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Mastering for Cassette
Old 7th September 2009
  #1
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Mastering for Cassette

Hey has anyone worked as a pro mastering engineer for Cassette tape duplication on here?

I work a lot with LOFI / Garage Punk kinda bands and a lot of these guys are making Cassette releases.

Just wondered two things really:

Does this affect your processing? speficially ceiling and EQ?
Are there any EQ curves applied at manufacturing by the plants engineers?

thanks
Old 7th September 2009
  #2
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I did a lot of that work in the olden days.

To answer your questions. The mastering has to match the saturation characteristics of the tape you are using. When mastering for chrome cassette, you had more head-room, but once you ran out, the high-end got splashy. Regular ferric tape was a little softer on the top-end.

With tape and level, a lot of time we were trying to thread a needle. We listened to a lot of tapes coming off the line to refine the process and to find the limits. Having a digital bin was nice too.

As far as regular processing applied, well we would encode the Dolby B NR in mastering. A lot of our stuff was cut without dolby though.
Old 7th September 2009 | Show parent
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Wow, a cassette "revival"! Who knew?
My first jobs in mastering were actually making DAT's for real time cassette duplication back in the early 90's.

Anyway - If you are encoding dolby B you might want to have a tiny bit more highs on the master to compensate for the bit of loss of this on playback. Getting test cassettes made as always can help you pinpoint how much you need to do this. I think a lot of flat topped wave forms via clipping should also be avoided as this tends to get more distorted when transferred to an analog copy.

Best regards,
Steve Berson
Old 8th September 2009 | Show parent
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I don't know if they still do it this way, but the last time I had to deal with this (1993), the "bin-loop" was a 4-track half-inch dub of whatever was the final thang.

We're talking about the actual piece of tape that got high-speed dubbed to the 1/8' tape which got loaded in the cassette shells.

The guy running the lab where we did the master said that hitting that 4-track at exactly the right level was critical, because the saturation there was "friendlier" than what the skinny slow cassette tape would do (especially when speed-dubbed).

We spent alot of time getting just the right saturation from that half-inch, and after I heard a speed-dubbed test cassette, I went back and did it again. (And boy was I glad I did!)

On the second one we did, I hit the half-inch a mere 1.33 db hotter -- Made ALL the difference in the world on the final product!
Old 8th September 2009 | Show parent
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I also made a few 1/4" 1/4-track 3.75ips analog binloop masters for Lyrec duplicators in my day - nearly all for voice only lectures dolby encoded for which I generally added some highs and compression. As you can imagine things the copies don't sound all that great with dupes mostly going to Ferric tape and being run at something like 8x (or more - can't remember the exact speed) off of these. I think most duplicators went to digital bin loops sometime in the late 80's / early 90's - but I never made any of these as the place I was working at the time was doing higher quality real time chrome dupes running from a DAT master sending to a big bank of Nakamichi MR-2's all remoted together.

Best regards,
Steve Berson
Old 8th September 2009
  #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Joe_caithness ➑️
Hey has anyone worked as a pro mastering engineer for Cassette tape duplication on here?

I work a lot with LOFI / Garage Punk kinda bands and a lot of these guys are making Cassette releases.

Just wondered two things really:

Does this affect your processing? speficially ceiling and EQ?
Are there any EQ curves applied at manufacturing by the plants engineers?

thanks
it would be great if more artists would catch on to this new trend...
Old 8th September 2009 | Show parent
  #7
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Cassette mastering's where I began (at least on a pro basis)... transferring mainly 1/4" half track, CD or DAT sources via a custom desk, EQ & compressor & Dolby B onto 1/4" 1/4 track at 7.5ips or 3 3/4ips for 16x or 32x loop bin dupes... with endless (pun intended) razor splicing for the loop and 1/4" foils for the LF pulse (which indicated end of program for the duplicating machines). There was absolutely no leaving the room when monitoring for DAT dropouts (moving to 4 head Sony DAT helped; we pretty much wore out the Denon, then Tascam machines), peaks to +3VU.. can't recall the flux ref level but the system was tweaked for final cassettes flat to 16k – no kidding. So, often running two rooms, one with DAT, required a lot of planning ahead.

