Sharoma Cassette Tape

Cassette Tape

My favourite of all the audio formats. You can't beat FLAC for clarity. Digital lossless will always be the superior way to archive and listen critically. When it comes to pure listening enjoyment however, for me nothing can beat the cassette tape. The form factor is a work of art. The sound has that appealing analogue warmth. The recording process always reveals interesting differences to the source. The stereo separation can sound more pronounced.

Trades

I've traded literally thousands of compact discs since the year 2000. Mostly Clash and post punk related, I also occasionally swapped vinyl, tapes and MiniDiscs. CD/wave/FLAC was always paramount for obvious reasons. Now that I (and hopefully you) have finally acquired everything there is and my collection is all in FLAC, it's time to turn to pure pleasure listening and the novelty of tape trading! It's quite simple. Contact me if you want a tape containing anything you can find on the site (or anything you know I listen to). If you send me two blanks, I'll return one with content and pay postage too. If you send me one blank, I'll return it with content but you'll pay postage and packaging. I prefer the two tape idea as it's easier all around and will keep me in blanks.

The Cassection Series

Cassection is a series of mixtapes begun in 2022. The next release will be Cassection IV, expected Summer 2024. Distribution is currently free: all you need to do is email me and you'll get a free mixtape!

Cassection has its own page, where you will find tracklists.

Equipment History

I've had lots of audio equipment in my life and sadly most of it is long gone. I still remember all the amps, receivers, EQs, tape and MiniDisc decks, CD players and turntables. Now that I am back into tapes after an absence of a decade it is time to reflect on the equipment of my past. I owned a variety of equipment which forms a usesful cross section of quality, features and age.

Sony TC-WE475

I rescued this from a thrift store in late 2020. Once it was re-worn in, it's performing to standard. Deck A's door is considerably stiffer than B, as though it hasn't even been used. The year of manufacture is 2008. It's a decent enough deck, though the mechanism is loud compared to the TEAC W-1200. Still, at least it has HX Pro. The main drawback is the stiffness of the bay doors and the potential for tapes becoming trapped in there.

Aiwa AD-F800

My best piece of cassette equipment is this three header from 1989. It arrived badly calibrated but once I'd sorted out all the levels it is performing fine (for now).

TEAC W-1200

The year of manufacture is 2020 and I received mine in February 2021. I've spent the last 18 months testing this unit. My conclusion is that it makes an excellent playback device but as a recording device it cannot be trusted. Some positive features:

Some cons:

Extended Test Thoughts

I've used the W-1200 quite heavily over the last few months and have noticed a major problem and a few quirks:

Recording errors

This issue confused me for many months but this post made me rethink it (thanks to Jose Guerrero). Previously I had suffered from channel imbalance which at first I thought had been caused by debris on the playback head. Many cleanings hadn't shifted it and it seemed as if the heads in this unit were especially prone to debris or tape shed. However, extensive testing has revealed that even with clean heads and correctly set playback level trimmers, you can still suffer from one channel recording significantly lower than it should. On my deck, the problem has so far been limited to the right side deck (2). From what I can gather, the parallel record function is faulty and the easiest way for this error to show up. Tapes from deck 2 sometimes have a very weak left channel, even after thorough head cleaning. I purchased calibration tapes and after setting the playback levels, managed to set the trimmers to a level where the left channel record level was restored (not an easy task on a two head deck). Then, on single well record testing, the left channel was now too loud, by the amount I had increased the trimmer from factory spec. So, I reduced it back to spec. Then, parallel recording also works fine. Then, later on, parallel recording is tested again and the left channel is once again low. I went round in circles a few times before the linked post confirmed that there is a problem that exists outside the playback trimmer level, the record level trimmer and any debris on the tapehead.

Weak motors

The mechanism isn't powerful enough to play very old tapes that are sticky, so don't bother trying as you'll just get debris on your roller. A tape that is slow on this deck may play on an older one. Some tapes wouldn't even rewind or fast forward in the W-1200 but they would in older equipment.

USB Output

The USB out works well. Even with Linux it gets recognised and all you have to do is record the input in Audacity. The sound quality is excellent. If the deck had a digital out to connect to modern receivers it would be useful, but redundant since this is an analog medium anyway. Since modern receivers don't have tape loops a front aux-in for recording from phones and laptops would be a helpful feature - perhaps use the mic in jack and include a switch to make it line level too.

Gremlins?

One time the left deck wouldn't eject when I had a tape in there. I took the cover off the unit to see what was going on and couldn't get anything to release. When I plugged the unit back in and powered it on, the mechanism released the tape and ejection was possible. I am not sure what caused that because I never turned the deck off while it was still playing or engaged. Also, the metal cover on mine wasn't level, it was warped slightly. This was noticeable when looking at the unit and annoying enough that I manipulated the worst bends out of it before reattaching it. Despite what one or two Amazon review says, this unit can in real time dub from one tape to another, but watch out for the same problems mentioned above. Once or twice I can hear a faint 'tapping' noise, for example when I get up and walk past the unit when it is playing a tape. Or, when playing back brand new, blank NAC FerroMaster C256 tapes, this magnetic noise could be heard at random times but not in other equipment. Finally, deck 2 chewed up two tapes of mine. One was a new-old-stock (NOS) Grundig C90 and the other was a TDK-Imation D90. They both had the same sign of damage, as though the tape was not tracking correctly at all. This error has yet to repeat.

