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Why Are Cassette Tapes Making A Comeback?

By Barry Reilly
Lunchtime Presenter – Irvine Beat FM

Cassette Tapes To Make A Comeback?

You may have seen this story doing the rounds. Tape sales have increased, the “cassette tape revival is on”! In this article we take a look to see if the tape really did deserve such a bad reputation.

The Revival Has Started, But Why?

The cassette tape has seen their highest level of sales in 15 years. In 2019 the percentage of sales of albums purchased on tape format has risen over 125%. Although compared to streaming and downloading albums, the percentage share is still very low in the overall sales of music. Less than 1%.

2018/19 has seen artists such as The 1975 & Ariana Grande releasing their latest albums on tape format. Even the Now That’s What I Call Music compilation series released their latest edition on tape.

Following the revival of vinyl records in recent years, we look to answer two questions:

  • Why are consumers returning to old technology to purchase their music?
  • Was the tape format really that bad?

Nostalgic Purposes

Records and tapes may be becoming more popular for nostalgic reasons. Maybe the sense of actually owning the product rather than paying a continuous subscription to streaming services is the reason.

The price. Tapes are cheap to produce. Cheaper than vinyl records. Record companies will be keen to promote tape sales to ride the wave of nostalgia following the vinyl revival.

Throughout the 80’s and early 90’s, tapes were once the most popular format to buy music.

Cheap To Manufacture

Retail price for an album on tape format was almost half the price of CDs. Vinyl records were always slightly more expensive than tapes.

Were Tapes Really So Bad?

The reputation that tapes have with the “Millennial generation” appears terrible. You would think that tapes were always getting stuck in tape machines and you had to always reach for a pencil to wind them back in.

The reality and truth though, this didn’t happen very often. Sometimes on a hot day in the car stereo using a tape deck that was past it’s best and probably never been cleaned, this may have occurred. But generally the vast majority of tapes survived.

So What About The Poor Sound Quality?

The truth is, the quality of a genuine album on tape was remarkably good. Poor hi-fi equipment that was mass produced to meet demand, actually gave the cassette tape a bad name.

A genuine tape, playing on a good quality stereo system actually sounded incredible.

Music Piracy

Another reason that tapes got a bad reputation for their “poor sound quality” is that many people listened to recordings on blank tapes rather than genuine albums. These recordings were usually made off of the radio. Again using poor quality hi-fi equipment.

Quality Of Cheaper Tapes

In the 1980’s at the peak of popularity of the cassette tape, the quality of blank tapes was also a big factor in the end quality of tape recordings. For example consumers were offered a choice of a pack of 6x TDK Ferric D90’s for around £3. Or the higher quality MA-R (Metal) tapes at around £6 each.

To put that into perspective, £6 for a single high quality blank tape (inflation calculated) would be around £18 today!

So it’s little wonder that most opted for the cheaper quality.

So to conclude:

Whether the revival of tape format will last or not remains to be seen. Skipping tracks seems to be the major downside of listening to music on tape. But as for sound quality and durability. Tapes have quite an unfair bad reputation. When playing genuine tapes on good quality equipment, they actually sounded pretty good.

Top Tape Tip

Additionally. If you are looking to pick up some 2nd hand equipment to play your tapes, look for the later generation tape decks that had “Dolby S” technology. These are equipped with the noise reduction filters to adapt to various formats of tape.

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