Thursday, December 11, 2008

High Level basics about tape decks and players

Prior to CDs there cassette tapes were and still are very popular. The evolution of these tapes is simplistic while complex. Cassette tapes and decks are the descendants of reel to reel. Reel to Reel tapes were like the big movie reels with a full and open spindle. You threaded the tape through the mechanism and feed it into the empty reel. The device had two head, one to record and another for play back. Once you recorded the information from your selected source you rewind it and played it back. Somewhere alone the line a bright person came up with the idea of creating a small self contained carrier to house the reels and a device that plays these tapes. 

Their innovation lead to the creation of what we call the modern cassette tape and tape deck. Like the reel to reel a cassette player recorder has two heads (record/play). Unlike the reel to reel the cassette tape ahs a mechanism that self threads the tape for both payback and record and the housing has tapes to allow you to prevent the tape from being written over one recorded. 

In a cassette tape the reels are called spools and they are notched to fit over motors that advance and rewind them. In a stereo cassette there are 4 tracks – two per channel. Philips introduced the compact audio cassette medium for audio storage in Europe in 1963, and in the United States in 1964, under the trademark name Compact Cassette. 

Cassette tapes are made of a polyester type plastic film with a magnetic coating. Because this is a mechanical system it is subject to the limitation of wear and degradation with age. Excessive exposure to heat and like also degrade this tapes. Over time with the advent of technology these cassettes eventually became able to record and reproduce the full range of human hearing and beyond. Also because the playback and record head are mechanical they need to be cleaned to remove the excesses dust, dirt and magnetic material that deposits on the respective heads. 

Typically a cassette deck player/recorder has the following controls eject, playback, forward, rewind, play, pause and stop. Additionally VU meters are employed to monitor signal levels and other controls exist to correct for balance, and on high end systems equalization and noise reduction like Dolby. 

The successors to the cassette tape are the DAT (Digital Audio Tape), MiniDisc, CD, and Flash drives.  


  • Did you know the original purpose of these tapes was dictation?
  • Did you know that the early home answer machines used endless loop tapes?
  • Did you know the intermediate stage of was the 8 Track tape?
  • Did you know that some of the early PCs used cassette tapes to record data?


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