The XLII-90: The choice of champions.

A cassette revival is in full effect … are you fucking kidding with this shit?

OK, the news that cassettes are making a comeback is not news at all. Limited-run C-60 editions have been showing up in independent record stores and on Tumblr for more than a year now. But a few things have happened in the last couple of weeks that indicate that early 2013 will officially be when this goes beyond the “cute tchotchke” and “uniquely ironic physical media fetish object” phases and into the “alright, let’s cut this out” phase.

Feeder-Borders-cassette

First, there was the news last week that cassette singles – the worst permutation of a horrible format – tripled their UK sales in 2012. A 300% increase! That’s amazing! Of course, they went from 218 units in 2011 sold to 604 units sold, and 480 of those 604 were for a goddamned Feeder single, without which, sales of the format would have been halved. So, we can agree that what we’re dealing with here is a gimmick, right?

Wrong.

_JAN WEB

Because January 2013 is also the month that one of my favorite labels – the wonderful Burger Records – launched their A TAPE A DAY, OK?! promotion. Which is exactly what it sounds like: Every day in January, the label will release a new tape every. single. day. And the schedule looks awesome! Masters of Reality, White Flag, Lightships, Rikk Agnew, … uh, Nirvana. All on tape, the shittiest format in the land (besides 8-tracks). Of course, a lot of these releases will be (or have been) available on other formats, and of course, Burger is known for releasing cassette versions of lots of their releases. (Like this and this and this and OMG THIS.) But a massive promotion like this, from one of the best and coolest labels around is just a sad, sad portent for how acceptable cassettes are going to be this year.

leaving-records-dual-form-cassette

And that’s not all! Coming out next week is Dual Form, an absolutely excellent compilation from L.A.-based Leaving Records which is being released in conjunction with the fine folks at Stones Throw. It’s got Sun Araw, Odd Nodsam, Dntel, Dak, the Cyclist, and a metric ton of other forward-facing electronic/psych/freak-shit. It’s a great record … except it’s not a record at all. It’s a DOUBLE CASSETTE, in keeping with Leaving’s tradition of cassette-only releases. (And, yeah, technically, it’s also being released on double-vinyl and as a download, but that interferes with my theory, so I’m ignoring it.)

Who the hell is buying cassettes? I mean, I know who’s buying them. I’ve seen them buy them. But why are they buying them? Can they actually listen to them? Cars don’t have tape decks anymore. (And if your old car has one, it’s gotta be working suboptimally at best.) The Walkman is dead. And more importantly, cassettes sound like shit, they don’t travel well, and they’re a total pain in the ass to use. It’s gotta be a “well, everyone’s buying vinyl, so I’ve gotta buy something more obscure” thing, right? If you’re buying these things for anything more than their physical irony, please chime in, because I’m legitimately curious.

[UPDATE: After getting some feedback, I realize I glided right past the primary reason cassettes are making a comeback: They’re cheap! For the music-buyer, they’re cheaper than (legal) downloads, they’re cheaper than CDs, and they’re waaaay cheaper than vinyl. And they should be cheaper; they sound like shit! But they’re not substantially cheaper to make than CDs; you can get a run of 500 tapes for between $500 and $600, while it costs about $1000 to get 1000 CDs made. But cost-of-production has never determined the retail cost of music, so instead of arguing that CDs should cost $5 (they should), it seems like cassette-oriented labels are saying: “You know, if the best legal way to get $5 from someone who digs this band is to sell ‘em a tape, then let’s sell ‘em a tape.” And that makes sense to me. But still, they sound like shit and are awful and ugly-ironic and can we please just sell CDs for $5 instead, or, at the very least please please please not try and pretend that cassettes are some cool and interesting and worthwhile object?]

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7 thoughts on “A cassette revival is in full effect … are you fucking kidding with this shit?

