How Do Audio Cassette Tapes Work?

Today we’re going to look into one of the most unexpected comebacks the music industry has ever experienced: the cassette tape’s resurgence. 

Often, the people who are buying cassette tapes nowadays are not the same people recording their favorite songs on tape from their stereo car in the ’80s. Most of them were born in a world where music was already digital and easily (or freely) accessible. That’s why with this article, we’re going to focus on how this iconic audio medium works and what to do to best enjoy it. 

So How Do Audio Cassette Tapes Work?

The plastic outer layer protects the flat plastic tape inside. The tape is covered in ferric oxide, a metal substance that can be magnetized and will stay so permanently. Audio recordings are magnetically stored information generated from electrical impulses and stored on magnetic tape via tape machines.

A similar process occurs when we listen to music on tape: a cassette player converts the electromagnetic signals from the cassette into audible sound. On any tape player, you’ll find the capstan and the pinch roller: the former revolves at an exact rate to pull the tape across the head, while the latter applies pressure to ensure the tape is tight against the capstan.

Cassettes experienced a steady decline in sales since the early ’90s, once the CDs started replacing them altogether as the worldwide favorite’s medium for listening to music. However, the digital era revived the love for everything physical, including the long-forgotten cassette tapes, which have become a symbol of music’s good old days for the last ten-odd years for nostalgic fans and new generations alike. In the following sections, we’ll describe what makes this audio format still one of a kind. Let’s go!

What Are the Pros and Cons of Cassette Tapes?

Tapes are inexpensive to manufacture and buy and can be carried around more efficiently than any physical audio format. Furthermore, cassettes have become a collection item among younger generations and cost a fraction of vinyl. The biggest downside is that you need an expensive tape player to achieve “good” results.

You may be able to achieve sound quality comparable to vinyl and CDs, but this will require expensive audio equipment and close to manic care for your cassettes that don’t particularly like humidity, magnetic fields and heat. Cassette tapes also unravel; we all know that: some people like it, while for others, it’s just a nuisance.


Do Cassettes Sound Different?

Comparing analog recordings, the audio output of a new cassette tape is similar to the one of an LP. The quality of the tape deck, the cassette itself and how much you’ve listened to it will affect the bandwidth and add additional noise and distortion to the music. This will result in a nice analog feel, adjustable with suitable tape formulations and noise reduction.

The digital vs analog debate has been a long and heated conversation for a couple of decades. However, most audiophiles agree that cassette tapes generally do not sound better than CDs or vinyl. People love tapes because they’re cheaper, more durable, portable, and very cool.

How Many Songs Does a Cassette Tape Have?

The most common tape lengths are the C60s, two 30-minute sides, and the C90s, with two 45-minute sides. Considering the average song length these days (3.30 minutes), you’ll be able to put 17 songs in a C60 and 25 on a C90 tape. Other sizes are available, including C120 (34 songs) and C150 (very rare, but 42 songs).

Considering CDs are quoted as being 74 minutes long, most cassette tapes can hold more music than standard CDs. Bear in mind that cassettes have side A and side B, which means you may end up splitting a song in half or having a long silent break in between the two sides. You’ll have to do the math before you start recording your mixtape!

Can I Record Over a Cassette Tape?

To record over a cassette tape, choose a blank tape (or one you want to record over) and put it in your tape deck, push record and play simultaneously whichever CD, LP or cassette you want to have on tape from the same deck. Let it play until the end, then press stop and eject your new cassette tape.

There’s a punch-out tab on the shell of prerecorded cassettes that prevents accidental recording: which means you shouldn’t be able to record anything over them. However, you can get around that by putting a small piece of paper to cover the tab, and you’ll be able to rewrite the tape following the instructions above.

Do Cassette Tapes Sound Good?

Cassette tapes were never made for a high-fidelity audio experience. Compared to vinyl and CDs, tapes lack the sound clarity audiophiles look for: a high-quality cassette deck can compensate for the format’s limitations by cutting down noise and distortion but will never reach the quality of digital audio, reel to reel or LP.

