A retro tech renaissance is in full swing so please, please, please, let me get what I want. These past few years, this revenge-of-the-nerds style counter-culture comeback has inundated the collective hive mind with a yearning for oldish throwback equipment, ranging from vinyl records and players, retro game consoles to old CRT tube televisions and quite amusingly, even these 1980s portable music staples - the Walkman and the boombox.
Remember the cassette tape? That portable but somewhat clunky analog recording medium of a supposedly bygone era? Heaven knows why it is getting a trendy do-over but indie music scenesters are all over it. Backroom mixtape swaps, pencil rewinds and the auto-reverse button are presumably back from a proverbial graveyard sale.
But who's actually buying? Like with the vinyl resurgence before it, it's a nostalgic yearning from people who desire tangibility amidst the disposable transient nature of digital music streaming. It's being an active part of the music process - the placement of the record, the flipping of the cassette tape, the mechanical unpredictability of analog equipment - it's like playing an instrument in and of itself.
In the case of vinyl, the love is understandable - audiophiles are swearing by the sonic warmth, range, and liveliness of analog records. Also, the lost appreciation for intricate album art and liner notes still remains unmatched by gawking at all those gigantic LP covers. So what does the cassette bring back to the table?
It is certainly not audio quality. Cassette tapes are known to be hissy, garbly, wow-and-fluttery appliances. Magnetic tape is also prone to stretching, warping and getting worn down by repeated use. The album art on a cassette cover is also laughably small. Why then is it coming back with a vengeance?
First, cost - physical distribution wise, as an analog medium, cassette tapes are still vastly cheaper to produce than vinyl records. Compared to a $30 vinyl LP, a cassette tape can still generate that same retro analog street-cred for a fraction of the cost.
Independent music production companies can also churn out cassette tapes faster than vinyl. For DIY outfits, instead of having a vinyl pressing shop carve copies of an album, the duplication process is merely a matter of pressing the play and record buttons on a home double-decker tape machine.
Then, of course, like I mentioned in the most romantic way earlier - most of the retro appeal stems from the unpredictability of the analog medium against the impersonal dryness of digital. Having to depend your music appreciation on an appliance that's teetering on malfunctioning at the drop of a hat gives back that immediacy and living-in-the-now quality to the active listening process.
For now, it might just be another passing fad, but if the trajectory of the re-emergence of vinyl is an indication, the cassette tape may not go the way of the disco dancer. For whatever its analog worth - long live the boombox, long live the Walkman - the cassette tape is here to stay.
Bonus: If you want the analog look but prefer the convenience of digital music, try this - gut a Walkman and stuff an iPod Nano in it. Check out my DIY Walkman/iPod Nano hack below. Best of both worlds!
What do you think about this retro tech trend? Drop us a comment below (or write us a letter if you prefer).