Other Recording Formats


Many tape traders have made the switch from analogue cassettes to Digital Audio Tape (DAT). One major advantage to the DAT trader is no signal degradation through multiple generations. And to this die-hard analogue fan, DAT does offer in many ways significant sonic advantages over cassettes. The medium is still very expensive though. Blank tapes are now very inexpensive, but a good machine is going to cost over $1000. Units under $1000 are going to be unreliable and are not going to sound quite as good as the better ones. All digital is not the same! Even the more expensive machines need a certain amount of pampering and servicing as the format in general can be very temperamental. At this point the life span of DAT tapes does not look good either. 15-20 years is about all you can expect at the most.


You can make very high quality audio recordings with a Hi-Fi VHS VCR even at the slowest speed. The higher speeds are only necessary with video. With this you can put 6 hours of music on one circa $3 VHS tape. Theoretically a Hi-Fi VHS VCR should sound better than just about any cassette deck, but my ears tend to tell me otherwise. I have not experimented much though with it. Besides, you can't play VHS tapes in your car or walkman. The timer function on VCRs can be very useful in taping radio broadcasts like the Grateful Dead Hour.

Mini-Disc and DCC

Don't bother. The standard for these digital formats is too low for acceptable sound quality. Generational loses are far worse than cassettes but in a different way. Neither of these formats if very likely to last very long anyway. Some tapers find the Mini-Disc easy to use in stealth recording.


Good quality reel-to-reel decks will beat the pants off of just about any cassette recorder. The machines are large, heavy and clunky and the tape is very expensive compared to other formats. Even if you can get a machine for cheap or even free, it is probably not worth messing with for purposes of tape collecting or trading. Several old time traders do have many hours of live music on reel-to-reel since it was a major format in the 1970s. It is not unusual for someone to transfer his reels to DAT and then sell, trade or give away his reels. Good reel-to-reel machines to look for used include Teac, Revox and Ampex.

What About the Magazines and Specifications?

After the first edition of this Guide several people contacted me and said Consumer Reports recommends cassette decks that are not mentioned in the guide. What's up? Well, CR does a great job with most things. They do a horrible disservice to audio. All they do is measure the equipment and add up the features. They do not do any serious listening tests. This is also true of other magazines such as Stereo Review. They also do not bother with some of the more expensive equipment. Their general attitude is that it all pretty much sounds the same.

Specifications really do not tell you very much about how a piece of audio equipment will sound. They can also easily be reported in a way that is deceiving. Trust your ears. You can probably hear more differences than you think. Always try to listen thoroughly to a piece of equipment before you buy it. Make sure it sounds good to you and feels comfortable to operate.

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