Gadgets for humans

My addiction to cassette tapes isn’t a problem — it’s a solution

And there's no way you're going to convince me otherwise

header image cassettes casette tapes

This is adapted from Plugged In, TNW’s bi-weekly newsletter on gear and gadgets. Subscribe to it (and our other great newsletters) here.

We’re back again to talk about what is obviously all our favorite topic: buying shit. Mmm, even just writing that feels fantastic.

So, this is the 14th edition of Plugged In, meaning I’m beginning to see some trends played out across the newsletters. And, if there’s one topic that has united them all, it’s the simple and joy of being obsessed with things.

And, this week, I have a new obsession to share with the class: cassettes.

The past 7 days have been a whirlwind. In that time I’ve researched second-hand decks, ordered one, got it hooked up to my sound system, and have already started amassing a cassette collection. No, it’s not a problem, it’s a solution to my problems.

And here — because, unfortunately, I’m a low-level narcissist — are the cassettes I’ve picked up so far.

cassette tape selection
If I hear a single bad word about my cassette selection I’m coming round to your house.

Anyway, the activities over the past week I described above are just the beginning.  I’d estimate around 50% of my current waking hours are spent pondering some sort of tape-related topic. Whether that’s browsing Reddit communities, flicking through excel sheets of second-hand cassettes sourced off Marktplaats (the Dutch eBay), or, simply, just thinkin’ ’bout tapes. I’m enveloped by them.

Why do you like cassettes so much?

It’s hard to put a finger on. I guess, firstly, I’m a sucker for analogue music in general. Although most of my listening is done digitally (it’s just so damn convenient), it’s an undeniably different experience when you have to physically put something on.

Now, I’ve been collecting records for years — and they’re still my analogue format of choice — but cassettes offer something different.

If vinyl were a person, they’d probably wear immaculate suits that are strangely fragile. And they’d listen to jazz. If cassettes were a person they’d most likely make their own clothes out of stuff they found on the street and walk around making trumpet noises with their mouth.

What I’m getting at is cassettes feel more homegrown, more accessible, more of the people. I have wonderful memories of being younger and making my own mixtapes, of recording things of the radio. There was something magnificently DIY about the format.

So, like anything, I’m probably into cassettes for three main reasons: pretentiousness, nostalgia, and my never-ending desire to collect.

The never-ending joy of ‘things’

The other topic I wanted to talk about is broader. Specifically, I wanted to ponder on why we get so hooked on physical items.

And the answer I came to? The pure learning experience.

I think this is what people who are negative or dismissive about the joy of stuff miss. You can look at something like my cassette tape fixation and, quite legitimately, ask “what’s the fucking point? What a waste of time. And money.”

But an interest like this isn’t solely about actually using it. No, it’s the area beyond the activity that’s so damn addictive; the mental engagement.

My gorgeous tape player — with my equally lover router on top of it.

Since I’ve begun my cassette obsession, I’ve read and (hopefully) absorbed a huge amount of information, all the way from the mechanics of machines made by now-defunct manufacturers, through to the degradation cycle of tape itself. 

Even better, this is the tip of the iceberg. There’s legitimately so much more stuff to learn — and that’s before even talking about all the bands putting out tapes, or the rise of cassette-only labels.

This is how I’d put the experience of buying things you’re bang into: it’s like the wardrobe from the Narnia books getting dropped off at your house. They’re an entranceway to an entirely new world that’s packed with fresh experiences. And I’ll never, ever tire of that feeling.

So, have you had your eye on a new thing? Good. Then you have my support to go and buy it. Actually, scratch that, I urge you to go and buy it. Remember: it’s not just a thing, it’s an investment in yourself.

And yes, this whole newsletter has been a longwinded way to enable both you and myself. You’re welcome.

Anyway, I’m off — I’ve got some cassettes to go and think about.

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Published November 18, 2020 — 09:30 UTC