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setaG_lliB
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Let's listen to a well recorded mixtape!

Thu Feb 08, 2018 8:04 pm

Hey, it's Bill Gates spelled backwards here, with another one of my quarterly vintage audio posts. :D

Today's subject: a mixtape that was in a box of cassettes I bought at a yard sale a few years ago. This is one of the better sounding tapes I've heard, easily beating some of the pre-recorded tapes I own. I'd love to know what kind of deck was used to record it.

Obviously, the original owner took great care to make sure that audio quality was top notch, as all of the songs are level-matched, and the recording itself isn't too loud. Going by the great low-end (the first track had my floor shaking!) and sparkling highs, I'm guessing that most of these songs were recorded from CDs. However I did hear occasional vinyl-like clicks on the last track, although it's entirely possible that they were introduced during the recording process. Keep in mind that you're listening to this through my camera's microphone; the tape sounds even better in person.

There's definitely an interesting array of music on this tape. Side A is mostly 80's dance stuff, and side B slows things down with songs like "Wake Up Everybody" by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, and "Easy" by the Commodores.

This is all of side A, as played through a 1981 Yamaha cassette deck. My camera battery was running low by the end of the first side, so I didn't include both. To skip to different songs on the tape, open the video on YouTube and look at the pinned comment.

 
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Re: Let's listen to a well recorded mixtape!

Thu Feb 08, 2018 8:28 pm

A decent cassette deck with high-quality tape was capable of making recordings with excellent fidelity. The reputation cassettes had for being lo-fi were due to a combination of abysmally bad commercially duplicated tapes, and the fact that most people used them in their cars, where the extreme temperature and humidity fluctuations wreaked havoc with the media.
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setaG_lliB
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Re: Let's listen to a well recorded mixtape!

Thu Feb 08, 2018 11:33 pm

I have several excellent sounding chrome and metal tapes in my collection, but this mixtape is just standard ferric fare. Which is why I'm super curious what kind of deck recorded it. Man, if the recorder I used back in the 90s made all dollar store cassettes sound this good, I'd be wealthy!
 
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Re: Let's listen to a well recorded mixtape!

Fri Feb 09, 2018 6:08 am

There was some decent normal bias tape available. IIRC TDK made one called "Auda" or something like that, which sounded very good.

As a guess, your "miracle tape" was made on a deck with adjustable recording bias, by someone who was OCD enough to tweak the bias to get the flattest frequency response for each brand and type of media. I was "that guy" back when I used to make tapes for my car.
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Re: Let's listen to a well recorded mixtape!

Fri Feb 09, 2018 7:09 am

just brew it! wrote:
The reputation cassettes had for being lo-fi were due to a combination of abysmally bad commercially duplicated tapes, and the fact that most people used them in their cars, where the extreme temperature and humidity fluctuations wreaked havoc with the media.


On top of that, recordings with Dolby B deteriorated fast, those with Dolby C deteriorated painfully fast (ouch!), and those without Dolby haven't stood the test of time very well, either.
 
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Re: Let's listen to a well recorded mixtape!

Fri Feb 09, 2018 7:41 am

Wirko wrote:
just brew it! wrote:
The reputation cassettes had for being lo-fi were due to a combination of abysmally bad commercially duplicated tapes, and the fact that most people used them in their cars, where the extreme temperature and humidity fluctuations wreaked havoc with the media.

On top of that, recordings with Dolby B deteriorated fast, those with Dolby C deteriorated painfully fast (ouch!), and those without Dolby haven't stood the test of time very well, either.

Yeah, Dolby NR relies on having ruler-flat frequency response, since any deviations tend to get exaggerated. And without Dolby you get audible tape hiss.
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Re: Let's listen to a well recorded mixtape!

Fri Feb 09, 2018 2:33 pm

setaG_lliB wrote:
I'm guessing that most of these songs were recorded from CDs.

Deos sound like it. Besides the physical abuse and lousy transfer settings, what really killed a lot of mixtapes was cassette-to-cassette recording and songs sourced from radio airplay. A first-generation recording from CD to tape could turn out pretty well even with relatively cheap equipment provided there wasn't an autoleveling circuit interfering.

just brew it! wrote:
A decent cassette deck with high-quality tape

Two things the average user did not have. (The third being a high-quality turntable.) Two to three decades later it's almost incomprehensible how digital recording has changed all that. There are/were some truly horrific DACs out there, but even those have mostly disappeared.
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Re: Let's listen to a well recorded mixtape!

Fri Feb 09, 2018 3:06 pm

I used to record my albums from a 1974 vintage Baung and Olfsun record player to a Nakamichi 500 deck using some of the better chromium based tapes. The B&O drive motor kept having to be replaced. I traded it in for a like-new Dual 1229 and a $200 diamond phono cartridge.
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Re: Let's listen to a well recorded mixtape!

Sat Feb 10, 2018 12:09 am

I miss my Nakamichi deck. :( It was a BX-125E and it was phenomenal - I made a lot of mix tapes that, at least to my ear, sounded just as good as the source material (generally CD or radio).
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Re: Let's listen to a well recorded mixtape!

Sat Feb 10, 2018 4:06 am

Speaking of cassettes... Does anyone use them still, sort of like Vinyl made a come back? I acquired some brand new Maxell Professional C90s in original wrapper recently. I may have to offload the to someone who will appreciate them.
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Re: Let's listen to a well recorded mixtape!

Sat Feb 10, 2018 8:20 am

Yes, I believe there's been a bit of a "hipster" cassette revival as well. Don't think it's anywhere near as big as vinyl though.
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Re: Let's listen to a well recorded mixtape!

