Nobody can deny the magnificent return the vinyl record has made in the past few years. Last year another milestone was reached when vinyl sales past $1 billion for the first time since 1986. However, the little sibling of vinyl records, the audio cassette tape, has been growing in the shadow of it’s more successful sibling and are soon ready to stand on it’s own legs. Cassette tape sales doubled in 2021 compared to 2020.
In 2022 the annual sales of music cassettes increased by 5,2% to a total of 195,000 units. The best selling cassette album in 2022 was The Car, the seventh studio album by Arctic Monkeys. During the first three months it sold over 10,000 copies.
It has been debated and theorized back and forth why the audio tape format is making a comeback. I don’t really care and so I will not dwell on that, for me who grew up with the audio cassette and a cassette player, I’ll just settle for the most reasonable answer: well obviously because it is the most adorable way to own music and listen to music in a physical music format. Let’s leave it at that and move on.
In this article I will focus on the what, how and where of the cassette tape. What music is getting released on cassettes. How is music cassettes being released and where can I get it. In order to structure this article somewhat, we will talk about four different kinds of cassettes: new music released on cassette, reissued music on cassette, used old cassettes and blank cassettes (new and NOS – New Old Stock).
Here are the main reasons why you should collect and listen to music cassettes today:
- Music cassettes are handy
- Music cassettes are cheap (compared to a vinyl album)
- Music cassettes are pretty
- Music cassettes are fun
- Music cassettes are cool
All images in this article is from my own collection.
- New music released on cassette tape
- Reissues of classics on cassette
- Used cassette tapes
- Blank cassette tapes
- What are the 4 cassette types?
- How to sell your old cassette tapes
- What made the Cassette Tape a success?
- How good is the sound quality of the audio cassette?
- Final words
- Cassette tapes FAQ
New music released on cassette tape
Today you can get anything from the new Taylor Swift album, “Midnights” to obscure Synthwave only released on bandcamp, on audio cassette. Bandcamp is by the way a great outlet to find cassettes on. More and more artists are releasing new music cassettes.
However, you should be aware that whilst some artists will release a large number of their cassettes, many still only releases a very limited run on audio cassette. So if you are looking at a specific independent artist it might be good to pre-order the cassette to ensure that you get it.
Here are a few examples of major artists that have released their latest album on cassette:
- Taylor Swift – Midnights
- Abba – Voyage
- Ghost – Impera
- Björk – Fossora
- Ozzy Osbourne – Patient number 9
- Arctic Monkeys – The Car
Where can I buy new pre-recorded original cassette tapes?
Well, more and more stores that is selling vinyl records and CDs carry music cassettes, however, the easiest way to buy this music format is still online. You might find most mainstream artists at Amazon and Urbanoutfitters.com and even Walmart. For limited cassette runs and lesser known artists it gets a bit more tricky. The official artist websites, their bandcamp or record company usually have them for sale online. In some cases they only sell them on tour, but that is rare.
For lesser known artists or if you are looking for something new, I recommend Bandcamp. The independent artist get more of the revenue if you buy it of their bandcamp page than if you buy it from another middle man. And lots of smaller bands and independent artists only sell their tapes through bandcamp.
Reissues of classics on cassette
A lot of the major artists are getting their back catalogue reissued on cassette these days. The major label album reissues are usually fairly easy to find and are generally produced in relatively large quantities.
But sometimes a small cassette label will make a reissue and then it might be very limited runs, sometimes as few as 100 tapes or even less. In this case it is all about having the ear to the ground in order to find out about the release beforehand. Many times I have found out about a specific release late only to find out that they are completely sold out. This has been the case with artists such as Sun Ra, Alice Coltrane and Paradise Lost for example.
Here are a few examples of artists that have reissued their albums on cassette:
- Paradise Lost
- The Exploited
- Lee Scratch Perry & The Upsetters
- Dr. Dre
Where can I buy reissues on cassette
For the major label reissues, the same goes as for new releases. Online stores such as Amazon and the label websites. Many record stores carry them as well. The reissues by smaller labels are a bit more difficult. Some store carries them and some websites carry them, such as Tapeheadcity.com. The best way is to follow the labels on Instagram and buy the tapes directly from them or their bandcamp page.
Used cassette tapes
Back in the day everything was released on cassette and some smaller releases were only released on cassette. Like everything vintage, some are rare and expensive and some are available almost everywhere at a very low price.
