Sunday, April 10, 2016

GoldStar Blanks Cassette Tapes: The Best Value for Money Blank Cassette Tapes of the 1990s?

Even though the company has since renamed itself did GoldStar managed to manufacture the best value-for-money blank cassette tapes back in the 1990s?

By: Ringo Bones  

Now known as LG, the South Korea based GoldStar managed to build one of the best value-for-money consumer electronic and data storage media products back in the 1990s. Even my 14-inch GoldStar color TV model CN-14A146 with serial number 60514212 that was bought back in July 1995 still works to this very day. And did you also know that GoldStar managed to manufacture value-for-money blank cassette tapes whose performance were comparable to that of up-market TDK and Maxell blank cassette tapes during the 1990s? 

Even though TDK Type-I ferric blank cassette tapes were the most widely available here in South East Asia during the 1990s, many audiophiles preferred GoldStar’s series of blank cassette tapes because they are on average cost one-fifth as much as equivalent TDKs. TDK’s D series of Type-I normal ferric cassette tapes normally sell for around 1 US dollars each back in the 1990s, GoldStar’s HR series of Type-I normal ferric cassette tapes on average sell for around 20 US cents each – only voices grade cassette tapes destined for phone answering machines were cheaper – but Goldstar’s HR series of cassette tapes like their GoldStar HR60 (60-minute) and GoldStar HR90 (90-minute) cassettes managed performance that’s comparable to TDK’s higher spec normal Type-I ferric tapes like their TDK AD and AR series of  Type-I cassette tapes. 

And during the mid 1990s, GoldStar blank tapes managed to make your cassette tape equipped car stereo and Walkmans sound like the famed Marantz CD 63 SE Ken Ishiwata signature model if you placed a GoldStar HR series of normal blank cassette tapes on an audiophile quality cassette tape deck – these start at around 150 US dollars each brand new back in the mid 1990s – and record from a good value for money CD player like the famed Marantz CD 63 SE KI Signature. And GoldStar also manufactured value-for-money Type-IV metal particle cassette tape like their GoldStar MTX60 and MTX90 series of cassette tapes during the 1990s and they too cost one-fifth as much as comparable TDK metal tapes.      

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Tips For Recording A Loud Hair Metal / Heavy Metal Bands Onto Cassette Tape?

Given that cassette tape, as a recording medium, has inherent limitations in the low and high frequency extremes, would you still be able to record good loud hair metal tunes on it?

By: Ringo Bones 

Whether from a live band or from a “realistic sounding” open-reel analog master tape, the lowly compact cassette really has inherent limitations when recording very low and very high frequencies at very loud levels. And yet during the heyday of hair metal – between 1980 to 1992 – recording studio mavens managed to make a significant number of recordings that managed to sound very good on the lowly cassette tape which during the time, was still the dominant recording medium and it wasn’t until the mid 1990s that CD players that can be described as both affordable and good sounding entered the market. Maybe it’s just for nostalgia, but here are a few tips on how to record a loud hair metal band onto cassette tape and make them sound relatively pristine. 

Of all the cassette tape recording tips, the one that’s frequently overlooked is that audio cassette tapes can have a hard time handling very high and very low frequencies. In the low end, the lowest bass notes like the open E-string form a bass guitar – at around 40 Hz – can cause distortion if the level is too high. In the high frequencies, sibilance or “sss-sounds” can cause tape distortion via high frequency saturation so using a de-esser helps keep things under control during mastering onto cassette especially if the open reel master tape was recorded at 30 inches per second with gobs of very loud and pristine high frequencies. If you are already saturating cassette tapes from excessive high frequencies, boosting your high frequencies to create a ” brilliant timbre” cassette recording will only cause more trouble. 

One tricked employed by 1980s era heavy metal bands in recording onto cassettes that resulted in a “brilliant” sound without resulting in distorted high frequencies is by mixing in more presence in the upper midrange / lower high-frequency range – from 2,000 Hz to 6,000 Hz – to mask the tape hiss of low-cost Type-I ferric cassettes. Giving more space between the microphone and acoustic guitars and cymbals will definitely help – especially back in 1989 where acoustic electric Ovation guitars with built in equalizers that were then in vogue when hair metal era heavy metal bands record power ballads often produce enough high frequencies to saturate Type-I ferric cassette tapes with ease.  

When recording your master tape onto cassette, use a multi-band peak limiter with a built-in pre-emphasis before limiting, like the Behringer Combinator or Aphex Dominator or a high frequency limiter. The resulting cassette will be more open-sounding without sounding unduly dull in comparison to its open-reel master tape. Using a good high-pass filter to roll off very low frequencies definitely helps because cassette tapes tend to compress when recording signals below 50 Hz or so. Even up-market Nakamichi cassette tape decks produce “horrendous” harmonic distortion readings below 50 Hz. 

Use a device that adds brilliance only to low-level signals. That is what Dolby B does in its encoding stage. The higher the input level, the less high-frequency boost Dolby B gives. The widely used cassette tape recording “plug-in” called the Aphex Aural Exciter with its “Big Bottom” mode and similar devices work similarly by adding low levels of high-frequency harmonic distortion. This is tricky because you generally want to push the cassette tape as loud as possible just to the cusp of distortion and saturation, but if you already have distortion in your mix – especially in the open-reel master tape – there may be a compounding effect. And if you want to avoid your drum-kit – especially the kick drum – from sounding like a 1980s era synth-samples, practice restraint when it comes to boosting low frequency signals below 50 Hz.  

Saturday, April 2, 2016

High Bias Type II Cassette Tapes: The Most Cost Effective Upgrade form Normal Cassette Tapes?

Costing on average twice that of Normal Type I cassette tapes are High Bias Type II cassette tapes the most cost effective upgrade for the budget conscious audiophile?

By: Ringo Bones 

During the 1980s – and in fact well into the 1990s and the first decade of the year 2000 – audiophiles who still use cassette tapes in compiling their own “mix tapes” for personal listening via Walkman or car stereo will probably gravitate towards TDK’s Super Avilyn cobalt-doped series of high bias Type II cassette tapes despite that on average these costs twice as much as Normal or Type I cassette tapes. But is the improvement in sound quality really worth the cost? 

In my actual experience on the matter, CD players were still a relative rarity in the 1990s and no CD potable – then and now – even approaches the sound quality capability of the famed Marantz CD 63 SE Ken Ishiwata Signature. But inexplicably, if you are lucky enough to own or have access to a good sounding CD player and an excellent audiophile tape deck, like a Marantz CD 63 SE connected to those Technics “Thin Film Tape Head” series of cassette decks, recording your CDs onto a TDK Super Avilyn blank cassette even without resorting to speed doubling could make your still functional 1980s era Sony Walkman sounds as good as a Marantz CD 63 CD player. 

To me at least, my primary raison d’être for using high bias tapes over normal tapes is that not only that high bias tapes like TDK SA can record better high frequencies in comparison to normal cassette tapes but also of their low noise or tape hiss. Walkmans and car stereos are usually equipped with Type II High Bias 70 μ second / Type I 120 μ second switch. Switching the setting to Type II 70 μ second usually results in a noise reduction that’s better than Dolby B without the dulling effect of low cost cassette playback equipment with a not optimally set Dolby B noise reduction system . And I bet others' preference of other high bias tapes than the TDK SA over normal Type I tapes may be largely due to tape hiss issues.