8-tracks: Sound good or awful?

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by Nostaljack, Feb 1, 2008.

  1. Nostaljack

    Nostaljack Resident R&B enthusiast Thread Starter

    DC metro area
    Okay, let me start off by saying that I'm only 34 and, as such, I pretty much missed the 8-track phenomenon. I went from LP's to cassettes to CD's. I have reels as well but I just never got into 8-tracks. How is the sound quality on these things, by and large?

  2. Doug Sclar

    Doug Sclar Forum Legend

    The OC
    I had about 100 8 tracks before they were ultimately stolen from my car in 1971. They were not great sounding but not bad either. The main problem that plagued them was crosstalk. Some of the players had front panel head adjustments to help lessen crosstalk but it was often a problem.

    The other problem was that since there were 4 stereo tracks, the lp's got broken up sometimes pretty horribly to make them fit. Some times tracks would change in the middle of a song.

    The bottom line is that 4 tracks were capable of sounding better than 8 tracks, but it also depended on the player. Many of the 4 track players were pretty basic while some of the 8 track units were more deluxe.

    In both cases tape speed was double that of cassette and the tape was obviously wider. So for the most part both 4 and 8 tracks sounded better than factory cassettes. Of course as the cassette industry matured and special higher density tape formulations were created, performance improved considerably. Had 8 tracks been able to benefit from these types of changes they most likely could have sounded better.

    I should also add that I had a Roberts reel to reel that made 8 track tapes and needledrops often sounded better than factory tapes. It just depended. Some factory tapes were pretty darn good and some were not.

    There was one other problem with both 4 and 8 track carts. They were in an endless loop, so they did tend to wear out if played enough.
  3. CircleSky73

    CircleSky73 New Member

    Saginaw, MI

    It depends on several things, much like LPs.

    *You need to get a decent player. Recorders tend to be the best players. The Pioneer H-R 99 and H-R 100 are well regarded, and the 100 was the best 8 track deck I'd ever owned. The Akai decks are good too but some tend to be over-built and are dang near impossible to repair if you aren't technically inclined.

    *Some tapes sound like mud. If you had a choice of a retail version, an RCA Music Service or Columbia House version I'd go for, in order, the RCA, The Columbia House, then the retail. RCA tapes have the best sound quality- higher grade of tape, I've read, and the build of the cartridges is much better. Then there's stuff like magnetization and poor storage. Funny enough, I had a pirate and retail version of Cher's self-titled album on Kapp (the one with "Gypsies Tramps & Thieves") and the pirate sounded better than the retail. Why? Mastered from vinyl! It was a needledrop. That means the master used for the 8 track run was *several* times removed from the master used to create the vinyl master. Or something like that.

    *Alignment of the head can be tricky but with an afternoon of fiddling about, you can be a semi pro. There's a guy selling 'alignment' tapes on ePay and the alignment tapes are- get this!- *copies* of an alignment tape. You can use any RCA tape from the seventies as an alignment tape because RCA's 8 track QC at that time tended to be excellent. I just wish they'd have spread some of that over to their LP department.

    8 tracks used to be a great way to try new music but with the phenomenon of ePay things get overpriced. Check out the butt-zombies trying to sell a copy of the Beatles' "1967-1970", an 8 track that is extremely common, for $500! For one of the two tapes in the set!

    Sound quality isn't as horrid as you've heard- just don't expect good dynamics or live-sounding music. Unless you make your own. :righton:
    McLover and clhboa like this.
  4. Drifter

    Drifter AD survivor

    Vancouver, BC, CA
    The poll is flawed: I can't vote because some 8-tracks sound absolutely horrible whereas the occasional one will sound very good. I was given a Pioneer H-R99 and a bunch of 8-tracks. I have a Jefferson Airplane 8-track that sounds amazing.
  5. CircleSky73

    CircleSky73 New Member

    Saginaw, MI
    Drifter, I tell ya, it's in the masters used! :D
  6. TheHypnoToad