When it comes to used old cassettes, you need to think about the quality of the media. When you buy used vinyl in person you can scrutinize the record before you buy it to try to decide the shape the record is in. It is a bit trickier when it comes to tapes. If you cannot listen to it, it might be hard to decide the quality. If it is dirty and looks worn you might want to choose another tape or buy it if it is really cheap and hope for the best. The problem with cassettes is that even if it looks like it is in great shape, it might sound horrendous since it matters so much how the tape has been stored and how dirty the cassette player is that it has been played in as well as if the cassette player has ever been demagnitized.
Where can I buy used cassette tapes?
Well obviously you can buy used cassettes at flea markets, ebay, some record stores and so on. But here are a few good online outlets:
This is an outstanding cassette tape shop that specializes in used cassettes, new cassette releases and is a retail outlet for a whole bunch of labels including many exclusive and limited releases. They carry every genre from movie soundtracks and Metal to Indie pop and Hip Hop.
This online store claims to have been around since 1982. I have never bought from them personally, but they seem to carry a wide variety of genres excluding Hip Hop for some reason.
Discogs is an online marketplace for records and cassettes. It is like ebay but instead of auctions it is fixed price listings. It is probably the largest marketplace worldwide for physical music media. And it is a good place to buy, sell or just check up the value of your cassettes. Here you can find absolute every genre from every era such as movie soundtracks, classical music and disco, however, it is without doubt best for rock and pop. Here you can discover every medium such as lp, 8-track, CDs and audio cassettes. Here you can also find song lists and track order, alternative album cover and hear recordings from radio.
Blank cassette tapes
Back in the day you could buy blank cassettes everywhere. I remember buying Philips and BASF cassettes at my local grocery store when I grow up. Not so anymore.
What are the 4 cassette types?
Blank cassettes came in many different qualities. Not only were some brands in higher regard in terms of quality but you could also buy different levels of quality such as normal (Type I) or chrome tapes (Type II) Ferrichrome (Type III, not much used) or Metal (Type IV). Which kind of tape you need depends of the purpose of the recording you are about to make and how much of an audiophile you are. For most people making a mix tape, I would say that the normal standard (type I) is sufficient.
The numbers you see on blank cassettes says how long running time the tape is. The most common variations are 45, 60, 90, 100 and 120 minutes. There are others as well but these are the most common ones and it means that a tape that is 60 minutes long is 30 minutes long on each side.
Where do I buy blank cassette tapes?
Well it depends on your requirements.
You can buy used blank tapes in the regular places such as ebay. You can record new stuff on top of what is already recorded on a used blank tape as long as it has not been blocked for recording. On the long side opposite of the side where the tape runs free, there are two squares of plastic, one in either end, that you can push out. If they are gone, the blank tape is blocked for recording. See image for clarification. However, if a blank tape has been recorded on many times, the quality of the recording may suffer.
You can buy NOS tapes (New Old Stock), that is old tapes that has never been used. This is a good alternative, however, the quality of the tape depends on how it has been stored. For the best result, a cassette tape should be stored cold, dry and out of direct sunlight. If you want to buy NOS cassettes of the highest quality such as metal type cassettes, be prepared to open up your wallet because they are very expensive.
New blank cassette tapes to buy.
Of the old brands it seems like it is only Maxell and TDK that are still making blank cassettes.
There are a few retailers that sell new blank cassette tapes today:
- Tapeline (UK) And then there are a few other smaller retailers.
How to sell your old cassette tapes
If you want to sell your old cassette you can always go to your nearest record store and ask them if they are interested in buying old tapes. However, this is not the most profitable way to sell your cassettes. The best way to sell them, if you have the time and if you expect them to be rare and valuable, is of course online. You can either sell them on Discogs.com or on ebay. The easiest way to sell the cassettes online is in one lot on ebay.
If the tapes are rare or original pre-recorded tapes in good condition, you can fetch a good price for them. But if you have the time, it is way better to sell them one by one.
The most valuable blank tapes are unused metal position tapes, they can fetch really high prices on ebay. For example you can get around $40-$70 for a used TDK MA-R in good condition. For a sealed, unused TDK MA-R on the other hand, you can get $100 – $200. This tape is highly sought after and most tapes will not come near these prices but a sealed Maxell XL II from 1985-86 can easily fetch $20-$30.
If you have a lot of used blank tapes it might be easier to sell them as a lot.
When it comes to pre-recorded cassettes you can check the values on Discogs.com to get an idea how much you might get for them. It is always best to listen to the cassettes before selling them to be able to guarantee a listenable quality. And remember to take good pictures of both the cover and the tape itself.
