WHat did Audiophiles hear during Tape deck era?

How did Audiophile listened to audiophile quality during tape cassett era?
Records. Mine were dubbed to my 10.5" Pioneer RTR. My roommate did the same with his smaller Sony RTR. Normally I would have reels of whole album dubs, and then make reels of cuts for different styles. This being WSU years there would be tapes for pre-function, party, hangover recovery, etc. As I recall Nakamichi was known for supposedly audiophile quality cassette, but since the impossibility of getting anywhere near RTR quality with tape half as wide moving 1/16 as fast was beyond obvious, no one I know ever bought one. So we audiophiles listened to open reel, and when we wanted the real deal, we played records.
The ‘tape deck era’ was still a vinyl era. If you didn’t have an audiophile tape set-up, you probably just spun vinyl. I didn’t have a tape deck for a long time, in fact, one of the reasons to finally got a deck was to record my CD’s for my car before CD players were a typical car audio inclusion, and were a luxury buy. Tape players were commonly included in your autos audio system at that time. At that point point, I also began recording my vinyl for the same purpose, but also bought quite a few retail label audio tapes as well.
Cassettes were always for the car.  Or for when I didn't like an LP enough to buy it but somebody I knew had a copy that I could duplicate.  It didn't hurt that that a couple of buddies were in the record business during the heyday of the cassette, making it easy for me to borrow many hot new releases.  If I truly loved the music I'd buy the vinyl.  If I didn't, well, I would listen to the cassette a couple of times and then record something new over it.  It was truly rare...but it did happen a couple times...that I got a pre-recorded cassette that truly sounded good.
So true. Records were much more common, cars mostly had radios, and if the car had a tape deck it was about as likely 8-track as cassette. Yes the all-time worst format ever, 8-track, was actually pretty common for a while. Probably was a year when there were as many 8-tracks as cassettes, at least in cars.

I never really thought of it as a tape era. It was records. Other formats like tapes were for cars, or making party tapes. Records were for music. As it was then, so shall it ever be.
It went Vinyl, Reel to Reel, cassette 1969 (?) (it didn’t catch on) then 4 track, then 8 track, then cassette finally caught on 1979 (?) maybe 1980. 8 track was already gone. Boxes everywhere at garage sales and swap meets. The problem with cassette was the cheapest narrowest, format of all the the tape, types.. There were 3-4 different Reel to Reel formats too. You have to be carefull, buying some of the older RtR, it’s not all compatible. Some reelhead can chime in.

I haven’t used my RtR much for the last 25 years.
The magnetic media was starting to degrade from the 40,50,60s
in the 90s, I’ll have to check again, they only get worse. Some were in real good shape, some lost there luster..
My wife still has boxes of cassettes. We had to special order a cassette for a new car, it was a big deal..
Still sound bad, but it's the Stones, suppose to sound bad.. I think.


Of course vinyl ruled back then, but as a college kid I had a musical appetite that far exceeded my budget to buy all the music I wanted on records. And RTR tapes were not cheap either, so the most cost effective way to build a music collection was with cassette tapes. There happened to be a music library where I lived, which lent LP's at a discount to students. With the right timing, you could pick out the latest releases before anyone else did and before the 'handling marks' became offensive. In those years I learned how people treated records they didn't own themselves. 

Anyway, when I finally had the money to afford a decent sounding cassette deck, which really meant Nakamichi, I wanted to re-records everything. The difference was not imaginary. Of course not anywhere near the level of high speed 2 track RTR, yet worthy of the aspiring audiophile on a budget.

Fast forward 40 years and all the music I've ever wanted has been accumulated on pristine original vinyl. But I still operate a nicely refurbished Nakamichi 700II for compiling 'mood' tapes, just like I did in the old days. A ridiculously anachronistic way to pass the time, but to me it's fun. I now make these recordings with a system I could only dream of back then and I'm actually amazed just how good cassettes can sound. It's a format that probably shouldn't work due to its limitations, yet it does.

LP's but it was fun to record a nice mix from them or even from FM and played back to car stereo, Walkman or portables. I regret selling my last deck a TCK990ES but if I want to listen to cassettes a seperates micro system or a Walkman does it nicely.

My first system, late 70s, included a couple of pioneer pieces, an am/fm tuner and a dubbing cassette deck.  I can’t remember the models. Some radio stations and DJs helped people record music by announcing what would be played and when. Albums would be played without interruption.   I was surprised how good some of my radio copies sounded.
Vinyl, FM radio and chrome tapes.

