Anyone have any experience with using cassette tapes recently?

Longchops

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Oct 15, 2020
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OK I decided to get back into cassette tapes this year, I bought a £20 deck from cash converters and was quite impressed at how an old techno tape sounded on it so made me think hmmm....nostalgia....

So I spent a bit more and bought an old Nakamichi BX-100E (two header) tape player and basically WOW. They actually sound incredible, I always remembered tapes sounding rubbish but this comes very close to CD and a lot warmer

Only thing I am struggling with is the tapes themselves. I bought about 100 tapes (yeah I know) and probably 20% of them didn't work. A lot have mould on the side of the spools leave deposits over the heads and are unplayable, probably the same amount stick and the spools won't turn, and the rest have clearly been chewed up by a crappy walkman or something because you can see lines running down the tape itself.

Is it just me or are tapes just impossible to in 2020? Or could it be a problem with the Nakamichi deck itself? I've just bought 3 copies of the same album and none of them worked, and all had slightly different faults :tearsofjoy:

I know its probably a strange format to use in 2020 but I grew up with it and the 80s/90s stuff I used to listen to back then has a very distinctive sound on tape and I really like it. Anyone else tried using these recently?

Cheers
 

iMark

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I really liked tapes back in the 80's and 90's. My best ever deck was an Aiwa AD3800. That was a really interesting machine because it would measure the bias of every tape before recording and give the best results. Best results with expensive metal (type IV) tapes.

However, I switched to minidiscs in the late 1990's. Much better sound quality for taping CDs. Completely hassle-free compared to cassettes.

I have no idea of decent tapes are still being produced. I had a quick search and it seems that you can only buy cheap type I tapes (ferro, not very good) or expensive type II (chrome) tapes. Without good quality tapes I wouldn't bother using cassettes.
 
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Yep, I still play some tapes I recorded myself years ago (mainly pub rock and blues bands) on my Sony Professional Walkman and still have plenty of old / new blank chrome tapes + TDK SAs. These are very much useable.
Would not recommend second hand cassettes now personally. I only kept mine for so long as my old car still had a cassette player in the dash.
 
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abacus

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Cassette tapes have lubrication pads on each side of the case which dries out over time, so you need to open them up and rub some WD40 over them which allow the tape reels to rotate freely.

Belts & rollers can perish over time as they are made of rubber, so depending on the age of the player and when it was last used, they may need to be replaced.

Bill
 
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Longchops

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I really liked tapes back in the 80's and 90's. My best ever deck was an Aiwa AD3800. That was a really interesting machine because it would measure the bias of every tape before recording and give the best results. Best results with expensive metal (type IV) tapes.

However, I switched to minidiscs in the late 1990's. Much better sound quality for taping CDs. Completely hassle-free compared to cassettes.

I have no idea of decent tapes are still being produced. I had a quick search and it seems that you can only buy cheap type I tapes (ferro, not very good) or expensive type II (chrome) tapes. Without good quality tapes I wouldn't bother using cassettes.

I'm only using pre-recorded tapes at the moment. Looks like they are a mixture of chrome and ferric, some have been recorded/mastered really well though. They have a very unique sound compared to any other media, I really like them (when they work)

Wonder if its a specific type of tape that is more susceptible to the dreaded mould.....they just seem to have such a high failure rate I'm wondering if my tape player needs a new belt or something?

I've been getting back into minidiscs too, always liked the sound of those. Even though they contain less data than a CD, I swear they improve the clarity of certain albums. Fetching a pretty penny on ebay at the moment, some prerecorded minidiscs are going for over £100 on ebay (!)
 

iMark

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There's lots to say about cassettes. I mainly remember that it's a medium that suffers from lack of standardisation. There were different noise reduction systems and tapes recorded on one machine wouldn't sound great on another. I remember making mix tapes that wouldn't sound very good on other people's decks.

Prerecorded cassettes were often not made with the best tapes available.
But I did have great results with recording CDs and LPs in the 1980s on a deck with Dolby C noise reduction on metal (type IV) tape. That was as good as it got on a tiny tape running at only 4,76cm per minute.

I was really happy when Minidiscs arrived. If only that format would have had better compatibility with computers the world of HiFi would have been very different.
 

Longchops

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Oct 15, 2020
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Cassette tapes have lubrication pads on each side of the case which dries out over time, so you need to open them up and rub some WD40 over them which allow the tape reels to rotate freely.

Belts & rollers can perish over time as they are made of rubber, so depending on the age of the player and when it was last used, they may need to be replaced.

Bill

Interesting. Doesn't look like these ones have screws though, I'm guessing I might have to crack them open which could damage them....the cassette deck was supposed to have been serviced fairly recently, but I think the pitch is very very slightly too high in general so might need recalibrating or something.....


