The Cassette and Its Inherent Flaws

by Zach Belles

If you would classify yourself as Gen X, then you’re most likely well acquainted with the Sony Walkman. You grabbed a couple of your favorite cassettes, put it into your Walkman, and went about your business. Then, when you wanted to listen to it again, you used your trusty pen to rewind the tape.

Before Apple was even publicly traded, and long before the first iPhone, the cassette tape was your best bet for a portable music experience, besides a portable AM/FM radio. But one thing you may have noticed, especially once the transition to CDs came only a few years after the Walkman was introduced, is that the sound quality was very poor compared to any of the other technology at the time.

The man who created the modern cassette tape, Lou Ottens, hated what he had created and always strived to make something better. A lot of tapes could be played too quickly, making the song sound higher pitched. A big reason why cassettes had a quick death was not only the flaws in sound quality, but the fact that the man who created the tape also invented the CD just a few years later. It was because of this, and Lou’s advocation for compact discs, that, at least in commercial markets, the cassette was deemed obsolete.

However, if you look at sales for cassettes over the years, you’ll see that there are still millions of them sold each year. Why might that be? The US prison system, of course! Every year, millions of clear, plastic cassettes are made, music is recorded into them, and they’re sent to inmates in federal prison. Most prisons allow cassettes and cassette players, as long as they’re completely see-through. So, despite being obsolete even at its inception, the cassette will continue to bring freedom of music to even the incarcerated.