There’s an old Tom Waits quote (that I can’t seem to source) about the Chamberlin: “It’s a beautiful instrument that dies a little every time you play it.”
When I was growing up, vinyl had a special place in the house—because, like a Chamberlin, every time you played an album, you deformed the record groove just a little bit; whether from too much down-force on your stylus, or the uneven force applied to the inside and outside of the groove when using a fixed tone-arm, or dust or fibers getting in the way, not to mention the possibility of scratching it taking it out of the sleeve, or even a strong enough jolt near the record player causing it to skip.
I was taught at perhaps six to use the Discwasher D4 to clean each album before each use. There was an even more obscure process—I forget the name of the product—that was supposed to be done before the first time you played an album that supposedly protected it in some way I don’t understand at this point.
Anyway, all this ceremony around vinyl was almost a sideshow anyway, because the real principle was that you Didn’t Play The Vinyl. It’s like living off a trust fund, where you Don’t Touch The Capital.
No, vinyl was expensive source material, that you played only once, to record it onto cassette tape, which had the virtues of being both more portable and relatively easily replaceable.
Actually, you played the album twice: the first time watching and adjusting the level meters on the cassette deck to make sure that the peak loudness on the album went right up to, but did not exceed, the clipping point for the cassette.
You never used Dolby B, because that just made it sound like crap, and you didn’t use Dolby C because that was only on crazy high-end tape decks, and sounded like crap if your deck didn’t have it.
And you sure as hell never bought pre-recorded cassettes, because first, they probably used Dolby B on it (see above), and second, cassette tapes are actually a stupidly delicate medium—even more delicate than vinyl!—so why would you want your primary copy of something on a medium that you know from the get-go is going to die before long?
In college, I always looked down on my friends who obviously lacked the self-respect to not buy pre-recorded cassettes. Sorry guys; I got better. Mostly.
Anyway, all this is to say that I had neurotically intimate knowledge of blank cassette tapes in the early- to mid-80s. I obsessed over the purported difference in frequency response of various formulations of ferrous particles on the tape, while still paying attention to the aesthetics of the shells. I had preferences based on whose insert card I found was better at letting me write down what was on the tape, for crying out loud!
(Am I better now? No, not really.)
So imagine my simultaneous joy and horror at seeing this catalogue of blank cassette tapes show up on Boing Boing. Of going back and seeing the still-familiar-labels-30-years-later of my favorite cassette types (BASF, mostly—we were living in Germany during most of this, after all—with a turn toward TDK at some point). Of seeing some of the early Sony tapes that my Dad would send back from South Korea when he was stationed there in 1974/1975, and that I would thoughtlessly repurpose for music five or six years later.
And, ultimately, of realizing how much better off I am now.
Although I still carry around some of the neuroses—I rarely buy tracks digitally, really only when they offer FLAC as a source format, or maybe some situation where I truly only want to own a particular single, preferring to buy the CD and rip and encode it myself—I must also say that I cannot imagine where my 1000+ albums would live if they were on vinyl, and it would take a lot of cassette tapes to hold the 16K tracks on my somewhat hot-rodded circa-2007 iPod.
That is the size of a cassette tape.