Wooden Cassette Tape Is A Veneer Stackup Seeking A Few Good Walkmen

While the days of audio cassette tapes are long over for almost everyone, magnetic tape still enjoys extensive use in some other realms such as large-scale data backup. Those that are still using it to store their tunes are a special subset of audio enthusiasts. [Frank] still has a working tape deck, and enthusiasm for classic non-vinyl sound. His homage to audio tape? Building a working cassette made (almost) entirely of wood.

The cassette is modeled on the formerly popular Maxell XL-II and the first versions of this build were modeled in paper. Once the precise dimensions of the enclosure were determined, [Frank] got to work building the final version from wood in a decidedly 2D process. He used a plotter to cut layers out of a wood veneer and glued them together one-by-one. The impressive part of this build is that the tape reel bearings are also made from wood, using a small piece as a race that holds the reels without too much friction.

Once everything was pieced together and glued up, [Frank] had a perfect working cassette tape made entirely from wood with the exception of the magnetic tape and a few critical plastic parts that handle the tape directly. The build is an impressive piece of woodworking, not unlike the solid wood arcade cabinet from a few days ago.

34 thoughts on “Wooden Cassette Tape Is A Veneer Stackup Seeking A Few Good Walkmen

    1. Hey! Let’s knot be quick to judge this new cassette format. I plane to give it a chance. Some times I just lumber around just listening to music thinking how much better it wood sound in this format. I am tired of listening to MPTrees and believe we should give anaLOG another shot.

      1. Crap I pasted my draft by mistake. This is what it is suppose to say.

        Hey! Let’s knot be quick to judge this new cassette format. I plane to give it a chance. Some times I just lumber around listening to music thinking how much better it wood sound if it were anaLOG. I am really tired of listening to MPTrees.

  1. Imagine if we had to deal with wooden cassettes in the 8 bit days, if you saved on a humid day you might not be able to load it back on a dry air day, they were touchy enough already LOL

    1. It should work as long as you do not make your capstan and roller from wood :-) That determines the tape speed.
      But I thought about a possibility to make also the tape from wood – like cellophane foil. Which from that point of view would not be a good idea, as these are highly moisture sensitive.

      1. You’d think. But no, they were sensitive to sub millimetre displacements of the tape, up or down or fractions of an angle. It hardly sounded any different, but the micro wouldn’t pick it up.

  2. I lived in Tokyo for a few years in the mid to late 80’s. I used to prowl around all the high-end audio shops in those days and saw a lot of amazing stuff for sale, much of it hand made pieces by fanatical engineers and craftsmen. I never saw a wood cassette, but I would not be surprised if there was at least once such craftsman making them for a small niche of the high-end audio market.

    1. There’s not much I would consider “high-end” about cassette tapes. The audio quality was crap compared to 8-track and vinyl. The only neat aspect was cheap recording gear for them and low-cost data storage with early home computers. And even then it was like a coin flip if my Atari 1010 would successfully load a tape without spitting out an error. Cassettes sucked. I have very little nostalgia for them but I keep an old working Atari 1010 in case I feel like being masochistic and waiting half an hour to load SCRAM.

      1. The audio quality is dependant on the quality of the machine (and tape – remember music back then was edited and mixed via tapes before becoming vinyl), though you should expect to get some extra hiss I’d not call a good condition decent tape on a decent player ‘crap’ and Vinyl can sound awful just as easily if not easier with how big an impact a little hard to remove dust can cause..

        You can also on a tape fit two whole vinyl albums, one a side. While still sounding good – I’d say that’s a pretty high end feature myself, smaller, much more portable – as in you can actually move a running tape and the playback won’t jump, and plays potentially twice as long.

        1. Of course vinyl can sound terrible, but I would not consider it as reference as it is still an analog format. And of course compared to a good digital format cassettes are even more inferior.

