The history of cassette tapes

Written by alex cosper
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The history of cassette tapes
(Memorex cassette photo by Alex Cosper)

The cassette, invented by Philips in 1963, had an incredible run as a popular medium for music listening from the 1970s through the 1990s. Its use in the 60s was mainly for dictation. When audio quality improved to reduce hiss, the cassette became the top choice for music listening in the 70s. Its pocket size and capacity for two-hour listening made it popular until MP3 players could play thousands more songs using less storage space.

Compact Cassettes

The first cassette tapes were introduced by Philips as "compact cassettes" in Europe in 1963 then in the United States the following year. In 1966, the first albums released on cassette were on the Mercury label, an American subsidiary of Philips. However, audio quality of cassettes and cassette players was not suited for music until the 70s.

Dolby and Chrome

Cassettes became more desired for music listening starting in 1971 with the development of noise reduction by Dolby and chrome tape by 3M and BASF. Prior to that, cassettes were mainly used for dictation.


TDK, which began marketing magnetic reel tape in 1952 and then cassettes in 1966, was a leader in developing the cassette as a music configuration to rival the audio quality of the vinyl record. In 1974, TDK's experiments with iron oxide coating on magnetic tape opened the door for better fidelity.

The Cassette Takes Over

As sound quality improved, the cassette became more practical than the bigger 8-track tape, which was introduced to cars in 1966. The cassette became the leading configuration for music sales by 1977, surpassing the 12-inch vinyl record. The sound quality continued to improve as metal tape was introduced by 3M in 1979.

Portable Tunes

In 1979, Sony introduced the Walkman, a small portable cassette player that became enormously popular, especially for joggers. It gave consumers more control to hear what they wanted whenever they wanted and wherever they went.

Extended Play

Because cassettes had much more playing time than records, they became popular among DJs for creating music mixes. Cassettes also played a role as an alternative medium for finding out about underground music such as punk. In the 1980s, many consumers enjoyed making their own mix tapes.

End of an Era

In the 1990s, hundreds of millions of cassettes were sold, but by the 2000s sales had severely fallen off due to the popularity of more efficient on-demand digital files and MP3 players. Once the leading configuration, cassettes accounted for only 4 per cent of all music sales by 2001.

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