Ultimately, if you’re looking for the best audio quality, there are much easier ways to achieve it rather than the tapes’ path. These convenient little cassettes are the ideal choice for artists and fans worldwide for other reasons: they’re easy to copy, reproduce, store, and are cheaper than all their physical competitors. 

Cassettes - better than you don't remember

Where Can I Listen to a Cassette Tape?

There are two ways to listen to cassette tapes: portable Walkman and audio cassette decks. The former can be carried around, but the sound quality may not be optimal, while the latter is part of the home audio system that can offer “almost as good as CD” high-fidelity audio quality.

Today you can easily get a second-hand Walkman for as low as $10, making cassette tapes the most economical way to experience music these days. However, cheap players are likely to damage your tapes over time or unravel them more often. 


What Are the Types of Cassette Tapes

The most used types of tapes are ferric (type 1), chrome (type 2), ferrichrome (type 3), and metal (type 4). Metal tapes are the most recent tapes’ type and provide the listeners with the best sound quality thanks to low tape hiss and overall balanced frequencies.

With a frequency between 30Hz and 16,000Hz, metal tapes are as close as you can get to digital recordings with cassettes. Their quality also implies a higher price compared to the other types. Still, the low noise recording, balanced treble, and bass response make it the ideal choice for audiophiles who want to experience music on tape.

How Do You Rewind a Cassette Tape?

To get your tape back into shape:

  1. Insert a pen or pencil inside the reel holes and slowly rotate the reel towards the cassette centre.
  2. Continue the process until you see (or feel, if the case is not transparent) that the tape is fully rewound.
  3. Make sure the pencil or pen has a hexagonal or octagonal shape at its end.

Though old audio cassette tapes can run into several problems, the unravelled tape is undoubtedly the most common. Likely it’s also an easy one to fix and won’t require any expensive or time-consuming operation.


Can Cassette Tapes Be Converted to Digital?

The easiest way to digitalize cassette tapes is through a cassette player with USB output. These players usually come with software that does the job automatically. Alternatively, you can download Audacity, which is free, and do it yourself in no time.

Another option is to use a cassette tape deck. The process is similar: download Audacity and connect your tape deck to the PC as if you were connecting it to the speakers (you’ll need the correct headphone jack for both ports). 

Once you installed and opened Audacity, on the top menu, find the microphone icon and select the proper input for your cassette tape (usually the Line In 1-2). Once set, press play.

If the volume meter flashes red or orange every now and then, your recording is too loud, and you’ll have to lower the volume and start again.

How to Safely Store Your Cassette Tape Collection?

Keeping your audio cassettes in a dust-free environment is the most critical rule to preserve your collection. Make sure tapes are stored away from direct sunlight and in an environment without drastic temperature shifts. Humidity and magnetic, electronic equipment can also damage tapes permanently.

With proper care, cassette tapes have a life expectancy of up to 30 years. If you’re interested more in the audio content than the format itself, consider digitizing your collection: by doing so, you’ll ensure there’ll always be a copy of your albums available, should anything happen to the original tape.


How Can I Make My Cassette Sound Better?

To get the best audio results, you’ll need to invest in a good, non-portable second-hand cassette deck. Treat your tapes gently, and always wash your hands before opening the case. Remove dust from both tapes and cassette deck regularly and keep the former away from magnets and electrical appliances.

Cassette decks require regular maintenance and constant care, especially when expensive. Clean the play heads of your cassette deck with a cotton swab and isopropyl alcohol regularly. To clean the pinch rollers, you can use a dry cotton swab.

Cassette culture: know & choose the best audio cassettes and tape decks!


Are People Still Buying Tapes?

Sales of cassette tapes have been doubling every year since 2018 and are expected to double up again in 2023. In the UK, sales’ figures are similar to the early ’00s when they reached 100,000; in the US, they’re well over 200,000 and climbing. This is thanks to the efforts of both big pop artists and underground indie labels.

