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It’s normal, understandable even, for younger people to be curious about things that happened before they were born. Raised in the zeitgeist of their elders, they have a natural interest in finding out more about the current and past culture and world. Jokes and stories in movies and TV, conversations between parents and family members, all reference things from their common world that are all new and foreign to someone new and foreign to the world.

Taylor Swift

This is why every decade or so, there’s some resurgence of old trends. Skinny jeans or bell bottoms? Wide ties, skinny ties, no tie? Oversized or tiny sunglasses? Despite what audiophiles might say, this was a big part of the resurgence of vinyl. Young people raised in the CD or MP3 era were curious about something significantly more tactile and unquestionably more romantic. To an extent, we’re even seeing a renewed interest in CD, though it never really left.

Time is a relentless demon, so it’s with a mixture of surprise and yet somehow the exact opposite of surprise that it seems the latest thing to start returning to the world is the cassette tape. The sound you hear is my bones crumbling. Ashes to ashes, metal oxide to metal oxide.

Past its peak

The cassette was developed by Philips and first released in 1963. But the 1980s were the cassette decade, helped in no small part by the Sony Walkman. When tapes were new to me, they had already passed their popularity peak. I got a cheap GE version of the Walkman sometime in the late ’80s or early ’90s, and the first tape I remember buying with my own money was Guns N’ Roses’ Use Your Illusion II. CDs and CD players were still well beyond the budget of a lowly paperboy, but an upgrade to a Panasonic with auto-reverse, Dolby B noise reduction, and S-XBS did well to keep me entertained in the absolute last job I’ll have that requires me to be outside in winter.

Tape rack

Eventually I’d replace it with a CD player I don’t remember (probably another Panasonic) and eventually a Sharp MiniDisc recorder (the Sony was the same price and didn’t record!), but those first two “Walkman” players were fundamental in growing my love of music. My older cousin gifted me Who’s Next and Wish You Were Here, which literally and figuratively rocked my world. I wore those tapes out, and they’re still two of my favorite albums.

Which is to say, cassettes played an outsized role in my formative years. Other than TV and eventually the Internet, no technology had a larger role in my pre-teen and teen years. So it’s with that background that I want to honestly say, from the bottom of my heart . . .

Oh God, please no

I can’t imagine anyone interested in cassettes follows this site, but if I could reach any of those wonderfully curious folks, I’d say, please resurrect some other technology. Cassettes were bad. They were always bad. At their best they sounded worse than other technologies that were available at the same time. CDs have been around since the early ’80s, and vinyl long before that. Cassettes were popular because they were portable. They were easy. You could play them in your car, your Walkman, and your boombox at home. Most importantly, they were recordable. Mixtapes, a name that persists long after tapes disappeared, were what you did to prepare for a road trip, a study session, and to profess your love. They were cool and fun, but they also wore out. Every time you played them, the sound would worsen a little bit, and there was a chance they’d get eaten.

Fiio

What are we even doing? The upcoming Fiio CP13 that you see above costs $129. You can get cheap portable media players for that or less, and they’ll play hundreds more songs at higher quality than cassettes. The WeAreRewind model is even more money. Then again, the first-generation Walkman cost $150 in 1979, which is roughly $630 in 2024 dollars, so what do I know?

Something old being milked and marketed for quirky nostalgia isn’t something new or something that’s going to get better as I age. People have made trillions doing that to boomers for decades. That it’s happening to my generation was an inevitability. But cassette? Really? At least with vinyl there was the pretense it was “better.” How about DCC instead? Or MiniDisc? I still have that Sharp MD-MS702, and it still works! How long until there’s a social media trend asking if people have heard of these things called “MP3s” and how they have such a unique sound?

WeAreRewind

On second thought, why not? If it gets people to discover their Who’s Next or Wish You Were Here, who am I to complain? In fact, I’m all for it. Just do it right. Live it like we did. You can only afford five tapes, so that’s all you can ever listen to. And if you make a mixtape, you better be sure you figure out how many songs fit on each side. Breaking up a song to flip a tape is a mortal and unforgivable sin.

Signed,
Your Analog Elder.

Off topic: Hey, I wrote a book! It’s called Budget Travel for Dummies, and it’s not at all headphone-related, but if it sounds like something you’d be into, please check it out! It’s available on Amazon, B&N, and anywhere books are sold.

. . . Geoffrey Morrison
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