Zoë Blade's notebook

Cassette tape

Compact Cassette tech specs

  • Released: 1963
  • Company: Philips
  • Speed: 1⅞ ips
  • Tracks: stereo pair (×2)

The cassette tape (more formally the Compact Cassette) was a popular analogue audio format released by Philips in 1963.

It was perhaps most famous as the format used by Sony's Walkman, allowing consumers to listen to their own choice of music while out and about.

At a pinch, it can also be used to store data, using the same frequency-shift keying that modems used over the phone. This was how 8-bit home computers such as the Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum stored data.

Depending on how careful you are with the signal strength, it can introduce a decent amount of background noise ("tape hiss"), dynamic range compression, and distortion ("tape saturation") — far more than the higher fidelity reel-to-reel tape format. While usually still not very noticeable, it can be purposefully emphasised. This grungy, low fidelity quality has a certain amateur charm, making the format a pretty nice (albeit slow) effect in its own right.

I love the sounds on the R-8, but I play them to some of my rappers and they think they're terrible — they want to hear a snare from 400 years ago played through a cassette. What the hell is all this technology for? The whole point of having samples is for the people who want to hear those old sounds.

— Simon Harris, 1989[1]

A lot of the noises we get, we record them onto cassette first so that it's worse quality. Then we sample them off the cassette. Like, we'll distort the sound so that it's a bad sample, but it just sounds good 'cos it's bad!

— Gez Varley, LFO, 1991[2]

Everything was originally mastered on standard tape on a hi-fi cassette deck... With the first track, the tape had chewed in about seven places... It's a retrospective look, and the tape munching was all part of the stuff I was doing, so I've left it in.

— Richard D. James (Aphex Twin), 1993[3]


  1. "The Bassment Tapes" Tim Goodyer, Music Technology, Sep 1989, pp. 44—49
  2. "Deep Vibrations" Simon Trask, Music Technology, Aug 1991, pp. 60—65
  3. "The Aphex Effect" Dave Robinson, Future Music, Apr 1993, pp. 22—23

Audio storage formats: CD | Cassette tape | DAT | MiniDisc

Data storage formats: CD | Cassette tape | DAT | Floppy disk | MiniDisc