Cassette vs. CD?

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by FieldingMellish, Oct 28, 2009.

  1. Hi Folks

    What's the consensus on how a compact cassette compares with a CD, in terms of sound quality? I'm thinking particularly of the analog vs. digital comparison between vinyl and CD, and how the cassette fits into that hierarchy.

    FOr instance, if you did your own needle drop of a vinyl album, which produced a CD, how would that compare to a cassette you'd recorded from the vinyl?

    Apologies if this is an old subject, but I haven't seen a discussion of this anywhere.
  2. kevintomb

    kevintomb Forum Resident

    Im thinking cassette at its VERY BEST may come sorta close to CD in some ways, but in general not even a contest really. There is the issue of the tiny tape size and slow speeds limiting noise levels and high frequency response.

    Its still amazing how good the best cassettes sounded towards the end though, with good tape formulations and noise reduction anyways.

    I think a closer comparsion would be open reel at 7 1/2 IPS half track perhaps, but it still would lose as far as having noticable tape hiss.
  3. mrt2

    mrt2 Active Member

    Location:
    Milwaukee, WI, USA
    A variation on the old lp vs. cd debate. I used cassettes for years, making copies of my lps to save wear, car, and workout mixes. By the early 90s, I was using cassette 70% or 80% of the time. When I switched over to cd, the cassettes were relegated strictly for car use, until I finally got rid of my car with cassette deck a few years ago.

    As Kevin said, under ideal conditions, cassettes were capable of surprisingly good sound. Under real world conditions, cd offers significantly better sound.
  4. Ok, but ignore hiss for a minute. How does cassette compare in terms of 'warmth'? Is tape not also an analog format?
  5. Robin L

    Robin L Musical Omnivore

    Location:
    Fresno, California
    If you used the very finest metal tape on a cassette deck capable of getting everything out of that blank tape you still have to deal with tape hiss and modulation noise one way or another. As regards wow/flutter and speed stability, the CD has it all over the cassette. Dolby B [or C or DBX] doesn't so much eliminate noise as move it around—it's like squeezing a balloon. When I made cassette copies of concerts for the artists alongside my DAT master tapes the performers inevitably asked for no noise reduction—it was easier for the musicians to listen through the hiss than to put up with all the dynamic distortions that Dolby B produced. No contest—if I could have popped out a CD at the end of the concert, that's what the artists would have asked for.
  6. Scotsman

    Scotsman Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Jedburgh Scotland
    Back in the 70s Sony, unsuccessfully, launched the Elcaset, which ran at 3 3/4 i.p.s and was wider. It did not catch on. I don't know whether any albums were ever released on the Elcaset format. Hi Fi magazines at the time were quite enthusiastic, IIRC. Then, of course, there was DAT which, again, didn't really find a mass market. I would agree, however, that, in the early 80s, cassettes sounded pretty good. Especially when vinyl quality appeared to take a nosedive in the same period.
  7. Robin L

    Robin L Musical Omnivore

    Location:
    Fresno, California
    If you put your cassette on a radiator, it will get warm. If you leave it on the radiator too long, it will melt.:winkgrin:

    What audiophiles call "warmth" is a collection of sonically satisfying distortions. Classic analog "warmth" has more to do with the microphones selected and the signal path to the recorder than with the medium that audio is recorded on. A reel-to-reel analog tape can sound warm or cold, depending on what it's fed. Ditto with digital recorders. Some recorders sound "warmer" than others. Ideally, the recording device simply gets out of the way. A cassette has inherent flaws that get in the way enough that the medium can be safely retired without any fear of losing any potential virtues. For what it's worth, I've heard plenty of "cold" sounding cassette decks. Something about odd-order distortion chilling the sound.
    Maggie and ganma like this.
  8. Lownote30

    Lownote30 Bass Clef Addict

    Location:
    Nashville, TN, USA
    I respectfully disagree! The only cold sounding playback devices I've ever heard were digital.

    Frank R.
  9. Grant

    Grant Proud Nerd

    You do realize you just touched off yet another digital vs. analog debate, don't you?