Sat Feb 10, 2018 8:38 am

I had a good 3-head Dolby B/C cassette tape deck in college (three decades ago). TDK SA 90 (and later SA-X 90) tapes were a great value by the dozen with the handy included 15-tape storage case. My tape deck didn't have the fancy auto-calibration recording, but I had a DAK graphic equalizer with a built-in spectrum analyzer & pink noise generator that let me determine the correct fine bias setting for each brand of cassette tape that I fed into the deck.

I almost always recorded full albums (or CDs when they appeared halfway through my sophomore year) onto each side of the tape rather than making mix tapes. Each side of the TDK "90-minute" tape would hold 47 minutes, nicely matching the length of an LP.
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Re: Let's listen to a well recorded mixtape!

Mon Feb 12, 2018 11:22 am

just brew it! wrote:
Yes, I believe there's been a bit of a "hipster" cassette revival as well. Don't think it's anywhere near as big as vinyl though.

Yes, but it's an incredibly stupid one. Especially in the really-heavy-metal scene, I'm seeing cassete releases.
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Re: Let's listen to a well recorded mixtape!

Mon Feb 12, 2018 11:33 am

morphine wrote:
just brew it! wrote:
Yes, I believe there's been a bit of a "hipster" cassette revival as well. Don't think it's anywhere near as big as vinyl though.

Yes, but it's an incredibly stupid one. Especially in the really-heavy-metal scene, I'm seeing cassete releases.

There was a reference in this month's Stereophile. Seems that the best-selling cassette in 2017 was the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 soundtrack, which moved 4,000 copies.
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Re: Let's listen to a well recorded mixtape!

Mon Feb 12, 2018 11:37 am

morphine wrote:
just brew it! wrote:
Yes, I believe there's been a bit of a "hipster" cassette revival as well. Don't think it's anywhere near as big as vinyl though.

Yes, but it's an incredibly stupid one. Especially in the really-heavy-metal scene, I'm seeing cassete releases.

You don't want your heavy metal recorded with heavy metals?
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Re: Let's listen to a well recorded mixtape!

Mon Feb 12, 2018 11:38 am

ludi wrote:
morphine wrote:
just brew it! wrote:
Yes, I believe there's been a bit of a "hipster" cassette revival as well. Don't think it's anywhere near as big as vinyl though.

Yes, but it's an incredibly stupid one. Especially in the really-heavy-metal scene, I'm seeing cassete releases.

You don't want your heavy metal recorded with heavy metals?

Har :D
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Re: Let's listen to a well recorded mixtape!

Mon Feb 12, 2018 12:16 pm

In 1985, CD players were fairly expensive and CDs were more so. Neither LPs nor CDs were easily portable. Poor college students recorded each other's music libraries or our own onto cassette tapes so that we could play them in our cars and boom boxes. Once I graduated and got a real job, I upgraded my car audio system to include CD, making tapes obsolete.

Today, I still buy CDs or DVD-Audio discs. Amazon usually automatically rips a compressed audio version to my phone and tablet. I stick the CD into the player in the car for 10 minutes and rips it to the hard-drive there. From then on, I only use the CD or DVD-Audio for listening at home.
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Re: Let's listen to a well recorded mixtape!

Tue Feb 13, 2018 11:19 am

morphine wrote:
just brew it! wrote:
Yes, I believe there's been a bit of a "hipster" cassette revival as well. Don't think it's anywhere near as big as vinyl though.

Yes, but it's an incredibly stupid one. Especially in the really-heavy-metal scene, I'm seeing cassete releases.

Wait...you mean I could have been putting new music into that 1998 Ford Contour? Too bad I traded it in...:(
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Re: Let's listen to a well recorded mixtape!

Wed Feb 14, 2018 6:21 pm

Captain Ned wrote:
morphine wrote:
just brew it! wrote:
Yes, I believe there's been a bit of a "hipster" cassette revival as well. Don't think it's anywhere near as big as vinyl though.

Yes, but it's an incredibly stupid one. Especially in the really-heavy-metal scene, I'm seeing cassete releases.

There was a reference in this month's Stereophile. Seems that the best-selling cassette in 2017 was the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 soundtrack, which moved 4,000 copies.

I actually bought the Guardians of the Galaxy tape, mainly because I was wondering how good (or bad) a brand new commercially recorded cassette would sound. "Phooey, more of the same" was the conclusion I came to. This mixtape on a cheap Maxell UR90 sounds better.

just brew it! wrote:
There was some decent normal bias tape available. IIRC TDK made one called "Auda" or something like that, which sounded very good.

As a guess, your "miracle tape" was made on a deck with adjustable recording bias, by someone who was OCD enough to tweak the bias to get the flattest frequency response for each brand and type of media. I was "that guy" back when I used to make tapes for my car.

I was playing with the recording bias knob on my Yamaha K-950 deck not too long ago. I never could get the brilliant highs of the miracle tape, not even with a NOS chrome cassette. Oh well. Maybe I should just give that newfangled audio CD technology a whirl.
 
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Re: Let's listen to a well recorded mixtape!

Wed Feb 14, 2018 6:28 pm

Even when played back on the same deck? Muffled highs when moving tapes from one device to another is a sign of improper head alignment.
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Re: Let's listen to a well recorded mixtape!

Wed Feb 14, 2018 6:29 pm

setaG_lliB wrote:
I actually bought the Guardians of the Galaxy tape, mainly because I was wondering how good (or bad) a brand new commercially recorded cassette would sound. "Phooey, more of the same" was the conclusion I came to. This mixtape on a cheap Maxell UR90 sounds better.

I bought that on CD. I could make a mix tape! :D
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Re: Let's listen to a well recorded mixtape!

Wed Feb 14, 2018 6:37 pm

just brew it! wrote:
Even when played back on the same deck? Muffled highs when moving tapes from one device to another is a sign of improper head alignment.

Just go find (and restore) a Nakamichi Dragon. 8)
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