The Compact Cassette: Past and Present


"Don't look at the limitations, but at what you can do with the cassette tape"  

Thomas Baur - owner of Bandjesfabriek Lochum Netherlands

my first cassette tapes
my first cassette tapes

The Cassette Tape, the most famous media that uses magnetic tape. Released in 1962 as a voice recording medium. Perhaps less known is that it was a Dutchman who, together with a Belgian team, co-invented the popular tape, developed in Hasselt in Belgium, by Philips.

Over the years, the tape has been greatly improved and can be distinguished in no less than 4 different types of tapes (construction of the tape itself).


It was the success of a 'portable' type of tape recorder that inspired the development of the cassette. Although the tape recorder was too large a device for the purposes Philips had in mind. Mr. Lou Ottens (accompanied by a team of Dutch and Belgian technicians) succeeded in developing a tape that met all requirements.
It had to be compact, portable and cheap, but at the same time deliver decent sound quality. The latter was something in which the compact cassette still fell short, but would also undergo a major development.

Fortunately, the team already had an example, the flopped RCA tape cartridge, released in 1958. Philips contacted RCA to get ideas. Over the years, the RCA tape cartridge continued to serve as a model for many developments that the compact cassette would go through. From write protection to automatic playback of the other side. All options that were already present on the RCA cartridge! 

Still, there was little interest in the medium when it was presented to the press. 
On the other hand, other types of cassettes followed that were remarkably similar to the compact cassette (take the Elcaset from Sony and the DC International cassette from Grundig).

In order to become the worldwide standard, Ottens decided in 1966 (accompanied by specialists) to visit Japan, to persuade large electronics companies to use the Compact cassette in their devices. Initially, the tape was offered free of charge for use, but had to pay for the concept of the playback equipment needed to play the tape. Giants like Sony did not agree to this and threatened to continue their own development together with Grundig. Ultimately, Philips gave in to the demand, offering both cassette and playback equipment free of license to all companies involved in playback media. This accelerated development.

Although many companies subsequently engaged in the development and production of cassette tapes and their own playback equipment, it took until the mid-1970s before America also switched. Here the 8-Track was still popular for a long time.

Because of the poor sound quality, cassettes were first used for voice recordings or 'voice-mails' where quality was not of great importance. It was only with the development of better tape that music on this medium became more popular. Initially they were supplied as C60 and C90 cassettes. The number refers to the total playing time of a tape. Later, even C120 and C180 tapes came on the market! Thinner tape made it possible to achieve these lengths.

The success was unstoppable. New types of tape came on the market as well as techniques for use in stereo equipment, such as noise reduction. This further increased the success.

Although the cassette never managed to push the trusted vinyl out of the market, it was with the success of the (digital) Compact Disc (CD) that both vinyl and the compact cassette disappeared into the background. Success came to an end here. . .

All kinds of tapes in a row, some I have specially ordered, others dirt cheap through thrift shops!

The order number of the tape was eventually also indicated on vinyl covers. Vinyl and Cassette both remained popular for years, until the CD came out.


. . . . Now in the year 2019 (as I write this) the Compact Cassette seems to be becoming popular again. The largest production company in the Benelux is located in the Netherlands itself and again produces tapes with the boxes full. Both recordable and pre-recorded.
In America, too, the demand for tapes has been growing for years and large electronics stores are again cautiously offering playback devices with a cassette recorder (not yet spoken about this). 

Graph from the Website Discogs, here the Link to the accompanying article.

Vinyl never really died out and the advance is clearly visible with even a sharp peak that transcends the old! That of the cassette shows a different story. Somewhere in 2005 the cassette had all but disappeared, but according to this chart it is now as good as back.

At least this chart is based on data from the Discogs website itself. New music albums that are released on cassette often contain progressive music and are often aimed at real collectors. We have yet to come across albums with popular music from 'now' or then. Tapes produced in the 70s and 80s are often no longer worth listening to, these were not only cheaply manufactured but are also old and have lost a lot of sound quality.

The fact that the cassette is becoming popular again is said to be due to the charm that is attached to it, it is also said that the idea of ​​being able to physically hold your music is something that people experience as pleasant (I can secretly empathize with it). Of course, nostalgia is mentioned as the main reason, this is reflected in all kinds of products that can be found today. I personally think that showing the tape in popular films and series also contributes to the whole rise or 'hype'.

Cassettes as far as the camera can reach (wasn't far actually). But here are some new tapes that I bought a few years ago through the Bandjesfabriek. The price was reasonable for the amount I ordered. You also see Ferro tapes here, these contain the cheapest type of tape that was/is available. Over the years, companies have been able to drastically improve the quality of these, so that modern tapes of this type are still quite doable.

However, I have no opinion about the whole advance. I may have started in 2007 myself, but I didn't pick up the cassette (and tape in general) seriously until 2013, coincidentally during the advance. So be a part of it yourself. The only thing that interests me is how the market responds to it, so far I don't like it...

Cassette recorders for example, are coming back but they are far from good, I have already experienced the same with an 'expensive' record player from an electronics giant that was worthless. Unfortunately I now see this problem with the tape. Fortunately I had already learned and went for the real old stuff. Selling new expensive junk won't do much good for the cassette's popularity in the future.

Two newspaper articles about cassettes, left of January 14, 2019, with information about the tape factory in the Netherlands. On the right an even older newspaper article from August 2013, the cassette was 50 years old then, there is a reference to page 10 but I don't have it. They both hang on my fridge. You can click on them if you want to read them.

What I hope now for the future of the tape:

That it will become popular again so that they make new good quality cassettes. At the moment there are new Chrome tapes on the market which are much better than Ferro. So they are well on their way.

The whole hype behind it doesn't really interest me that much, but it's nice when it really becomes popular again, the only drawback is that really good (old) cassette decks and walkmans have become terribly expensive, that's really a few years!

Although we can now develop much better devices with modern techniques, for now it remains with 'expensive purchase', disposable items that you see for too high a price in top retail chains.

Finally, a collage of several good and remarkable cassettes from my collection.