Audio News for April 26, 2011

by | Apr 26, 2011 | Audio News | 0 comments

Cassettes Make a Comeback! – Would you believe, just a few months after Sony produced their last Walkman cassette player, audio cassettes are coming back? Nostalgia for the richer sound of cassettes could see a revival similar to that which is now being enjoyed by vinyl records. Both were displaced by the compact disc in most parts of the world – except in the Middle East, where cassettes are still the main format for recorded music. The sales of blank audio cassettes fell off by 60% in the 1990s, and makers such as TDK and Maxell slimmed their ranges while Philips – who had launched the new format in 1963 – stopped entirely. However, now original blank C60 and C90 cassette tapes from the late 80s and early 90s are selling for as much as $37 on the Internet. Devotees of rare higher-quality cassettes such as Sony’s UX Pro 90 and metal tape are paying the high rates. Not only the high-end purists but also the majority of people who still have a cassette player around have gotten interested again. Younger people who purchase older used cars find they usually have cassette players built in and ready to use.  They often find the sound quality of analog recordings richer than the flat digital sound of highly data-reduced MP3 files on an iPod device.

Another attraction of cassettes is for mix tapes of special songs for a boyfriend or girlfriend.  Many are returning to the format because it takes more work to put together, requiring the person doing it to listen to each song in real time instead of just dropping in various audio files on the computer. Making a compilation tape therefore becomes a great labor of love and is more appreciated.  A U.K. music critic calls it “one of the great forgotten folk arts,” and refers to the judicious use of the pause button that is required.  The popularity of cassettes peaked in 1988 with 73 million prerecorded music tapes sold, compared to LP records which had peaked at 58 million in 1975.  The books-on-tape movement also contributed to the long life of the cassette medium, and many public libraries still have huge collections of them available to loan out. Many audio buffs are unaware that there was a niche of high-end audiophile prerecorded cassettes – many dubbed in real time rather than at high speed, and on metal or chrome tape.  There were also perfectionist cassette decks such as the Nakamichis. Dolby Labs’ Dolby S encoding process came on the scene too late to save the cassette medium; it was far superior to earlier Dolby systems for reduction of tape hiss, and in fact could equal CD quality. It also sounded great on portables and car stereos without any decoders.

Sony’s Walkman Called Most Important Musical Innovation of the Last 50 Years
– T3 Magazine has published a list of the ten most important musical  innovations of the last 50 years, and the blue and silver, heavy little model TPS-L2 – which went on sale in Japan in 1979 – beat out CDs and the iPod for the top of the list. The cassette device started a musical revolution, allowing users to listen to their music as they walked down the street.  Soon it became a must-have gadget around the world, surprising critics who were sure it would never be popular without a record function.  The Walkman changed the way people accessed music, how often they accessed music, and changed a whole generation.  In America it wasn’t at first called the Walkman but the Soundabout, and in Britain The Stowaway. And by the way, it cost $200.  Sony sold 50 million of them in a decade.  Here’s the entire list:

1. Sony Walkman
2. MP3s
3. Apple iPod, 1st generation
4. CDs
5. Napster
6. Dolby noise reduction
7. DAB radio (not in U.S.)
8. Boombox
9. Sonos’ multi-room music system
10. Panasonic/Technics DJ deck

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