Cassettes are, like, so 70’s

by Brad Nelson   7/14/14

I went to a garage sale on Saturday and picked up a brand new (never been unboxed) Yamaha KX-R430 RS stereo cassette deck.

Why, you may be asking, should I buy a cassette deck (autoreverse even) in this digital age? Well, because, first of all, for five bucks I couldn’t pass it up. I had an old one but it was a cheapo unit. This Yamaha is a fairly good one. And I still have some cassettes with some interesting stuff on them.

Also, the car I have — if you can believe it — has a cassette deck in it. Oh, I can and sometimes do plug my Android tablet into the car (through the cassette deck — there’s an adaptor for this that works very well and sound great) and go digital (sort of).

But the biggest reason is, well, it’s nostalgic as all get-out. Cassettes were a huge advance at one time over the clunky 8-track. And if you use the good-quality high-bias tapes and a good tape deck, your recordings will sound superb to all but the most discerning ear.

This is by no means Yamaha’s top-of-the-line unit. But it is a good one. And throw in a TDK SA90 or a Maxell XLII 90 minute high-bias cassette, and you have a relative audiophile system on the cheap.

I actually remember buying a couple metal tapes at one time when they were supposedly the best of the best. They were called “metal” but I don’t think it was a solid piece of metal. And they were expensive. But I’ve found nothing to match the price/performance of either the TDK’s or Maxells of the high-bias type. And I’ve got tapes I’ve recorded over 10 years ago that have sat in the hot car and haven’t faded a bit. They really built these babies.

So who needs digital? There’s nothing to hold or appreciate with a digital file. But there is something beautiful, if now low-tech, about a good cassette deck — sleek in an all-black finish — and the sexy (yes, sexy) high-bias cassettes. Rock on.
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Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.

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31 Responses to Cassettes are, like, so 70’s

  1. Glenn Fairman says:

    I wonder if my music stored on HD or cd will survive an EMP blast? 1.5 TB is a lot to lose…..

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I wonder if the only music we’ll have left after an EMP is the traditional stuff: piano, acoustic guitar, and violin.

      An aside: I just refurbed a pair of Ohm Model C2 speakers that have been sitting around for years. I don’t even remember where I got them. But the foam around the woofer was all gone on both. So I ordered a kit a couple months ago and was supposed to receive the help from a friend who had done this before.

      But the friend couldn’t ever get around to it so I finally tried it. It seems to be working just fine. These speakers are the best I ever had. The originally sold for $695 a pair and I hear that’s about what you can get for them today in good condition.

      But I’m keeping these. They sound great.

  2. Timothy Lane says:

    We still have a cassette player and a few old cassette tapes. I used to play the WHAS cassette of A Christmas Carol (which had a cameo by Rush Limbaugh as the man seeking a charitable donation from Scrooge), but a year or two back the sound went bad on it, presumably from overuse. I do recall having a Jackie DeShannon cassette tape around here somewhere that presumably is still playable.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I just purchased five new blank TDK SA90’s on eBay for $20.00. That should hold me for a while. I’d like to make some new compilation tapes. And these tapes really do last. I have to hand it to TDK for that. They apparently have discontinued manufacture of these things (a logical thing to do, it would seem). But they’re still available. And I would think used ones would probably work in a pinch given their durability.

      Some of these latter cassette decks (like my Yamaha) have tried to transcend the limitations of the cassette format. For instance, you get auto-reverse, repeat, and fast-forward to the start of the next track (it finds a blank spot). You get tape counters, headphone jack, and a couple other bells and whistles. It’s got Dolby noise reduction, although I’ve never had much luck with that. Tapes usually sounded better without Dolby.

  3. Glenn Fairman says:

    I’m sure that we all had the experience of owning Dark Side of the Moon in vinyl, 8 track, cassette, and CD formats. Personally, I download torrent files from Pirate Bay.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I had an old external (not mounted in a car, or mountable in a car) 8-track player when I was in my teens. I got it at a garage sale along with four or five tapes. One of those tapes was Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and it’s one I remember playing over and over.