Playback

I can't fault the playback quality in any major way. For cassette it really does sound excellent. When recording tapes, I find it acceptable unless the channel imbalance problem strikes. HX Pro or fine bias calibration would be nice but they are not essential. The lack of Dolby Noise Reduction B, C or S I am fine with because it is not my preference to use it. Regarding the Dynamic Noise Reduction, it's effective and not just a simple low pass filter. DNR is an advanced system that works on the fly and does allow compatibility with Dolby B, C or S encoded tapes. However, I have found that it will remove certain high frequency sounds completely, especially on jazz or blues recordings with constant cymbals. I also find it dulls the sound and therefore I do not personally use it.

Miscellaneous

The bay doors have a very satisfying 'clunk' to them when they close. The unit overall is very good quality considering how the low quality evident in many modern consumer electronics. If you've tried those portable players on Amazon you'll know just how cheap things now are. The race to the bottom has been going on for about 20 years. The speed with which the mechanism engages and disengage surely deserves more praise considering how maligned the mechanism is just for existing. It responds much faster than my Sony WE-475 which is very slow and loud compared to the TEAC. The unit isn't heavy enough to not move when you push the power button on. I had to put a bit of blu-tac under each support to stop it moving when I turned it on. A minor quirk only. The deck is likely calibrated to perfectly match TDK type I and type II tapes. Recordings I have made on TDK D90 and SA90 tape have sounded flawless when the deck is not suffering from the errors stated above.

Former

The equipment listed below is either long-gone, donated or traded in.

'Unknown'

As a four to five year old my entry to personal music consumption came courtesy of a handheld silver tape recorder, the brand of which I sadly cannot remember. In around 1988 I recorded my first ever tapes and played them back on this unit in my bedroom. It was mono but at age 5 the sound quality was not a concern compared to the delightful novelty of my own music player. I have a distinct memory of listening to The Beatles' cover of Please Mister Postman (I had taped With The Beatles) while having a bath. My dad came upstairs to investigate the noise!

Panasonic SG-3000

This music centre was in the family living room until 1991 when the unit below replaced it. From '91 onward it became mine. Perhaps the finest HiFi equipment an eight year old ever inherited? A genuine 1970s music centre: a record player, a capable AM/FM receiver, two decent sized wooden speakers and best of all, a tape recorder! My obsession took hold, I quickly began acquiring recordings from the LPs downstairs and sometimes the radio too. This was a high quality unit and I have many fond memories with it, such as having to turn the bass down when listening to Wings Greatest on tape one evening - we had a guest over.

In the picture you'll see a three year old me enjoying an episode of Rainbow with a pair of Pioneer cans from the '70s.

Sanyo MGP-29

Purchased for me during a childhood hospital stay (1992) by my grandma, for £15. I recall enjoying listening to my early mix tapes on it and being impressed by the three band equalizer. This was my intro to the Sanyo brand which at first reminded me very much of Sony, albeit a bit cheaper.

Sony MHC-2500

Made in Japan. I can still remember the day my father acquired this unit and immediately began blasting one of his first CDs, Stars by Simply Red. It was the family's first CD player and the SG-3000 was moved to my room! What joy for an eight year old. The MHC-2500 was an extremely well made midi system. The texture of the plastic was very pleasing and this extended down to the tape player's logic buttons, which also had little LEDs in them! A superb system which came with three-way speakers and a phono input - no aux in sadly.

Sony LBT-D117

Made in Malaysia and to my ten year old self, immediately not up to the quality of the MHC-2500. Everything felt lighter and cheaper, the tape buttons weren't logic and the speakers were only two-way. On the plus side it had an aux in, meaning I could finally hookup the Matsui portable TV in my bedroom. This wasn't a bad all-in-one system though the turntable it came with ran a little too fast, leading to some unique Clash rips. I replaced the turntable with an Aiwa unit, which Wooly ended up with. The fate of the D117 itself is unknown, but it was probably donated.

Aiwa HS-TX377

Purchased from Argos in 1998 for £35. I used it for radio before I used it for tapes, but when I did it enjoyed stellar service for the next three years. I remember listening to a very old Thompson Twins cassette on this unit whilst camping in the Lake District. Fate: unknown.

Sony CMT-M100MDS

A micro system which had a USB output. I bought this in 2002 mostly to experiment with an all-in-one system which boasted cassette, radio, CD and MiniDisc. With the addition of a turntable there were many possibilities. The tapes it made sounded decent enough though there was no recording level adjustment or tape type select. My friend Wooly, aka Convercide ended up with this system and its speakers, along with an Aiwa turntable, and I don't know if he still has it.