  1. Pingback: The cassette revival is underway and… WAIT, WHAT??? | Diary of a Music Addict

  2. Pingback: Pasta da Reciclagem: Cassete | Mesa de Mistura

  3. I am pleased to read your article on the resurgence of the music cassette tape on this day( 07/09/2013 ) which celebrates the 50th anniversary of its birth.The cassette tape was the forerunner of portable music assisted by the invention of the Sony Walkman with the iconic blue Walkman TPS-L2 and its forerunner but seldom seen Boodoo Khan DD100. There is a burgeonong market on used tape machines particularly Sony Walkman on Ebay which may account in some part for the increase in used and now new cassette tapes sales. Long may it continue and regain ( along with vynl )ground lost to digital music.

  4. you know a good vintage cassette deck paired with a good 70′s receiver sounds awesome compared to an ipod. That’s a fact jack. But yest he format sucks and the ipod still winds for stuffing everything on one device and carrying in the pocket.

    What really needs to happen is a good sounding MP# format. Currently so much is stripped away and bands are even recording in mp3 now making matters worse. Sound quality has been going down the tubes since the 80′s.

    I am not an LP waving hipster. I love everything about the IPOD except the sound. While it is passable and sometimes even quite decent when ripped in large files, Apple refuses to allow good quality files on their device. Apple is the new record company. Shooting itself really and allowing their dominance to fade as people get new devices like the squeezebox.

    • There won’t be a good sounding MP3 format. You’ve got to go to lossless formats (which are totally available through distribution services like band camp and the choice of formats is often available with DL cards that come inside LPs) if you want good sound. And why is it better to love cassettes than to be an “LP waving hipster?” Vinyl is an awesome format for home listening that sounds great, comes with esthetically pleasing packaging and has much more room for collector’s value than CDs or cassettes. And pretty much every vinyl I’ve bought has come with a download card so that I can have a high quality digital version to listen to in the car or on my iPod Classic.

  5. While I understand your hesitance of bringing back an old format, you do not bring up the fact that CD’s are not that great. Sure, they contain .wav files at sample depth of 16-bit 44.1k. Of course, you don’t bring up the fact that they’re flimsy as fuck and are so easily scratched that it has driven most people to abandon CD’s altogether. Most artists these days have made the files directly downloadable from sites such as Bandcamp, where you can download whatever quality you so please (*FLAC/ALAC/WAV/MP3 file formats*)

    It’s simply not true to say that cassettes “sound like shit”. How old are you,15? Analog has been found by so many to have a distinctively favorable flavor of compression. Not only that, but digital files do not contain continuous wavelengths. A sign wave goes through what I like to call, the stair step effect.

    Each step is a snap shot of the actual wavelength. Technically, even now, digital simply does not take enough snap shots to justify it as completely and utterly “better” than analog. In fact, MOST professional albums are recorded straight to large format analog recording machines. Usually Studers or some other ridiculously expensive reel to reel recorder.

    Now, I am not some hipster that believes that only analog is the way to go. I believe that ALL formats have their pros and cons. In fact, I often times record directly onto my computer for demos and scratch tracks. I have a 4 track cassette recorder which I use for my final product. I will record four tracks of a stereo mic on the drums, one dynamic mic on the snare, and one low frequency dynamic mic on the kick. Then I record four over dubs of guitar and so on with every instrument. I bounce each overdubbing session into Pro Tools and wala.

    Back to cassettes as a stereo format. I would go as far as to say that I prefer cassettes over CD’s for storing a physical piece of music. I collected CD’s only for about 20 years before I realized just how much they suck. I literally had CD’s that I would not play for years and one day I would decide to pop one of this “mint” CD’s in to the player. It was hit or miss, often times they would play fine and A LOT of times they would skip too many times to count. And don’t even get me started on the amount of poorly pressed CD’s that were missing tracks or some dumb shit like that. I’m talking big name artists as well as underground bands, these were not shittily “burned” CD’s. In fact, my burned CD’s had a lower rate of failure because I made sure they were burned at a slow speed and I also made sure that ALL of the tracks made it on my CD’s.

    Keep in mind, I am an audiophile and I’m also a recording engineer. I only download mp3′s if they are the only format available for that album. Otherwise, I only accept .WAV files or .FLAC or .ALAC. I am someone that knows the difference between what sounds like shit and what doesn’t. Cassettes do not just “sound like shit” as you so eloquently put it. If they do, it’s most likely because the band recorded that way on purpose to produce a “lofi” sound or they just don’t know what the hell they are doing production wise.

