A Buying Guide for Cassette Decks

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A Buying Guide for Cassette Decks

Though digital audio technology is firmly entrenched in the world of entertainment, it has not completely edged out analogue components. The cassette deck is one such enduring gadget. What the digital phenomenon has done, however, is bring down the prices of these older items, which is a boon of sorts for the many people who still embrace the cassette format.

A cassette deck allows playback of the cassette tapes as well as recording and duplication of audio from records, CDs, and various other sources. The music is stored on compact cassettes, which are plastic cases holding two reels, around which is wound 3.81-mm magnetic tape of thickness. While working, the tape runs at 4.76 cm/second and the tape head of the cassette deck decodes analogue signals on the magnetic surface of the tape.

Magnetic recording started way back in 1878 and held sway till the early 1990s. This era saw hundreds of innovations and improvements to every component of the decks bodies and tape shells. The introduction of a cheaper alternative, in the form of CDs and CD players, triggered a rapid decline of sales and production of cassette decks and cassette tapes. Those who still want to own a piece of cassette deck history can still find these gadgets in some brick and mortar stores, but they are most easily available on eBay. Various types of decks and tapes are available from leading brands. In order to choose amongst them, the shopper should possess some basic knowledge of the design of cassette decks, their different parts and different types, as well as a bit about cassette tapes and how to select and purchase both.

Basic Design of Cassette Decks

The cassette deck is an audio magnetic recording system comprising two parts: the combined recorder -playback unit; and the magnetic tape, which is the storage medium. Cassette decks with radio tuners and CD players are also available, but too many functions can compromise the performance.

Dolby noise cancellation technology, called Dolby NR, was a great boon for analogue audio devices. Dolby NR used encoding while recording and decoding during playback to reduce high-frequency hisses on cassette decks. Dolby B brought in high fidelity for magnetic tapes and reduced these high-frequency hisses by 8-10 dB, while Dolby C also introduced for high-end cassette decks reduced disturbances by 15 - 18 dB. Dolby S type noise reduction requires cassette decks to comply with certain specifications and standards as set down by Dolby to deliver high performances. Shoppers who want high-quality audio should look for Dolby S cassette decks.

Recorder-Playback Unit

The cassette deck unit allows recording as well as playback using magnetic cassette tapes. The basic principle involved in the working of the cassette deck is that during recording a pea-sized electromagnetic iron core wrapped in wire coil picks audio signals, creating a magnetic field near the tape head. At the gap between the two, a magnetic flux is applied to the oxide on the tape and these are permanently etched on the tape. During playback, the electromagnetic signals are picked up from the tape and the coil sends these signals to the amplifier.

Magnetic Tape Assembly

A magnetic cassette tapes comprises two rectangular plastic outer shells with two big holes that hold the magnetic tape, which is wound around reels and cutouts that fit the cassette within the drive. A tiny square felt pad e stopper on the tape regulates the record and playback head on the drive. A 90-minute worth recording is stored on a 135-metre strip of cassette tape.

The magnetic tape is a flat plastic ribbon with a coating of ferric oxide powder mixed with binding material and dry lubricant to protect the recorder. The iron oxide coating on the tape gives it the red colour and, being ferromagnetic, the tape is permanently magnetised when exposed to a magnetic field. This feature imparts two unique abilities to the tape, that of recording and erasure. While the tape ‘remembers’ all that has been recorded on it to playback the recording later, erasure allows removal of content. New and fresh content can be recorded yet again on the tape.

Types of Cassette Decks

There is a vast array of cassette decks spanning a wide range of prices so there is one that fits every budget. Cassette decks are used in cars as well and these are made specially for the purpose.

