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Author Topic: Cassettes - Help me to embrace them  (Read 16797 times)
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SinkSlopProcessing
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« on: March 17, 2016, 09:57:59 PM »

So, as we all know, there's lots of great noise & extreme material on cassette. I'm just getting back into them, and I'm already frustrated as hell.

After THREE defective cassette players (two brand new, one used), the fourth one worked - an old Walkman in very good condition. Cleaned the capstan, and it sounded great. Until it decided to eat the new album I just got... Rescued it from the clutches of the machine without breaking, but it wasn't easy. Cleaned again, and then I then attempted to play a 15 year-old tape of mine. While playable, it had degraded a significant amount, even when stored under very good conditions during that time. So that's the lifespan we're talking about here? All these great albums I want to buy will sound like shit in 15 years, even if I take good care of them? I have CD's twice that age, and vinyl 3 times that old, and they sound perfect when stored under the same conditions.


I'm trying to re-embrace this format - I really am. But it's fighting me every step of the way, and is already bringing back all the frustrations I had as a youth with cassettes.

I also refuse to spend $200 on a top-of-the-line Teac deck. For me, that completely defeats the purpose of cassettes being an affordable format.

Am I just having terrible luck here? What do you guys think? What are everyone else's experiences lately with the format?
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urall
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« Reply #1 on: March 17, 2016, 10:56:52 PM »

I think you just might have had bad luck.
 
I spent 15 euro years ago for a fully restored double tapedeck in a thrift shop, no problems whatsoever.
And most of my older tapes still play perfectly (talking about bought demos from the early 90's + own dubbed stuff..).

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burdizzo
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« Reply #2 on: March 17, 2016, 11:09:04 PM »

I was reared on cassette - all the albums I got from when I was 7 until I was, oooh, 20 or so, were tapes - but I have to say I'd sooner have LP or CD, and will generally only buy a tape if the release is not on CD or vinyl. However, I'd buy tape before CDr. Tape players can be picked up pretty cheap nowadays, and it's reckoned an old 'good' one is likely every bit as good as a brand new one, as the technology hasn't moved on since the heyday. That's what I'm told, anyway.
Yeah, sometimes an old-ish tape will play slow, or even chew, so it's a bit unpredictable. Mind you, the vast majority of the things I have from 30, 35 years ago play fine, so it probably is just a case of you being a little unlucky. Tapes, I think, are more durable and can take a bit more hardship than vinyl, but the big drawback is not being able to get to get to a particular point, or track, quickly. But, as you say, there's plenty of good stuff still being released on tape only, so from that point of view it's worth persevering. And my tractor has a tape player, so all is well!
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F_c_O
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« Reply #3 on: March 18, 2016, 12:18:42 AM »

I'd say bad luck too. I have tape deck bought for 40 euros and it works well for both playback and recording. Saddly the rewind button is broken and as such, I need to use a walkman to rewind.
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Theodore
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« Reply #4 on: March 18, 2016, 06:03:17 AM »

It's not tape's problem but machine's, unless it's the rare case when cassette cell is faulty. Just cause a machine plays it doesn't mean it's in good condition. Obviously that walkman wasn't. And it's not just the obvious problems of not working. It's W&F numbers, correct calibration, heads wear etc. I agree it needs luck or to invest a fair amount on a restored / repaired deck by someone who really knows. Or to have the technical knowledge and the equipment to restore one yourself.

My advice is don't buy anything cheap from Ebay that it just says "Working condition" cause sooner or later [Sooner likely] you will find out that it was money in the garbage bin. Ofcource there are cases where a good deck it needs just a belt and it's owner selling it for peanuts !

I am with a shitty Aiwa at the moment. Working OK but heads are not in good condition. I have a better Aiwa not working for years, i am trying to fix it myself, more likely i ll destroy totally haha. I gave a vintage Luxman with just an idler problem and high W&F for the shitty Aiwa. Move i regret now, but it doesn't matter anyway. I am in search for a repaired / serviced Nakamichi. Soon i hope.

