About cassette-recorder

(general opinions presented by a collector, no specialist in electronics)

The transistor's
Tube's size(up) vs. transistors(left) & IC
appearance (invented in 1947 by John Bardeen
May 23, 1908
January 30, 1991
, Walter Houser
February 10, 1902
October 13, 1987
and William Shockley
February 13, 1910
August 12, 1989
from Bell Telephone Laboratories, New Jersey, USA) – has represented an essential moment in electronics; with this tiny piece, having semi-conductor properties, which has rapidly replaced the electronic tube
Tube's size(up) vs. transistors(left) & IC
, all audio-video items (and not only) have reduced their dimensions, electric power consumption and increased few times their reaction speed; this technical event can be similar to the appearance - 12 years later - of the integrated circuit
Tube's size(up) vs. transistors(left) & IC
, which represents the base of actual electronics and had a similar impact or maybe greater. One of the complete transistorized items was the cassette-recorder.

Thanks to the facility of listening and recording favorite music nearly anywhere and anytime, the cassette-recorder represented a very appreciated (and implicitly, sold) entertainment item worldwide, especially between 1970-1990. It quickly replaced portable open reel-to-reel tape recorders and record players (pick-ups), due to its increased handling (magnetic tape was closed into a small plastic box/cassette, easier to be placed into recorder) and its increased recording/listening time (60 -120 minutes/cassette).

The designation of "cassette-recorder" was used for the first time by Philips company. I found the word "cassette" for the first time engraved on a roll of a dictating machine type Grundig Stenorette R cca. 1962

[I want to mention that in this collection - I have considered as being a cassette-player any device which is playing from an audio support (steel wire or magnetic tape) fixed in a small removable, reusable and replaceable box; that's why I used this word also for older items than the Philips EL3300, considered by experts as the first tape recorder in the world.]

Shortly after the appearance - in Germany – of the first "open reel-to-reel recorder", German engineer’s Carl Lorenz company launched Textophon
3rd variant
recorder, which made recordings onto a new reusable support, more reliable and practical - a steel wire wrapped on 2 spools, permanently enclosed in a metal housing removable box. Its first variant occured around Olympic Games in Berlin, 1936, followed by few similar. The WW II’s start and its requirements made this idea was quickly taken by the Americans, who used it firstly for military purposes (eg. Cosmos Industries RD 11B
Military cassette recorder with steel wire
1944
, approx. 1944, using the cartridge model MX-303/ANQ-1
). Few years later, the secret services of the cold war benefited from portable-transistorized devices (e.g. the item Minifon P55
Minifon P55
) at first with wire, then with magnetic tape. According my searches, first domestic cartridge-recorder was launched in 1947 in USA = RCA MI-12875
1947
USA
(with wire as audio medium and electronic tubes), then in 1951-1953 in West-Germany Tefifon First recorder using tape into cassette, 3rd variant
The second portable cassette recorder in the world, type 3
(non-magnetic band, played by needle) and Loewe Optaphon
1951
(first stand-alone recorder with magnetic tape in a box/cassette) followed soon by American products Mohawk Midgetape
(first portable recorder with magnetic tape in cartridge, 1955) and RCA CP-1
. At the end of 50’s last century, cartridges/cassettes were already used also in broadcasting studios, initially for recording & playing of the voice adverts, or for background/functional music; in this period, cartridges had non-standard sizes and were quite large, players being non-portable, but German producers "Saba"
Sabamobil TKR 15
First radio-cassette recorder; 1958
and "Protona Gmbh"
Minifon Attache
First European cassette-recorder with counter and keys - 1958
released portable items. Few years later, in 1962-63, the specialists of the Dutch company, Philips, have invented what was about to become the most sold cassette in the world ("compact cassette"), half the size of the American cartridges (due to thiner and narrower tape), and the device which will be widely recognized as the world's first cassette-recorder: Philips EL 3300
First world's "compact-cassette" recorder
1963
; it was publicly shown in 1963' International Radio Fair in West-Berlin, Germany and marketed by the beginning of 1964. Completely transistorized, pocket size = being portable, the impact was major, the sales of this kind of item increased at high level (millions of items) during 1970 -1988. The vinyl disc records were "doubled" then gradually replaced by the professional pre-recorded compact-cassettes (in 1986 the number of sold cassettes exceeded the vinyl discs), until their disappearance from mass production, around of 1992.