    Also, I disagree with Spidey on there needs to be a “good sounding MP# format”. There are plenty of formats out there. What needs to happen is a terabyte iPod and other digital audio players. The people who listen to .mp3′s are people that care about quantity over quality. We already have lossless formats, which are the best it’s going to get. And yes, they Apple does allow lossless format on the iPod… It’s called .ALAC, it’s basically the exact same as .FLAC. It’s just Apple’s version on .FLAC. In iTunes preferences, you can change the file type in which you want your audio to be ripped. I believe that it is listed as Apple Lossless.

    So, to end this. I don’t buy cassettes if there is a vinyl version. I do however, buy cassettes of lesser known bands that cannot afford for their albums to be pressed to vinyl. Cassettes are super cheap as far as distributing a physical format and are ideal for bands that are self releasing their music and want to give some form of analog audio. A band could spend maybe 180 bucks releasing 100 cassette units of their album. Not only that, they don’t sound as shitty as you say. Check out a label called Hash Crimes, they almost exclusively release tapes and the bands are brilliant. Pressing 100 slabs of vinyl can easily turn into a several thousand $ enterprise. Do the math.

    • “Keep in mind, I am an audiophile and I’m also a recording engineer.”

      Son, I know audiophiles, I’ve worked with audiophiles. You’re no audiophile.

      No self-respecting audiophile of at least the last 25 years would advert to a preference for 1/8″ magnetic tape over 16/44.1 digital. Cassette tapes were never widely adopted by audiophiles — not when specialty vendors (such as Advent) were producing specialty decks in the 1970s, nor (in the 70s and 80s) when boutique publishing houses (such as the first-generation MFSL) were releasing “audiophile-oriented” cassettes. The equipment was much better by then — Dolby C and dbx could sometimes be found in the same deck; transport mechanisms were much more robust, with three or even four motors, multiple heads, etc.; many decks could likewise self-optimize for bias and azimuth alignment (Nakamichi had an ingenious design — it might’ve been the 404; it was not the Dragon — that would rotate the entire cassette around, keeping the heads in place, to maintain azimuth alignment) — but the fact was that cassette tape was always viewed as an unconscionable/abominable compromise by most audiophiles and that few self-described audiophiles ever adopted it. THERE WERE AND ARE GOOD REASONS FOR THIS. And while later NR techs such as Dolby S absolutely recast cassette as a suitable primary and (to some extent) archival format, they came much too late, were implemented only sporadically, and saw limited use in pre-recorded media.

      I find the idea that people are seriously discussing — much less championing — the merits of cassette tape to be … surreal. To co-opt the question that you put to a prior poster: how old are _you_? A child of the 90s? My god, [wo]man, crack open your putative recording engineer’s books and read a bit about the history (and inherent limitations) of 1/8″ cassette tape. On a related note: why aren’t our hipster friends trying to bring back 1/4″ magnetic tape? There’s a format worth reviving! A format that gives you some of the inherent benefits of analog tape (the bleedy, organic compression-at-saturation to which you adverted) with vastly superior technical specs.

      A related related note: most of the people bashing CD, “recording engineers” or no, continuously and reliably demonstrate that they are know nothings. Which is to say: they know _just_ enough to be dangerous — to the causes of transparency, thoughtful, fact-based discussion, etc. Put another way: I won’t tell you that you would not be able to discern a difference in an ABX comparison between a cassette and a CD source; you’d know the cassette instantly, by virtue of its audibly (much) worse signal-to-noise ratio. (Are ya familiar with tape hiss? With the limitations of Dolby B, which was the commercial standard for NR back in the cassette’s heyday? Jesus. Night and day, I tell you. The CD’s noise floor is inaudible; thqt of the cassette … is not.) But I will say this: in an ABX between a cassette source and _a real-time 16-44.1 digital recording (latency adjusted) of that source_ — in such a case, I’d lay dollars to donuts, you’d have trouble reliably discerning a difference. The results of your ABX would be statistically indistinguishable from guess work.

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