      I just read at Wiki that this was their fifth and last studio album. I understand the need (I think) to move on. But, boy, was that a duo who broke up way too early.

      One thing I always had my eye on in my mid-to-late teens was a reel-to-reel player. I so wanted a TEAC (or some other groovy brand). Eventually I did purchase a very nice tape cassette recording deck for a couple hundred dollars. I had that for a few years until, like so much of the “stuff” we accumulate these days, I de-accumulated it. I can’t remember if it broke, I sold it, or what.

      But these Ohm C2’s are by far the best pair of speakers I’ve ever had. And for free (well, $25.00 for the repair kit), it was a bargain. I like resurrecting old things that are broken. That now includes our country.

      • glenn fairman says:

        If you like that duo, I recommend a duo called The Milk Carton Kids. Think Simon and Garfunkel and the Every Bros.

        like s
        S&G,

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          Sounds interesting. I’ll check them out.

          I was looking around for some more Gregorian chant music the other day. And I stumbled upon an artist called Masters of Chant. They take pop or easy-listening tunes such as “Brothers in Arms” or “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and do them in Gregorian chant style. This sounds perfectly insane, but somehow it works. Check it out. I especially like their version of “Stairway to Heaven.”

          Geezus…can Yani be that far in my future?

        • Glenn Fairman says:

          that would be the Everly Bros.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        In my salad days, my dream machines were Nakamichi for cassette tapes and Revox for reel to reel. I could afford neither.

        I still have my Pioneer S-9500 speakers and A-200 amp which I bought while living in Japan in 1984. As I recall, the speakers could only be purchased in Japan as they were just introduced in 1983.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          I worked with a guy in the late 70’s who was a real Nakamichi snob. You know the type. They’re now the type who own Nikon cameras and want everyone to know it.

          Of course, both of those are generally superb brand with well-earned reputations. But when one can’t always afford the best, one learns quickly to look past affectations and to the features. And many times the “second tier” products (including, frankly, Panasonic) were often very good.

          I always liked the looks of the Pioneer electronics. Oh, god, just look at where the look has gone now. It’s all super-abundant. It’s an embarrassment. I haven’t been in the market for hi-end audio equipment so maybe that trend has changed. But for a while there, it was embarrassing to belong to a species that had no sense of taste and who constantly was trading function for mere gimmicks of color.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        I never had an 8-track player. Nor was “Bridge Over Troubled Water” a particular favorite. On the other hand, I can remember discovering that I could put “I Am a Rock” on continuing replay on the The Sounds of Silence LP (basically, putting the disk selector on 7 inches and moving the record changer from the spindle).

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          I believe Simon considered “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” to be their strongest composition, musically. He was less proud of the lyrics as he didn’t believe the last verse, “sail on silver girl…” was a good fit with the previous verses.

          I used to sing the song all the time. It was a good way to meet girls get free drinks.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            Well, the fact that I repeatedly replayed “I Am a Rock” and considered it my theme song will indicate that such efforts didn’t work for me. Especially if they heard me sing.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            “Bridge Over Troubled Water” is a superb song. No caveat needed. But if I had to state what I thought was the best S&G song, I would choose “The Boxer.” Third place might be “Scarborough Fair.”

            In the clearing stands a boxer,
            And a fighter by his trade
            And he carries the reminders
            Of ev’ry glove that laid him down
            And cut him till he cried out
            In his anger and his shame,
            “I am leaving, I am leaving.”
            But the fighter still remains

            • Glenn Fairman says:

              The poetry of Leonard Cohen stirred me as a youth and this has not abated: I hear him, just a little, in everything I write.

