Why it's so hard to find a good tape deck these days

My colleague Brent Butterworth has a fantastic new piece on Wirecutter about the recent revival of music on tape cassettes — and why it's so hard to make them sound good, on a very technical level.

CDs can flawlessly reproduce the entire range of audio from 20 hertz (half an octave below the lowest note on piano) and 20 kHz (a frequency too high for most adults to hear). […]

Cassettes, on the other hand, start to attenuate bass tones below about 40 Hz, so instruments with ultra-deep notes—such as grand piano, large kick drums, and synth bass—lose some of their sonic power. Cassettes often damp treble tones above about 10 kHz, which means the upper harmonics of instruments like cymbals, flutes, and violins are lost, along with some of the sense of spaciousness that makes live recordings sound live. 

It turns out that decent cassette decks are also incredibly complicated machines, and more expensive to make than record players. Even if you can find one in working order, the parts will wear out over time, and it's hard to find replacements. Butterworth found only two modern models worth mentioning, though he offers some advice for care and maintenance, as well as how and where to shop for good used models.

If you're interested in hardware or audio fidelity, it's a short but fascinating look very informational look at some uniquely fascinating technology.

Full disclosure: I also write for Wirecutter.

Don't Call It a Comeback: Cassettes Have Sounded Lousy for Years (And Still Do!) [Brent Butterworth / New York Times]

Image: Public Domain via PxHere