Vinyl was the first physical format to come back with a bang, reaching peaks in albums sales not seen since the early ’90s. With cassettes, the love for a format that wears out more quickly than any others was initially fueled by small artists and record labels looking for the cheapest physical form to release their music. More prominent names in the industry followed shortly after.

Combine the romantic, nostalgic feeling of music fans with the creative output of indie and prominent artists unable to play concerts during these unpredictable times, and the result is obvious. One hundred fifty-seven thousand tapes sold in the UK alone in 2020, a figure that doubles the album sales from 2019 and will likely increase again this year.


Audio cassettes are currently the fastest growing music media worldwide. It’s the best media for music producers who want to get their music out there in a physical format as it’s incredibly cheap to produce and has a faster turnaround than vinyl.

A tape collection gives a nostalgic and ethereal feel that no other audio format can offer. What makes younger generations interested in cassette tapes is their need to experience a different way of listening to music. The digital era provides infinite ways to experience music but deprives audiophiles of the cultural enjoyment of a “real” music collection.

Audio cassette tapes are indeed experiencing a comeback, but the way we perceive this format has changed: from the cheapest and simplest way to listen to music on the go, they’re now the epitome of cultural interest in the passage of time and the value of ephemeral pleasures, freed from the boundless abundancy the digital world offers.

Readings that you may like: 

DAW Related:

Best DAWs For Musicians Available (With FREE DAWs)

How To Develop DAW Software?

What’s The Most CPU Efficient DAW? – 5 DAWs Compared

How To Make Music Without Using A DAW?

Pro Tools Guide: How To Use AutoTune & Pitch Correction?

Ableton Review: Is It Worth The Money? (Cons & Pros)

Logic Pro X Review: Is It Worth It? (Cons & Pros)

How To Use Auto-tune & Pitch Correction In Cubase?

How To Fix Ableton Crackling, Crashing & Freezing? Step By Step


Plugin Related:

What Are Audio Plugins? Different Types of Plugins Explained

What Are The Best Tools To Develop VST Plugins & How Are They Made?

Cost of Developing Audio VST Plugin: Several Factors (With Table)

VST, VST, AU and AAX – What’s The Difference? Plugin Formats Explained

Complete Guide To Noise Gate – What It Is, What It Does & How To Use It?

How To Clip My Drums? Here Is How & Audio Teasers (Before/After)


Complete Guide To Limiter: How To Use It (+ Best Plugins & Analog Limiters)

Mixing With Reverb: How To Add Life To Your Mixes

Linear Phase vs Minimum Phase EQ – Full Guide

Difference Between LUFS, RMS & True Peak Loudness Meters

How And When To Use Algorithmic And Convolution Reverb In Your Mix?

Difference Between Active EQ, Passive EQ and Dynamic EQ


Headphones & Studio Monitors:

Do headphones get worse with age?

Monitors vs Studio Headphones For Mixing & Mastering

Top 10 Room Calibration & Headphones/Speakers Correction Plugins 

Does Heat Damage Headphones?

Are Noise-Canceling Headphones Good For Music Production?

Can Headphones Break in Cold Weather?

Why do headphones & cables get sticky?


Can Wearing Headphones Cause Hair Loss?

How Do I know If My Studio Monitor Is Blown?

Side Effects Of Sleeping With Your Headphones On

Do You Need Music Amplifier For Studio Monitors or Studio Headphones?

Do Headphones or Earphones Damage Your Brain?

Can Headphones or Earphones cause Deafness or Toothache?

FarField, MidField & NearField Monitors – Their Uses, Pros & Cons


MIDI & Synths:

Should I Buy A MIDI Keyboard Or Synth? (Are Synths Worth It Anymore?)

Why Is Audio Gear So Expensive? (Especially Synths)

Top 12 Synth Brands – Analog, Digital & Modular Synth Manufacturers

11 Tips How To Choose MIDI Keyboard 

Should I Buy MIDI Controller Or Keyboard? Cons, Pros & Tips


Guitar/Amp Focused:

Can I Put Nylon Strings on a Steel-string Guitar?