    Attached Files:

  10. slunky

    slunky Active Member

    Location:
    MA, US
    In my experience, vinyl to cassette sounds very warm. Even a CD transferred to a cassette sounds warm. A great way to 'smoothen' up a bright, harsh CD is to record it to a cassette.

    As for sound quality... Unless you have a high end cassette deck, such as a Nak, the wow and flutter ruins it. This is extremely noticeable on piano and accoustic guitar passages :thumbsdn:
  11. Dubmart

    Dubmart Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Bristol, UK
    CD beats cassette in pretty much every way, but cassette does have a nice analogue quality to it and is capable of more than acceptable sound, I still listen to cassettes, (usually to transfer them to CD), and I'm often surprised by just how good cassette can sound.

    As far as tape hiss, most of the off air tapes I did in the nineties used Dolby S and that did the job pretty well, though if DAT tapes hadn't cost £6 each or whatever they did back then I'd have been using the DAT machines instead and the DATs were replaced a few years later by CD recorders once they got below £1,000.

    With regard R2R, I did sometimes use it in preference to DAT, with or without DBX just because I preferred the sound in certain circumstances.
  12. leshafunk

    leshafunk Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Moscow, Russia
    I disagree with your disagree.
    Most of Japanese standalone cassette decks from 90s sounded pretty cold.
    TEAC was the only one giving 'warm' sound in the middle of 90s and on.
  13. mrt2

    mrt2 Active Member

    Location:
    Milwaukee, WI, USA
    I hate the term warmth, agree with Robin that this should describe recordings (and I do think old analog recordings have a certain pleasing sound that comes through even on cd). I do not want my physical medium to contribute audible distortions. This is why cassette tape was so frustrating. NR reduced audible noise but contributed some artifacts of its own (I usually stuck with Dolby B as the best compromise)

    Yes, cassette tape is analog, but there are any number of variables that contributed to degrading the sound in the real world. You already mentioned tape hiss, but there is also variations between cassette decks bias and eq, speed variations, either the recorder or the playback deck running too fast or too slow, real world degradation of the cassette itself; cassette was a portable medium, and my favorite tapes did degrade over time as they were kept in hot or cold conditions, or occasionally got dirty or played on less than perfect car stereos that stretched the tape.
  14. kevintomb

    kevintomb Forum Resident

    Depends on what you mean by cold sounding. We are going off topic though, but cold or warm are merely emotional terms to convey the basic sound balance, a frequency response tilt or boost or cut.
  15. leshafunk

    leshafunk Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Moscow, Russia
    Basically, you can have a setup which would play cassettes better than CDs.

    Let's imagine: entry level or medium Hi-Fi CD player, top class cassette deck (in good shape = 100% tuned and working), vintage speakers (late 80s or earlier) - the cassette should be a winner. You tape a CD on this system, then you'll listen to cassette and sell/trash/store the original.

    (I had a system which played cassettes better than CDs, until I bought new speakers).
  16. Lownote30

    Lownote30 Bass Clef Addict

    Location:
    Nashville, TN, USA
    I have a brand new cheap Sony cassette deck that sounds plenty warm. Cold to me describes many analog to digital transfers.

    Frank R.
  17. Mr X

    Mr X Active Member

    Location:
    NY, USA
    I had the first cassette recorder available, the Norelco (Philips) Carry-Corder, and I loved it. I upgraded over the years, eventually using a deck with DBX noise reduction and metal tape. Hiss, wow, tape stretch, print-through, jamming and of course the dreaded tape-eating capstan were always part of the experience to a greater or lesser degree. CDs are a much more stable medium and far more likely to deliver a good sound.
  18. Robin L

    Robin L Musical Omnivore

    Location:
    Fresno, California
    Do tell! Ya ever hear of a little company called DCC?:agree:
  19. Grant

