All Tape Guide

Photo: Teen River, a cassette-only label.

I’ve discussed my (apparently controversial) attraction to cassettes. Besides being affordable, fun, pretty, and filled with interesting sounds and art, cassettes provide a direct and meaningful connection between artist and audience: The person releasing cassettes in 2012 is likely doing so out of passion, with a spirit for adventure, perhaps even a with a distaste for modern technologies and conveniences; the person purchasing cassettes in 2012 probably has similar motivations and interests.

I like cassettes. Most important to me, cassettes often contain sounds that can’t be found on any other format. If I want to hear music made by certain artists—Great Slave Lake, Talk Normal, and Glory Girls come to mind, but there are countless others—I have to listen to cassettes. I want to listen to cassettes. This is not a discussion about sound quality; it’s a discussion about music.

Over the last few years, new record labels specializing in cassettes have been popping up all over the place, and even a few of the larger independent labels—Sub Pop and Domino, for instance—have decided to release certain material on cassette. I’ve enjoyed watching interest in the format grow.

Today I discovered Fred Thomas’s “All Tape Guide,” a column devoted to keeping an eye on “the modern day landscapes of the micro-scenes associated with tape-only releases.” I’ll look forward to future updates from Fred Thomas, and I’ll continue to keep an eye out for a nice, affordable Nakamichi cassette deck.

Vogelhaus's picture

Really enjoyed this article. It's about time someone mentioned cassette tapes poping up again. Certain "non-audiophile" recordings, and genres that celebrate them are releasing solid music on this platform only. Some of the best Black Metal released in the last 10 years can be found on cassette, and that brings affordable nostalgia to the fans and collectors, of which are some of the most fanatical of any genre ever.

jgossman's picture

You can find really nice LX-5's on ebay almost every day for 300-500.  I've had one for years and they are awesome!  Also, a little harder to find really nice the best sounding Naks I ever heard are the 581/581z.  They can also be had for less than a mint!  

Just do it man! 

Stephen Mejias's picture

Truth is I've been afraid to spend that much money on something that's out of warranty and may be difficult or impossible to repair, so I've been hoping to stumble into some extreme bargain.

lionelag's picture

Have they gone up that much?  I think I scored one (not the Dragon, but still a model that went for $800 in 1989) off of ebay for something like $60 5 years ago.  Maybe the way to do it is to do a custom eBay search where you look for one within 20 miles of you, then go out and make sure you plug it in before you take it home?

Stephen Mejias's picture

Units that were selling for as little as $25-$50 five years ago are now easily selling for $150-$200.  Dragons are commonly listed at $800-$1000+.

dgb100's picture

If you can get a fully functioning Dragon for $1000 you got a deal.  I sold mine 6-7 years ago for $800.  They are so expensive because there just aren't many of them left. 

Summerisle's picture

I love cassettes but would not go out of my way to buy or collect them again. 

Summerisle's picture


A local writer on casettes with links too.

Lofty's picture

My Nakamichi LX-5 gave me over 20 years of service before it gave up the ghost. Since then I've never had a disc player reach even half that. Right now my Pioneer DV-79AVi universal player is at year five and doing well.

Metalhead's picture

Hey Stephen, enjoy the cassettes. Kind of a cool retro vibe and fun to listen to although not the last word in sound quality.

You got the right idea on scoring a Nak. I bought a ZX7 back when (1985?) and it still works great.  I also have reel to reel but the cassette tapes have held up better than my reels and I still use both with a lot of enjoyment.

You have ESL on the East Coast (Connecticut-?) and Willy Hermann in CA that can either keep or get a NAK singing.  Nakamichi made killer decks!

No controversy. Let the whiners and haters whine and hate.  Snag one and enjoy the hell out of it.

hendrikj's picture     Authorised Nakamichi Service and Spare Parts.

bonhamcopeland's picture

You know what's really cool about tapes? The mixtape. It's a lost art.

Because making a great mixtape is a creative exercise. John Cusak in High Fidelity sums this concept up perfectly.

The physical limitation of the format requires DJ-like creative choices. You have to put some real thought into what artist, which song, and (most importantly) what order to put them in. It's like a set list. You have to think crtically about the audience and the occasion. 

Kids wrote proxy love letters via mixtapes in the 80s. And a great road trip required a great mixtape. Whatever the motivation, the mixtape forced you to 'think' about your music in a certain kind of creative way that technology has eroded. First, the skipable CD and then MP3s. 

Somehow making a playlist in iTunes doesn't have the same mystique. It's too easy. Handing somebody a thumb drive or sharing MP3s requires no effort and therefore no thought.

So I have this crazy idea. What about a Mejias Mix Tape?

It could be a Stereophile underground, unofficial samplier of sorts that you promote two or three times a year. 

Of course, this will require that you actually own a cassette deck. Preferably a Dragon to ensure the highest standards of old format fidelity. And this is where J.A. (who would approve of this idea, I'm certain) and the Source Interlink company card comes into play.  



dcginc's picture

Love that movie, High Fidelity!

OneTouch Ultra's picture

This reminds me of the old times when I used to buy cassette tapes.  But they were affordable that time.  I never thought that they would cost that much now.  Maybe following the Low of Supply and demand?  Anyway....I will sure to come back here very often. I love every content. Great job!

jonh's picture

funny as this week I actually put such a road trip tape into the CR-1 and could remember it all - trip, friends and the music was great.