Do Electric Guitars Sound Good Unplugged?

Buying Your First Guitar: 2 Things To Know

Are Tube Amps Worth It? (Tube vs Solid-State Amps)

How Often Does A Guitar Need a Setup?

Can I Play Classical Guitar On A Steel-String Guitar?


How often guitar necks need reset?

Can You Play Two Guitars Through One Amp?

Can a 6 String Bass Be Tuned Like A Guitar?

Can I leave My Guitar Tuned Down a Step? Yes, But Is It Safe?

Should I Learn 4, 5 Or 6 String Bass Guitar & Why?

How To Know If your Guitar Amp Is Broken?

How To Fix Distorted Bass Guitar Sound?


Do Fender Guitars Appreciate In Value?

Should You Put Stickers On A Bass Guitar?

How Acoustic And Electric Guitars Are Made?

Is Electric Guitar Too Loud for an Apartment?

Does a Preamp Improve Sound Quality?

If I Learn Acoustic Guitar Can I Play Electric Guitar?

How Many Hours A Day Should You Practice Bass Guitar?

Do I need an AMP/DAC To Run Bookshelf Speakers?

How to Record Electric Guitar Into Logic Pro X?

Do headphones get worse with age?


Recommended Gear:

Top 12 NearField Studio Monitors On Any Budget

Top 10 Midfield Studio Monitors For Home Recording

Best Biggest Studio Monitors (FarField Monitors)

Top 10 Guitar Pickups for Low Tunings 

Top 10 Analog Compressors For Mixing & Mastering (On Any Budget)

Top 12 USB Audio Interfaces Under 150$, 200$, 300$ 400$ (Any Budget)


Top 12 Hardware Equalizers (Analog EQs For Mixing & Mastering)

Top 6 Analog Hardware Limiters 

Top 6 Solid State Bass Amps (On Any Budget)

Top 6 Ribbon Mics On Any Budget (For Vocals, Drums & Guitars)

Top 6 Cheap Dynamic Mics For Vocals Under 50$, 100$, 200$ & 300$


Top 6 Chorus Guitar Pedals (On Any Budget)

6 Best 61-Key MIDI Keyboards (On Any Budget)

9 Best 49-Key MIDI Keyboards Under 100$ & 200$

Top 5 Best 25 Key MIDI Keyboards (On Any Budget)

Top 12 Acoustic Drums (Best Kits/Sets On Any Budget)


Plugin Roundups:

Genre Focused:

Top 10 EDM Plugins  (And 10 Best FREE Plugins For EDM)

Top 10 Plugins For TRAP Beats (And 5 Best FREE Trap Plugins)

20 Best Plugins For Rock Musicians (+ 6 FREE Plugins)

Top 14 Trance Plugins (Uplifting, Tech, Progressive, Vocal, Dream, Hard)

Top 10 GOA & PsyTrance Plugins (Best Psychedelic Trance Tools)

Top 7 Plugins For Dubstep (With 10 Best FREE Effects & Synths)


Top 20 Synthwave Plugins (+ 11 Best FREE Plugins)

Top 15 Plugins For Techno, House, Electro, Tech House, UK Garage

Top 6 Plugins For Latin Music  (And 4 FREE Tools)

Top 12 Plugins For Hip-Hop (+ Best Kontakt Libraries)

Top 7 Plugins For Game & Film Scoring  (+ 6 Best Kontakt Libraries)

Top 10 R&B And Pop Music Plugins & KONTAKT Libraries 

30 Best Free Plugins For DnB, EDM, IDM & Experimental Music 


EQ Plugins

Top 12 Free EQ Plugins For Precise Mixing & Mastering

Top 9 Mid/Side EQ Plugins  For Mixing & Mastering (+ 2 Free Tools)

Top 7 Graphic EQ Plugins  (With 3 Best Free EQs)

Top 7 EQ Plugins For Mastering In | And Best FREE Mastering EQs

Top 6 Passive EQ Plugins (Klevgrand, SPL, UAD, Waves, IK Multimedia)

