What's so bad about 8 track tapes?

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by youraveragevinylcollector, Jan 26, 2016.

  1. youraveragevinylcollector

    youraveragevinylcollector Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Hartwell, GA
    Something I've wondered, since cassette tapes are making a comeback in the mainstream (almost), why have 8 track tapes never made a resurgence? The analog resurgence started with vinyl in the early to late 2000s, then cassettes have been shooting up for about the past 8 months in popularity. Why did 8 track tapes never come back? Yes, the technology has its limits, and the quality variations from player to player are worse than cassette tapes (i.e. wow and flutter, distortion, hiss, speed, etc.). Do I think it's an outdated technology? Yes, but with new technology, can the old be improved? (digital recording, more reliable motors, speed, and higher quality tape). Something I'd like to see is digitally remastered Quad mixes from the 70s being re-released on their original formats (Pink Floyd's DSotM, anyone?) and Quad mixes of modern and classic albums. If formulations for cassette tapes and reel-to-reels are getting better and better, why has nobody done anything with the 8-track?
  2. Gaslight

    Gaslight ⎧⚍⎫⚑

    Northeast USA
    Middle of song playing....fade out....


    ....song continues.
    D-rock, BZync, HiFi Guy and 66 others like this.
  3. Slick Willie

    Slick Willie Decisively Indecisive

    sweet VA.
    Rearranged track order, dragging tape, in the middle of a song - CLUNK!! No/little art work....should I go on?
    D-rock, Dan C, jesterthejedi and 18 others like this.
  4. Isaac K.

    Isaac K. Forum Resident

    I recently fixed one, cleaned it and replaced the belt, but only for the novelty. I don't actually think the format is worth revisiting outside of nostalgia.
  5. KT88

    KT88 Senior Member

    :cheers:, I'll help. They are also about four times the size of a cassette case. They were pretty much only a pre-recorded product as no high end recording decks existed for the medium AFAIK, so recorded sound quality was limited by the tape. Play back sound quality was also limited by the decks as the best tape decks were cassette (ignoring open reel here as that is in no way portable or convenient like the other two. Also limited title selections as they were not as popular and the years of production were thus limited.
    Rodant Kapoor and Slick Willie like this.
  6. KT88

    KT88 Senior Member

  7. razerx

    razerx Still here.

    SF Bay Area
    That was the biggest gripe. I didn't expect my car stereo to sound great and as a kid could only afford a Kraco player. That fade out and fade in ruined many fine albums especially if you like prog with long tracks.
  8. youraveragevinylcollector

    youraveragevinylcollector Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Hartwell, GA
    As I said, with modern technology, and some readjustments, the 8 track tape could be relieved of some of its problems. Sound quality would be a big deal to fix, and when you think about it, that CLUNK is kinda nostalgic. Ironically, there were some tapes that didn't have modified track listings and timing (Live Bullet and Nine Tonight are two of these, in which LB is one of the greatlest albums of all time IMO). It could possibly work. With songs having album and single edits, they could be "traded" for 8 tracks, and could have specially cut versions of the song (i.e., no intro, no long fade-out, etc.). As I said, it could possibly work. Judging by how many people dislike them, it might not be possible. :|
  9. ZenArcher

    ZenArcher Senior Member

    Durham, NC
    8-track has absolutely no redeeming features. As soon as cassette came along, people abandoned it happily. Good riddance. It's like wishing for a revival of cell phones the size of shoeboxes.
    D-rock, punkmusick, BluTorch and 34 others like this.
  10. aroney

    aroney Who really gives a...?

  11. SonyTek

    SonyTek Forum Resident

    Inland Empire, CA
    More issues include:

    Foam pads that disintegrated and turned into goo or powder, gumming up the works. Back in the mid-70s when I worked at Teledyne Svc. Company, we had a sandblaster for the flywheel capstans. We would take out the flywheel and insert it into a small device hooked up to an air compressor, which would blow grit at the capstan while we rotated it and resurfaced it. I'm not affiliated with him but this guy does this still today http://www.barrys8trackrepair.com/CustomerMaintenance.html

    Some tapes had a metal spring with a felt pad, similar to a cassette but much larger, which avoided this problem completely.

    another issue was the tape itself, which was coated with lubricant so that it could feed smoothly out of the center of the reel (see photo in the link above). Once the lubricant dried out, the tape would jam and hang, stretch and be "eaten". More than once, I actually unrolled an entire tape on the living room floor and rewound it loosely, which would buy me a few more plays before it would happen again.

    I also owned an 8T recorder for a while back then, bought blanks and recorded for use in the car. After a while, it got to be too much of a hassle to try and calculate the song lengths to avoid the track change foil. More than once I thought I had it perfect, only to run out just a few seconds before the song ended.

    I eventually gave up for the far superior cassette medium. I forgot what the average S/N was on 8T but I'm sure it was also quite horrible. Fine for car use, but at home for true audio fidelity, it was useless.
  12. Solitaire1

    Solitaire1 Carpenters Fan

    I think the reason no one has really tried to revive the 8-track format is that it had basically only one advantage over the compact cassette (CC): faster playback speed (3 3/4 inches per second vs. 1 7/8 inches per second). However, in all other aspects the CC was a much-better format for the following reasons:
    • Although 8-track played at a faster speed, the audio tracks on the tape were the same size as those on the CC but, due to the moving playback head, tape alignment on an 8-track was an issue and affected the sound quality (such as hearing two different tracks at the same time).
    • Longer continuous playback time.
    • Smaller size (you could fit four CCs, in cases, in the space of one 8-track tape).
    • The ability to go to a specific song. With 8-track you basically had to wait until the song came around again.
    • CCs could contain the entire album in the same order as the LP, while with 8-track they would often have to rearrange the tracks and split songs between two tracks (fade out, track change, fade back in) to avoid long areas of silence.
    • You could easily record your own CCs, while 8-track was more of a playback-only format (8-track recorders were available but were not very common).
    • As others have mentioned 8-tracks were not a very durable format due to issues like the lubricant needed on the tape, parts like the pads and rollers that wear out, and the friction on the tape due to the endless-loop nature of the tape (I just checked Wikipedia and the tape had to be pulled from the center of the reel, pulled across the tape head, and then fed back into the outside of the reel). I think this is the reason that 8-tracks were the only audio format that I often saw tossed to the curb on streets.
    D-rock, Grant, tmtomh and 3 others like this.
  13. ARCCJ