We'd QC from the 1/8" cassette "pancake" prior to it being wound into the cassettes, as well as supplying a sample cassette on request or for very large runs. Things then moved to a digital loop bin, but still via analogue for Dolby.

In short: yes you're at the mercy of HF saturation, and cassette adores mid range.
One main factor was simply ensuring a decent program split for sides A & B and avoiding going to thinner C-120 stock whenever possible... preferably having side A slightly longer so as to leave any excess blank for the end of side B only.
Old 8th September 2009 | Show parent
  #8
Deleted e461f65
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Quote:
Originally Posted by masterizer ➑️
it would be great if more artists would catch on to this new trend...
Why?
Old 8th September 2009 | Show parent
  #9
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Well, I enjoy listening to cassettes more so than I do mp3s, at least you can hold them in your hand! Nice nostalgia too.
Old 8th September 2009 | Show parent
  #10
Deleted e461f65
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lerone ➑️
Well, I enjoy listening to cassettes more so than I do mp3s,
Me too, .... if I remember correctly... (last time I listened to a cassette was about 15 years ago...probably more)
I mean I dont ever listen to mp3s anymore (I hate them as much as anyone), But the thought of going back to cassettes is scary.
In all aspects of life (technology included) I think we should move forward unless what we got now is the best we can do....(cassette is a step backwards if you ask me)

Quote:
Originally Posted by lerone ➑️
at least you can hold them in your hand!
same goes for CD, vinyl and you get some quality audio, too. (I know you are comparing it against Mp3s...But I wanted to make a point)(not answering directly to you...)

Quote:
Originally Posted by lerone ➑️
Nice nostalgia too.
ahhh, true (I cant comment on that, it is your personal feeling and I do respect it)

Anyways I hope I wont be asked to master for cassettes

In any case this talk is just derailing the thread ...(sorry Joe)

Last edited by Deleted e461f65; 8th September 2009 at 04:24 PM.. Reason: had to add
Old 8th September 2009 | Show parent
  #11
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hmmn

There is always a nostalgia effect with Cassette.

But there IS a sound associated with it, it's a pretty unbearble amount of colour and noise compares to any other format available really these days.

This colouration and noise can actually ENHANCE certains type of performance.. seems like backwards logic but it's really not.

There is nothing nicer than the sound of a sad man singing into a bottle of whiskey cutting thru the tape compression.... yummy.

Plus DEMO CDrs = boring

DEMO TAPES = interesting! especially the different limitations of the artwork format.
Old 8th September 2009 | Show parent
  #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SafeandSound ➑️
Demo cassette = in the bin, no one has a cassette player anymore?

Just a thought.
No no one has their brilliant old audiophile HIFIs from ten years ago which still sound great?

There isn't a whole new generation getting into mixtape culture (which hasn't died, coz CDrs and tracklists on spotify etc can't have that handmade touch)?

Man I even woo-ed my mrs with a mixtape..!
Old 8th September 2009 | Show parent
  #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Joe_caithness ➑️
hmmn

Plus DEMO CDrs = boring

DEMO TAPES = interesting! especially the different limitations of the artwork format.
I can see it as a promotional thing and it could have an impact on potential band followers (fans) .
I am talking about the demo that bands usually sell just after their gigs (been in the Uk as a sound engineer for a few years and i always liked the fact that the bands try to sell their demos after their concerts...greek bands seem to be overlooking this way of promoting their work...I am ranting again soz)

But again I will have to say that this "revival" (if it is one..which I doubt) is probably like fashion, where designers design clothes that people used to wear few years back. It usually works only for a few months and then they are looking for new "old fashions" to revive.
Especially since the sound is definetaly a degradation from today's formats.
Old 8th September 2009 | Show parent
  #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Joe_caithness ➑️

Man I even woo-ed my mrs with a mixtape..!
I think everyone has a love story connected in some way with a mixtape....

yeah nostalgia could be a factor but if nostalgia did not work for vinyl (or did it?) I dont know what the chances of tape cassettes are.
Old 8th September 2009 | Show parent
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Chuck D once said his favorite mix-down format was to cassette with levels heavily saturated. Got to say there are some hip-hop mix tapes I have from back in the day that have a "vibe" that I don't get off of other formats for these.