Meanwhile in USA - thanks to a large market – until the massive intruding of compact cassette, many years beginning with 1962 were used few types of endless cartriges ( Fidelipac
, Echo-matic
, 8-track
Cassette with 4 stereo tracks (8-track) - endless
1964
, etc.), bigger than cassettes, of which those named 8-track cartridge
(invented by Bill Lear and imposed by the RCA/Radio Company of America) were the most sold. They used reel-to-reel tape without end. A couple of years after Philips innovation, the German producer Grundig tried to impose his own model of cassette – (DC international
) with an increased speed of playing (5.1 cm/sec in comparison to 4.75 cm/sec of Philips cassette) and a slightly bigger cassette; it was the people who set the standard, by opting for the Philips cassette. An important reason for its huge distrubution was its free of charge production license.

Japanese companies, led by Sony (which later became the world's biggest producer), have distinguished themselves through high originality, but firstly by essential contributions to the miniaturization of the cassette (micro-cassette
, DAT
, NTC
) and of the device (Sanyo M35
Sanyo M35
, Sony TC-50
Sony TC-50
1968
, Sony NT-1
Sony NT-1
1992
, Sanyo G-2615
Sanyo G-2615
), as well as the introduction of digital electronics in this area (DAT, DTRS).

During 1936 - 1995 have been produced and marketed at least 44 models of audio cassettes, with or without magnetic tape, the vast majority being marketed to the general public, as follows:

No. DESIGNATION YEAR DIMENSIONS
(mm)
TIME LENGTH
(min)
SPEED
(cm/s)
1. Textophon BW1, BW4 - with wire - Glogowski & Co. and C. Lorenz AG.
- wire cartridge
Germany
1936-1944 385 x 125 x 45 approx. 60 >38
2. Cosmos Industries MX-303A/ANQ-1;
with steel wire; only for military use
USA
1944-1945 206 x 110 x 86 60 >38
3. RCA MI-12877
- with steel wire
USA
1947 150 x 105 x 45 2x20 61
4. Tefi Schallband
– non-magnetic vinyl tape played by needle
Germany
1951 114 x 97 x 49 24, 48, 60
(endless)
19
5. Loewe Optaphon - first magnetic tape into a cassette
Germany
1951 approx. 370 x 15 x 170 2 x >30 19
6. Peirce Model 360
- wire cartridge
USA
1951? 210 x 86 x 35 30 / 60 >19
7. Mohawk Message repeater cartridge
USA
1953-4 approx. 70 x 70 x 13 200 s endless 9
8. Mohawk Midgetape RL - tape on overlapped reels
USA
1955 40+40+50+60 2 x 30 2,2
9. for Dictaphone Dictet - magnetic tape
USA
1957 149 x 79 x 11 2 x 30 6,35
10. (Ariola?) Saba TKR-15
Germany
1958 202 x 85 x 18 2 x 20 9,5
11. RCA Sound Tape Cartridge (Camden) - 4-track magnetic tape
USA
1958-9 182 x 125 x 11 2 x 30 4,7/9,5
12. Fidelipac (Muntz Stereo-Pak) Muntz Electronics
USA
1959? 130 x 100 x 20
175 x 150 x 20
210 x 190 x 20
5-60 (endless) 9,5/19
13. Protona-Minifon
Germany
1959 110 x 79 x 10 2 x 30/15/6 4,76
14. Vity cassette Nippon Electronics
Japan
1962 83 x 79 x 13 2 x 20 4,7
15. Orrtronic Tapette
JHO Electronics, USA
1962 168 x 130 x 23 <20 (endless) 9,5
16. Cousino Echo-matic
Cousino Electronics, USA
1962-3 129 x 86 x 23 <15 (endless) 9,5
17. 3M (Scotch) type 270
USA
1963 95 x 95 x 13 96/ 2x48 4,7
18. Philips compact-cassette
Holland
1963 103 x 64 x 11,5 2 x 30/45/60 4,7/9,5
19. RCA 8-track = Stereo8
LearJet Co; RCA; USA
1964 134 x 100 x 21 5-30,endless 9,5
20. Sanyo Magazine with parallel reels, Sanyo Electric Co.
Japan
1964 70 x 65 x 27 2 x 22 4,7
21. Grundig DC702 for Grundig EN3
Germany
1964 134 x 60 x 15 2 x 22 4,7
22. Scotch 700 Cantata
big overlapped reels; 3M, USA
1964 approx. 190 x 190 x 30 approx. 2000
(700 songs)
2.4
23. Nippon Memo-Call micro-magazine
Nippon Electronics, Japan
1965? 60 x 62 x 8 endless 4?
24. Grundig DC (Doppel Cassette) International
Germany
1965 120 x 77 x 11,5 2 x 30 5,1
25. 8-track professional, not marketed to public
USA
1965? 144 x 128 x 19 5-15, endless 9,5/19
26. Playtape, Sears Co.
USA
1966 82 x 68 x 10 8 - 24 9,5
27. Muntz Stereo Pak Mini-Twin MT-E-106;
Muntz Electronics, USA
1967? approx. 90 x80x15 5 – 40 endless 9,5
28. Philips minicassette™ LFH0001
Holland
1967-8 55,5 x 33 x 7 2 x 15/30 2,3
29. Grundig DeJ614, Mini format
Germany
1968 54 x 38 x 7 2 x 10 2,4 ?
30. Olympus microcassette™
Japan
1969 50 x 33 x 8 2 x 15/30 1,2 / 2,3
31. Sanyo Tape Cartridge
Sanyo Japan
1970? ca. 113 x 68 x 11,5 2 x 30 4,7 ?
32. HIPAC
Pioneer Electronics Corp, Japan
1971 84 x 69 x 11 8 – 40, endless 4,7
33. Grundig Stenocassette™
Germany
1973 64 x 45 x 8 30 2,3
34. Assmann Memocord MT-570
Germany/Austria
1974 97 x 54 x 8 2 x 30/45 3,5
35. Endless Compact-cassette (TDK, Sanyo, Pfantone)
Japan
1975 ? 103 x 64 x 11,5 0,5/1/3/6/12 4,7
36. Sony Elcaset™
Japan
1976 151 x 106 x 17 2 x 30/45 9,5
37. Philips MDCR220/LDB4401 – first Digital Mini-cassette
Holland
1980 55,5 x 33 x 7 2 x 15 / 20 2,7 / 4,5
38. Sony DAT (Digital Audio Tape)
Japan
1987 72 x 53 x 10 90/120/240 1,22
39. Dictaphone-JVC dictassette (pico-cassette)
USA-Japan
1987 35 x 25 x 4 2 x 15 0,9
40. Pocket Rockers
USA
1987 38 x 32 x 11 5 (endless) 4?
41. Philips DCC = Digital Compact Cassette
Holland
1991 100 x 64 x 9 90/120 4,7
42. Sony NTC – Non-Tracking Cassette
Japan
1992 30 x 21 x 5 2 x 30/45/60 0,63
43. DTRS™ = Digital Tape Recording System
Japan
1994 94 x 62 x14 110 1,59
44. ADAT = Alesis Digital Audio Tape
USA
1993-4 185 x 103 x 25 66 2,3 / 3,3

