The Cassette MP3 Player

1994 was twenty years ago. There are people eligible to vote who vaguely remember only one Bush presidency. You can have a conversation with someone born after the millennium, and they think a 3.5 inch disk is called a save icon. Starting to feel old? Don’t worry, all the trinkets of your youth have now become shells for MP3 players, the cassette tape included.

[Britt] is aware you can pick up one of these cassette tape MP3 players through the usual channels, but she wanted her build to be a little different. She’s using ar real, vintage cassette tape for starters, and from the outside, looks pretty much like any other cassette tape: there’s a thin strip of tape at the bottom, and the clear plastic window shows the tape is at the beginning of side A.

Outside appearances are just that; inside, there is a small, repurposed MP3 player, with tact switches wired up to the old buttons, actuated by moving the spools back and forth. Yes, you actually play, pause, rewind and fast forward by sticking a pencil in the spool and moving it back and forth. Amazing.

It’s a great build, and considering both cassette tapes and cheap MP3 players can be found in the trash these days, it’s something that should be hard to replicate.

34 thoughts on “The Cassette MP3 Player

  1. I imagine it would be pretty easy to build an MP3 player into one of these that would output to the magnetic head used in cd>cassette converters so that you could pop your MP3’s right into an old cassette player. That would be pretty awesome.

    1. If you used one of those cassette sized “tape adapters” (the ones that actually go into a tape player, and plug into your phone/mp3 player), they already have the magnetic head in the right place. Just patch the mp3 player in and you are good to go.

      1. I like the hidden pencil control, if made to be insertable it would be great if the FF/RW buttons on the deck could operate it. I know building it is half the fun, but I figured this had to exist in some form. Here you get the remote and SD card slot for $13.

        This guy added Bluetooth:

    2. There was a guy who actually took one of those cassette adapters, and stuck a bluetooth audio adapter inside it. He managed to cram it, and it’s battery inside, and on the outside of the case was the small power switch and the micro-usb jack for charging the battery. So you could stick it inside your deck, and use it to play back music from your smart phone.

      I could sooo use one of those today; my truck is a 96 GMC (with only 70k miles on it, and completely paid for – so no complaints), and only has the stock deck in it, which has, you guessed it, a cassette tape deck and no audio-in jacks. So, to get music from my phone into it, I have an unsightly mess of cables and adapters hanging everywhere. Most of the time, I don’t even bother.

  2. How about sending the output to a magnetic head, positioned appropriately to play through a regular tape deck? Then Play, fast forward and rewind could be taken from motion of the spindles, and hitting reverse (i.e. braking the spindle to simulate the end of the tape, causing the deck to reverse the tape and play the other side) would change track :-)

    The perfect upgrade for an old car that you want to keep stock, but still enjoy your tunes in :-D

  3. Some years ago there were some cassette shaped MP3 players that could be used standalone or popped in just like a tape and would play the audio just as if it was a tape. Skipping tracks back and forth and other functions in that mode were done with the tape player’s controls.

    IIRC there were at least two manufacturers of them. The second model from one had an SD card slot instead of a fixed amount of memory.

  4. “He’s listening to a cassette tape.”
    “He’s not using a cassette player.”

    An MP3 player in a cassette kinds takes the stuffing out of the scene in “Starman”.

  5. If it could have a mode where playback is based solely on what the spindles are doing, and it gets a tape head from a cassette adaptor, it could be a drop-in retrofit for car stereos and integrate perfectly with factory controls. You could even replace the MP3 player with a Bluetooth headset module with playback controls and connect a smartphone to it!

  6. So do you also have to spin the “spool” to have it play, and stop spinning to stop? Kidding aside, I think this is a nice gift to give for those nostalgic 90’s kids out there.

    1. Interesting idea, but it’d be impossible. A VCR doesn’t work the same was as a regular audio cassette player. In an audio player, the tape is held more-or-less against the playback head right where the tape passes in the shell of the cassette and drawn linearly across the head.

      In a VCR, though – due to the more complex signal requirements, speed of tape travel, and most importantly, the large spinning multi-head playback head (set at an angle to tape as well for helical scanning!) – the tape is actually drawn out of the cassette shell via a fairly complex mechanical system and half-looped pressed against the playback head. The scan – as I noted – is a helical scan along this length of tape, necessary because of the much larger bandwidth needed for analog video.

      You just simply can’t make a system that would work the same as this audio cassette system, not without inventing some kind of long and flexible membrane electronic “head” that could be sucked out (while simultaneously being able to “slip” on the various tape pinch and capstan rollers that keep the tape moving in the VCR at a very tightly controlled speed).

      Again – in short – an impossibility, I would wager.

      1. Unless you included a short section of inifinite tape and recorded it live inside the cassette…

        I actually just yesterday found the am/fm/8track for my car thats been missing for months (currently a hole in teh dash) and I am extreemely conflicted about whether I should gut it and stuff my raspi inside the deck, or put a raspi and tape adapter into a gutted 8track… I think I need a second head unit so I can do both. The 8track head unit is too cool in a “they don’t make em like this any more” sense to just cut up, the guts are impressive feats of mech and elect engineering, crazy expensive from a production point of view on this particular unit.

  7. Neat way to reuse/recycle for those that don’t have have cassette decks anymore. I have a 2 channel stereo to USB converter to listen to mine these days since I don’t won’t to have my receiver fixed yet again. Pretty sure the side showing of the cassette has played already. Side “B” is ready to play. Put I don’t use the tapes anywhere else. MP3s on SD cards for the car stereo.

  8. The problem with cassette adapters is the wear on drive belts running when in use.
    When the belt breaks the deck is usually stuck in play…no radio or anything.
    They use the belt and capstan for power assist to run the transport control.
    It depends on the model, also their auto shutoff at end of side or fail of take-up.

  9. If you’re going to make such a player, you should at least have the decency to use the shell of a decent cassette tape; that shell that was used looks like some el-cheapo crap 30 minute cassette that probably had more noise and such that it was barely useful for dictation, let alone music. In fact, it looks like a cassette meant for an answering machine, rather than quality music recording.

    I remember seeing more than my share of such tapes back when I was a kid sharing music (yeah – way more than 20 years ago – sheesh, old man here!). I distinctly recall using cheap tapes like this to save and load programs from on my computer back then (you actually couldn’t use “quality” tapes in the recorder because the tape was too thin, and the audio-bias was different, so that the sound wouldn’t record properly – and thus the saved data would be garbled and wouldn’t load).

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.