I like tapes !
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« Reply #5 on: March 18, 2016, 08:15:58 AM »

Bad luck, indeed.
About seven years ago, when my previous tape deck (which I bought second-hand in the beginning of 90's) died, I bought this: http://www.ionaudio.com/products/details/tape-2-pc
I had my doubts at first but it had served me surprisingly well. Tape-to-tape dubbing, usb for making digital backup copies. The only fault i've met so far is the audible 'click' when dubbing tapes and pressing pause at the recording deck (makes the one-track-at-a-time recording quite annoying). They are actually making walkman-style portable tape players/converters too.
Some really old tapes (from 70's) mostly sound aged but I have a lot of 80's tapes that sound fine. Even though I like tapes I am usually bit paranoid with tape media, therefore I always make digital backups of rare and small edition tapes I get... just in case something unexpected happens.
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FreakAnimalFinland
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« Reply #6 on: March 18, 2016, 11:16:25 AM »

Tapes are mechanical items, so there may be also mechanical issues with them which are pretty easy to correct. These days I have faced a lot of tapes, which need little adjustment.

For example, certain popular duplicating company confirmed that many of their tape shells are old stock. Manufactured decades ago, which resulted that even if product is sort of "brand new", in fact, tapes were like 15-20 years old. This had resulted that spring what should give pad pressure isn't working anymore. This results that tape isn't either properly against tape heads so sound isn't good or it will start eat the tape all together.

What experts who have time to play around with precicious tapes say:
-Replace the pressure pad + spring
-Transfer the tape to another cassette shell
-Play the tape on a dual capstan machine.


What I generally use, works pretty much always:
If the pad has not rotted, sometimes the following will work:
bend the pressure pad spring a little so the pad sits closer to the outside of the cassette shell. This can be done with an L-shaped piece of 1mm steel wire by pulling carefully outward on the spring at two places, at each side of the pressure pad. Increase pulling pressure until the spring stays bent upward a little.


Nowadays I always check out how is the mechanics of spring/pad before I play tape. Almost without exception, I can already tell if tape will need slight adjustment before. It is really not a big deal and goes into same category like do you clean the dust of the LP before you play it. If you don't bother to take few little measures what format may require, then it's better just to move to CD and digital files. In ideal cases, tapes require almost nothing. Just push play and that's it.  In many cases, quality of bulk tapes used for high speed dubbing is such a rubbish, there are compromises in every detail of production. So, one may have to use couple seconds to re-adjust tape.

Some tape related tips here:
http://wiki.audacityteam.org/wiki/Recording_from_Cassette#Pressure_Pad
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SinkSlopProcessing
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« Reply #7 on: March 18, 2016, 09:23:16 PM »

Thanks for the advice everyone.

Well, now my FOURTH player died last night. The Walkman's belt came undone & that's why the capstan sucked up & ate the tape. Managed to put the belt back, but keeps sliding right back off due to lack of tension. So it needs a new belt. And the cost of a pack of belts? The same as I paid for the machine... Ugh. Not worth the cost or hassle for such a crappy player (not to mention I cracked the back plastic slightly while trying to pry it off)

So my options are: Buy a new deck of cheap Chinese construction - or an old deck that will soon need maintenance (and more of my time & money)? Maybe I just have to look at it like a belt-driven turntable. It's inevitable that you'll need to replace it at some point.

I'm curious: is that part of the fun for some of you? Tinkering with the machines & the tapes - working on them like one might enjoy working on a car? No such thing with CDs & CD players, I guess. Once they die, you just have to toss them. They either work perfectly or they don't.

It's a dilemma. I love the material that's coming out on the format, but the format itself? Not so much. The sound on cassettes definitely has a distinct personality, which I'm enjoying more than I thought I would. But I'm not convinced it's so amazing that it's worth all the hassle. (I say this now, but I'll probably end up going to a thrift store soon...)
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Zeno Marx
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« Reply #8 on: March 18, 2016, 09:44:49 PM »

I have a couple of $100- decks manufactured in the 80s that play well every time.  I have a $300 Sony deck from the late-90s, and it was garbage from the moment I bought it new.  Constant repairs that didn't repair the problems.  New problems every few months.  A real lemon.  I wouldn't hesitate to buy used, but a lot of variables would go into play.  I'd sooner buy a deck from the 80s than from the 90s, but I had that horrible Sony experience.  Like most things in the 2000s, I would venture to guess a 2016 $200 deck is like a $40 deck of old.  In other words, total shit and a nightmare to be expected.

There are so many rubber and plastic parts to degrade in a tape deck.  It's amazing any of them from 20-40 years ago still function at all.  A testament to how things were once designed to last, over-built, and manufactured at high standards, even at the bottom of product lines.  The quality existed throughout the line.  The differences were in the features.

I have a box of really old cassettes (probably older than many people who post here), and they all play fine.  I wouldn't go as far as to say they are more durable than vinyl, but my experience is they last longer than folklore would indicate.
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cr
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« Reply #9 on: March 18, 2016, 10:02:46 PM »

even when stored under very good conditions during that time.