I still have two racks of cassettes of stuff from projects I was in 1983 - 1998 (including a bunch of 4-tracks), as well from some friends projects unreleased in any other format, that I have on my wall in the studio as a reminder that I need to transfer these one day.

Cassette is definitely often not a good sounding format - but got to say a well mastered one usually appeals to my ear more than low bit rate mp3's do. Both Denon and Tascam are still making nice sounding decks with balanced outs - and you can find Nakamichi Dragons and MR-1's on ebay pretty often as well - all of which can lead to a pretty nice listening experience. Still - I'm highly doubtful the format could ever go through the same type of "resurgence" that vinyl has!

Best regards,
Steve Berson
Old 8th September 2009 | Show parent
  #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cellotron ➑️
Chuck D once said his favorite mix-down format was to cassette with levels heavily saturated. Got to say there are some hip-hop mix tapes I have from back in the day that have a "vibe" that I don't get off of other formats for these.

I still have two racks of cassettes of stuff from projects I was in 1983 - 1998 (including a bunch of 4-tracks), as well from some friends projects unreleased in any other format, that I have on my wall in the studio as a reminder that I need to transfer these one day.

Cassette is definitely often not a good sounding format - but got to say a well mastered one usually appeals to my ear more than mp3's do. Both Denon and Tascam are still making nice sounding decks with balanced outs - and you can find Nakamichi Dragons and MR-1's on ebay pretty often as well - all of which can lead to a pretty nice listening experience. Still - I'm highly doubtful the format could ever go through the same type of "resurgence" that vinyl has!

Best regards,
Steve Berson

It's amazing to what formats some people will become devoted!

(Click HERE)

Old 8th September 2009 | Show parent
  #17
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Is anyone serious about cassettes sounding better than mp3s? I mean, maybe poorly encoded 128k mp3s, but cassettes sounding better than well encoded, decent bitrate mp3s? You can't possibly be serious.
Old 8th September 2009 | Show parent
  #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nishmaster ➑️
Is anyone serious about cassettes sounding better than mp3s? I mean, maybe poorly encoded 128k mp3s, but cassettes sounding better than well encoded, decent bitrate mp3s? You can't possibly be serious.
Yeah - I was meaning a well made tape against things like 96kbps or 128kbps mp3's made from hyper limited masters where you get crackling at peaks as well. My ear usually prefers a little bit of tape hiss over things like flangy cymbals - but definitely there's limits to which is the "lesser of two evils" in cases like this. Against a 320kbps mp3 I'd say the cassette is definitely worse!

Best regards,
Steve Berson
Old 8th September 2009 | Show parent
  #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cellotron ➑️
Yeah - I was meaning a well made tape against things like 96kbps or 128kbps mp3's made from hyper limited masters where you get crackling at peaks as well. My ear usually prefers a little bit of tape hiss over things like flangy cymbals - but definitely there's limits to which is the "lesser of two evils" in cases like this. Against a 320kbps mp3 I'd say the cassette is definitely worse!

Best regards,
Steve Berson
Yeah, that makes more sense. I definitely cannot stand the swirly high end problem of poorly encoded mp3s, and doubly so since I am both an engineer and drummer, and the cymbals get the most damage from that particular artifact. I'd take tape over that also, but honestly I wouldn't really enjoy either that much.

