THE DAWN OF A NEW AGE
How the introduction of the compact cassette completely changed the audio market at the time.
While everyone nowadays uses their smartphones to stream music wherever they're at, it's hard to imagine a time where one had to own every piece of music they wanted to listen to physically. While the vinyl record provides an ideal medium to reproduce a piece of music, the sheer size makes it somewhat cumbersome to transport. The introduction of the 8-Track tape and Compact Cassette solved both of these problems, introducing a whole new audio consumer market.
THE INNER WORKINGS
A simple, yet effective technology.
While vinyl relied on grooves inside the records to create vibrations that recreated sound waves, the 8-Track and Compact Cassette used tape based technology. These tapes were coated in small magnetic particles, usually iron oxide or chromium oxide. When they are recorded on, the tape head is responsible for rearranging these particles into patterns that recreate sound.
BETTER THAN 8-TRACK
While 8-Track and Compact Cassette both share similar tape technologies, the latter is far superior. Where the 8-Track offered a maximum of only 80 minutes on the entire program, Compact Cassette was able to offer upwards of 45 to 60 minutes per side. This allowed for much more music to be stored in a smaller package. Besides this, advancements in both tape technology and cassette deck technology throughout the mid 1980's offered higher fidelity options compared to 8-Track.
THE FIRST TRULY PERSONALIZED FORMAT
When someone was to listen to an album on an 8-Track, they were committing to listening to that album all the way through. If they wanted to "rewind" to listen to a song again, the option was most likely non-existent. Special players were required to rewind 8-Track tapes, so listening to them continuously was one of the only ways to, in essence, rewind.
Besides the introduction of this consumer friendly feature, cassettes were an easy format to record on in comparison to its predecessor. Many portable players and cassette decks of the time offered this helpful feature, allowing users to record their own catalogs of their favorite music.
One of Compact Cassette's most important features is right in the beginning of its name; compact. Prior to the introduction of the cassette format, audio technology was not only bulky, but expensive as well. Compact Cassette solved the issue of creating a medium that was both portable, and inexpensive.
This accomplishment opened up a whole new market to many people, especially those who were not interested in the size of vinyl or 8-track, and the cost of a home theater. For the first time ever, high fidelity music could be offered in the form factor of something that could fit in your pocket.
GONE, BUT NOT FORGOTTEN
As technology continued to advance throughout the late '90s, the Compact Disc began to supersede the quality of cassette, both in price, and form feature. The ability to hold digital files and skip through tracks at ease put CD on the map, as it became the format of choice for years to come. Even though the popularity in compact cassettes has died significantly over the past two decades, a small select group of artists have been choosing to release their albums on cassette, giving it a slight resurgence. While the quality offered by tape may not be the pinnacle of audio fidelity, the art of grabbing a cassette and slapping it in your car to go on a cruise, lives on.