There's lots to say about cassettes. I mainly remember that it's a medium that suffers from lack of standardisation. There were different noise reduction systems and tapes recorded on one machine wouldn't sound great on another. I remember making mix tapes that wouldn't sound very good on other people's decks.

Prerecorded cassettes were often not made with the best tapes available.
But I did have great results with recording CDs and LPs in the 1980s on a deck with Dolby C noise reduction on metal (type IV) tape. That was as good as it got on a tiny tape running at only 4,76cm per minute.

I was really happy when Minidiscs arrived. If only that format would have had better compatibility with computers the world of HiFi would have been very different.

What you record it from, what type of music it is and the quality of the tape all made a massive difference to the sound, sometimes the most expensive wasn't always the best, most prerecorded ones I own are standard ferric but they still sound really good, particularly on 90s metal/grunge/anything with loud guitars, or DJ mix tapes mixed from vinyl. Chrome had less hiss though....

Minidiscs were a great format. Even better than CDs in the end too. The high density Hi-MDs were 1GB and could store 94 mins of uncompressed CD quality audio....I actually quite liked the compression of the regular ones myself though tbh.....
 

danny-79

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I’ve been using tape for a few years now. Got a couple of decks. There is something nice about tapes I love.
eBay is about the best place for blanks. You should be able to get hold of TDK-SA for about £5 each. That’s what I’ve been paying anyways.
Most of my pre recorded tapes from back in the day have suffered the effects of time but making new ones is a favourite past time.
 
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manicm

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From what I can remember - the last time I used tapes was about 24 years ago - is that they can sound spectacular, recordings often sounded better than the original vinyl. But the general wear and tear gives me nightmares.

For me, best kept in the past. Anyway Minidisc was a worthy successor but sadly didn't take off. Actually I heard it was killed off only in the last 5 years or so in Japan.
 

DCarmi

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Funnily enough, I fired up my Cambridge Audio deck from 1990 for the first time months. Nada... No power! I though that perhaps it was perhaps time to ditch my cassette collection. As I was about to remove it for recycling, I thought I'd just check the plug and sure enough there was a disconnected wire. I'll hang onto my tapes for a little longer, I guess.
 
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iMark

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A bit off topic.
An old Minidisc deck can serve as a pretty good Analogue to Digital converter for digitising LP's or cassettes. I've got an old MacBook with optical in connected to the optical out of my Minidisc deck. I then record using Vinyl Studio.

Obviously it's not hi-res but uncompressed CD quality is more than good enough for my digital conversions.
 
D

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A bit off topic.
An old Minidisc deck can serve as a pretty good Analogue to Digital converter for digitising LP's or cassettes. I've got an old MacBook with optical in connected to the optical out of my Minidisc deck. I then record using Vinyl Studio.

Obviously it's not hi-res but uncompressed CD quality is more than good enough for my digital conversions.
yep minidisc where a great format, just released too late in many regions
 
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Longchops

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Ive got other types of tape machines too, have a couple of Philips DCC decks and the tapes for those all seem to be fine tbh, they don't sound quite as good as minidiscs though, or normal tapes for that matter, they are a bit too compressed, plus the library is pretty limited too. Still a cool machine though, surprised they still work tbh

Got a DAT deck too and currently waiting on a couple pre-recorded tapes to arrive for that so I can test it, those are really hard to source and cost a fortune.....in theory they should be able to record at higher than CD quality, at 48khz as opposed to 44.1khz but I think most of the available tapes were just CD quality. If I was recording, could I get a 48khz output from a MacBook or something?

Also while browsing on ebay I discovered another type of cassette deck called the Elcaset, I think there was only ever one official release on that format but they were supposed to be pretty good for recording, the tapes were massive and played much faster, people say they are a similar quality to reel-to-reel so I'm quite tempted to try and pick one up....
 

mikeyc38

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Oct 26, 2020
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I recently restored my 3-head Aiwa ADF-810 dual capstan machine and played some tapes (TDK SA-90) and they sounded pretty good considering their age. I have around 5 un-opened TDK SA-90 and a couple of Maxell MA-X 90 metal tapes. One of the best cassette decks I ever heard was the Nakamichi 480Z. No compression of the top end when recording at high levels and sounded great when played on other decks
 

Gray

Well-known member
A bit off topic.
An old Minidisc deck can serve as a pretty good Analogue to Digital converter for digitising LP's or cassettes. I've got an old MacBook with optical in connected to the optical out of my Minidisc deck. I then record using Vinyl Studio.

Obviously it's not hi-res but uncompressed CD quality is more than good enough for my digital conversions.
I always liked MD.
I've got a Sony MZ-R35, small portable recorder - and was well impressed when I borrowed my brother's full-sized, 'tuned for UK', JB930.
As good as it sounds though, I'm pretty sure MD uses ATRAC compression, which I seem to remember reading, is slightly better than mp3.
Hopefully, when using your deck as a live converter your digital signal comes out unscathed, as I'm sure it gets compressed as part of the recording process to the disc.
 