    TheHypnoToad Forum Resident

    Don't forget that a lot of quad material was released on 8-track and some of those really did/do sound amazing. But there were a lot of really poor sounding tapes out there as well. Tough to figure out where to place my marker in the poll given the variability of what you might encounter.
    The FRiNgE likes this.
  7. Grant

    Grant A Musical Free-Spirit

    They had the potential to sound very good, and some did, depending on the player and recording. But, man, that changing of the channel every 15-20 minutes! The repeated songs to fill up blank space. Ugh!
  8. Drifter

    Drifter AD survivor

    Vancouver, BC, CA
    Not to mention "part I" and "part II" of some songs.
  9. Nostaljack

    Nostaljack Resident R&B enthusiast Thread Starter

    DC metro area
    I figured that might be an issue. I was asking on the whole, how have they sounded to those who've had them.

    Great input from one and all.

    AcidPunk15 likes this.
  10. CircleSky73

    CircleSky73 New Member

    Saginaw, MI
    Y'know, my Q8 "Imagine" sounded much better than the stereo version. Same with the Q8 "Best of the Doors". Capitol's tapes tend to consistantly be mid-range, at least the black-shelled ones. My cream-shelled "Beatles '65" sounded awesome but the black-shelled one lacked in highs.

    Another thing- if the label and shell look clean, chances are high the tape will sound better.
  11. Sckott

    Sckott Hand Tighten Only.

    Hyannis Ma
    8Track tapes.

    What were they like? Ticking time bombs. I rarely owned a tape that I played 3-4 times. Because they're mechanical and made very cheaply (although $1-2 more expensive than the LP at the time) nothing was perfect. Sound was generally good to unlistenable. Then they could get jammed, pinched, stuck and.....ugh!!

    I remember when I was 7, I had Blood On The Tracks (Dylan). I don't think any of the songs were split in two.

    A lot of them were made at different plants using all kinds of formula tape, high-speed duplication and tracking was really all over the road.

    Just think - If the format lasted past 1980, there would be Sony 8Track walkmans. Most likely would look like a Nintendo strapped to your side!

    LPs were cheaper, more plentiful, easier to track. In the day, I played both equally.
  12. The pre-recorded 8-tracks I owned ranged from Okay to Awful. However, I used to needle-drop most of my LPs for playing in the car (the term needle-drop didn't exist in the '70s - I called it "recording my records to 8-track"), and I used 45 and 90 minute blank BASF tapes at the time.

    I owned a JVC home recorder, and I swear many of those transfers sounded almost as good as the LP, with only a slight loss of the highs. I even timed out the songs as best as I could without track splitting and would cut the tape to length (or on rare occasion, splice an extra minute on for those albums over 45 minutes). I remember getting screwed up when I recorded Led Zeppelin I, because the back of the album jacket lists "How Many More Times" as 3:30!

    They were certainly good enough for playing on the old Kenwood deck I installed in my '71 Camaro. I mean, you could take your music with you and play it in the car -- how cool was that?! :D
    clhboa likes this.

    TONEPUB Forum Resident

    Portland, Oregon
    They suck but I love them anyway....
    Fishoutofwater likes this.
  14. Vidiot

    Vidiot Now in 4K HDR!

    Hollywood, USA
    The best 8-track cartridge recorder ever made was the Technics RS-858US. I had one in the late 1970s, and bought a replacement for it in the last few years on eBay. As good as it was, it still sounds like crap.

    8-track is a crap format, period. The wow & flutter and head-alignment problems are practically insurmountable. I know there are crazy collectors who embrace 8-track's bad sound as part of its charm, but that never appealed to me.