              “The Future”

              Give me back my broken night
              my mirrored room, my secret life
              it’s lonely here,
              there’s no one left to torture
              Give me absolute control
              over every living soul
              And lie beside me, baby,
              that’s an order!
              Give me crack and anal sex
              Take the only tree that’s left
              and stuff it up the hole
              in your culture
              Give me back the Berlin wall
              give me Stalin and St Paul
              I’ve seen the future, brother:
              it is murder.

              Things are going to slide, slide in all directions
              Won’t be nothing
              Nothing you can measure anymore
              The blizzard, the blizzard of the world
              has crossed the threshold
              and it has overturned
              the order of the soul
              When they said REPENT REPENT
              I wonder what they meant
              When they said REPENT REPENT
              I wonder what they meant
              When they said REPENT REPENT
              I wonder what they meant

              You don’t know me from the wind
              you never will, you never did
              I’m the little jew
              who wrote the Bible
              I’ve seen the nations rise and fall
              I’ve heard their stories, heard them all
              but love’s the only engine of survival
              Your servant here, he has been told
              to say it clear, to say it cold:
              It’s over, it ain’t going
              any further
              And now the wheels of heaven stop
              you feel the devil’s riding crop
              Get ready for the future:
              it is murder

              Things are going to slide …

              There’ll be the breaking of the ancient
              western code
              Your private life will suddenly explode
              There’ll be phantoms
              There’ll be fires on the road
              and the white man dancing
              You’ll see a woman
              hanging upside down
              her features covered by her fallen gown
              and all the lousy little poets
              coming round
              tryin’ to sound like Charlie Manson
              and the white man dancin’

              Give me back the Berlin wall
              Give me Stalin and St Paul
              Give me Christ
              or give me Hiroshima
              Destroy another fetus now
              We don’t like children anyhow
              I’ve seen the future, baby:
              it is murder

              or this: “The Story of Isaac”

              The door it opened slowly,
              My father he came in,
              I was nine years old.
              And he stood so tall above me,
              His blue eyes they were shining
              And his voice was very cold.
              He said, “I’ve had a vision
              And you know I’m strong and holy,
              I must do what I’ve been told.”
              So he started up the mountain,
              I was running, he was walking,
              And his axe was made of gold.

              Well, the trees they got much smaller,
              The lake a lady’s mirror,
              We stopped to drink some wine.
              Then he threw the bottle over.
              Broke a minute later
              And he put his hand on mine.
              Thought I saw an eagle
              But it might have been a vulture,
              I never could decide.
              Then my father built an altar,
              He looked once behind his shoulder,
              He knew I would not hide.

              You who build these altars now
              To sacrifice these children,
              You must not do it anymore.
              A scheme is not a vision
              And you never have been tempted
              By a demon or a god.
              You who stand above them now,
              Your hatchets blunt and bloody,
              You were not there before,
              When I lay upon a mountain
              And my father’s hand was trembling
              With the beauty of the word.

              And if you call me brother now,
              Forgive me if I inquire,
              “just according to whose plan?”
              When it all comes down to dust
              I will kill you if I must,
              I will help you if I can.
              When it all comes down to dust
              I will help you if I must,
              I will kill you if I can.
              And mercy on our uniform,
              Man of peace or man of war,
              The peacock spreads his fan.

              • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

                Those are lovely, even compelling, lyrics. But I’ve never been a big fan of Cohen otherwise. I quick read about him on Wiki says that he was a walking and talking dichotomy. One minute he might be weaving in biblical imagery and the next talking about blow jobs.

                One wonders if this type of person is the kind of person who has dabbled in the contradictions and complexities of reality but never come to much of a conclusion about them (other than a poetic nihilism). I can sort of relate to that. But at some point, even fine poets need to cast off their naive illusions and become grounded in something other than the shock-value of combined moral/hippietomic (a new word) utterances.

                I guess I’ve grown up a bit. And while the lyrics of Simon and Garfunkel have more of a universal permanence to them (Homeward Bound, for instance), I just find Cohen to be a bit libtard.