D

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I always liked MD.
I've got a Sony MZ-R35, small portable recorder - and was well impressed when I borrowed my brother's full-sized, 'tuned for UK', JB930.
As good as it sounds though, I'm pretty sure MD uses ATRAC compression, which I seem to remember reading, is slightly better than mp3.
Hopefully, when using your deck as a live converter your digital signal comes out unscathed, as I'm sure it gets compressed as part of the recording process to the disc.
i still have my sony mds-jb930 qs uk special edition unit. made in japan too !
 
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Gray

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i still have my sony mds-jb930 qs uk special edition unit. made in japan too !
Excellent deck.
This thread is about tape, I've still got loads of cassette (and reel-to reel) decks as I was well into editing / tape-to tape dubbing......but in terms of its ('frame' accurate) editing abilities, moving / deleting segments, that 930 MD deck is fantastic and so easy - even when compared to the latest PC audio editing software.
 

Longchops

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Oct 15, 2020
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I recently restored my 3-head Aiwa ADF-810 dual capstan machine and played some tapes (TDK SA-90) and they sounded pretty good considering their age. I have around 5 un-opened TDK SA-90 and a couple of Maxell MA-X 90 metal tapes. One of the best cassette decks I ever heard was the Nakamichi 480Z. No compression of the top end when recording at high levels and sounded great when played on other decks

Looking at the specs of the 480Z I think my BX-100E is almost identical, just a few years younger with a tape selector. They were both 'budget' models on the nakamichi scale of quality but compared to most other stuff they are in a different league....

It was the highs that caught my attention at first, on paper the high frequencies of a tape is not as high as a CD and the dynamic range is not as wide but my ears are having a very hard time accepting that listening to the Nak, the highs are beautiful, crisp and clear as a bell and sound so much more dynamic than every other digital sound source I have apart from SACD.

It seems tapes are having a bit of a renaissance tbh, I'm guessing its the zoomer generation who are discovering them for the first time. 5 of the tapes I bought this year are actually 2020 releases. Haven't actually listened to any of those yet, but I probably should....must say they look a little cheap compared to the tapes of old though. Call me sceptical but I think its perfectly possible we forgot how to make them properly in the 10-15 years they were basically obsolete, perhaps a vinyl and a 40 year old TDK SA-90 would be a better option
 

iMark

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Great thread this. Reminiscing about all the great stuff from the past.
The Aiwa ADF810 looks like a great machine, probably quite similar to the Aiwa AD3800 I used to have. Also dual capstan.
The Aiwa decks were very good and quite a bit cheaper than Nakamichi.

I don't think I want to go back to taping. But I still use my Minidisc deck. The world has changed a lot. I used to record radio shows. But there's no point anymore because almost everything is available online now.

Another forgotten technology? Using a hifi-stereo VHS machine for recording audio only. I used to have a great Hitachi VHS machine that was connected to my stereo receiver. The great thing was that I could use the timer to record radio. My stereo receiver had a Rec Out selector so I could tape a radio show while listening to another source.
 
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Gray

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Great thread this. Reminiscing about all the great stuff from the past.
Another forgotten technology? Using a hifi-stereo VHS machine for recording audio only.
You reminded me that I used to do that - seems a bit ridiculous now, using the more expensive Hi-fi VHS tapes with a deeper layer for the audio (bought 20 in one go in a London shop, realised how bulky they were when I got on the trains home!).

My 3 head, dual capstan cassette deck was (still is) the Pioneer CTF-850 brought home from Laskys on the bus - box was bigger than me.
That little delay you get when monitoring off the play head - I used a simple mixer, mixed it back in with the source and got a full range echo machine, at a time when digital echo was a luxury.
As well as the Pioneer I've still got JVC, Akai, Sony, Nad, Hitachi and Toshiba cassette decks stored away 😃.
 

Longchops

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Never knew you could use VHS recorders directly for audio!

The ADAT machines of the 90s used VHS tapes for digital audio though, those could handle 24 bit audio at up to 192kHz which was pretty incredible considering that was over 20 years ago and we've only just figured out a way of matching that with PCM

The innovations in audio of the 80s and 90s were just mind blowing, and the 'made in japan' stuff was of exceptional quality. It was like an audio arms race, everyone trying to make something better than the last...

The record companies were to blame for the collapse of it, if you remember how much all this stuff used to cost, a new release cassette at HMV was £10, a CD was £16, a minidisc was about the same, it was absolutely outrageous how much they used to charge, no wonder napster came along, they deserve everything they got!

One thing I miss so much about that era is the amount of record shops there used to be. Not to mention the arena-sized record fairs. Kids today will never know the joy of being able to flip through thousands of records to try and complete your collection and buying something just because the artwork looked cool :tearsofjoy:
 

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