HOWTO make an 8-track cassette walkman

Here's an "admittedly mad" Instructables project from XenonJohn: how to hack a portable 8-track tape walkman in the style of the original Sony cassette Walkman.

This is an admittedly mad project to see what might have happened if Sony had invented the Walkman earlier than they did - and made it so it took 8 track tape cartridges (which came before cassette tapes were invented).

In other words, can I make a personal 8 track player with just headphones in the style of a Walkman? How small can I make it? Bear in mind it needs quite a bit of power to move the tape loop around inside the cartridge.

8 Track Walkman-Pod thing (Retro-tech) (Thanks, Michael Chabon!)


  1. A bit of pedantry: Compact Cassettes were introduced in 1963, while Stereo 8’s did not come along until 1964. Granted, the eight-track’s superior sound meant that they were used for music years before cassette tapes were widely adopted for that purpose, so the spirit of the quote is correct . . .

  2. I have a portable 8 track player, which can run off of batteries, and has a headphone jack. I think it’s a Panasonic. Maybe I’m missing the point of this exercise.

    btw – 8 track CARTRIDGE, not cassette. Kids!

  3. @JTJ608

    From an audiophile perspective, 8-track sucked due to a fundamental design flaw: The capstan pinch roller is integrated into the cartridge. This would create a lot of playback speed variance (wow and flutter) and misalignment (creating track crosstalk).

    The main advantage of the 8-track was you had semi-random access to songs (there were only a few on each track).

  4. The best way to listen to your 8-track is on a modified reel to reel tape deck. You have to dissect the cartridge, but since most of what you find now has broken its endless loop right at the splice (or the foam pressure pad has crumbled to bits), it makes it easier to spool it onto a reel. Keep in mind that the back of the tape is coated in graphite (to slip over itself in the cart) so you’ll want to make sure it’s facing the right direction. The tape heads need to be modified to move up and down across the width of the tape which you could probably do with a very simple set up cobbled from a dead 8-track machine. It is this way you could get true audiophile sound from these recordings, as well as still use the tape in a dead cartridge.

  5. Before Walkmans we would adapt compact cassette car stereos for skiing. It was bulky and hurt either the skier or the contraption when we wiped out but skiing –with tunes! There were small portable cassette recorders but they were mostly mono, didn’t have enough oomph to drive nice headphones and had crappy transports.

    We did not bother with 8 tracks for the reason Random says and because they actually sucked soundwise and they were constant trouble. The tape was about twice as wide as a cassette but I’m not really sure the track width was any greater (with eight instead of four tracks) and misalignment was absolutely guaranteed as the head had to actually move to four different positions to pick up the 4 stereo tracks. Cassette heads did not have to move (except on auto reverse decks which audiophiles avoided for the misalignment issue).

    Plus the damn 8track tape always fouled. The tape cartridge was an ingenious single loop that always slipped on itself and because of this they were dirty filthy things: tape shmutz could always be found inside the deck and all over the capstan and guides. The coating on the tape wore off rather quickly and then ground a deep channel in the head.

    The cassette car stereo conversion was the way to go. You’d occasionally see talk of it in skiing magazines; I would not be surprised if Sony picked up on it an decided it was time make a quality stereo portable. The real genius was in the splashy marketing and naming it a Walkman.

  6. Has anyone here ever seen the 8-track collector film So Wrong They’re Right? I’d have to say it’s probably about the most enjoyable documentaries about enthusiasts I’ve seen. It’s one of those films where you see some really strange people but reluctantly have to admit that as crazy as their personalities appear to be they’re also geeks just like you.

  7. Of course I’m filled with an overwhelming desire to put one of those rekotron 8-track – cassette converters in the device. It was a device that you put a cassete tape in that had the form factor of an 8-track so that you could put it into the 8-track player and listen to cassetts in your car. Groovy.

  8. Ha Ha, Souled Out. I used to rock that 8 track.

    Diamond in the back, sunroof top, digging the scene with a gangsta lean.

    Houses of the Holy too.

  9. @annoyingmouse: Yes! I own a copy of that! They came through vancouver and screened the film.

    It’s one of my favorite films just for the sheer weirdness of it all.

    There were several portable 8 track players featured, but none as small as this guy is trying to make.

    A friend of mine had an 8 track in her car up to about a year ago… the only 8 track that survived endless playing was a best of James Brown tape. That guy just wouldn’t go down.

  10. and made it so it took 8 track tape cartridges (which came before cassette tapes were invented)

    Not according to Wikipedia…

    Cassette on sale 1963

    8-track invented 1964

    Walkman on sale 1979

    Also, I have original cassette tape recordings of the Apollo 11 landings we made off the teevee as it was happening.

    We’re gettin’ old, dude. ;)

  11. To be even more pedantic about the 8 track vs cassette wars…

    The cassette suffered from a major flaw for music recording – it ran at only 1-7/8 inches per second (IPS). The 8-track used 3-3/4 IPS. The difference in fidelity was like the difference between AM and FM radio signals.

    Then in the mid 1970s, the tape manufacturers made better tape formulations (CrO2, metal) that improved the frequency response and the player makers improved the heads to match. The result was reasonably high fidelity, a 15kHz treble response.

    8 track tapes were notoriously fragile. I remember spending an evening with a young man in 1971 just fixing 8 track tape cartridges. He had several Spooky Tooth tapes, I recall, although I had no idea what Spooky Tooth was.

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