Shrinking the Cassette Tape
Compact cassettes dominated the music scene during the 80s. They also helped thousands of people mark their identity with mix tapes that were a mash-up of driving j tape aux cord ams, situation music for romance and more. While the cassette was the perfect medium for music at the time, it had a few siblings that served another important role – the mini-cassette, microcassette and picocassette.
The microcassette was as it sounds; significantly smaller than the standard cassette tape. It wasn’t as widely used as the larger standard cassette by most people despite its introduction by Olympus in 1969; likely because the microcassette was far less effective when it came to the recording and playback of music. It did, however, find wide acceptance in its own niche.
The primary purpose of microcassettes was dictation, or recording voice. Their most common use was in small portable recording devices used for dictation and in answering machines. Unlike many standard cassette players, microcassette recording devices offered variable speeds in both recording and playback. The faster a tape moved across the record head, the better the quality was. The disadvantage to recording at higher speeds however, was less time for recording.
While it may seem as though a smaller reel of tape in a microcassette would offer less recording time than a standard cassette, the tape is much thinner and runs at half to one quarter the standard speed which allows the microcassette a similar length of recording time. The microcassette tape itself is actually the same width as the tape in a standard compact cassette. However, the standard cassette player moves the tape from left to right while the microcassette tape travels in the opposite direction.
Those attempting to use it for music or other situations where quality sound was important found that it was less than desirable. However, the device was widely accepted by professionals that required a reliable medium for dictation. Because of its small size, law enforcement and intelligence agencies often used them for covert recording. In fact, they are still sometimes used by police departments. Digital is taking over, but sometimes law enforcement agencies will worry about the admissibility of some digital recordings in court. Just like digital photography it is relatively easy to alter digital audio recordings. The authentication processes used by forensic audio examiners for digital audio is still in its infancy so an altered recording may go undetected.