    Anybody remember the sight of twisted, gnarled piles of 8-tracks lying by the side of the road? That was a familiar scene in the 1970s and early 1980s. As far as I'm concerned, that's the ultimate fate of all 8-track tapes.
  15. Curiosity

    Curiosity Portable Audio Fan

    United Kingdom
    Still doing that but it's easier to program from CD or MD copies. :shh:
  16. Curiosity

    Curiosity Portable Audio Fan

    United Kingdom
    Reproduction on my Akia is darn fine from a decent tape. No need to apologize for it being an 8 track.
    I'd agree RCA's first, Columbia (with dolby), Record clubs and then the others (Early Capitols and GRT were awful).
    The UK Emi's were first rate - my copy of With The Beatles has very good fidelity.
    Some of last RC editions did sound really good - the CRC of Laura Branigans Self Control and Cars Heartbeat City equal the pre-recorded cassettes.
  17. R. Totale

    R. Totale The Voice of Reason

    They were OK for the car. Since I bought a car with a factory 8-track player in it long after it was over, I was having a blast picking up the tapes for pennies at yard sales. I got "Trout Mask Replica". the Art Ensemble of Chicago, the Rock 'n' Roll High School soundtrack and a few other great tapes and had a blast playing them at top volume while negotiating my land yacht through crowded city streets.
  18. Highway Star

    Highway Star New Member

    eastern us
    There were plenty of 8-tracks that didn't have song splits. And if you roll your own, in most cases that can be eliminated. I must of had 100s of the critters during the 70s that took all kinds of abuse and probably had a failure rate of maybe 5-10%. Never once did I ever clean a tape player, or have one de-magged, out of maybe a dozen or so players I owned from '70-'79. So all in all, they did a fine job for what they were (cheap portable entertainment)

    I've recently put a NOS AM/FM 8-track in my '79 Caddy, and it sounds surprisingly good (Delco style used in late 70s Buick/Cadillac models only). It will be properly maintained, unlike how I treated players in my younger days! I also have a hidden CD player in the Caddy, but the 8-track is loads more fun to play.

    In my home system I have an AKAI CR-81D player/recorder and it sounds quite fine. Basically I use it just for testing/repairing/recording tapes for the car. The AKAIs have excellent frequency response and are built like tanks. I replace the foil and pads on all my tapes, and the ones that can be opened (most all), I clean and lube the reel and roller wheel hubs.
    clhboa likes this.
  19. Curiosity

    Curiosity Portable Audio Fan

    United Kingdom
    Snap! Own the CR 81D. It is built like a tank.
  20. thxdave

    thxdave Forum Resident

    I owned several 8-track players in my high school days (anybody remember the Craig "hump-mount" players?) but they were always problematic, at best. I always had to keep something like a matchbook in the console just to jam under the cartridge body to shim it up so it would play back properly. I had a buddy who modified his 8-track player to do recordings and we did a bunch of needle drops (circa 1970).
  21. Yeah, thank god for digital -- makes recording 8-tracks so much easier. ;)

    Also, the first time I heard discrete "surround" sound was on 8-track tape. It would be another 25 years before I would hear that again.
  22. AKA-Chuck G

    AKA-Chuck G Forum Resident

    Washington NC
  23. RonInCRIA

    RonInCRIA New Member

    Cedar Rapids, IA
    The format was capable of tolerable results IF everything was right, and if the masters were carefully done. Since the perception of record companies was that 8-track buyers did not care very much, they tended to be lousy.

    You also have the problem that the machines are all 30+ years old and parts are not available.

    Since tolerable is as good as it gets, why bother?
    sunspot42 likes this.
  24. Cymbaline

    Cymbaline Shiny Dog

    Buda, TX
    They sound


  25. zebop

    zebop Well Known Stranger

    There's some 8 tracks I really liked. The early '70s Ampex, those tapes in that cart style or slight variations. I probably liked the way those Ampex Al Green 8 tracks captured the sound better than some vinyl. The stereo separation was great on Green's tapes. The best I heard was probably the original version of Average White Band s/t. I didn't like the vinyl as much.

    The early '80s RCA Tape Club 8 tracks sounded good and were durable too. Hall& Oates's "Private Eyes", The Doobies "Minute by Minute" and "One Step Closer" are a few faves. The RCA Tape Club version of Stevie Wonder's "Hotter than July" was great. Although I have about 50 now, I lost hundreds of them. One of all of the Ampex ones I had I lost just one.

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