I'm quite curious what is considered to be the better or best condition to store a tape. My room in the basement is cold (means not heated) during the week and then warm on the weekends. I'm afraid this isn't the best condition for any format?
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Zeno Marx
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« Reply #10 on: March 18, 2016, 10:52:01 PM »

even when stored under very good conditions during that time.
I'm quite curious what is considered to be the better or best condition to store a tape. My room in the basement is cold (means not heated) during the week and then warm on the weekends. I'm afraid this isn't the best condition for any format?
Humidity is probably a bigger problem than temperature (excluding plastic-melting temps), and low humidity is better than high humidity.  Like anything, I'm sure there is a balance somewhere in there.  It can't be so dry as to dry out the tape, but it can't be so humid that moisture collects on the metal magnetic particles.  If you're going to store something like a cassette or paper goods in a basement, it is good to maintain a constant low humidity and run a de-humidifier in the warmer months.
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acsenger
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« Reply #11 on: March 19, 2016, 04:04:12 AM »

Like others have said before, I think you're having bad luck, SinkSlopProcessing. I bought a NAD deck used but recently serviced on Ebay over three years ago and I haven't had any issues with it. There's only been one tape that it once had problems playing in that it would play it for a short while, then stop. Each time, a tiny length of tape had come out of the shell when I took the tape out of the deck, but I was impressed that not once did the deck actually chew or damage the tape; instead, it stopped playing it. After a while I found out that one of the "wheels" in the shell was not quite in the right place, so I realigned it with a pen. I think that was the problem, although I haven't played that tape since.

My advice would be to look for a used deck, probably from the '80s or '90s, that has either been just serviced, or have it serviced yourself. It will cost some money (although my deck cost about $100 AUD which I considered very reasonable), but it should work without problems for a (hopefully long) while.

As for tinkering with decks, I haven't had to do that and wouldn't if I had to. I wouldn't know the first thing about what to do. I'd just take it to a nearby high-end hi-fi store that does repairs (and where at the moment my CD player is being repaired which will cost me a lot of money).
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SinkSlopProcessing
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« Reply #12 on: March 19, 2016, 05:08:25 AM »

acsenger: I think I will go the refurbished route. No sense playing more eBay & thrift store bingo, hoping I'll get lucky. I'll also make damn sure the drive belts were recently replaced, since that was the culprit with all the used units I've bought.

I've always said I'd release an album on VHS in a heartbeat if it weren't for the whole NTSC/PAL problem. 16-bit audio and cheap as dirt now. Now there'd be a great-sounding cassette...
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Brad
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« Reply #13 on: March 19, 2016, 08:16:45 AM »

I guess I've been lucky with tapes, because I've never had a tape get "eaten" or otherwise damaged during use.  I play my tapes on an old Sony Walkman I got at a pawn shop, for $15 if I remember correctly.  It's not in perfect condition, and sometimes the audio comes as unintended harsh noise when I turn it on (which the volume knob is can't turn up or down)... this can often be fixed by wiggling the headphone connector, or sometimes even by popping the batteries out and back in, or just waiting to try using it at another time.  The tapes are always fine afterwards.  I guess I'll have to get it repaired at some point, but can anyone diagnose it from this post?  

My least favourite thing about the cassette revival is how limited a lot of the releases are, even from artists/labels that I have the impression are the "hottest thing" in their genre right now. Feels almost like a strategy to keep the tapes out of the hands of the non-devoted?  It can be a little stressful trying to stay in the loop, and inevitably sometimes learning about great releases after the tapes are already sold out.  I bet if we made a list of the most essential industrial/PE tapes of 2015, the majority of them would be currently unavailable.  I don't think that's as much of a problem with CD releases.  
« Last Edit: March 19, 2016, 08:20:36 AM by Brad » Logged
Theodore
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« Reply #14 on: March 19, 2016, 08:38:37 AM »

I'm quite curious what is considered to be the better or best condition to store a tape. My room in the basement is cold (means not heated) during the week and then warm on the weekends. I'm afraid this isn't the best condition for any format?





Taken from http://www.clir.org/pubs/reports/pub54/5premature_degrade.html . A lot of related infos there.
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“ἀθάνατοι θνητοί, θνητοὶ ἀθάνατοι, ζῶντες τὸν ἐκείνων θάνατον, τὸν δὲ ἐκείνων βίον τεθνεῶτες”
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