Enough Is Enough: Cassette Tapes Died For Good Reason


I am, of course, familiar with the hipster love of music on vinyl. But I didn’t know that cassette tapes were making a comeback too:

Many people over 30 remember cassettes, with nostalgia, if not some disdain….Go to any indie show and inevitably, among the T-shirts and knickknacks, there will be tapes. Some record labels are now cassette-only. The National Audio Co., America’s largest manufacturer of audiocassettes, reported that 2014 was its best year yet.

But before the revisionists completely rewrite my adolescence, let’s be clear about something: As a format for recorded sound, the cassette tape is a terrible piece of technology….Each time you play one it degrades. Bad sound gets worse. Casings crack in winter, melt in summer.

Craziness. The only reason anyone liked cassettes back in the day was because they were better than 8-track tapes. When I was in college, you could hardly turn a corner without hearing an earnest conversation about Maxell vs. TDK,1 Dolby vs. Dolby C, chrome vs. metal, 60 minutes vs. 90 minutes.2 But those conversations only existed because everyone also understood that cassette tapes fundamentally sucked. There was lots of innovation, but it was all just part of a desperate attempt to improve the sound of a format that was inherently lousy because the tape was just too damn narrow. There’s a limit to what you can do when you cram four audio tracks onto eighth-inch analog tape.

But lots of people today have forgotten about all that, I guess. Oh well. I’m pretty convinced that about 90 percent of the population couldn’t tell the difference between music played on half-inch reference tape and music played on a Teddy Ruxpin doll.3 So I suppose it doesn’t matter.

Still, cassettes? Seriously folks: a thumb drive is better in every conceivable way. Don’t get sucked in.

1I was a Maxell guy. I have no idea why.

2No one who wanted to be taken seriously ever considered 120-minute cassettes. And for good reason: they were just too fragile.

3This quite likely includes me.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

Share your feedback: We’re planning to launch a new version of the comments section. Help us test it.