compact cassette

All speeds and track formats of compact audio cassette digitised and all noise reduction standards decoded.
4 different rectangular audio cassettes

4 examples of 90 minute compact cassette - TDK and That's

introduction to compact cassette audio tape transfer

At Greatbear, we carefully restore and digitise all variations of compact cassette audio tape. Developed in the early 1960s, by the 1980s this easy-to-use, highly portable format had become hugely popular for recording a vast range of audio projects.

We can faithfully play back all speeds of recording, and decode Dolby B Dolby S, Dolby S, dbx Type II noise reduction standards.

We offer a range of delivery formats for our audio transfers. We use the International Association of Sound & Audiovisual Archives Guidelines on the Production and Preservation of Digital Audio Objects, delivering 24-bit/96kHz Broadcast WAV files, together with mp3 audio file or audio CD listening versions. We're happy to create any other digital audio files, according to your needs.

We can provide the appropriately-sized usb media for your files, or use media supplied by you, or deliver your files online. Files delivered on hard drive can be for any operating system MacOS, Windows or GNU/Linux and filesystems (HFS+, NTFS or EXT3).

Due to varying tape durations and extent of physical tape degradation it’s not always appropriate to create fixed prices for our services. We’ve found that assessing tapes prior to confirming costs a more accurate and fair method.

We offer free assessmentsplease contact us to discuss your project.

compact cassette machines

While audio compact cassettes were an extremely common format for many years both domestically and professionally, not all cassette decks were made equal. We have collected and restored a range of machines that can give the highest quality replay and offer the most flexibility for problem tapes. Issues such as tape handling, speed stability, low wow and flutter and ease of azimuth adjustment are important factors in choosing appropriate replay machines.

To help with this we use Tascam 122 MkIII, Nakamichi RX505 and 680 and 600 series 3 head cassette decks when we digitise stereo audio cassettes and Teac C-3x and Tascam 234 and 238 decks for high speed 2 channel, 4 and 8 channel transfers. These machines all have their transports regularly cleaned and demagnetised and are serviced and checked using test equipment such as the Nakamichi T100 Audio Analyser and Lindos LA101 / 102 test equipment.

For very large scale jobs, we can parallel ingest in batches of 8 or 16 using our racks of Tascam decks.

compact cassette format variation

track formattape speed (ips)noise reductionsupported
twin track stereo1516
no noise reduction
Dolby B
Dolby C
Dolby S
dbx Type II
twin track stereo1 78
no noise reduction
Dolby B
Dolby C
Dolby S
dbx Type II
twin track stereo3 ¾no noise reduction
Dolby B
Dolby C
Dolby S
dbx Type II
Audio Cassette showing ⅛ inch / 3.81mm black tape, resting on cassette box labelled with handwritten text: music made in 1995

That's CD/II F Audio Cassette tape with box closeup

Stack of 3 Audio Cassette Decks with multiple buttons and level indicators: one Nakamichi 505E and two Tascam 122 MkIII machines. A smaller box labelled Lavry AD10

Nakamichi RX 505E and Tascam 122MKIII cassette decks, with Lavry AD10 analogue to digital converter

4 plastic rectangular tape cassettes with rulers indicating dimensions

Cassette tape dimensions: 4 x 2.5 x 0.5 inches (10 cm × 6.3 cm × 1.3 cm)

compact cassette tape risks & vulnerabilities

Sometimes, compact cassettes have physical problems that need to be addressed and repaired before a good transfer can be made. These can be:

  • respooling loose or damaged tape in the existing cassette shell
  • splicing or refixing the leader tape to a reel hub
  • reshelling the tape in a new cassette shell
  • baking sticky tape
  • addressing fungal growth on tapes stored in less than ideal environments

Due to the small tape width and slow speed that normal speed cassettes run at, they usually have a reputation for poor sound quality and reduced frequency response. This is often the case, but with the right tools well-recorded cassettes can sound very good and the best can be got from other recordings.

It’s quite common for the Azimuth in cassette recordings to vary between tapes and recording machines. Unless you are playing back a tape recorded from a known, properly-calibrated tape machine it is often necessary to adjust the playhead azimuth to get the best high frequency response when digitising audio cassettes. On many tape players this is difficult, not very accurate and is often not done - so tape transfers can suffer. The machines we use all have easily adjusted playhead azimuth to get the best from your tapes.

compact cassette recording history

In 1962 Philips invented the compact audio cassette medium for audio storage, introducing it in Europe in August 1963 and in the United States in November 1964, with the trademark name Compact Cassette.

The cassette tape is 3.81 mm (0.150 in) wide, with each stereo track 0.6 mm wide and an unrecorded guard band between each track. At standard speed, the tape moves at 4.76 cm per second (1⅞ inches per second) from left to right.

In the early years, sound quality was mediocre, but it improved dramatically by the early 1970s when it caught up with the quality of 8-track tape and kept improving. The compact cassette went on to become a popular (and re-recordable) alternative to the 12-inch vinyl LP during the late 1970s.

For a time in the 1970s and 1980s the cassette was a ubiquitous part of everyday life. The invention of the Walkman in 1979 revolutionised how and where people listened to music. The compact cassette’s modest size allowed recorded music to be personal and portable. The cassette was used in many different contexts, from car stereos and police stations – making it one of the most flexible and widely used recorded formats in history.