Cassettes: 1963 - present


In 1963, Philips demonstrated the first compact audio cassette using 1/8-inch tape at 1 7/8 ips. These were testmarketed in 1966 in Britain, more than a year before their release in the U.S. In 1984, cassette sales exceeded LP sales for the first time.


Excerpted from "You Really Got Me,"
copyright 1994 by Doug Hinman and Jason Brabazon

"The cassette format, however, evolved in Europe for use with small, battery operated player/recorders, which did not depend upon cars for the portability. Invented as much for recording as it was for playback of prerecorded tapes, the commercial potential of prerecorded software was nevertheless not overlooked. Developed by the Norelco and Philips companies (the latter being the same company which, fifteen years later, combined with Sony ion the invention of the compact disc, and thus was involved in both halves of the one-two punch that KO'd vinyl records), cassettes were marketed worldwide, and were, in fact, test marketed in Britain and other parts of Europe in 1966, more than a year before their introduction in the U.S.

"Cassettes were originally disdained by audio critics as very low-end technology, even compared to 8-tracks. The tracks themselves (the portion of the magnetic tape holding the information) were only half as wide as those on 8-tracks, and cassette tape moved at half of 8-track's speed, combining for a very low perceived potential for sound reproduction. However, the cassette format offered a number of features that found favor with U.S. consumers more interested in convenience and versatility than high-end sound reproduction. Cassettes were inexpensive (blanks then sold for between $1 and $2 U.S.), players were portable and could record as well as play, and the tapes were smaller and yet could hold more music (up to ninety minutes, and later a full two hours) than preceding formats. Thus, cassettes actually caught on more quickly in the U.S. than in Europe, in spite of the U.S. market saturation of the 4- and 8-track formats.

"Slowly but surely the cassette format nudged its cousins out of the U.S. marketplace. PlayTapes were obsolete by 1970. 8-tracks became pretty well entrenched at about the same time; 8-tracks and reel-to-reel tapes--the only format which, despite its deficiencies, was taken seriously by audiophiles--hung on for some time, buoyed by record club sales for years after their demise in retail stores. As time proved the tenacity of the cassette format, engineers endeavored to improve its quality and eventually elevated cassettes to the rarefied air of high-end audio."


Sources:

Pre-Recorded Audio