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Home /Science / Do Cassette Tapes Go Bad?

Do Cassette Tapes Go Bad?

By Elaine Elliott

Do you have a bunch of old cassette tapes stowed away in your home? Cassette tapes are making a comeback in the music industry because of the sound quality and nostalgic characteristics they provide to listeners and music collectors.

The high fidelity may be great but these features come at a cost...

Whether your cassette tapes are decades old or brand new, there are important factors to consider for cassette tape storage and use in order to make the tapes last longer. Unfortunately, magnetic tapes such as cassette tapes are prone to deterioration, which is why you should always digitize your cassette tapes.

Cassette tapes, reel-to-reel tapes, 8-track tapes, and VHS can all “go bad” because they are magnetic tape mediums. In order to better understand why this is commonplace for magnetic tapes, it’s useful to understand how these tapes are made.

Magnetic tapes are essentially bound together using a gelatin-like glue that holds together the thin taping and magnetic strip. The two layers need to be attached for the magnetic signals to work in any magnetic recording device. The binder coating in cassette tapes, VHS, etc. can lose lubrication and cohesiveness. The binder coating can also get too “sticky” if the cassette tape is never used. We suggest playing your cassette tapes at least once a year to prevent the layers from sticking to one another.

In perfect circumstances, cassette tapes will only last about 30 years if properly stored away from heat, humidity, and UV rays. Whereas a CD stored in the same conditions can last over 100 years.

Two common factors for cassette tape deterioration are heat and tape recorder malfunctions. Even if you tediously take care of your cassette tapes, one failed recording or “tape eating” can cause the entire cassette tape to be ruined. This is why backing up your cassette tapes with a digitized version is always recommended.

Cassette tapes may be seeing a resurgence in mainstream use, but cassette tape owners still need to take good care of these music recordings because they don’t last forever!

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