ATTN: Cassette number 5 is not included in collection presented in the gallery

Besides the fact of being accessible for large public and thanks to its features (reliability, small sizes, easy handling and relatively low costs), audio cassettes in various sizes and shapes were also used in other fields like: IT (for storing files), education (teaching foreign languages, audiobook), aviation (for flight recordings - “black boxes”), answering machines, spying (discrete recorders), games for children and so on. Must also be mentioned the great success the cassette recorder had as auxiliary equipment for cars, where the reel-to-reel tape-recorder or record-player were never integrated.

Working principle is based on the electromagnetism theory - for playing action - a pre-recorded tape is passing (with constantly speed) on the surface of a playback head
a tiny copper wire wrapped on a magnetic metal
(a tiny copper wire wrapped on a magnetic metal); following this action, is born an electric current, amplified and filtered by following circuits; for the recording way, the mechanical action is similar, but the electrical operation is reversed: external electric signal (from radio, record-player, etc) is registered / ”printed” on the tape with the same head (the advanced recorders has a separate head for each function: erasing, recording, playing). Mechanical construction permits to search the preferred songs, fast forward/rewind rolling the tape , pause, continuous listening, automatic reverse, etc (see the different constructive variants from collection). Its technique had constantly developed, the sound quality (the most common indicator of it being the “frequency range”) becoming in many cases similar or superior by comparison with domestic reel-to-reel tape recorders. In my opinion, the most important moments of the technical evolution of this device were as follows :