            • Timothy Lane says:

              Yes, I rather like that one. It’s certainly my favorite song on that particular album. A pair of my lesser-known favorites by them are “A Hazy Shade of Winter” (from Bookends) and “Flowers Never Bend With the Rainfall” (from Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme). In addition, it’s natural that someone who likes “I Am a Rock” would like its sort-of sequel, “He Was a Most Peculiar Man”. (The Sounds of Silence album is probably my favorite, with several very nice songs on it, including the title song.)

  4. Glenn Fairman says:

    Brad: One song “Chelsea Hotel” written about his relationship with Janis Joplin, mentioned “giving me head on the unmade bed while the limosine waits in the street.” Going to Wiki for information can have tragic consequences. In no way can he be classified as a libtard. He has been a sojourner of the soul, and though we have arrived at different places. the beauty of his printed verse and his songs have stirred millions. Check out a video of one of his concerts……

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Glenn, I can always be counted on for a knee-jerk opinion. But what goes along with that as well is an open mind. I’ll give the door a double-blast with the shotgun….and build a new one out of oak in its place if I find that I was wrong.

      I’ll give the song and lyric “Chelsea Hotel” a read and do a short essay on it here.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        I had never heard of him until I studied in Europe. Cohen was very popular with the pseudo-intellectual types and hippies in Germany during the 1970’s. ( I can see them in my mind’s eye in little coffee shops or bars with stringy oily hair, glasses like those worn by John Lennon after he left the Beatles, and smoking Gauloises or better yet, rolling their own.)

        That along with his droning, frog-like voice, which has zero musicality to it, was enough to put me off him for ever. He was worse than Bob Dylan, who couldn’t care a tune in a basket.

        Perhaps I was wrong to dismiss him as I could not get past the horrible voice and presentation and listen to the words. No doubt I was also influenced by my disdain for his typical German fan.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          I forgot to mention, all the German hippie types I met who liked Cohen, were invariably, Leftists and often professional students, which was part of the reason I held them in some contempt.

  5. Glenn Fairman says:

    http://www.leonardcohen.com/us/lyrics/asinger.html

    The voice is an acquired taste. His songs are performed by many people, including Judy Collins. While he was a child of the 60’s, a great deal of growth and ripening has occurred. His vision often encompasses the sacred and the profane. His “Hallelujah” is frequently performed now by Millennials.

  6. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Here’s a YouTube video of Leonard Cohen’s Chelsea Hotel.

    I admit, I’m not enamored with his vocal stylings. He might have been the guy whose guitar John Belushi busted up against the wall in Animal House.

    Here’s the lyrics:

    Chelsea Hotel

    I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel,
    you were talking so brave and so sweet,
    giving me head on the unmade bed,
    while the limousines wait in the street.
    Those were the reasons and that was New York,
    we were running for the money and the flesh.
    And that was called love for the workers in song
    probably still is for those of them left.
    Ah but you got away, didn’t you babe,
    you just turned your back on the crowd,
    you got away, I never once heard you say,
    I need you, I don’t need you,
    I need you, I don’t need you
    and all of that jiving around.

    I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel
    you were famous, your heart was a legend.
    You told me again you preferred handsome men
    but for me you would make an exception.
    And clenching your fist for the ones like us
    who are oppressed by the figures of beauty,
    you fixed yourself, you said, “Well never mind,
    we are ugly but we have the music.”

    And then you got away, didn’t you babe…

    I don’t mean to suggest that I loved you the best,
    I can’t keep track of each fallen robin.
    I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel,
    that’s all, I don’t even think of you that often.

    I find much of that to be self-indulgent blather. Sorry, I can’t pull any punches on this. But I do think this lyric is exquisite:

    I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel
    you were famous, your heart was a legend.
    You told me again you preferred handsome men
    but for me you would make an exception.

    Granted, some of the music I like would bemuse some of you, to put it mildly. (Rammstein. Klaus Nomi. Frank Sinatra.) So to each his own. But I don’t see myself getting on the Leonard Cohen bandwagon anytime soon.