Kenwood KRC-235

This car unit played all of my cassettes, from the childhood collection, teen through to early adult mixes. In the front were the usual Pioneer car speakers. In the boot I placed the speakers from the LBT-D117 noted above. I experimented with a low-pass filter. The bass response was excellent. This proved to be a reliable and great sounding unit. I don't know what happened to it after I scrapped the car. I probably removed it and it ended up being donated to a charity shop.

Sony TC-K61

Ah! The one that got away. This mint condition beauty was sold to me on eBay in 2004. His elder relative had cherished it since new, and I continued the tradition. It was built like a tank. When I played Joy Division's Substance on pre-recorded cassette to Wooly, he was astounded and declared it superior to the CD. Sadly, I do not know what happened to this fine unit. When I returned home from Canada, it had vanished. I hope it went to a good home. (I will be able to detect it, since the previous owner had left two clues on the panel.)

Denon DR-M33HX

This was the best deck I ever owned, simply because it was from the peak era for the format. I purchased it secondhand from Q-Lectronic in Victoria, BC and made a number of tapes on it. At the time I was more interested in MiniDisc, however. My only deck to include a fine bias adjustment and three heads. It made exceptional recordings as you would expect. I used Maxell XLII for the duration of its run and this collection too has been lost.

TEAC V-30

A $43 find at the secondhand store. Once I had cleaned it up, it looked and sounded excellent. Simple, fully functional and built like a tank. Made in Japan. Very pleasing heavy controls. The 'Brilliance' button is a treble boost, which is useful for type 1 tapes and to overcome the very bassy sound the unit puts out. I replaced the belts not long after purchase since the playback speed started to slow down. Look at the size of that metal flywheel! Manufactured April 1981.

Realistic SCT-34

This came from a friend's secondhand store. I cleaned it up and apart from a minor scratch on the faceplate it looks and sounds pleasing. I assume it is still on its original belts. I like this machine a lot. I don't use Dolby so its lack of features appeals to the minimalist in me. I also find that level meters can be distracting so I don't mind that this lacks them. I won't be using it to record so lack of record level is also not a problem.

Prosonic PQR-9850

This antique was in excellent condition with a working cassette recorder and a capable radio. Although Prosonic was apparently a Korean brand, this unit was made in Japan. It has three way speakers which offer a pleasing amount of clarity. There's also a line in which future proofs the device if the cassette deck fails, which it did shortly after I received the unit. When trying to play a cassette, the unit jams and the mechanism keeps going in and out, resulting in an alarmingly loud and obnoxious noise. Since I rarely use it, I can't be bothered to repair it for now, so I am looking to unload it.

On New Blank Tapes

I purchased 30 Fox C60 and 10 National Audio Company C256 90 minute tapes to test. I will get around to testing the new blanks from ProEQ in the UK.

RTM Fox C60

The Fox tapes look cheap with a faint logo printed on clear plastic shells. Quite often the slipsheet causes too much friction and this leads to a squeak whenever the take-up reel gets heavy, or sometimes just all the time. Tapping hard on the cassette can often fix this. This problem has occurred on about half of my Fox tapes. Three tapes were defective to the extent that the take-up reel jammed and tape spilled out. Tapping would not fix. Taking the cassette shell apart revealed very unevenly wound tape. One sticking tape which was transplanted into a TDK shell still stuck and failed. As for sound quality, they can be anywhere from dull to excellent, depending on the source and your own configuration. The J-card is very flimsy feeling and the design looks cheap. The tapes themselves are not cheap to buy. A C90 version is available but until you can no longer buy TDK D90s and the like, I wouldn't bother yet. April 2023 update: these are a trash product, at least the batch I received. More and more of them are just failing. Recordings I made a couple of years ago stop in the middle of the tape. My decks won't play, fast forward or rewind them. Very disappointing!

NAC FerroMaster C256

Everything about this product looks old fashioned, from the J-Card to the printing on the tape itself. It looks cheap but it isn't - I had to pay more than I wanted for just ten of these. The verdict is not good. The audio quality is too variable. They can sound great but most of the time they sound flat and dull. The tape itself isn't smooth. The printing on the shell can easily smear off and in one example the tape itself just failed. Like the RTM Fox I think they are packed too tight. In the failed tape the slipsheet looked pressured and creased. All my decks couldn't play it without massive wow & flutter and a very loud squeaking noise. All ten tapes initially had a background 'tapping' noise when played back. Something positive: I think the J-card design is far superior to the Fox, even if it does look very dated. Customer service at NAC is okay. They offered to investigate my problems with their tapes but I wasn't willing to pay postage and decided to cut my losses. Sadly, you should avoid these until quality improves. April 2023 update: Like the RTM Fox tapes, two years later failures are occuring. All ten of my NAC tapes are now not worthy of the name cassette. Recordings that have been played no more than ten times now run at variable speeds or just stop.

Further information

There is a lot to learn about cassettes and their operation. There is a well known forum that will contain answers to most questions but beware: like most places where audiophiles gather, it can be toxic. Take the information you need and get outta there!

Last updated: 17th April, 2024.