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Do CDs or Cassettes Sound Better?

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By Elaine Elliott

Once upon a time, cassettes were the king of audio. In the 1970s and 1980s the car you purchased most likely had a built-in cassette player, and everywhere you went you could see people listening to music on cassettes with their walkmans.

 But once CDs hit the market, cassettes seemed to disappear overnight.
The convenience and digital capabilities of CDs quickly outshined cassettes. But do CDs or cassettes sound better?

 

To the average human, the difference between a cassette and CD might not be very noticeable. But audiophiles have the ability to notice differences in sound recording depending on the device used. This means some people can tell the distinction between a CD and cassette immediately. And based on the differences we explain below, you’ll most likely notice the distinctions too if you listen to a CD and cassette back-to-back.

 

Some of these “distinctions” include the subtle hissing sounds often heard in cassettes. CDs will have a purer recording without such imperfections. In fact, even a CD has a clearer sound than vinyl, which might be prone to the “snap and crackle” sound.

 

The recording technology options for CDs also surpass the analog technology in cassettes. For example, CDs can be digitally mastered but a cassette cannot include such perks.

 

But not every cassette is made equal. Better quality cassettes can have a much better sound quality that almost equals CDs. In addition, a high quality cassette deck with noise-reduction circuits can improve the sound of a cassette.

 

On a scientific level, the difference between a CD and cassette is based on dynamic range, frequency response, and the signal-to-noise ratio.

 

Dynamic range is the ratio between the largest and smallest sounds in a recording. CDs have a dynamic range of 96 dB whereas cassettes typically have a range between 50-75 dB. The higher the dynamic range, the better.

 

Frequency response is the range in which the bass, midrange, and high frequencies are measured on a device. CDs range from 2 Hz – 21 KHz. And cassettes range from 20 Hz – 20 KHz. For frequency response, cassettes have a higher range. This full range can be beneficial but doesn’t always ensure better quality overall.

 

Due to the magnetic tape limitations of cassettes, noise intrusion can be more noticeable in a cassette and ultimately affect the sound quality. Even a cassette with noise reduction will have a smaller signal-to-noise ratio than a CD.


So based on the facts, CDs are superior to cassettes. Yet many people enjoy the unique analog sounds of a cassette. It really comes down to personal preference. Do you prefer a crisper sound, or a sound with nostalgic reverberations?

 

All in all, CDs sound better than cassettes. Although a high-quality cassette is still a fruitful medium for music listeners!

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