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Why Does My Cassette Tape Sound Slow?

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By Dillon Wallace

With cassette tapes making a little reunion tour onto music store shelves and into audiophile’s hearts, it’s the perfect time to dig out your old cassette tape stash … that is if you’ve still got them. 

So, after digging through your old boxes in the garage, attic or basement (you know it’s true), you stumble across that cardboard box underneath your old acid washed jean jacket labeled “Glory Dayz” 
But, when you plop “Mixtape ‘89” into your Walkman or your old boombox, you notice the playback is super slow, like the song is dragging in molasses. Leaving you scratching your head and asking yourself, “Why does my cassette tape sound slow?”

 

Here’s what could be going on.


Your tape could be wound too tight

Decades in storage, enduring the extreme fluxes in weather that your attic, garage and basement afford can really do a number on your cassette tapes – and old analog media in general.


This can lead to the magnetic ribbon in your tapes getting wound too tight or too loose. If the tape is wound too tight or the adhesive is sticking to the tape layer, this can cause playback to sound slow, like Macaulay Culkin’s Talk Boy playback in Home Alone 2. We’re talking about cassette tapes, so we might as well get nostalgic with our references.


To see if this is the case, try lightly tapping the cassette on a hard surface a few times to loosen the tape or doing a manual rewind with a pencil. You may also try cleaning the capstan and pinch roller (which is probably your culprit) on the cassette tape deck to see if that helps loosen the adhesive.


The belt is dried up

Older cassette tapes can dry out over the years, losing some of the inner lubricant that helps them play smoothly. When those belts dry out, your tape can do weird things, i.e. sound like it’s playing in slow motion. Or singing “Under the Sea.” Another nostalgic reference … couldn’t help it.


If that’s the case, try letting your tape sit in a low-humidity, room temperature environment for a few days. When you play it, only run it in short sections at a time, cleaning the play head frequently. That might help do the trick.


There’s a pressure pad problems

If the first two fixes don’t solve your issue, maybe your cassette tapes pressure pads have developed a thin, hard coating that is preventing optimal tape travel. To solve this issue, you can try lightly – very lightly – scraping the pressure pad with a razor blade to essentially “rough it up” for some added texture so that the ribbon has something to guide it along.


Reach out to a professional – digitize them

You aren’t doing your old collection of cassette tapes any favors just leaving them around your house alone and forgotten. So, before the rest of your tapes go the slo-mo method, or something even worse like tape rot or humidity damage, send them in and get them digitized professionally. That way you can still enjoy the nostalgia of the analog playback using an actual cassette tape and player, but know that you’ve got a digital backup just in case that tape meets its maker.

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