No Dolby.

Sounded excellent but the tapes could get jammed and tended to get warped when used in overheating car stereos.

Necessary skills included the occasional editing/splicing of broken tape, manually adjusting tape head azimuth, demagnetising, and the cleaning of the heads and rollers.

My NAD 6050c gave great access for all of the maintenance until it was superceded by MiniDisc (which avoided all the issues and had infinitely superior editing options).


It’s funny how I used to try so hard to edit out the DJs chatter when recording the chart show every Sunday but now decades later realise I should have left it in to capture that period feel.

I definitely would have if I knew back then of the approaching of the digital age. MP3s, downloading, streaming, CDRs all would have seemed like science fiction back then.
During the early 70s when I worked at the University of Texas in Austin and lived close enough to walk to work, I would pass a record store just a block off the Drag that would let you take new albums home overnight to audition for $1. Bring the album back the next day with no damage and they gave you $.50. My routine was to pick up one album, record it on my Tandberg R2R and return it the next day, over and over. It didn't take long to amass a pretty impressive music library.
Your choice was scratches or tape hiss. In the late 60's tape was better. There were bunches of pre recorded tapes and except for the hiss the machines were stellar. In the early 70s dolby came along and R to R machines like the Revox were being sold with it but interest in pre recorded tapes fell off and they all but disappeared from the market. Most of us just recorded albums. Turntable playback continued to improve. Now R to R is a niche market operating off rebuilt machines and ridiculously priced pre recorded tapes of very old stuff. It will fade as the supply of transports dries up and people get use to the inherent superiority of High Res Digital (appropriately mastered of course). There are some who will snuff up their noses with this assessment but I would be willing to wager that the R to R market will be all but dead in 10 years.   
A lot of scrape flutter and wow, pops and hiss. Mostly listened FM radio instead.
Recorded compilations from records through preamp onto CrO2 tape using 3 head machine. No Dolby. Played in the car on a Pioneer tape deck slung under the dash, hot wired to the battery, into separate amps for bass/mid and tweeters that were cannibalized from a pair of B&Ws. 2x10" sub in the trunk. No built-in stereo bs back then. Sounded vastly better than any CD or rip in any car since.
Always have played cassette tapes alongside my records.
Some pretty well pre recorded tapes around but the hot ticket is a top flight Nak deck fully restored by Willy Herman ( not as expensive as you might think but 12 month wait list!).
Use Fuji metal tapes and you have yourself a superb recording if the rest of your system is up to snuff.

I would tend to agree that just looking at paper specs and what we "think we know" ,that a tiny tape width running so slow that a snail can outpace it should not work to any acceptable degree.
Just goes to show that "what we know" means diddly squat at times! 
Cassettes really came into their own in the 80s and 90s. Dynamic range is the one thing that sticks out for me, cassettes are closer to the master tape than records or CDs. Also air and warmth. The digitally remastered cassettes are certainly more analog sounding than their CD counterparts yet more dynamic too. You CAN have your cake 🎂 and eat it too. 🤗
"tape cassette era?"

When did this happen? I purchased records, make a cassette copy for the car, because I thought they performed better than the pre recorded version.

No one informed me of an "era" during this time. 

I feel left out-did I miss a rally or convention? I did hear hiss in between tracks.
You need to talk to Geoffkait. My understanding from him is  he is still in the “cassette era”.
@noromance  I think I had the same underdash Pioneer - no FM. I had Crickets front and back in a 1970 Firebird w 400. Fun
i enjoy my mostly pirate cassette collection in my garage system - I used to document the recording chain on the label which is to me an interesting record of my system evolution probably the pinnacle for me SOTA Sapphire to Souther to Dynavector Ruby to Ortofon Step up to CJ Premier 3 to Tandberg 3014A.... fun
but my 4 track Dokorder was the high fidelity bomb :-) Eclipsed today by my high speed B-77 half track
Have a NAK today, the 3 series Tanberg notoriously unreliable.. not so the 440
"tape cassette era?"

When did this happen? I purchased records, make a cassette copy for the car, because I thought they performed better than the pre recorded version.

