This Cassette Tape Simulator Makes Your MP3s Sound Like You're Listening to a Retro Walkman

Illustration for article titled This Cassette Tape Simulator Makes Your MP3s Sound Like You're Listening to a Retro Walkman
Screenshot: Webcassette

Released in 1979, the original Sony Walkman completely changed how people listened to music. Your tunes were free to go anywhere—and sound like complete garbage. The quality of music on cassette tapes can’t compete to today’s digital formats, but if people still like the sound of crackly records, surely there are people who miss the acoustic aesthetics of cassette tape.

Don’t waste your time hunting down blank cassettes and broken Walkmans on eBay, however. If you’ve got a browser and a web connection, a simple site called WebCassette will load and degrade your digital music files so the sound quality hearkens back to a time before compact discs hit the market.

If you’re especially particular about how bad your music sounds, the site includes a set of dials letting you adjust the quality of the cassette tape, the quality of the cassette player’s motor, and the performance of the playback heads. It will either make you nostalgic for the times you rocked out as a kid in the ‘80s, or very appreciative of 40 years of personal music player improvements.


[Webcassette via Cult of Mac]

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I was around for the very first influx of cassettes in mid ‘60s; I was there. I worked in the Radio/TV department of a big department store weekends and summers in those days (Montgomery Ward, if anyone remembers them), and I saw and used some the very earliest cassette systems, long before the Walkman. I’m very, very familiar with cassettes.

If you want to know how things sounded back then, do this: upload your favorite track, turn all the Webcassette controls down to minimum and give it a listen; that’s what music sounded like on cassettes. Note the hiss, the motor wow and flutter, the very limited dynamic range. Sadly, the Webcassette app doesn’t simulate tapes breaking, jamming in the player, or spinning out of the cassette on rewind, stuff that happened all the time.

It’s true that if you hocked your banjo and bought a component system with a separate cassette deck, and used high-bias chrome tape it sounded less awful, but it was still pretty bad. This is whey we all dumped cassettes and adopted CDs wholesale the minute they became available.

My cassette deck was unusual; it ran the tape at twice the normal speed. This made them sound a whole lot better and minimized many of the problems. I even had a deck in the car that would play them back. Of course this cut the playback time in half, and the technique never really caught on.

Incidentally, I was also around for the DAT debacle in the late ‘80s. Digital Audio Tape was a wonderful medium, using small tape cassettes to carry digital music; they sounded great. DAT decks were expensive, but the real problem was that the record industry hated them and spent millions lobbying against them; they figured people would use them to copy LPs and such, which of course everyone would. They tried to get legislation passed to ban them, or make them include a chip that would limit audio quality. A bill to that effect was introduced in Congress by our old pal Al Gore, but died in committee. In the end the music industry settled for a piece of the action, royalties on digital cassette sales. By the time the smoke cleared CDs were firmly entrenched, and MP3s were looming on the horizon.