New releases on cassette – Are they worth?

9 months ago 0
Posted in: Cassettes

I recently noticed that there are new labels releasing new music on cassette. Based on what I’ve learnt regarding the quality of prerecorded cassettes, I thought I’d give them a try.

I also knew about a small label called Kissability, ran by Jen Long that I knew of in this video I’ve recently posted here. So I took a quick listen of some of the cassettes they were offering and I decided I’d try the ones by Courtney Barnett and Sad Palace. I called my friend TJ Autoreverse to explain him and he also wanted one of those, so we ordered three together.

A few days later a small package arrived:

Kissability cassettes 01

It was not very well protected, but the tapes arrived safe at first sight. Another inspection revealed that they were slightly damaged, with some small cracks here and there. Nothing serious, but there were there.

The cassettes used were new and coloured ones:

Kissability cassettes 03

They look like some sort of cheap ferric ones, due to the tape colour:

Kissability cassettes 05

After a quick listen of the orange one by Courtney Barret, I immediately noticed that the recording quality was not perfect. I played in in my SONY TC-K909ES (serviced and improved by ANT Audio). The levels in Courtney’s tape were more or less ok, on the Dolby mark but they were quite hot in the blue one.

The sound was a bit narrow and dull. But what was mostly noticeable was the lack of highs. I think that could be an azimuth issue but all my decks were perfectly aligned using professional. Anyway, I took my philips screw and tried to adjust the azimuth on the K909ES for this tape, but there was no improvement. Turned it to one direction, duller sound; turned it to the other one, duller again, so I left it untouched.

Last but not least, the tape played slow and it was not a problem of my deck as it has a Direct Drive Quartz lock transport…

Here you can hear one minute sample of the cassette, recorded at 48kHz and 24 bits using with my Creative X-Fi Elite Pro soundcard in Audition professional audio editor:

I searched for the same album in Spotify and started to compare. As I have the premium subscription and very good equipment, I think it will be interesting. I used my ARCAM irDAC, The PanAm valve amplifier and my recent Focus Elear headphones. Surprise: the Spotify version did sound clearly better. Not only with clearer highs, but also with a wider image presentation and not a dull sound. I wasn’t expecting this cassette sounds better than the original CD, but at least in pair with the spotify version… but I was wrong.

Here’s the Spotify version as a reference:

My big surprised came while listening to Breeze by Sad Palace. At minute 0:34″ sounds like if the CD just skipped the track once!! Don’t believe me? Take a look:

 

 

I asked Jen about technical details of the recording/duplication process but she just told me she didn’t record anything. She pointed me to BandCDs, as the guys who did that. After lurking a bit in its website looks to me that this is the service she used: http://www.bandcds.co.uk/cassettes/cassette-tape-duplication, with the coloured shells I’ve received.

They state that they do “Real time tape duplication on high quality Tascam cassette decks” but I frankly doubt that. I think that they maybe use highly used Tascam decks at double or higher speeds to duplicate, probably with not perfect azimuth and maybe driven by not so skilled operators; otherwise it couldn’t sound as it does. Another possibility is that they overbiased the tape, resulting in a dull recording.

I like labels to release new music onto cassettes, but please if you are one of them and want to do it, you have a bit of respect to the cassette format. I’m not talking about doing MSFL-quality, but at least the same you can hear from a streaming source, right?

I recommend to better stay away of these cassettes and do a good recording on a decent 3-head deck using a decent tape. You’ll get much better quality…

What do you think? Leave your comment in the forums.

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