    Grant Proud Nerd

    I put on some old cassettes I made years ago (with Dolby, too!), and I really enjoyed listening to them. back in the day, I would take great pains to ensure that the bias was adjusted for the tape, and paid close attention to the levels.
  20. leshafunk

    leshafunk Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Moscow, Russia
    If a Sony sounds warm to you, then you'd probably get burned to ashes by a TEAC :)
  21. DragonQ

    DragonQ Well-Known Member

    Location:
    The Moon
    What I've never understood is why some people say cassettes are "acceptable" (or better) but a large proportion of people here despise lossy digital audio. I don't think a cassette recording of a CD could even come close to a decent bitrate mp3 of that CD. I haven't made many tapes but are there any tests on the internet comparing the two?
  22. NYC45nut

    NYC45nut Active Member

    Location:
    New York, NY, USA
    That pic........:biglaugh:

    I'll say I have a few amazingly beautiful sounding cassettes: present, rich, and a VERY close second in terms of overall experience to a fully-analog LP.

    But, as alluded to in a previous post, the sheer hassle of cassettes - and the fragility of the medium, tape getting 'eaten,' stretched, broken, stuck in the player....not to mention spending half of your life fast-forwarding and rewinding, makes them ludicrous to me.....
  23. Robin L

    Robin L Musical Omnivore

    Location:
    Fresno, California
    . . . which is why I hate DAT tapes so very, very much.
  24. reb

    reb Long Live Rock

    Location:
    Long Island
    You've been reading my posts on this topic?:cheers:
  25. dgsinner

    dgsinner New Member

    Location:
    Far East
    I have a Tascam CD-RW-700 and a Nakamichi CR-7A cassette player/recorder. They produce nearly equal results as far as sound quality goes, though they produce somewhat different results in some areas. It might surprise some of you but the Nak can reproduce every bit as much detail as the CD burner, even on cassette -- on good type IIs and metal. You have to remember though, the CR-7A (and the CR-7E in Europe) were according to some reviewers the best cassette decks Nakamichi ever produced and one of the best cassette decks ever.

    The Nak beats the Tascam for 'real life' presence in vocals. Also, I like the way it deals with highs better than the Tascam. The Tascam, on the other hand, does better at tightening up and delivering bass than the Nak.

    So there are (were I should say) cassette decks that could compete. But they were damned expensive in the day and retain quite a lot of value even today.

    Someone mentioned a better comparison would be RTR vs CD. I bought a couple of used RTRs about 10 years ago -- a Pioneer RT-707 and a Tascam 34B. The Pioneer model was manufactured from about '77 ~ '82 and the Tascam was an '84 model I think. It was no comparison at all. Both those RTRs drove the CD player to tears and sent it packing. Quarter inch tape at 7 1/2 IPS sounded full, lush, detailed -- wonderful. I thought both those RTRs made mincemeat of the Sony CDP-XA3ES I had at the time. Of course, the Sony was only a player and not a recorder, so my comparisons were of prerecorded CDs vs their vinyl counterparts dubbed to reel.

    The downside -- RTRs are bulky, heavy and can be finicky. Lots more care has to be taken with tapes versus CDs or cassettes. A lot of people are mentioning tape hiss but I was never bothered by it. Maybe those decks reduced a lot of the hiss...I don't know. Tape hiss is barely noticeable on the Nak I use. But I really don't think it's as big a deal as people make it out to be.

    But back to the original question -- how do cassettes fit in to the sound quality picture along the continuum between vinyl and CDs. I assume we're not talking about any prerecorded cassettes -- I think most here on the forum think prerecorded cassettes were bad to awful. I agree.

    But if we're talking about dubbing vinyl to CDR or blank cassette, I'd say that a high quality deck and a high quality blank metal cassette can equal the sound quality of a CDR and may even sound better to some people. If we're talking more common cassette decks and type II tapes, then CDRs are probably going to sound better to most people.

    With my Tascam and Nakamichi, I go back and forth with my preference. For a few months I think the CDRs sound better. About 3 weeks ago I started using the Nak again and now I think it sounds better...In a few months I'll probably switch my preference again.

    Dale

Users Viewing Thread (Users: 0, Guests: 0)