A History of Magnetic Audio Tape

researched and compiled by Diana Cook

Reel-to-Reel Tape -- late 1940's
RCA Cartridges -- 1958-1964
Cassette Tape -- 1963-present
4-Track Tape -- mid 1960's
PlayTape -- 1967-1969
8-Track Tape -- 1960's-1983
Elcaset -- 1970's
Digital Audio Tape -- late 1980's
ADAT -- late 1980's
Digital Compact Cassette -- 1992-1996

Comparing Audio Technologies -- specs, etc.

Reel-to-Reel Tape
Late 1940's

[reel2.gif]The wire recorder had been developing for several years when in mid-40's, several companies began to work on a magnetic tape recorder. Several types of tape were introduced, including a plastic-based tape with oxide, which became the industry standard. Many professional tape recorders were introduced in the late 40's, and in 1950, two-channel tape recorders were introduced to make stereo recordings of music (for demonstration purposes).

RCA Cartridges

RCA introduced a new cartridge recorder in 1958, using 1/8 inch magnetic tape at 3 3/4 ips (the same as the later 8-Track) and requiring a separate player/recorder. The stereophonic tapes -- which bore a striking resemblance to modern cassettes, but three times larger -- held two one-hour stereo programs, and a 1958 catalog of tapes (mostly fictitious) was released. By August 1959, player/recorder units were finally being shipped to distributors, but only 16 recordings were available. RCA had introduced portable units and playback-only units by 1961, and established a tape club to distribute the cartridges, mostly classical and light jazz instrumentals. Sears-Roebuck had also considered marketing a radio-phonograph-cartridge console which never was produced. However, in late 1961, what little market RCA had for stereo cartridges had seriously diminished -- but production did continue by a licensee, Bell Sound, until 1964.

Cassette Tape

[cassette.gif]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.

4-Track Tape

One relatively short-lived looping-tape format was the 4-Track tape -- it coexisted and competed with the 8-Track tape for a few years, but was soon overtaken. 4-Track tapes were almost identical to their successor, the 8-Track, except for the fact that they had 2 stereo programs instead of four, the inner mechanism was slightly different, and there was a notch on the outer casing. Unfortunately, 8-Track players are unable to play 4-Track tapes without an adapter.


[ptsq.gif]PlayTapes were common in the late 1960's, being one of the first truly portable formats. Over 3,000 artists recorded these 2-track PlayTape cartridges, including The Beatles and The Grateful Dead, along with the entire Motown catalog. With the upsurge of the 8-Track, PlayTapes were obsolete by 1970. However, PlayTape represented a major step in the pre-recorded music industry and is a joy and challenge to collectors of many sorts.

8-Track Tape

The standard 8-Track, or "Stereo-8," format became popularized in the mid-60's and quickly overtook its near-identical twin and close competitor, the 4-Track tape, as well as PlayTape. The 8-Track industry enjoyed a boom in the early to mid-70's, but died off mainly due to the growing popularity of the cassette tape. In 1983, the recording industry as a whole ceased to manufacture 8-Track tapes -- however, there are still die-hard fans of the format who collect, sell, trade, and even still record 8-Tracks.


Digital Audio Tape

[datlogo.gif][dat.gif]The DAT-heads FAQ



Digital Compact Cassette

[dcclogo.gif]Near the end of 1992, the Digital Compact Cassette, or DCC, was introduced. This technology was intended to be a step up from the analog cassette, and DCC players were indeed able to play the traditional analog cassette. However, this close cousin to the Digital Audio Tape was short-lived, and in October of 1996, Philips discontinued manufacturing DCC for home use.

CD Europe has over 150 titles available on Digital Compact Cassette.

About this chronology:
This project began as a personal interest of mine (see the
original index), and I have used my independent research for several subsequent undergraduate research papers. I chose to focus on tape rather than the entire gamut of audio recording, since I wanted to go in depth about what I chose to research. Researching and displaying in-depth information about vinyl records, MiniDisc, Compact Disc, and DVD's -- in addition to whatever may be beyond -- would prove too daunting a task for me to tackle properly in my spare time. I offer a list of resources for your personal research, in addition to the information I provide here. Feel free to make comments and suggestions regarding this site, and to point me toward more information regarding magnetic audio tape.

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