To each his or her own though, everybody has a different concept of sound, and it is all legitimate.
Old 8th September 2009 | Show parent
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I must have made hundreds, if not thousands, of 1/2" 4 track high speed
cassette bin masters in my day. It sucked.
Old 8th September 2009 | Show parent
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I think people might be confusing "hifi vs lofi" with "sounds good and sounds ****" here...

its obvious a completely useless format for most things other than the sound of the cassette itself, but it's being used in niche markets and my clients are asking me to master for Cassette!
Old 8th September 2009 | Show parent
  #22
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It's funny, I've been hearing about a lot of tape releases in the past 6 months. More power to the bands that want to go in this direction I say. Down with the monoculture.
Old 9th September 2009 | Show parent
  #23
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When I used to DJ I got all my tapes duplicated on a Nakamichi system. It was cool to see a room of these all on Sony Ceramic Metal tapes. My Nakamichi Dragon still sounds better sometimes than some of the cheaper digital convertors when recording from Vinyl.

I used no Dolby.
Old 9th September 2009 | Show parent
  #24
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done two in the last 6mo.. which is 2 more then i've done in the last 6 yrs.
power to the music, if it makes them happy, go for it.
Old 9th September 2009 | Show parent
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Mastering aside, I absolutely love everything about cassette.

Just wanted to chime in with that.
Old 9th September 2009 | Show parent
  #26
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Well I think cassette can sound pretty good actually. It takes a careful hand to get the levels right but I actually think some albums sound better on cassette than CD. I'd definitely take it over anything you'd get through iTunes. Though against a 320kbps MP3 or AAC, I'd probably pass on the cassette. Alignment is a serious issue though and not easy to do well.

Cassette was pretty well dead when I got into mastering. My question is, was Dolby added going to the loop-bin tape, then dubbed to cassette without decode/recode? Or was there some special encoding process for the high speed dube itself?
Old 9th September 2009 | Show parent
  #27
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Quote:
Originally Posted by wado1942 ➑️
Well I think cassette can sound pretty good actually. It takes a careful hand to get the levels right but I actually think some albums sound better on cassette than CD. I'd definitely take it over anything you'd get through iTunes. Though against a 320kbps MP3 or AAC, I'd probably pass on the cassette. Alignment is a serious issue though and not easy to do well.

Cassette was pretty well dead when I got into mastering. My question is, was Dolby added going to the loop-bin tape, then dubbed to cassette without decode/recode? Or was there some special encoding process for the high speed dube itself?
1) The problem was that good cassette machines were too expensive for cassette machines.

2) Yes, when I did my last bin loop, the Dolby went down to the half-inch 4-track. (Don't know about how it was handled with other dupe methods.)
Old 9th September 2009 | Show parent
  #28
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Quote:
Originally Posted by wado1942 ➑️
Cassette was pretty well dead when I got into mastering. My question is, was Dolby added going to the loop-bin tape, then dubbed to cassette without decode/recode? Or was there some special encoding process for the high speed dube itself?
Dolby B was/is generally added (encoded) to the 1/4 track duplicating master. Or, in the case of a digital loop bin system, via analogue then A-D to the digital master file.
Of course you had to monitor via Dolby decode as well.
Old 9th September 2009 | Show parent
  #29
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I think there is something to be said about the "smooshing" cassette does to the harshest highs, for example a recording from a clipping DJ mixer with the MC shouting and screaming, would sound absolutely horrible straight to mp3.. but because of the way the tape sorta grabs those areas and smudges them its not quite so RAARGRGGHH up there!

I alot of my old UKGarage tapes are a bit like this
Old 9th September 2009 | Show parent
  #30
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Joe_caithness ➑️
I think people might be confusing "hifi vs lofi" with "sounds good and sounds ****" here...

its obvious a completely useless format for most things other than the sound of the cassette itself, but it's being used in niche markets and my clients are asking me to master for Cassette!

Ah yeah sorry sir " N i C H E " markets are none anymore, these are the ONLY people buying records, besides country and texmex and wait till these hillbillies learn how to download music than is all over i'm joking heh. What? you think Bon Jovi, Pearl Jam, Alicia Keys, and Madona are releasing vinyl cause is cool, or cause it sounds good? nah these days if you can move 50 thousands copies of vinyl than you good,
i mean i'm talking Bon Jovi here, if i move 50 thou i'm god 09/09/09
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