Stereophile mixbag now there is a spark for further thought........

dcginc's picture

The article will motivate me to buy some interconnects to use the Revox. I had Nak CR 3a and a pioneer CTF-9191 and a very old super scope


I used to record some great mix tapes and our great content!


Anybody remember Warehouse Sound Co San Luis obispo?

Jon Iverson's picture

Why yes - even attended several of their concerts out back by the train tracks. And Brillo Bob, who was used in their ads and catalogs, still lives in town.

dcl54's picture

Tape culture is like good wine culture! It involves knowledge, pleasure, time, dedication, money, patience, space, individualism, pride, ownership, art, senses and love. I remember many decades ago when I discovered as a teenager the sound of a tubes tape recorder and listened through the nights to recordings of great blues performers watching the hypnotizing dance of the VU-meters. It was pure magic. Later on the sound was accompanied by the majestic stance of a Revox A-700, then of a Tandberg TD20A, then the tape became smaller but the sound remained magical when it was produced by a Nakamichi 700, then a Nak 1000ZXL, then a Revox B215S and so on. It was so gratifying to hold the LPs and to go through the whole procedure of involved the whole list of vibrations mentioned earlier... Fast forward to February 2012...Our teenager looks into the mirror at the grey hair that graces the upper part of his entity and vibrates in anticipation at the thought that tomorrow the unsealed LP of The Bellamy Brothers bought 2 weeks ago on E-bay for 2US$ + 15US$ shipment to Europe shall be transfered to cassette, thus joining the remaining 500+ collection of cassettes (besides many tapes and LPs, hundreds of minidiscs and DATs, thousands of CDs and DVDs). Should I use the Studer A-721? or the Revox B215-II? or the Nakamichi CR-7? or the Pioneer CT-95? Any of them would bring joy to the process! This is passion...this is culture...this is love for music...

Pythagoras's picture

Does anyone have an opinion on the TEAC AD-800? I need to convert some cassettes to audio files. I had a great cassette deck once upon a time but it stopped working years ago.

Thank you!

housepianist's picture

Ah, yes, those were the days when it was a true hands-on experience to become involved with one's music - buying LP'S and CD's just to record them onto a cassette. I would still listen to LP's on a turntable for musical enjoyment but listening to that same music that was painstakingly and lovingly recorded on a tape was immensely enjoyable!

Here's what all the fuss was about (at least for me): Auto-reverse heads vs. non-reverse heads, tape head adjustments (if included), Dolby B vs. Dolby C (with or without HX-Pro) vs. dbx noise reduction circuits, manual bias vs. auto bias, manual recording level settings vs. auto recording level settings (some cassette players set the levels based on the highest sound peak on a CD - never cared for that), Cr02-coated tapes vs. metal oxide-coated tapes, the quality and material of the cassette shells (simple plastic shells glued together vs. polymer-based shells held together by no less than 5 tiny screws). Even the different metals and materials used for the tape head assembly was deemed to have an affect on the final outcome. 

This, my friends, was audio recording nirvana!

And like many of the arguments about digital music, there were many debates about whether a CD (and to some extent, an LP) recorded on a "proper" cassette player with a good quality tape and the "correct" level settings could actually sound better than the source. Fascinating stuff!

Although I listen primarily to digital music, I still pull out the occasional cassette from my 150+ collection and pop it into my 20-year old Technics RS-BR465. Of course, if needed, I make sure the head, pinch rollers, and tape guides are clean first!

It simply doesn't get any better than this!



dgb100's picture

I always loaded up on the Maxell XLIIS, like the sound of those even more than the higher end metals for some reason, and you push the signal pretty high and not saturate the tape. Tell you what, I have 30 year old tapes that sound fantatic and 5 year old CD-Rs that are nothing but beer coasters.  There is a reason CD-Rs are .30 cents a piece now.

dgb100's picture

I was a huge tape enthusiast but have given up due to the obscene prices of tape decks and blank cassettes.  I have a Nakamichi CR-5 which has finally bit the dust, transport conrtol is shot.  Luckily I recorded all my tapes to CD and HD.  Quite frankly I would put the sound of that deck up against just about any component out there.  It has a huge, wonderful soundstage and deep rich bass.  I had a Dragon and top of the line Yamahas, Onkyos, and some others, but the CR-5 was the best (its big brother the CR-7 likey is just as good but goes for 3-4 times the price due to the azimuth and auto-cal functions).  If you just want a nice simple deck for play back I would highly reccomend a Nak CR-2 which can be had fairly cheap.  Yamaha decks are also really nice and much cheaper than Naks.  On the downside, 90% of tape decks out there sound like hell either becuase they are garbage or they are out of alignment.

However they will go bad.  They always do, it may be messed up out of the box, or it might last five years, but either learn how to fix them or save up a fix-it-fund.  Unfortunately it appears some of the classic Naks from the 70s are simply unable to be repaired anymore.

But nothing is quite as engaging as getting all your tape settings, bias, etc just right to produce that killer tape. 

miner42's picture

Nothing like the warm sound of analog recordings.  So many DL & CDs these day are so hotly recorded that it is painfully fatiguing to listen to over a period of time.  I, too, one day will fnd the Nak that fits my needs and wallet.

PaulW's picture

I have one of those in perfect working condition along with many sealed high quality cassettes. Where would be the best place to find the current price for the 582Z and which site do you recommend for selling it?