Top 11 Plugins For Making Metal (Best Guitars, Drums & Effects)



Top 5 Audio Metering Plugins (LUFS, RMS, LRA, True Peak)

Top 6 Spectrum Analyzer Plugins  – Spectral Analysis Tools

Top 6 Oscilloscope Plugins To See The Waveforms

Top 5 Key Detection Plugins & Software  (+ Best FREE App)


Kontakt Libraries

20 Best Kontakt Libraries For All Categories (Synths, Drums, Vocals)

Top 7 Drum Libraries For KONTAKT (And 4 Freebies)

Top 7 Trap Music Kontakt Libraries (And Best Lo-Fi Kontakt Library)

Top 7 Metal & Rock Kontakt Libraries (Best Guitars & Drums)

Top 10 Guitar Libraries For Kontakt (Acoustic, Electric, Bass & Freebies)


Top 7 Trailer Scoring Plugins & Kontakt Libraries 

20 Best Free KONTAKT Libraries For Various Instruments

Top 9 Piano Kontakt Sample Libraries  (And 5 Best Free Pianos)

Top 10 Percussion KONTAKT Libraries  (And 3 Freebies)

Top 7 Kontakt Libraries For Horror & Thriller Scoring (No VSTs)


Audio Restoration, Calibration & Utility:

Top 6 Noise Reduction Plugins (And 3 Best Free Tools)

6 Best Audio Restoration Plugins & Software 

Top 7 Phase Alignment Plugins To Fix Your Bass & Drums

Top 10 Room Calibration & Headphones/Speakers Correction Plugins 


Instrument Plugins: 

Top 6 Vocoder Plugins (Effects & Synths + FREE Vocoder)

11 Best Rhodes VST Plugins (AND 5 Free Rhodes Plugins)

Top 12 Randomizer Plugins Including FREE Plugins

Top 6 Kick Drum Plugins (Best Kick Designer Tools)

Top 12 Woodwind Plugins (And KONTAKT Libraries)

Top 10 Double Bass Plugins (Best Upright Basses)

Top 5 Strings VST Plugins (AND 4 Best Free Instruments)


Top 6 Sampler Plugins (And 3 Best FREE Plugins)

Top 6 Classical Guitar Plugins & Kontakt Libraries (And FREE Guitars)

Top 7 Wavetable Synth Plugins 

Top 12 Sub Plugins (Best 808 & Bass Tools For Massive Low End)

Top 10 Plugins On PluginBoutique (And 7 Best Free Plugins)

Top 11 Plugins On Plugin Alliance 

Top 7 Acoustic Guitar Plugins (And 4 Best Kontakt Libraries)


9 Best Bass Guitar Plugins (And 2 Best Freebies)

Top 6 Electric Guitar Plugins (Best PAID & FREE Picks)

Top 10 Arpeggiator VST Plugins (Best Synths, MIDI Effects & Tools)

Top 10 Modular Synth Plugins (And 3 Best FREE Plugins)

Top 6 Choir Plugins & Sample Libraries (And 3 Best Free Plugins)

11 Best Percussion & Drum VST Plugins (And FREE Plugins)


Top 8 Piano Plugins (Best Sounding Pianos & 5 FREE Piano Plugins)

Top 6 Organ Plugins Ever Made  (And 3 Best Free Organs)

Top 14 VST Plugins For Beginners (And 9 FREE Plugins)

Top 9 Drum Machine Plugins (And Groovebox Plugins)

4 Best Banjo Plugins (Best Banjo Instruments)


The 5 Best Ukulele Plugins & Kontakt Libraries 

Top 13 Synth Plugins (And 5 Best FREE Synths Plugins)

Top 13 Sequencer Plugins  (Synth, MIDI & Step Sequencers)

The 10 Best Multi-Effect Plugins (And 3 Best Free Plugins)

Top 12 Plugin Bundles For Musicians (Synths, Mixing & Mastering)



Processing & Sound Design:

