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Adieu, Audio Cassette Tapes


Recently, the New York Times ran an obituary, but not about a person. The paper said good-bye to an old friend: the audio cassette tape.

If you're into music, cassettes were dead and gone years ago. Compact discs, which are sturdier, have higher fidelity, are stackable, and slip easily into CD players, took their place. New automobiles don't even have a slot in which to play cassettes any more.

The Times delayed notice of the death of audio cassettes, it said, because they retained some favor as a medium for audio books, and for quick and easy family recordings.

But new and tiny handheld audio devices that can hold hours of music and several books at a time have become the coup de grace for cassettes.

That's no surprise to those who have kept up with audio technology. But this line in the New York Times story jumped off the page: None of Billboard [magazine's] Top 10 [music] albums last week were issued on cassette, though half were released on vinyl, which has been resurging.

Cassettes are dying, but flat, cumbersome, vinyl phonograph records are surging back to popularity? How is that possible? The fact is that more than 1 million vinyl albums were sold in the United States last year because people have re-discovered the tactile pleasure of handling old-fashioned discs. Others swear the sound is richer than a CD, and many recording artists are releasing new vinyl albums.

But there's no great pleasure in shoving a cheap plastic cassette into a machine or untangling its flimsy tape when it gets wound around a spindle. The sound is hissy, not rich. No one that we know of is putting out new music albums on cassette. And with all those digital audio players showing up in readers' hands, it seems the idea of releasing audio books on cassette can now rest in peace as well.

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