TrueTape64 Is A PC Interface For Your C64 Datasette

Back in the distant past of the 1980s, software was distributed on audio tape. Ones and zeroes were encoded as tones of different frequencies, and tapes were decoded by specialised hardware which could then spit out raw digital data to an attached computer. While software methods now exist to simply record audio from old tapes and turn them into data, [Francesco] wanted to do it the hardware way, and built a PC interface for his Commodore 64 Datasette.

The TrueTape64, as it has been named, is built around an Atmel ATTiny2313 microcontroller. This interfaces with the original Datasette hardware which takes care of reading the analog tape output and turning it into digital data. From there, the microcontroller communicates with an FTDI232 serial-to-USB adapter to get the data into a modern PC, where it’s compiled into a TAP image file via some Python magic.

It’s a barebones build, which goes so far as to run the Datasette’s motor off the USB power supply via a boost converter; those facing issues with the tape mechanism might do well to look there first. However, it does work, and a done job is a good job at the end of the day. We’ve seen similar hacks before, too – it’s great to see the community keeping cassette software alive!

Cassette Lamp Is A Throwback To The Pencil-Winding Glory Days

The audio cassette was the first music format that truly championed portability. It was robust, compact, and let people take music on the go to soundtrack their very lives. It was later supplanted by the higher-quality CD and then further digital technologies, but the format remains a nostalgic highlight for many. It also inspired this excellent lamp build from [Fab].

The lamp consists of 8 clear cassettes assembled into a rough cube-like shape on a 3D printed frame. The cassettes are edge-lit from below by a set of WS2812B LEDs, letting them glow in full-color splendour. The real magic of the lamp is the interface, however. A pencil can be inserted to turn the tape reels, just like rewinding a real cassette. However, in this case, they’re attached to a pair of rotary encoders, which are used to vary the color of the LEDs. As a bonus, the entire lamp runs off a Wemos D1, making it possible to update the lamp remotely over the Internet.

It’s a stylish build that would make an excellent conversation piece in any hip maker’s loungeroom. It’s a great nod to the creator of the compact cassette, [Lou Ottens], who passed away earlier this month. Video after the break.

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RIP Lou Ottens, Developer Of The Compact Cassette And More

It’s with sadness that we note the passing at the age of 94 of the long-time Phillips engineer Lou Ottens, who is best known as the originator of the Compact Cassette audio tape format that was so ubiquitous through the later decades of the 20th century. Whether you remember cassettes as the format for 8-bit software, for teenage mixtapes on a Walkman, they began life at his hands in the early 1960s at the Phillips factory in Hasselt, Belgium.

Through a long career with the Dutch electronics company, he was responsible either directly or in part for a string of consumer electronic devices that we would see as ubiquitous over the latter half of the century. Before the cassette he had developed the company’s first portable reel-to-reel tape recorder, and in the 1970s while technical director of their audio division he led the team that would develop the CD. He was reported as saying that his great regret was not beating Sony to the development of the miniature cassette player that would be sold as the Walkman, but we’d suggest that the Walkman would not have been possible without the cassette in the first place.

So next time you handle a cassette tape, spare a thought for Lou, an audio engineer whose work permeated so much of the last half-century.

Thanks [Carl] for the tip.

Images: Lou Ottens by Jordi Huisman CC BY-SA 4.0 and “An early Phillips cassette recorder” by mib18 CC BY-SA 3.0

 

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.

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Cassette Synth Plays With Speed Control

Tape may not sound that great compared to vinyl, but cassette players can be tons of fun when it comes to making your own music. See for instance the Mellotron, or this relatively easy DIY alternative, [Rich Bernett]’s Cassettone cassette player synth.

The Cassettone works by substituting the trim pot that controls the speed of the tape player’s motor with a handful of potentiometers. These are each activated with momentary buttons located underneath the wooden keys. In the video after the break, [Rich] gives a complete and detailed guide to building your own. There’s also a polished Google doc that includes a schematic and the pattern pieces for making the cabinet.

Speaking of which, isn’t the case design nice? It’s built out of craft plywood but aged with varnish and Mod-Podged bits and bobs from vintage electronics magazines. This really looks like a fun little instrument to play.

Would you rather control your tape synth with a MIDI keyboard? Just add Arduino.

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Booting A PC From Vinyl For A Warmer, Richer OS

If you’ve scrolled through the list of boot options offered on any PC’s BIOS, it reads like a history of storage technology. Up top we have the options to boot from disk, often a solid-state drive, then USB disk, optical drive, removable media, and down the bottom there’s usually an option to boot from the network. Practically no BIOS, however, has an option to boot a PC from a vinyl record — at least until now.

Clearly a project from the “Because why not?” school of hacking, [Jozef Bogin] came up with the twist to the normal booting process for an IBM-PC. As in the IBM-PC — a model 5150, with the putty-colored case, dual 5-1/4″ floppies, and one of those amazing monochrome displays with the green slow-decay phosphors. To pull off the trick, [Jozef] leverages the rarely used and little known cassette tape interface that PCs had back in the early days. This required building a new bootloader and burning it to ROM to make the PC listen to audio signals with its 8255 programmable peripheral interface chip.

Once the PC had the right bootloader, a 64k FreeDOS bootable disk image was recorded on vinyl. [Jozef] provides infuriatingly little detail about the process other than to mention that the audio was sent directly to the vinyl lathe; we’d have loved to learn more about that. Nonetheless, the resulting 10″ record, played back at 45 RPM with some equalization tweaks to adapt for the RIAA equalization curve of the preamp, boots the PC into FreeDOS just fine, probably in no more time than it would have taken to boot from floppy.

It’s may not be the first time we’ve seen software on vinyl, but it’s still a pretty cool hack. Want to try it yourself but lack a record-cutting lathe? Maybe laser-cutting your boot disc will work.

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Proper Cassettes For Your FPGA Retrocomputer

You can tell the age of someone in our community with a simple question: what were the first removable data storage media you used? Punched cards for the venerable, cassettes for the middle-aged, floppies for the thirtysomethings, Flash cards for the twentysomethings, and maybe even “What’s a removable storage medium?” for the kids brought up on cloud services.  Even with refreshed interest in retrocomputing the cassette hasn’t made a comeback, but maybe that owes something to the hardware. Createing a cassette interface for an FPGA is a task that’s often overlooked, and that’s a project [zpekic] has tackled.

Cassette data recordings are frequency shift keyed, with the 0 and 1 of the binary information represented by different tones. An expected solution to detect these might be to use a Fourier transform, but instead he opts for a simpler solution of counting zero crossings and timing their interval. The resulting stream of data is fed into a UART from which the data itself can be reconstructed. All this is implemented on a Mercury FPGA board which contains a Xilinx Spartan 3A FPGA, but it’s a technique that could be used on other devices too.

So your FPGA retrocomputer deserves an authentic cassette interface, and now it can have one. We’d be especially impressed if all this 2020s wizardry could produce a more stable chuntey field, but we guess that might take a bit more work.

As a final aside, the project is dedicated to the memory of the pioneering Yugoslavian broadcaster [Zoran Modli], whose innovative 1980s radio show featured broadcasts of tape software for the computers of the time including our Hackaday colleague [Voja Antonić]’s Galaksija. Broadcasting software over the radio? That’s a cool hack.