Dr. AIX's POSTS — 11 November 2015

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As I was driving to my teaching responsibilities yesterday afternoon, I heard a piece reported by Molly Wood on an audio format that you might have thought had gone the way of the 8-track cartridge…analog cassettes. I’d heard that the world had not yet rid itself of this aging format some many months ago and wrote an article of my own on this curiosity. But here was another report on the NPR show Marketplace about a company in Springfield, Missouri called the National Audio Company. These guys made more than 10 million audio cassette tapes in 2014, their biggest year ever!

They sell custom length cassettes to small indie labels, artists, and others in an era when the vast majority of young people are listening to MP3 files on their portable players. How in the world could a format that was current when I was in high school still have any market share? The answer came from National Audio President President Steve Stepp. According to Steve:

“The end users are the under 35 age group. These are people who grew up with the MP3 and earbuds and that’s what they thought music sounded like. And then at some point in time, they listened to grandpa’s open reel tapes or cassettes, or maybe his LPs, and they heard real analog music. And they thought ‘Wow! That’s what music sounds like.’…The retro revolution is part of it, but the second thing is a realization that we really got away from something good when we gave up analog audio. And people now who have heard the two types prefer it.”

I almost had to pull off of the freeway to compose myself after hearing this. It’s more of the same outmoded thinking that claims everything and anything analog is somehow better than today’s digital music systems and files. In all honestly, I would rather submit myself to a 320 kbps MP3 file than suffer through the best cassette playback in the world. Steve may be riding a wave involving audio cassettes but he must not be doing a whole lot of listening these days.

Compact audio cassettes have very poor fidelity due to their very narrow tracks (4 within 1/8 of an inch), slow tape speed (1 7/8 ips), and clumsy transports. With the help of Nakamichi and Dolby, the format was improved but never to the point it competed sonically with vinyl LPs or analog reel to reel machines. I suspect that National Audio Company’s success with cassettes is due to nostalgia, convenience, and low cost.

According to the report, NAC is sales are growing at over 20% per year and 10 million cassettes is a very large number.

I can’t help but think that the under 35 age group would enthusiastically embrace real high-resolution music, if they ever got the chance to hear it. As you know, I make available a dozen of my high-resolution tracks via my FTP site. Following my interview on Leo Laporte’s “Triangulation” show, I’ve received hundreds of requests for those tracks. The feedback has been very encouraging…one listen and you know.

Forward this post to a friend and help us spread the word about HD-Audio Forward this post to a friend and help us spread the word about HD-Audio

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About Author

Dr. AIX

Mark Waldrep, aka Dr. AIX, has been producing and engineering music for over 40 years. He learned electronics as a teenager from his HAM radio father while learning to play the guitar. Mark received the first doctorate in music composition from UCLA in 1986 for a "binaural" electronic music composition. Other advanced degrees include an MS in computer science, an MFA/MA in music, BM in music and a BA in art. As an engineer and producer, Mark has worked on projects for the Rolling Stones, 311, Tool, KISS, Blink 182, Blues Traveler, Britney Spears, the San Francisco Symphony, The Dover Quartet, Willie Nelson, Paul Williams, The Allman Brothers, Bad Company and many more. Dr. Waldrep has been an innovator when it comes to multimedia and music. He created the first enhanced CDs in the 90s, the first DVD-Videos released in the U.S., the first web-connected DVD, the first DVD-Audio title, the first music Blu-ray disc and the first 3D Music Album. Additionally, he launched the first High Definition Music Download site in 2007 called iTrax.com. A frequency speaker at audio events, author of numerous articles, Dr. Waldrep is currently writing a book on the production and reproduction of high-end music called, "High-End Audio: A Practical Guide to Production and Playback". The book should be completed in the fall of 2013.

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