    ARCCJ Forum Resident

    From personal experience in tinkering, the players are somewhat complex and the head mechanism can gum up. Tapes have problems with silver splicing tape coming unglued and tape end disappearing into cartridge. Foam pressure pads decomposed. I had some blanks with spring loaded pressure pads that worked much better. There were recorders available but few wanted them. Pioneer made one of the better models.

    There were plenty of popular titles and the format lasted longer than expected since it was popular with long haul truckers and the truck stops used to sell 8-tracks long after they disappeared from other stores. I think Columbia House still offered them after it was considered dead.
    Sneaky Pete, Suncola and 360-12 like this.
  14. dadbar

    dadbar Forum Resident

    Portland OR
    The OP should be forced to spend a week listening to an (ka-chunk) 8 track player with its crappy sound quality and high wow-flutter....that will answer his question....
  15. Walter H

    Walter H Santa's Helper

    New Hampshire, USA
    Wow and flutter would happen even with the best hardware. On an 8-track the pinch roller is part of the tape cartridge. It may be hard plastic or a softer rubbery material. You couldn't count on consistent pressure and correct alignment between the pinch roller and the capstan.

    I personally have fond memories of 8-track because I got a car with a player in it just as the format was going under. Discount stores had big browser bins full of cheap tapes. I got to know Bowie's catalog, Iggy, Lou Reed, Roxy Music, and a bunch of punk/new wave stuff that way. (Still got the tapes!) But that's in the past. R.I.P. 8-track, and it can stay that way.
  16. seed_drill

    seed_drill Senior Member

    Tryon, NC, USA
    At least you didn't get that on the Quad tapes!
    Gaslight likes this.
  17. seed_drill

    seed_drill Senior Member

    Tryon, NC, USA
    I think Rattle and Hum was the last title Columbia House offered on 8-track. I used to have The Joshua Tree, but I sold it to a collector.
  18. Jack Flannery

    Jack Flannery Forum Resident

    Houston, TX
    Oh. Crosstalk. They eat themselves without warning. Crap sound. Crap players. Chopped up songs. For starters.
    sunspot42 likes this.
  19. seed_drill

    seed_drill Senior Member

    Tryon, NC, USA
    Any time they put a double album on a single tape there should not have been a track break problem. For ****s and giggles I bought the Cheap Trick's The Latest on 8-track. It sounds just as bad, if not worse, than some of my 35-40 year old tapes.
    SonyTek likes this.
  20. youraveragevinylcollector

    youraveragevinylcollector Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Hartwell, GA
    Panasonic players I've seen online have about as much wow and flutter an average tape deck. (Just with a preamp, and just a player.) I know it wasn't a direct rip, but go to DLMADWI on YouTube, the Panasonic players aren't that bad sounding.
  21. youraveragevinylcollector

    youraveragevinylcollector Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Hartwell, GA
    I've dealt with wow and flutter and IGD on my turntable, and I have flutter and extremely quiet crosstalk on my tape deck. I could handle it. :thumbsup:
  22. Robin L

    Robin L Musical Omnivore

    Fresno, California
    They are designed to self-destruct. Maybe not in five seconds, but eventually.

    Good luck Mr. Phelps.
  23. OcdMan

    OcdMan Senior Member

    I grew up listening to 8-tracks, cassettes, and records. 8-tracks had, by far, the worst sound quality. Crosstalk problems on 8-tracks were not of the L>R and R<L bleed-through type. The tapehead would often drift out of alignment and you could hear the song on program 2 playing while also listening to the song on program 1 and so on. Even with spot-on head alignment, frequency-response was very poor and noise/hiss levels were high. Distortion levels were high, wow/flutter was bad. The pressure pads would breakdown and turn to goo. Also, the little metal tape splice that held together the continuous tape loop would eventually break which meant, if you ever wanted to listen to the tape again, you had to carefully try to fish the end out of the tape spool and try to splice it together. Fast-forwarding times were extremely slow and there was no way to rewind the tape except by fast-forwarding all the way back around. The deck would often eat a tape for no apparent reason even if you kept the transport clean. Pre-recorded commercial tapes were many generations down from the master and could sound like mud. A mediocre turntable and cartridge should easily sound many times better than a typical 8-track. Even my father's run-of-the-mill mid-1970s cassette deck sounded much better than any 8-track deck we had.
    DEG, SixtiesGuy, sunspot42 and 2 others like this.
  24. motownboy

    motownboy Senior Member

    Washington State
    The only "attraction" of 8-tracks for me was the novelty of the format, and that it could even work at all!! The sound quality of it, just like most pre-recorded cassettes sucks!!! Dull, muffled, crosstalk with other programs on the tape, and of course, destined to break or stick!!
  25. seed_drill

    seed_drill Senior Member

    Tryon, NC, USA

    Here's a 8-track drop I recently did using a JVC four channel player. It just doesn't have a full dynamic range. https://www.dropbox.com/s/hkgcmqnp2f275tr/09 I'd Be So Happy.m4a?dl=0

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