No one informed me of an "era" during this time.
According to Sirius XM and their "classic rewind" channel, the cassette era was the 80,s.
Cannot say as I would disagree

For the hardcore junkie cassettes are pure heroin, everything else is methadone. 
I owned an expensive Nakamichi and that was SOTA. Perpetual head cleaning and realignment, plus the tape wears out. Old tech I'm happy to no longer use.
One could use the same analogy to records.
They need cleaning, stylus and cartridges wear out as do The records themselves.
Does that mean I should stop playing records too then?
I didn’t say cassettes were perfect. But what is? Cut me some slack, Jack. At least at the end of the day you have music. Tape is a natural medium. It breathes. You wouldn’t believe what I have to do to get CDs to sound half as good as cassettes. 
I had a Nak Dragon and the only reason I had it was to record cassettes for the Nak deck in my car. When CD came along I tossed the cassettes and the Dragon. If you think they sound good you have a lot of work to do on your system. On ESLs with subwoofers they sound worse than an MP3 file. I can understand using a Garrard 301 long before I could understand using cassettes. They were the best you could do for cars back then but that is about it.  
In the 80’s I used a Teac X10R R2R, which I still have, with a dbx 224 type II noise reduction unit and dbx 3bx range expander.  I also had a professional Technics cassette deck with dbx 224.  I recorded about 40 reels and about a hundred cassettes. I loved the R2R sound, and the cassettes.  

In the 90’s my cassette recorder broke.  I was heartbroken, but by then I had moved on to CDs and ripped many of my reels to a NAS and my iPod.  I haven’t played my R2R in a while.  In the present, I enjoy streaming and my vinyl rig.
mijostyn, you seem to need a lot of work on your hearing. Can I suggest a good candling? 🕯
Prerecorded sets were crap. The worst may have been Columbia and chrysalis. You didn’t even get to the point where you were discussing the sound because the tape would malfunction. We’ve heard mention of a few Decks from back in the day that would give you some good sound, those being Nak and Tandberg. My recollection is that TEAC made a couple that were pretty good.  As young lads my friends and I were guilty of cranking up the levels and saturating the tape on occasion. Worrying about the sound came a few years later. A substantial number of early CD reissues supposedly suffered by being mastered from cassette masters which I don’t even want to think what generation they were. But that tells you how much care of the wrecker companies are putting into the cassettes, knowing that they wouldBe played in cheap car stereos for boomboxes

"Prerecorded sets were crap."

I found pre-recorded tapes to be listenable, but little more. The industry tended to only use the cheapest ferric tapes. Home recordings on the vastly superior chrome Cr02 formula, with increased dynamics and bandwidth, would be far superior, whether off the radio or vinyl. Both TDK and later Sony made some great tapes.

Since pre-recorded tapes cost the same as vinyl there was unsurprisingly a huge surge in home taping in the 1980s. So much so that the music industry began to regularly churn out ’Home taping is killing music’ warnings.

There were followed by calls to impose a financial levy on blank cassettes, but these quickly fell by the wayside during the 90s with the emergence of MiniDisc, DAT and CDR technology which went hand in hand the the rise of MP3 filesharing.

The rest is history.