8 Best Lo-Fi Plugins (PAID & FREE)

Top 11 Plugins For Mixing Vocals  (For Home Studio)

Top 12 Saturation Plugins (Best Mixing & Mastering Tools)

Top 6 Pitch Shifter Plugins (And 3 Best FREE Pitch Shifters)

Top 6 Chorus VST Plugins For Musicians (And 3 FREE Plugins)


Top 6 Limiter Plugins For Precise Mastering & Mixing

The 8 Best Filter Plugins For Precise Cuts & Boosts (+ 5 Free Filters)

6 Best Autotune Plugins To Improve & Enhance Your Vocals

Top 10 Transient Shaper Plugins (VST, AU, AAX)

Top 7 Enhancer Plugins (For Bass, Drums, Vocals & Harmonics)


Top 6 Flanger Plugins (And 5 Best FREE Flanger Emulators)

Top 7 Phaser Plugins (And 3 Best FREE Phasers)

Top 10 Plugins For Mixing Drums (And 3 Best Free Plugins)

Top 7 Bitcrusher Plugins (And 4 Best FREE Bitcrushers + 3 Bonuses)

Top 6 Plugins For Voice-Over & Dialogue Cleaning (Post Production)

Top 10 Stereo Imaging Plugins (Best Old & Modern Picks)


Top 5 Multiband Limiter Plugins 

Top 7 De-Esser Plugins For Better Vocals (And 4 FREE Plugins)

Top 7 Clipper Plugins (Best Limiter Alternatives)

Top 6 Chord Generator Plugins That Inspire Melodies (+ FREE Tools)

7 Best Exciter Plugins For Mixing & Mastering

Top 7 Channel Strip Plugins (And 2 Best Free Plugins)


Top 11 Distortion Plugins (And 4 Top Free Plugins)

Top 5 Comb Filter & Resonator Plugins | Melda, Kilohearts, Tritik

The 7 Best Vibrato VST Plugins | Audec, Audiority, Melda

The 7 Best Tremolo Plugins | Eventide, Melda, SoundToys, Kuassa…

The 7 Best Harmonizer Plugins | Eventide, Melda, Aegean Music

7 Best Sidechain Plugins (VST, AU, AAX) | Xfer, Cableguys..


Top 10 Noise Gate Plugins (And 6 FREE Free Gate Tools)

The 6 Best Ring Modulator VST Plugins | KiloHearts, Melda

7 Best Autopan VST Plugins | CableGuys, Melda, Waves, Soundtoys

The 6 Best Frequency Shifter VST Plugins

Top 11 Granulizer Plugins For Future Sound Design

29 Best Sound Design VST Plugins


Compressor Plugins

Top 11 Free Compressor Plugins (VCA, Vari-Mu, FET, Digital)

Top 7 Multiband Compressor Plugins (And 4 FREE Plugins)

Top 5 Diode-Bridge Compressor Plugins 

Top 6 Mastering Chain Plugins: Complete VST Solutions 

Top 10 FET Compressor Plugins 

The 7 Best VCA Compressor Plugins (VST, AU, AAX)

Top 11 Mastering Compressor Plugins (And 2 FREE Plugins)

Top 10 Opto Compressor Plugins For Transparent Sound

The 7 Best Vari-Mu Compressor Plugins (And 2 Best FREE Tools)


Reverb & Delay Plugins:

Top 12 Reverb Plugins (And 5 FREE Reverb Plugins)

The 6 Best Spring Reverb VST Plugins | AudioThing, GSi, u-he, Eventide

Top 12 Delay Plugins For Music Production In (VST, AU, AAX)

Top 10 FREE Delay Plugins (VST, AU, AAX)

The 10 Best Convolution Reverb Plugins 


Amps & Preamps:

Top 10 Guitar Amp Plugins (And 5 Best FREE Simulators)

Top 10 Bass Amp Plugins (And 5 Best Free Simulators)

Top 9 Preamp Plugins (For Vocals, Guitars & More!) + Free Preamps

Don`t copy text!
Scroll to Top