deck died, I had already become an early adopter of recordable CDs, having been an avid cassette fan for two principal reasons: The ability to record your own material, and the portability of the hardware. The mechanical fragility, the noise, the wow and flutter, and the knowledge that my speakers deserved better than anything it could deliver; all were forgiven for that matter of choice of programme material, and the ability to listen to it anywhere. I didn't even think about replacing it; I still had the LPs and CDs from which most of them were originally taken.

Of course, I'm saying this as someone who lived through the 1970s-1990s, when mass production brought high-fidelity sound reproduction within the reach of the masses. Modern developments such as digital radio -- with everything compressed to Hell and back in order to cram as many stations as possible onto the frequency band -- and mobile devices with tiny speakers have groomed today's consumer to expect lower fidelity than the preceding generation. Cassettes may not have much in the way of bandwidth, but they might yet outclass a cigarette-packet-sized speaker!

If it ends up with somebody manufacturing a decent cassette deck (the Dolby patents must have long-since expired by now .....) that could be used for digitising some of my old tapes (it needn't have inbuilt USB connectivity, but it almost certainly will anyway), I might actually be interested. (I tried an Ion USB cassette player, that I bought cheaply in the last days of Maplin; let's just say I would have been very disappointed if I had paid the full price for it.)
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Old 10th Nov 2019, 1:46 pm   #15
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Smile Re: Back To The future with a C90

Quote:
Originally Posted by cmjones01 View Post
The recent revival in interest in cassettes has coincided with my own interest in them.
The "recent revival" has never occurred here, because for me, their use never faded! As a recording medium, I've been regularly using them since the '70s to the present day. Why? Simply because all my 'hi-fi' kit does not feature CD players; cassettes are easy to use and I have a lot of them, some dating back to the '70s - they play (& record) just fine and to my ears, they sound perfect.

Al.
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Old 10th Nov 2019, 2:25 pm   #16
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Default Re: Back To The future with a C90

A few weeks ago I recommissioned my Sony TCK-81, my 3 head twin capstan deck with adjustable bias controls from the early 80's works as good as new after de gumming some old grease in the transport mechanism and the belts are fine.
Looking forward to listening to the dozens of tapes I have when I recorded top of the pops on a Sunday with Alan Freeman!

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Old 10th Nov 2019, 3:11 pm   #17
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Default Re: Back To The future with a C90

As a newly-30-year-old, I notice in my friends (mostly 20-40) the tendency to hanker more after the physical than the digital. While almost all have smartphones, there is a growing tendency to leave Facebook and social media; records have a fascination and film photography is much appreciated.

Yes, there is an idea that the lack of digital perfection is charming (some don't realise the astonishing fidelity possible on analogue media of all kinds) but there's also an appreciation of the time needed to put on a record, the ritual of the film development and so on.

I've only used cassettes as 'story tapes' in the car and while making Airfix in the garage on cheapo machines, the occasional mix-tape on my grandfather's Technics or playing Julian Bream in my mother's Golf with a broken speaker while learning to drive... Now with my new machine I'm looking forward to making more mix-tapes (adding tracks to a CD is a real bore by comparison!) and doing some recording. The medium in this case seems far better suited to doing so than digital apps.

For all you who grew up with reel to reel mastering, the ease of digital must seem a great boon. For a growing proportion of younglings, the solidity and presence of analogue machines and processes is a satisfying electro-mechanical heft that can't be outdated by showing off the latest model online in a frenetic race of self-validation.
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Old 10th Nov 2019, 3:48 pm   #18
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Default Re: Back To The future with a C90

I have a stack of computer tapes, some of them for the VIC 20 I still have. It will be interesting to try and load at some point to see if they still work.
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Old 10th Nov 2019, 4:03 pm   #19
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Default Re: Back To The future with a C90

Quote:
Originally Posted by Heatercathodeshort View Post
Nostalgia maybe but I was glad to see the back of the tangling mess that most of them seemed to end up. From a customer angle they were the best we had at the time for car entertainment. .
Yes - must admit I was happy to see the back of cassette-players in cars: I remember a car rental company who wanted to charge me an excess because I returned a car at the end of the month with a cassette tangled so badly I couldn't get it out of the player. I said if they did that I'd expect them to pay for the replacement of the cassette their player had chewed up.

Personally, I'm surprised nobody brought out a "professional" cassette-system using something equivalent to the metal-baseplate DC600A quarter-inch-cartridges that were common in the 1970s for computer data-storage.
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Old 10th Nov 2019, 6:15 pm   #20
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Default Re: Back To The future with a C90

Field recordings probably will need to be edited; and with open reels, that can easily be done by cutting and splicing the actual tape. A cassette loading system would just get in the way of that.
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