  • (I) the release of the first deck cassette recorder in 1968 (first in the world were Philips N 2500
    first world stereo cassette deck
    Philips 1968
    & Sony TC-125
    – see attached in photo gallery), which prepared the market for the high-fidelity cassette-recorder in 1971 (first in Europe was UHER CR-124
    First Hi-Fi cassette-recorder
    ); its main improvements were the electronic motor speed control, signal/noise ratio of min. 50 db; the built-in noise filter, a more extended frequency range (at least between 30 - 12.500 hz), all of these to improve the sound quality; the decks were the best constructive variants of the cassette recorder, satisfying the highest requests, until the CDs appeared;
  • (II) The release of the first auto-reverse cassette-recorder which allowed the continuous listening of more cassettes (first in the world was Philips N 2401 S
    Stereo cassette recorder with auto-reverse
    Philips 1969
    , in 1969 - it had a built-in slider which facilitated the successively cassettes positioning for playing); later on, right at the start of '70s Uher CR-124
    1971
    was using a 4-track head and double capstan system which allowed the tape’s movement in the opposite direction;
  • (III) The release of the digital cassette-recorder, first launched in 1982 by Matsushita Electric (Technics SV-P 100), followed by Sony Corp. Japan, around 1987 and named DAT
    Digital audio tape
    Sony, Japan 1987
    (Digital Audio Tape for Sony DTC-690
    Japan, 1991
    ). Few years later (in 1991), Philips also released its own digital model, named DCC
    DCC
    Netherlands, 1991
    (Digital Compact Cassette), which could play both digital cassette and the old compact cassettes; their audio performances represented the best audio quality a magnetic tape could offer (ex: frequency range = 20-22.000 Hz !!), being near equivalent with the compact discs and with professional equipments (the only problem remaining was the mechanical ensemble, more complicated than those of the CD’s).

The main advantages of the cassette-recorder comparing with its "enemy" – the open reel-to-reel recorder - were obvious especially at portable and HIFI (deck) devices and on a smaller scale on professional appliances; shortly, they were: a) a very good ratio performance / dimensions; b) easy handling (fast introduction and change of the cassette, without need to rewind/forward, ergonomic controls); c) higher tape protection offered by the cassette (resistance to impact, moisture, dust, hanging, entangling) both on stop and especially during operation; d) easy and recommendable connection with other portable devices (radio, CD) or combined stand-alone/table devices (tuner, record-player, CD, power amplifier); e) good ratio quality/price (lower costs at equal sound quality); f) greatly/significant reduced size, which made him very easily transportable, much appreciated in vehicles and easily adaptable to other areas: intelligence, answering machine, storing data files, for aviation’s flight recorders, teaching foreign languages, medicine, multiplying tapes, etc.); g) can be made with special design (ex. Bang & Olufsen).

Most important producers: Philips (Netherlands), Sony, Matsushita (National, Panasonic, Technics), Sharp, Akai, Pioneer, Nakamichi, Teac, Otari (Japan), Grundig, Telefunken, Blaupunkt, Uher, ITT-Schaub Lorenz (Germany), General Electric, RCA, Northern Electric (USA), Studer-Revox (Switzerland-Germany) developed all types of cassette-recorders, until digital technique of today, which is above the cassette-recorder possibilities.

In Romania, the first cassette-recorder was produced in 1975, under Polish license Unitra; the production continued until around 1995, including radio-recorders, decks, 3 in 1 audio-systems, data recorders; it was located in 4 factories.
The CD's appearance in 1982 - invented by Philips, with a small contribution of Sony - has represented a new reference moment in audio area, thanks to the increased sound quality. Primarly, the laser was also used by Philips for making the video laser disc = DVD’s greater predecessor; the item was VLP 600
VLP 600
= Video Long Play, launched in USA, 1978). Gradually, digital technique conquered also the cassette-recorder’s area, as shortly mentioned above, but however it was eliminated from the domestic market by the CD.
The cassette-recorder was marketed as individual item until around 1996, when the CD’s competition determined a large scale achievement of domestic combined audio-systems (radio + CD + cass-rec); after this year, the interest for this item declined constantly, and around 2006 the main producers (Philips, Sony, Panasonic) excluded cassette recorder from their new models, even combined with other items; it was removed by CD player and it’s extended variant: MP3, (which can store about 3-7 hours of music), the item’s dimensions being determined just by the possibility to handle them with only one finger!

A. Sandu 2009-2014

Bibliography:

  • Wikipedia - "Sound recording"
  • Herbert Juettemann - Das Tefifon
  • Producers' catalogs, technical manuals, electronic reviews (e.g.: HiFi-Jahrbuch, Allied Electronic, Stereo review) 1947 - 2009 (separate collection)
  • Cassette recorder - Operation and Repair - eng. S. Lozneanu and Co., Ed. Tehnica 1985, Bucharest