Sunday, August 23, 2015

Cassette Tapes: Less Than Ideal High Fidelity Audio Medium?

Despite the 21st Century romanticism on how better cassette tapes are in comparison to CDs, MP3s and other digital mass music media, are cassette tapes just “too fragile” to be a hi-fi audio medium? 

By: Ringo Bones 

Romanticism and a rose-tinted view of the heyday of the cassette tape had been on the up-rise on every social media network since the first decade of the 21st Century that sometimes I wonder if these people were actually there first hand – as working musicians and amateur musicians – with only expensive and fragile cassette tape recordings to fall back into when rehearsing for their respective cover-song. Maybe I’ll just ramble yet again on my “bad experiences” of the cassette tape during the 1980s up to the early 1990s. 

Unlike those CD transports found in cheap boom-boxes and table-top AM/FM cassette recorders of the 1990s, tape transports found in these devices tend to eat cassette tapes. Although cleaning with 90-percent isopropyl alcohol on top-flight cassette tape decks, especially the capstan and rubber pinch-rollers on a regular basis means that cassette tapes being eaten on reasonable quality hi-fi decks are an extreme rarity, cheap boom-box CD transports are not known to damage CDs with their “overactive” ultraviolet lasers. 

 Another cassette tape – in fact every magnetic recording tape as well - weakness is that when they are exposed to a sufficiently powerful magnetic field, they tend to go dull that is they loose their high-frequency response. This problem is often experienced by electric guitar and electric bass players where a cassette tape copy of the song they are supposed to rehearse is tossed in the electric guitar case or bass guitar case causing the recording to become dull and some parts to drop-off or be erased completely upon exposure to the powerful magnets of electric guitar pickups or bass guitar pickups. Open-reel tapes – as in master tapes of bands whose budgets allow them to work on one - in transit often avoid this problem by being stored in a mild-steel case that acts as a magnetic shield to prevent dulling and erasure of high frequency signals – i.e. cymbals and lead guitar parts – but when was the last time you’ve seen a cassette tape housed in a magnetically shielded mild-steel housing and case?