Are we really living in a world where everything old is new again…of at least worthy of resurrection? It seems as though we are. I received an email touting the return of the pre-recorded audio cassette. Yes, it’s true. On November 17, Hollywood records, a division of Disney Music Group, will release a limited edition audio cassette of the soundtrack of the Marvel movie “The Guardians of the Galaxy”. You’ll only be able to purchase the cassette version until the end of the year. And just in case, the target demographic doesn’t have the appropriate hardware to play an audio cassette, the package includes a code for a low resolution digital download.
I didn’t see the movie but apparently the soundtrack features a mix a retro tunes from my early days in college…the 70s. The soundtrack came out during the movie’s run and reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart…but that wasn’t as a cassette. This is clearly a publicity stunt and no matter how many cassettes they duplicate and sell through the chain of retailers associated with Record Day, I’m pretty confident that more digital versions will actually find their way into portable players than cassettes into Walkmans.
Getting a buzz going based around obsolete equipment is clever but when I mentioned this to my students yesterday evening, a few of them told me, “Oh yeah, cassettes are making a comeback.” I groaned. It’s tough to have all of the push back from vinyl LPs lovers and advocates for analog tape. Just today I got an email from a cable manufacturer claiming, “Master tape dubs still reign supreme in terms of what I’ve ever heard as source material.” I’m sending him some of my high-resolution files…I’ll be interested to find out what happens when he hears all of the dynamics that analog tape fails to deliver.
Cassette tapes were never intended to provide high-fidelity music playback. Phillips developed the format for voice recording…as a replacement for Dictaphones. Music fans like myself had no way to inexpensively record music from the radio or from vinyl LPs. No one had an open reel machine (although I did eventually…and still do!). Enter the audio cassette, Nakamichi, Dolby B noise reduction, the Sony Walkman and high output tape and cassettes launched the portable music revolution that we’re still dealing with today.
During last evening’s recording class, I began lecturing about recording and reproducing audio. I talked about AMPEX and Bing Crosby, tape formats, speeds, and methods of recording to tape. Cassettes run at 1 and 7/8 inches per second…compared to most consumer reel to reel machines at 3 and 3/4 ips or 7 and 1/2 ips. In the studio, we used higher speeds including 15 and even 30 ips. Dynamic range on analog tapes…even tape that carries four channels with a 1/8 of an inch…is dependent on wide tracks. Cassettes are a disaster. There’s horrible crosstalk, print through, wow and flutter, and just plain bad sound.
So congrats to Hollywood Records for dredging up a forgotten format. Who knows maybe I should get a hold of a Blättnerphone or a wire recorder and make a really deep reach into the past for my next promotion? Of course, it will come with a code to get the 96 kHz/24-bit digital files. Whew.