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Recording music and sound
Recording music and sound

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3.2 Tape at home

The use of magnetic tape for home use was always somewhat problematic. While it offered several advantages over discs, being capable of high-quality sound, substantially free from surface noise and able to make personal recordings, tape never became so popular as to make any serious inroads into the sales of discs. Why should this be the case? The answer is one of convenience, for magnetic tape has always been difficult to handle compared with discs – threading the tape through the machine onto the take-up spool was fiddly, and the tape could easily become damaged, stretch or snap.

Many companies developed tape cassette systems based on standard quarter-inch tape but none succeeded in gaining enthusiastic acceptance by consumers. The compact cassette system, shown in Figure 11, was developed by Philips Gloeilampenfabrieken in 1963 for recording speech. Philips called their cassettes compact to distinguish their system from other audio cassette systems and they made no pretence of achieving high-quality sound, deciding to use a slow tape speed (1 7/8 ips) and a new narrow one-eighth-inch-wide tape to keep the whole system as small as possible. The convenience of slotting cassettes into the machine rather than having to thread tape around guides and tape heads made this format much more suitable for consumers. Along with the introduction of the Sony Walkman in 1979, this was one of the key technologies that drove the portable music market from which the iPod and mp3 players, and smartphone music streaming services, have grown.

Figure 11 A compact cassette system