          1. Well compared to ‘lossless’ digital any of the analogue methods are going to be technically inferior.

            But a good condition clean vinyl or tape on a decent player can sound to the ear basically as good – It just won’t ever be quite the same on subsequent listens.. But in ways you won’t actually notice, and on a more normal but good consumer machine, with the less than perfect source you can tell it is (or was digitized from) a vinyl/tape if you really listen for it, but the added noise doesn’t spoil the sound, just adds a little character. At least that’s been my experience with Dad’s tape and vinyl collection, bar a few dud tapes and perhaps a scratched record and those still sound better than the delaminated CD, as that doesn’t sound at all…

        2. Yes, late 70s, early 80s synthpop in particular, you’d get the actual hiss of your reproduction system the faint ssssss, then the track would actually start TSSSSSSS since they’d layered it on 4 track stereo reel to reel. They were even recorded to CD like that.

      2. One of the big problems with cassettes was the poor quality of recorders- with poorly aligned heads. The Nakamichi Dragon cassette machine was considered pretty high quality – it would auto adjust the head azimuth to match the tape. Metal tape was very low noise, and when combined with some of the noise reduction systems, was capable of good quality.

        But, like vinyl, the charm is the “cassette sound” which includes the middling audio quality and the hiss provided by most cassette machines.

      3. Yes cheap ferric oxide no NR tapes were poor. But a good metal tape with Dolby C or DBX was right up there with CD quality (pre-loudness war CD quality mind you). I think Akai made a deck which also did an automated stepped tone analysis to fine-tune the bias to get the absolute best out of the format.

        It’s a shame the record companies would not use Dolby C or metal, but by then car and portable CD players were available.

        But 8-track? That was the shittiest tape format possible. No NR, muffled audio due to azimuth error, anemic fast-forward, no rewind, etc…

        1. Many good quality decks had auto bias adjust. Just put the cassette in and hit the calibrate button and it will record a few test tones and will rewind and play them back and record the loss and auto adjust the bias to equalize the 1k and 10k tones to be the same level. Now that cassette is ready to be recorded on. 3 heads can be bias adjusted on the fly to match the source by listening to the recorded side and then compare the source with the flip of a switch. 3 headers are about 8x the price of traditional 2 head decks. Not necessary for playback but super effective for recording.

  3. We’re so accustomed to see plastic everywhere today that when I see a wooden part my brain instantly translates it into “plastic simili wood”. When I think touching it, it feels plastic! Trying times… Nice video by the way. I went to give a thumb up on YT and I discovered a hacker-musician! Then I realized he is the guy who made this Super video where he builds a complete ribbon microphone from scratch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F0uAtKrNRaM

    1. On a mark 2 he should make those little rails on the side, which some players engage to hold and position the tape. Or he’ll find it won’t load or get stuck in some types of tape player.

      I think though that this is an object that would look good with the laser cutter scorching around it, if you lasercut one from 1/32 or 1mm plywood.

  4. Very nice! Gets me thinking about the TDK MA-R… metal tape in a METAL tape enclosure! I recall paying something like $16 for just one back in 1986. It didn’t sound better (to me) but it looked cool. I think now they go for over $100.

    1. I vaguely remember seeing an ad or article about a microcassette deck. Kind of like 8track recorders, wanting to fit in with the stereo system, “but why?” .

      I do have a microcassette recorder, and oddly enough, I paid close to $100 for it, when they were current. My big plan never came to fruition, but I did use it with my Model 100 laptop to save programs. I paid $2 used for a digital recorder a few years ago, same thibg, no mechanics.

      There was more of a push to big, the Elcassette got a lot of coverage, though I don’t think that many were sold.

        1. Hi-Fi VCR recording was awesome! 20-20k was not uncommon on a good vcr cassette and a decent desk. I have a JVC GRU9000 (?) And it has DBX and level meters on the audio side. Recorded a midnight to 6AM radio program on a single tape. Also 18-22k is not unheard of for a very good 3 head cassette deck and Dolby S could make a recording of a CD that you could not tell from the original even with headphones on. It was all about the equipment back then, not so much the tape. 8 track? No F’n way that could ever sound as cood as even type 1 cassette. Hiss was terrible let alone the fade out and in for a track change in mid song. That was a joke.

        2. Wow, that was a fascinating rabbit hole you opened for me.. I didn’t know such things had been done, and frankly couldn’t see why it would be worth doing, not having been old enough at the time.

          Don’t know about enthusiasm for it, that is harder to find than that it existed, but still…

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