    I think a solid dose of pot would definitely upgrade my opinion. But I don’t smoke pot. I’m a conservative, not a libertarian. My highs are natural highs without use of hookers, drugs, or the fumes from the 60’s. 😀

    • Timothy Lane says:

      I’m not familiar with Rammstein, and only know Klaus Nomi by way of his version of “You Don’t Own Me” (used as an update theme song on Rush Limbaugh). I see that as something of a parody. Frank Sinatra, on the other hand, did a lot of good music (as did his daughter).

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        My younger brother and I are Klaus Nomi aficionados. No, we’re not pole-smokers. Nor are we cross-dressers who like prancing around in women’s underwear on the weekends. But Klaus Nomi is interesting if only because he is so theatrical. There is no one else quite like him. And in a culture where the worst crime is to be boring, he certainly was not that. And it’s a riot that Rush uses one or two of his songs for the opening of his homosexual segment.

        But being a conservative I’m a homophobe so I couldn’t possibly like this guy, right? But he’s just a riot. And he’s the male equivalent of Maria Callas. The arias that Nomi sings are exquisite.

        The Nomi phenomenon is similar in respects to how I gained my first love for classical music from Bugs Bunny cartoons. Nomi is a self-admitted clown (or was until he wasted away from the pole-smoker’s disease, AIDS). But he certainly stoked in me a love for opera. And in a world of shameless copycats and low- or no-talent hacks, Nomi was truly one-of-a-kind.

        Rammstein, on the other hand, is the music Hitler’s grandchildren would be listening to had he won the war. I don’t meant the lyrics. I just mean that Rammstein sounds like what would have come out of some yute movement of the Third Reich a couple generations removed. It’s aggressive music. No girly-men allowed.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          Well, if conservatives really hated all homosexuals, then we wouldn’t read books (and articles) by Tammy Bruce, the former head of the LA chapter of NOW, and a lesbian — but also a firm defender of gun rights who even in her more liberal days was always heterodox. In fact, a review of a couple of her books provided the link between my reviews of Wild Justice and The Road to Damascus a decade ago.

    • Terry says:

      The guy who had his guitar busted by Belushi in Animal House was Stephen Bishop (On and On, Theme from Tootsie). Stephen Bishop is also the guy in the upside down cop car who in The Blues Brothers says, “Hey, I think my watch is broken.”

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Wow. That was Stephen Bishop on the steps playing his guitar? Thanks for the interesting trivia. That’s great stuff, Terry.

  7. Glenn Fairman says:

    We shall agree then to disagree, especially in matters of art that bear little consequence…..

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      What I’ve learned about you, Glenn, is that your are a deep and very thoughtful individual — and one who is probably somewhat typical of your generation.

      I’ve got an older brother (surely just about your age) right now who is very much into Bob Dylan and the music of the 60’s. And it’s not that such people didn’t have great talent. But some of their stuff probably needs to be seen through the filter of the 60’s.

      My own thoughts regarding Cohen’s general genre is that I don’t have any trouble with lyrics describing the ugly underbelly of life. But these 60’s types seem to be doing the equivalent of intentionally sticking their heads in a fan and then writing, “Oh, woe is me.” I just don’t find it very convincing or artful.

      I find 60’s music to be self-indulgent. After all, these are the people running the country now and they’re doing so on the ethics and worldview they picked up like second-hand smoke from that age. Primary amongst those beliefs was that no one before them ever felt anything as deeply before about life, especially that ugly underbelly of life. Nobody could sympathize as they could with the downtrodden or could sympathize with their downtrodden selves. And this vapid generation then, without much surprise, elected a president who said he could “feel our pain.”

      I’m not refuting your love for Cohen. I couldn’t talk you out of that any more than you could talk me out of my affinity to the bizarre Klaus Nomi. But I do see a bit of naiveté in Cohen’s music, if not the typical self-indulgence and narcissism.

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