What made the Cassette Tape a success?
The cassette tape became a success due to several factors:
- Portable and Compact: The cassette tape was significantly smaller and more portable than the lp or reel-to-reel tapes. This made it easier for people to carry and play their favorite music wherever they went.
- Affordable and Accessible: Tapes were relatively inexpensive compared to other formats, making them more accessible to a wider audience. They offered an affordable way for music lovers to build their personal music collections.
- Recordable and Rewritable: Unlike vinyl records, cassette tapes were recordable and rewritable. This feature allowed users to create their mixtapes, record songs from the radio, or copy music from other tapes. It gave individuals the freedom to personalize their music listening experience.
- Tape Deck Compatibility: Cassette players, also known as tape decks, became a common feature in home stereo systems, cars, and portable cassette players. The widespread availability and compatibility of tape decks contributed to the popularity of cassette tapes.
- Music Industry Support: The music industry embraced the cassette tape format by releasing albums and singles on cassettes. This support from record labels was a huge selling point that ensured a wide range of music content was available in this music format, including popular albums and emerging artists.
- Technology Advancements: Over time, the technology improved, leading to better sound quality, longer playing times, and more durable tapes. Dolby noise reduction systems and high-quality tape formulations enhanced the listening experience.
- Cultural and Social Factors: The rise of cassettes coincided with the growth of portable music culture, including the popularity of the personal Walkman and boomboxes. The ability to share music easily with friends and the rise of mixtape culture also contributed to the cassette’s success.
The combination of affordability, portability, recordability, and industry support helped the cassette tape become a dominant format for music consumption during the 1970s and 1980s.
How good is the sound quality of the audio cassette?
The audio quality of cassette tapes is generally considered to be lower compared to other audio formats and media like Compact discs or digital files. Cassettes use analog recording technology, which involves magnetic tape and magnetic heads for playback. Here are some factors that affect the quality of the cassette tape:
- Sound Fidelity: Due to the limitations of the cassette tape format, the sound fidelity is not as high as digital formats. Cassettes are prone to noise, hiss, and frequency response limitations, which can result in a less accurate representation of the original audio.
- Degradation: Over time, tape cassettes can degrade and suffer from issues like tape stretching, warping, or deterioration. This can lead to a loss in audio quality and playback issues.
- Recording Conditions: The quality of a cassette tape recording depends on the recording equipment, tape type, and the conditions under which it was recorded. High-quality recording equipment and careful handling can result in better audio fidelity.
- Playback: The cassette player that has been used for playback is also of high relevance here as a cassette player needs regular service. Cassette players can mess up a tape pretty bad if it is not regularly cleaned. Trying to listen to music play on a dirty machine that has not been serviced for years can be a real pain as it can cause the tape to run slow and generate a really murky sound.
Despite these limitations, some enthusiasts appreciate the unique sound character and nostalgic appeal of this music format. Additionally, the quality of the audio can also vary depending on factors such as the recording itself, the mastering, and the cassette players being used for playback.
It’s worth noting that advancements in audio technology have significantly improved the fidelity and convenience of digital formats. However, if you enjoy the aesthetic and analog experience that it is to listen to music on a cassette player, the audio quality may still provide a satisfying listening experience. When the equipment works as it should, to play music on a cassette player can be real magic!
If you are just getting into cassette tapes, I envy you. It is a fun way to listen to music and building a collection of cassettes or making your own first mix tape is a pure pleasure. To own music in a physical music format takes up a lot of space but that is where cassettes are superior to the lp as it is so small. So happy cassette hunting!
Cassette tapes FAQ
Yes, cassette tapes are still being made, although their production has significantly declined compared to their peak popularity in the 1980s and 1990s. Some independent music labels, niche music genres, and audiophile communities continue to release music on cassette tapes. Additionally, there is a small market for blank cassette tapes used for recording and mixtapes. However, the production and availability of cassette tapes are limited to only a few manufacturers.
The value of cassette tapes as collectibles can vary depending on rarity, condition and demand. The value of music cassettes is easy to look up on Discogs.com, some are very valuable. The value of a blank tape is highly dependant on the condition. NOS tapes are in high demand. Collecting audio cassettes is a fun and not too expensive hobby.
The value of cassettes varies according to the popularity of bands age and whether the songs have been professionally recorded. Cassette Tape of famous musicians may be more commercial than others. Hopefully Bowie or Metallica are in luck!
Compact audio cassettes.