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Reel to Reel vs Audio Cassette - Which is Better?

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By Dillon Wallace

If you’re an audiophile, then you’ve got an ear for sound quality. You prefer to live life in sonic surround sound with the perfect balance of middle,  bass and treble.

You also probably have a state-of-the-art record player setup – speakers, preamp, stereo system – the works.
But, we’re not here to swap vinyl sound shop. Nope, we’re comparing the sound quality of tapes.

 

So what, if any, is the audio difference between reel-to-reel versus audio cassette

 

Reel-to-reel vs audio cassette

Reel-to-reel (or R2R) systems, aka the Mickey Mouse eared-looking player used magnetic audio tape in reels to record audio. First released in the late 20s, but popularized in the 40s and 50s, R2R systems use a variety of tape from ¼ inch, all the way up to 2 inches wide, which typically moves at 3¾, 7½, 15, or 30 inches per second. 

 

For audio cassettes, the tape is 0.15 inches wide and normally moves around 1⅞ inches per second. And this friends, is what caused the biggest difference in audio quality between the two.

 

By writing the exact same audio signal across more tape, reel-to-reel systems provide a greater fidelity than audio cassette. But (there’s always a but, right?), R2R’s better sound quality comes at the cost of much, much larger tapes, which in turn paves way to less convenience and more expensive media. Let’s face it, you didn’t see people walking around with portable reel-to-reel players attached to their hip back in the day. It just wasn’t a portably practical device. 

 

But to take this audio debate even further, reel-to-reel is often considered an even better audio alternative than vinyl when played at 7½ inches per second versus vinyl at 45 rpm. To all the vinyl enthusiasts out there that might sound like blasphemy but many audiophiles enjoy the R2R’s more open (not much if any compression is noticeable) and richer bass across a more dynamic range.

 

Future of fidelity

Turns out reel-to-reel is the system to beat when played at the proper settings. So, why does no one ever say, “come over and check out my reel-to-reel collection?”

 

Well, the truth is, it was just never a practical system. Vinyl is as easy as flopping a record on the player and moving the needle over. Audio cassettes were small enough that they could fit in your pocket and be taken anywhere thanks to Sony’s Walkman, quite possibly THE invention of the 80s (okay, technically it was released in 1979, but gained its rise to popularity in the 80s).

 

R2R systems just never really found their niche – at least not in the general consumer sense. Reel-to-reel tape were mostly used in early tape drives for data storage on old mainframe computers and video tape recorders. However, just like vinyl has had its analog resurgence in today’s digital world, R2R tapes are beginning to make a similar comeback due to their impressive fidelity. You can thank the hipsters (and I mean that lovingly) for that.

 

So, if you’ve got any R2R tapes lying somewhere in your attic, we’ve got great news. You don’t need to find a system to play your tapes, we can handle that for you by digitizing them! Same goes for your audio cassettes. If you’ve got a stash of one-of-a-kind bootlegs that you can find anywhere else, or maybe mixtapes from a special someone from your past, we can digitize those, too.

 

Let your audio ring on with Legacybox!

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