Excellent revisit by Techmoan here

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As good as some of the higher end compact cassette machines got, the pre-recorded cassettes always suffered from the limitations of the high speed duplication process used to record them.  If you were making your own recordings, you could achieve better quality, but still, without Dolby B, C or the DBX noise reduction circuits in the better machines, tape hiss was audible.  Those noise reduction systems improved things, but now one needed to pay attention to what tape the machine was optimized for.  Some machines even had bias adjustment features, but it wasn't long after that, that CD's started to make their debut.  Sony recognized the limitations of the compact cassette and introduced a product called the L-Cassette which used 1/4" tape and ran at 3-3/4 i.p.s.  The L-Cassette was nearly the size of an 8-track cartridge and improved the signal to noise and frequency response limitations of the compact cassette, but pre-recorded L-Cassettes were never made and the format died an early death.  I often wondered if Sony introduced that format 5-10 years earlier, if it might have enjoyed greater acceptance.
First a couple of snarky answers: (1) they listened to music, (2) nothing, because none of us used the term "audiophile" in those days.  Enjoyed a Sony RTR machine for years, later a Nakamichi 1000 that my brother and I bought jointly (used, because they were so darned expensive!).  Added a dox noise reduction unit later on; pretty darned good results for the era. That equipment is long gone, although I still have a couple hundred cassettes in the closet.
I wouldn't have called myself an audiophile back in the 70's;  I was just doing what everyone else in my group was doing - my teen/early 20's years.  Making my own mix cassette tapes with selected songs pulled from my records, trying to get the sound level just right without distorting, keeping the break between songs to a couple of seconds.  I had both an 8-track and cassette deck for my car that I could swap out for each other with a bracket under the dash.  I had a few acquaintances that did RTR, but that never would have been a good solution for me, as I listened to most of my music in my car (lived in an apartment, small bedroom, very thin walls).  I bought a Technics SL-1200 just so I could speed up the last song on a tape ever so slightly so that it would fit.  TDK ruled the day; first getting the cheapest (and longest running) 10-pack I could, then buying the better ones as time went on if I could get deals on them.  Maxell came next, then Denon.  I still have my discrete head Nakamichi DR-10 (never could spend what, $1800 for the Dragon?) and it doesn't get a lot of use nowadays - need to change the belts and rubber wheels - but I was surprised how good some of my tapes sounded with my current system.  The 8-tracks never sounded good and were a nightmare to repair if they got eaten by your machine, so they didn't last long with me once I got into cassettes.
I still have a Harmon Kardon HK 2000 cassette deck. I used it to make tapes for the car. It was a good deck back in the day. Don't know why but can't bring myself to get rid of it. Nostalgia I guess.
I still have my Denon 3-head deck from 1991 in my system as well as my old mix tapes. It great to play back these old tapes and remember the good times from that time. It is good nostalgia.
Cassettes were for collecting and trading Grateful Dead concerts.  Did they have any other purpose?  ;)   

Every Dead Head I knew had at least a few tapes, many had 100s.  When I went to college (late 70s), the people with the best Stereos (that's what we called them back then) were the Dead Heads, hands down.  Most non-deadophiles had the all-in-one Panasonics, Sonys with the cheap turntable on top, cassette built in and radio with crap speakers hanging off the sides.  But the Dead Heads had real 'stereos', separates with most of the money going into the cassette decks to make sure they could make the best copies.
You can’t go wrong with cassettes from the 80s and 90s, HiQ, digalog, HX PRO, chrome. Guaranteed to enter the kingdom of heaven. Dig this. Labels to look for, MCA, Electra, I.R.S., Virgin, Atlantic, Warner Bro’s, Reprise. You do realize tape hiss went away with Dolby don’t you? As Bob Dylan says at the end of all his cassettes, good luck to everybody.

The Elcaset / L-cassette was sadly another one of those failed attempts to bring high quality playback to the masses.

To be honest I only heard of it mentioned in asides much later on. Yet in pure sonic terms it made great sense, twice the width and twice the speed of a compact cassette giving near reel to reel sound for the masses.

Alas, like SACD and DVD-A later, the implementation and support was seriously lacking. As they say, even a great idea/product is only 20% of the work done, it’s in the cut throat world of business and marketing where it’s make or break time.

Audiophiles seem destined to forever remain the thin tail wagging the very large dog as far as the commercial world is concerned. We remain a straggly tribe of audio pioneers in our push for generally accepted higher quality playback sound, waiting for the rest of the world to catch us up.


I had a Nak Dragon until about 7 years ago. One of its claim to fame was that is would automatically align the tape heads to any cassette made from any machine so it would play as well as the machine it was made on on. No comparison to LPs, still had tape hiss. 
Uh, tape hiss disappeared with Dolby tapes which was about a bazillion years ago. It’s easier to hear tape his on LPs. Wake up and smell the coffee ☕️
Could you possibly be more picky? Tape hiss is more audible on LPs. Give me a break. This is not the princess and the pea.
The OP asked what was heard, not smelled, like the coffee. Can’t you be more intellectual.. others have complained about your arrogance, as a new comer, I can see why. OP asked about tape, not LP, HELLO. I won’t reply any further to individuals that can’t read. As you can tell, you just made another friend and I understand you have plethoras of them. 
You’re not following. Maybe read my post again. Try to control your emotions this time. Don’t flip out on me. By the way it’s individuals who can’t read not individuals that can’t read. Also, plethora is already plural. There is no such word as plethoras. As a newcomer you should mind your manners.
Uberwaltz, I was just responding to the OP. I was not knocking anyone’s choice of playback hardware. I don’t use vinyl anymore either and was an early adopter of computer audio. I totally respect your choice to access music the way you like, although that’s not my choice for music reproduction. To each their own Brother.