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Home /History / When Did the CD Replace the Cassette Tape?

When Did the CD Replace the Cassette Tape?

By Oliva Harlow

Like all human-made inventions, the audio cassette tape was replaced with something sleeker, faster, better. Another casualty of a format war where something that was once considered high tech and modern became outdated and inefficient. Much like the VHS tape and the DVD. Yet, without the cassette tape, who knows where we’d be today. Every technological advancement plays a role in a vital evolution. Here’s the history of the cassette:


History of the Cassette


The Compact Cassette was first introduced in 1963 at the Berlin Radio Show in Germany, to improve prior reel-to-reel formats, which were both expensive, bulky and complex to use. The tapes — a few inches wide, and about a half-inch thick — improved efficiency and noise and were drastically easier to transport.


After first being released into the market, the cassette underwent quick evolution that focused on bettering its own sound quality. Mass production began in 1964 in Hanover, Germany, and one year later, pre-recorded music cassettes were launched all over Europe. By 1966, over a quarter million recorders were sold in the United States alone, and soon enough, they became a worldwide phenomenon.


But the real traction of the cassette tape didn’t incur until the 1980s. The invention of the Sony Walkman contributed largely to the success of the cassette, since after it was created, consumers could listen to music recordings on-the-go. It was like having your own personal daily soundtrack with you wherever you went. The affordable pricing also made it so that anyone could take part — not just affluent folk. And that was a huge selling point to expanding cassette tape popularity. 


The Next Step: Introducing the CD


Cassette tapes started to plateau in the 80s. Then, sales drastically decreased  in what felt like overnight. 


Why? Blame the CD.


In August of 1982, the first commercial compact disc was made. Research for the creation, however, dates back to the 60s.


In the 70s, Lou Ottens, technical director at Philips — the same company responsible for the cassette — suggested that music be recorded on a vinyl format, aiming to play at least one full hour of music. No reels, no flipping the tape necessary. Developers decided to name the new invention the Compact Disc, similar to the Compact Cassette. Little did they know their own new invention would cannibalize their old creation.


In 1979, Philips conducted a press conference to show off the new Compact Cassette. Following the media gathering, a deal was made with Sony, helping stir international attention. Though the United States was initially skeptical about CDs, after a year of selling them, there were over 1,000 different titles available.


By 1985, Dire Straits’ Brothers In Arms album became the first CD to sell more than a million copies.


Like most technology, the ways people listen to music has changed immensely over the years. By 2002, production of cassettes came to a halt, and today it’s a rarity to find the tapes even in the most niche old school music stores. CDs have become the new normal, and even they have been taken over by digital formats.  However, a twist of fate or a nostalgic revolution (whatever you want to call it) is sweeping the music world. Like vinyl, cassette tapes are finding their way back into the homes and hearts of music aficionados and hipsters alike. Whether it’s the warm, fuzzy tone that the cassette tape brings or the rush of nostalgia it triggers, the cassette tape is performing its own comeback tour. 


From clunky cassette tapes, to sleek discs, to downloadable, free tunes on Spotify — what’s next for audio recordings remains a mystery.

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