Home Audio Cassette Decks

Home cassette decks are large units that are sophisticated high-fidelity components. Most of these gadgets are usually single-well, capable of playing one tape at a time; others may have dual wells that hold two tapes at one time. While single-well cassette decks with fewer functions have better performance, dual-well decks have some unique features that make the gadget desirable. Examples include high-speed dubbing that allows the user to copy from one tape to the other at double-speed; synchronised dubbing in which a single button activates tape to tape dubbing; simultaneous recording, which allows an external source to record on both tapes; and other settings that allow the second tape to start playing or recording in immediate succession. Other convenient features on these home cassette decks include remote control, auto-reversal of tapes, search functions for music tracks, fast forward, pause, rewind, and auto play, among others.


Portable cassette decks are also called boomboxes or ‘ghetto blasters’. A huge hit with the youth during the 1970s, these lightweight music systems allowed people to carry their music along with them. One notable feature in the boomboxes was the integrated radio tuner. Mostly made of plastic, boomboxes also housed loudspeakers, amplifiers, cassette players, and sometimes CD players.


This is basically a personal stereo cassette player and some models do have the recording facilities too. The Sony Walkman was the name chosen for their range of cassette players and now walkman is a generic term to describe personal cassette players. Walkmans soon had much more than just cassette players, eventually including such features as AM/FM radio, CD players, and minidisc players, as well as the double walkman.

Car Cassette Decks

Listening to music while on the go has always been hugely popular and car cassette decks in the dashboard became a convenient way to do so. Car cassette decks are largely no longer in use, as the newer models of cars rolling out of the factories are equipped with CD players and other latest gadgets. However, many old cars still have them and as long as there is a demand for these, there are high-quality decks available that can be installed by the car owner.

Blank Audio Cassette Tapes

Audio cassette tapes and cassette decks go hand in hand. Blank audio cassettes are available that can be used for recording and played for 60 minutes or 90 minutes. There are four basic types of tapes, from Type I to Type IV, from which users can choose, each with different formulations and bias that improve fidelity of analogue tape recordings.

Type I normal bias cassettes have the standard ferric oxide coating, while the Type II CrO2 cassettes have a chrome formulation and high bias. The CrO2 cassettes were the most popular being low in price and high on performance. Introduced during the early 1980s, Type III cassettes with FeCr or ferro-chrome formulation were short-lived. Type IV metal cassettes had high bias and good reproduction capabilities, but their quality did not justify their high prices as compared to the Type II cassettes. Type II cassettes performed almost as well as the metal cassettes, at a much lower price.

How to Buy Cassette Decks on eBay

Cassette decks have largely had their fifteen minutes of fame and have been replaced by CD players. However, many people still love to own these vintage cassette players: some simply for old times’ sake; others may have a vast collection of music stored on magnetic tapes and desire to own a cassette deck to play their tapes.

Shoppers looking for cassette decks on eBay will find a huge collection of these gadgets on sale. Typing out ‘cassette deck’ in the search bar displays a set of listings with the names of brands, prices, postage, and a thumbnail image of the product. The shopper can select one and click on the thumbnail image to reach the page that has further details and images of the product. The page will also display information and feedback about the seller. Once the shopper has found the right product, he or she can go ahead and make the payments on eBay using one of eBay’s many secure and convenient payment methods. It is advisable for shoppers to read about the product and policies, seeking clarifications from seller in regard to any doubts about the product or shipping or any other issues before completing the deal.


Despite the fact that CD players have taken over the audio equipment markets, cassette decks are still in demand among their loyal fans. For example, those who have spent years painstakingly collecting music tracks and recording them on cassette tapes want cassette decks to play out those old tracks.

Cassette decks are available in various styles, such as the boomboxes or ‘ghetto blasters’ that were highly popular among young people and are even today a desirable choice for many. Cassette decks also come in the form of home audio systems; amongst these, high-quality, high-fidelity system are easily available on online stores such as eBay. The small compact Walkman easily fits in the palm and makes for a convenient and sometimes fashionable personal cassette deck. Those looking for the vintage car cassette decks, however, will have to spend some extra money to have them installed in the new cars, if they are not able to do the installation themselves. Tapes to go with the cassette decks, both blank and pre-recorded, are available for purchase online.

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