Cassette Tapes

*Several months ago I started to write about my newfound affection for cassette tapes but never made time to finish writing it so I decided to pick this back up to finish it and share it with you guys because its all still quite true and since writing this I have fallen even further down the resurgence of cassette tape releases. So lets dig in.

I recently found myself realizing how many cassette tape releases I had collected from small, independent musicians and labels so I took the net to find an affordable portable tape player so I could put them to better use. I never once thought about it being an outdated format during my dig, I only felt sad that the only new players left on the market are more or less junk which left me searching the depths of eBay for those willing to sell nice old players at a fair price.

My research lead me down a rabbit hole full of old Sony Walkman players among which I was left digging around a specific line of cassette tape Walkmen that I assume were manufactured somewhere toward the end of the tech’s lifespan as a popular medium. I discovered a number of thin, pocketable players constructed from metal rather than plastic and knew I was on the right track. These were actually some really great devices, even by todays standards. Many of the nicer later models were not all that much bigger than the plastic cases that house most cassette tapes. After settling on one that appeared to be in good shape I went digging around the fringes of Amazon for a couple of batteries and a charger to make it work and haven’t looked back since.

After a week or two of carrying it around and doing my best not to get pigeonholed as a hipster with vintage tech in one pocket, iPhone 6 in the other, I was surprised at how much I really enjoyed having it around. It lead me to a few interesting observations on the state of physical media today and the illusion of its demise.

I see cassette tapes as an intentional format (in a similar way that vinyl or polaroid film is). It represents a physical connection between music and the listener and causes the listener to be intentional in his or her decision to listen to an album. There are no features to get in the way, just start, stop, and fast forward which could be seen as primitive compared to digital music access but it has the benefit of forcing you to simply leave the music playing and enjoy it start to end. Physical media is true fan service.

Looking at it from another angle, cassettes offer me something that vinyl does not, a portable, personal experience to add to the already intentional act of picking a tape or two to take along for the day. While some question the fidelity of cassettes and joke of their irrelevance in todays world, I would greatly prefer listening to a tape over a badly encoded MP3. In fact, later tape technologies were actually pretty well refined and balanced in the full frequency spectrum and had even all but eliminated the tell tale hisssss of older ferric tapes.

There are many of you rolling your eyes right about now and thats fine, I get it, it sounds frivolous at best, surely I have lost my mind. But keep in mind, I’m a romantic. I love the feeling of deliberate fandom in buying a physical copy of an album from a band or artist that I really love and want to support and in some circles there are some amazing artists who have been releasing exclusively on tapes and for good reasons.

The most obvious is the fact that even quality tapes are vastly more affordable to make than pressing records and a lot more fun than selling boring old CDs which may as well be a digital download as far as I’m concerned. Tapes have a long, tried and true presence in the music industry as a method of releasing music in the underground and have recently been discovered as a perfect middle ground for fans of musicians that want to buy a physical copy of their favorite new music but can’t afford to shell out $20 for a vinyl copy.

So, how about you, what do you think about analogue formats? I still hold close the belief that if you really love an artists music that you will do more than toss pennies into their hats with streaming services and buy their music outright so why not do so in a collectible and fun analog format?

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