Love them or loathe them, the humble audio cassette tape is having a moment. Cassette sales grew nearly 25% in 2018 after an increase of more than 50% in 2017 on the Discogs Marketplace. Let’s take a look into how to keep your cassettes sounding their best.
For some cassette collectors, the thrill of finding unreleased bedroom demos keeps them hooked. For others, it is the joy of mixtapes from days past that pull them back to their youth. And for some, it may be as simple as having a nondescript love of the format due to size and portability. One thing that doesn’t change is the care that should be taken with cassettes to keep them in fantastic sounding shape.
One of the main culprits for a cassette’s demise is a playback system that has not been cared for. We all remember cassettes being chewed up by players and unfortunately the cassettes themselves were mostly blamed for this. A well-serviced cassette player can sound absolutely phenomenal, especially when paired with a cassette that matches some of the playback features, such as the many Dolby NR technologies available. A poorly maintained cassette player has little hope of sounding good, no matter the cassette quality.
As cassette decks contain fairly complex mechanics, there can be a few issues that arise over time. It is always best to leave major services to a qualified technician that knows the ins and outs of these complex devices, but there are many things you can do to maintain your cassette tape collection. Follow these tips for most of your collection.
Clean Cassette Playback Heads
Heads are easily accessible and can be kept clean by moistening a q-tip with 92% isopropyl alcohol or higher. Gently use the Q-tip to rub any grime that may have built up over time on the playback heads.
Keep Cassette Player Belts in Use
If you have a cassette player that has not been used in a while, there is a chance that the belts have dried up and become frail, turned to black goo, or have stretched out over time. If you are not using the unit regularly try and give it a play anyway to keep the belts moving and flexible. Belts are generally considered to be the most perishable part of a cassette player and need to be replaced periodically to keep playback speeds consistent.
If using a player with a direct drive system, it is safest to get an experienced technician to give your cassette player a service.
Lubricate Pinch Rollers
Pinch rollers can be cleaned well with Naptha and a q-tip. Though you might be tempted to use isopropyl alcohol if you already have it out for cleaning playback heads, try to avoid it as this can cause the rollers to dry out and become brittle.
Ensure Cassette Tapes Are Clean
A dirty cassette tape can undo all the work you’ve put into keeping your cassette player functioning properly by putting heavy wear on the playback heads. Cheaper audio cassettes have also been known to put extra wear on the heads, so if recording at home, try and stay away from very low-priced cassette tapes…your player and your ears will thank you for it.
Demagnetize Cassette Decks
A cassette demagnetizer is a device that removes the magnetic field built up from the use of audio cassettes in a cassette deck. They come in a variety of forms, but I find the cassette-style units the easiest to use. It is recommended that you demagnetize playback heads after every 40 hours of playback. This is as easy as popping them in and pressing play. Just let it play through for the allotted time (different demagnetizers recommend different use times.) Remember – it is always best to follow the instructions set out by the manufacturer of the demagnetizer.
More Practical Advice
Popping in and having a friendly chat with your friendly neighborhood Hi-Fi repairman can be a great resource! If you need some more help with cassette care and maintenance, asking the Discogs community is also a good idea. You can always check to see if the issue has been addressed by the community in the Discogs Forums
It’s a wrap! We hope these resources will help you in the often complicated, but always rewarding path of audio cassette care. Wishing you many happy listening hours of your favorite tapes everyone!