We’ve come a long way.Or have we? (as Hilary Mantel might say). I was looking through some old archived Argos catalogues online and was struck by how standard the offerings were throughout the decades. Just the technology changed. Home furnishings, garden accessories, tat we don’t really need. Nothing particularly radical. The same but different.
As the music industry endlessly remasters its classic analogue recorded catalogue it sometimes finds that the master tapes of some classic albums are literally falling apart. In some cases this has been attributed to manufacturers coming under pressure to stop using whale oil in its tape formulations in the mid 70’s which was used to help bind the tape oxide particles to the tape backing. Some of the synthetic alternatives have not stood up so well to the ravages of time and the tapes are literally falling apart.
The use of whale oil was in itself brought about by the oil crisis in the early 70’s. So economics and ecology have had an impact of the long term longevity of some analogue tape masters.
I picked up a retro music centre (remember that term) a while ago with a built in 8-track player and a bag of old tapes. Having never really experienced 8-tracks before it’s been interesting to savour the obviously now defunct technology although many of the bag-o-tapes veer towards the country music end of the spectrum there are a few Nat King Cole and despite the run-over-by-a-truck appearance of many of the tapes they all play fine.
It is rumoured that a classic workhorse of the music DJ is to stop being manufactured in February 2010. The Technics SL1200 series of vinyl turntables first saw the light of day in 1972 as a Hi-Fi turntable with an improved MK2 model released in 1978 and soon became the DJ’s dependable favourite. It is widely considered to be one of the durable and reliable turntables ever produced. The British Science Museum even has one amongst it exhibits of technology items that have shaped our world.
Much beloved of Hip Hop DJ’s due to the direct drive motor (rather than the belt drive of most Hi-Fi turntables) which easily leant themselves to the 80’s scratching phenomena. Highly accurate pitch controls made them an ideal tool for mixing too.
But demand has been falling as digital decks have become more sophisticated and as vast libraries of sound can now be stored on small memory cards, hard drives and laptop computers.
It is thought the SL-1200 and SL-1210 models will stop production in the new year. Their durability is almost their weakness as there are probably enough working models in circulation to satisfy its increasingly minority niche position with demand no doubt easily satisfied by the second user market.
If the rumours are true it will truly be the end of an era for many.
The humble analogue cassette continues its rise as a cultural design icon even when its functional use has declined.
The cassette Walkman is 30 years old. I must admit the young me was less than impressed when she first saw the concept (I remember thinking ‘I doubt many people will want one of those’) but got to listen to one in a record store that also sold audio goods and the sound through headphones was, for the time just amazing.
Good First Choice
In reality I only ever owned two cassette Walkmans. The first was a veritable Rolls Royce: The Aiwa TP-S30 (pictured). It was for me a multi function device because it could record as well as play back so I got to record some college lectures (in binaural stereo too), use as a dictation machine and for a brief period even turned its hand to discretely recording a few live rock concerts (bootlegging, moi?).
Preserved In Sound
I also have quite a few recording of now long passed extended family members and friends. Believe me these are a much better long term record that photographs.Through these recordings they all live on.
It was built to last but eventually the metal casing cracked and the top section where the operation buttons sat disintegrated completely (this section was actually metal effect plastic) and the lid to the battery compartment also cracked to the extent that it could then only be powered from the mains (hardly portable).Despite these failings the cassette play/record mechanism itself could have easily kept working. The Aiwa must easily have put in 10 years of faithful service.
I eventually replaced it with a Toshiba which was cheap, plastic, sounded awful in comparison and soon broke.
So fond memories of what for a generation today would seem an absurdly antiquated technology but they were the mp3 players of their day and part of the evolution of portable audio devices.
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The vinyl record is 60 years old.Peak sales where in 1979 at around 80 million. Recently annual sales of 200,000 were the norm but the revival of the 7″ single has increased that to around 1 million sales per year as vinyl undergoes a niche revival. The BBC follow the involved process of pressing a vinyl record with Bob Bailey of The Vinyl Factory.