I sure remember when the cassette was in its heyday. You could find them just about everywhere, so it seemed, from the “five and dime” to the most discriminating audiophile stores. As a younger man, I remember the serious discussions about which tape brand was the best. Usually it came down to either TDK or Maxell. Personally, although acknowledging that both were good, I would always give the nod to TDK — in particular, the SA90. I don’t ever remember having a problem with a TDK tape. I do remember having multitudes of issues with cheaper tapes, such as would be find in plastic bags of three or more hanging on a department store rack. They quickly took sales from 8 tracks and became increasingly popular as decks for recording became cheaper and plentiful. They varied in quality, price and length. Common lengths were 60 and 90 minutes. 110s and 120s came along, but were not considered advisable. Some cassette deck owner’s manuals specifically warned against the use of 120 minute tapes, as they had a tendency to break and also could not often handle the recording level of a 60 or 90 minute tape. The cassette had its day in the sun and quickly became relegated to obscurity after CD recording became cheap and easy… and the MP3 started gaining in popularity. The Internet made it easy to grab music and software like iTunes made it easy to burn it to cheap CDs that sounded good.
Although an endangered species, the cassette never really went extinct! With great sadness, the brands I came to rely on stopped being produced (with the exception of Maxell, which still produces the UR series of type I tape). My absolute favorite (the TDK SA90) hasn’t been made in years. Fortunately, I have been able to locate stashes of them on Ebay — still wrapped and in new condition. In fact, just last night I recorded a couple of Grateful Dead albums to one with very satisfactory results. Also fortunate is the fact that we have the National Audio Company here in the United States that is still manufacturing blank tape and is soon to release a new type I formula that they say will rival the finest type IIs! (That will come as good news if true, since type II tape is not being manufactured anywhere in the world anymore, to my knowledge). I have also located a good supply of Polaroid Brand high bias tape that has been more than satisfactory, especially at the price it is being sold. I have had very good results with both the 90 and 110 minute lengths. You can pick them up at totalmedia.com or deltamedia.com at reasonable cost.
So, why all this writing about cassettes? I’ll get to that in a future post!