26 May 2024

High Bias:
The Distorted History of the Cassette Tape

High Bias

High Bias: The Distorted History of the Cassette Tape, by Marc Masters, was published last year, the sixtieth anniversary of the compact cassette. The first in-depth history of the subject, the book shows “how the cassette tape emerged—as a technological development, a marketed product, a cultural icon—and how things have changed because of the cassette tape.”

Masters covers the invention of the cassette by Lou Ottens for Philips in 1963, and the introduction of the Sony Walkman personal stereo in 1979. Ottens appeared in the documentary Cassette (directed by Zack Taylor, Georg Petzold, and Seth Smoot), and Masters draws on unused extracts from that film’s interviews with Ottens. The book also looks at the recent cassette comeback, a resurgence in sales similar to the vinyl revival, albeit on a much smaller scale.

Miniaturisation led to even smaller analogue cassette formats, the tiniest being the picocassette developed by Dictaphone. Compact cassettes were the highest-selling physical music format between 1984 and 1990, though they were overtaken by CDs in 1991. Two books, The Art of Sound by Terry Burrows and Analogue by Deyan Sudjic, are devoted to cassette decks, boomboxes, and other vintage audio equipment.