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Image:Bringing them back to life: Cassettes

Back in 1975 I bought a gadget: a portable cassette recorder. Its impact on my savings was enormous: the $29.95 price was probably equivalent to the impact on my income (today) of buying a modest new car. (Interestingly, similar models are still sold, for only $10 more.)

(It was probably my fourth 'gadget': 1) a transistor radio 2) an instamatic camera and 3) a wind up watch. Except for the watch, these were all gifts. I think I might have co-funded the watch.) I was never very happy with the cassette recorder: it produced more tape hiss than sound.

Recently I realised that we were on the verge of no longer having a cassette recorder in the house. And, worse, they are barely being sold any more. Any professionally recorded music tapes can be bought online or on CD with much better quality, so they aren't a concern. But I have a collection of more than 30 old cassettes that aren't professionally recorded music: a collection of a couple of School Projects, a number of school concerts (when I was in the Concert Band), quite a number of school and University debates and the speeches at my 21st birthday party.

There are a large number of doomsayers on the web talking about the fragility of old formats. They claim that CDs/DVDs might only last about five years (which is mostly not true - but sometimes is). Chatter (and research) on the web suggests 10, 20 or 30 year life spans for cassette tapes: which is a worry for me since my oldest tapes are heading towards being 40 years old. So, (apart from throwing them out), what to do?

I considered running a cable from my last remaining cassette player. But I had many bad experiences trying to copy tapes via cables back in olden days. Even with a computer on one end I expected this would lead to a pretty ordinary result. There are some cheap and cheerful looking cassette digitisers available. Looking at these I worried that they would be reasonably poor quality: and I feared they would be likely to chew up my fragile - often cheap - old tapes. So I decided that I'd buy a reasonably sophisticated Tascam CC-222SL MkII Cassette to CD recorder. It looks as though it has been constructed with all the features and quality of the good Cassette Decks that used to be hooked up to amplifiers and speakers in the 1980s. The fact that it dubs to CDs provides a simple intermediary stage that can (for the next few years) be easily digitised to a computer.

I've been stunned by the quality. So far (after digitising a dozen tapes) all have survived. My 1976 Social Studies Project was recorded on my first primitive cassette recorder. It has some of the noise of the cassette player itself humming gently in the background, but my voice comes out more clearly and has less hiss than any time I ever listened to it on any cassette player. Later recordings were done on better cassette recorders, sometimes with better microphones, and a few of these are hard to pick as being cassette recordings.

** Side Note: My Waverley History project (pictured above) was made about two weeks after I was diagnosed with diabetes. Looking at my handwriting on the cover and listening to my young voice brings home just how long I have had diabetes.

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Anthony Holmes September 15th, 2012 09:09:11 PM