Even though Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs’ Geo Tape is the one often mentioned, are there more widely available test cassette tapes out there?
By: Ringo Bones
Believe it or not, even well into the 1990s – and probably even until this day – there’s still no agreed for the level at which the 0VU peak record level is set on high fidelity cassette tape decks. During the 1990s, the 200nWb (nano Weber) Dolby flux was most commonly used for quality budget decks, but lower down the price scale on budget designs with inferior tape heads that would overload at a much lower level, 0VU is set -3dB below Dolby. Some top line models, like Nakamichi, have their 0VU set high up at IEC 0dB flux of 250nWb which many audiophiles and engineers, then and now, think is most sensible. But is there a reliable way to “calibrate” the cassette tape decks you currently own regardless of quality even if you don’t have access to a sophisticated signal generator and an oscilloscope?
The British made Harrison Test Cassette available from Canford Audio which retailed for around £20 back in the mid 1990s is one of the most widely available and often turns up in garage sales and weekend swap meets. This has Dolby level plus other tests that are useful in aligning cassette tape decks. While the “Cadillac” of test cassette tapes are those BASF IEC test tapes, especially those that are IEC Primary Reference Standard which back in the mid 1990s costs £69.20 each. But it is a very reliable way to establish IEC 0dB using the “Level Control 315Hz Code-XB” track and given that it is a premium quality cassette test tape, it can establish IEC reference level to a degree of certainty manufacturers cannot question.
After having reliably establish IEC 0dB, you can now record to around +4dB above it on musical peaks on metal tape and around +2dB on ferrics and chromes. And don’t forget to add 2dB to these figures if you set the 0dB of your cassette tape deck at 200nWb Dolby flux. But the most effective test you can perform after aligning your cassette tape deck is on how effectively it can record music tracks.