Why are my audio cassettes dying?

My audio cassettes don’t seem very healthy. I know cassettes age, but my older cassettes don’t seem any worse off than my new ones. It’s the beginning and of each cassette that is most messed up. The volume is low and distorted for about the first twenty seconds or so, and the tape deck grumbles sometimes. I keep it expecting to eat the tape, destroying it utterly, but the tape itself stays more or less intact.

For a while I thought it might be the deck, which I cleaned a few times with my little head cleaner kit. No luck. Is this a common problem, or are a bunch of little gremlins sneaking into my house and spitting tobacco juice onto the exposed portion of my cassettes? Is there anyone to drive the gremlins away, or at least replace them with some that don’t use snuff?

Then ends of your tapes have been stretched and mangled by the constant fast worwarding and rewinding. There’s nothing you can do. Buy a cd player.

Sincerely, SDStaff hopeful

Audio cassettes are the worst format for music as far as longevity. Needles may grind away vinyl until you can see holes in it - after a ton of plays - but the sound quality on a cassette quickly dies. The start and finish have the most wear because that’s where the stress is. Just the act of playing a tape involves a metal piece squishing the tape between it a tiny piece of felt-like material. Meanwhile, the two sides are rolling the tape back and forth between this. Plus, the amount of stuff that flakes off the tape or gets garbled by sticking it in your hot car for a summer, or near your computer for a year, also removes even more sound quality.

Include the fact that liner notes and packaging sucks and you have a ton of reasons to go to CD’s or even vinyl.

Brian O’Neill
CMC International Records

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Clean the heads. And before I condemn cassettes there was 8 track.

I had that problem with my car’s deck. I use a head cleaning tape, it helped a lot! So, when my tapes start to sound bad I run the cleaning tape again. Several kinds are available I’v had best results with the kind with a liquid applied for each use…Good luck!


Casettes are junk. Iäve taped hundreds. The 60 min tapes last longer than 90 min tapes. The muddy sound is usualy caused by the little pad on a spring that sits behind the tape head when you play. For precious tapes (say your dead dog singing while you play harmonica), move the spools to a new casing. It may still play.

Correction:60 minute tapes will PLAY for more years than 90 min. I realize 90 is bigger than 60.

If you make your own tapes, be sure to use a high-quality tape (I like Maxell). Also, be sure to play them on high quality units. (a $10 Walkman-type will give exactly the quality sound you should expect for $10). Clean the heads often (check that owner’s manual!). As for pre-recorded tapes, I have never had any luck with them. They usually end up spooling out of the deck at an alarming rate. With my own self-made tapes, however, if they break, so what, I’m only out about 2 bucks as opposed to $10-12 for a pre-recorded one.

Axiom: Never, ever trust a magnetic storage medium. Anyone who does will ultimately come to grief.

Then western civilization is coming to grief mighty fast.

Thanks for the advice. I delayed buying a CD player for several years because I figured CDs were not here for the long haul, and that some other medium would replace them. I got one as a gift a year and a half ago, and now have a small and growing CD collection. An irony is, I am enough of a cheapskate to buy used CDs when they are available, but the only CD I have had any problems with was a new one. The used ones are all perfect.

There are a few tapes with actual irreplaceable stuff on them; one is a four-track I made in my brief musical phase. How should I store this master tape material? Other than at normal temperature, out of direct sunlight, I mean.

Boris: According to the engineers almost every medium seems to have some sort of age degredation. But you might consider preserving your most valuable tapes on recordable CD.

You can run an audio line in to your computer from an outside source (record player, tape deck, 4-8 track). You can then convert/save the audio coming in as .WAV files. If you burn .WAV files to a CD (using the audio CD setting of the burn software) you’ll make an audio CD that can be played on any standard CD player.

CD burners are now in the $100-200 range and recordable media is about $1 a pop. The longer you stay with audio tapes, the more the sound quality will degrade and your chances for experiencing data loss increase. I learned from personal experience :frowning:

Sorry- that didn’t answer your question. Every time you play the audio tapes, they stretch and are placed under stress, especially toward the beginning/end of the tape. If you use an older and/or cheaper tape deck for playback it stretches the tape more (if it doesn’t eat it completely).

It could be that just your tape deck is dying- i.e. the motor that turns the tape wheels. It is harder to turn the tape at the beginning and end and the slow playing could be a function of the tape deck motor not having enough oomph to feed the tape through at the proper speed.

I strongly recommend switching to CD- it takes a while to convert all your audio but its well worth it- especially now that blank CDs are cheaper than blank tapes.