Saturday, August 03, 2013

Lo-Fi Audio: What's the Attraction?

vintage Panasonic TNT "plunger" 8-track player
In the past month I've rekindled an obsession with 8-track tapes. Being such an advocate of "high-end" audio (vinyl), my relationship with this archaic format baffles me as much as it does those around me. Some of you may know about the recent resurgence in the popularity of the standard audio cassette (the most popular music format for most of the 1980s). I guess I can understand the nostalgia factor with cassettes, especially with those who grew up with crates of them. Perhaps my love of the 8-track is rooted largely in nostalgia as well. There is a particular sound that is relatively unique to the 8-track; The tapes are heavy on hiss, but they also have a thick low-end to them that I find appealing. If a tape is manufactured well it can live a long and happy life. I've got some tapes from the early 70's that were probably considered high-end "audiophile" stuff in their day.

There's also the undeniable shortcomings of the 8-track format. In particular they are clunky and prone to a number of mishaps that can quickly turn them into junk. A prominent example: the sensing foil on any 8-track (which holds the two ends of the tape together) is almost certain to have lost its adhesive over the years. If not replaced, the tape eventually break apart and disappear into the tape cartridge. For 8-track pros, replacing this sensing foil is part of the ritual involved in latter-day collecting.

Yesterday's mail brought my latest eBay prize (pictured above), a vintage 70's Panasonic TNT 8-track player. The unit arrived in imperfect condition, which I considered more of a challenge than a disappointment. After carefully opening and inspecting the unit I was able to fix it, resulting in an almost euphoric sense of gratification and accomplishment, like I was protecting the extinction of this rare and exquisite species.

Who knows how long this round of 8-track obsessiveness will last. I do know that the crate digger and audio hunter in me is having a blast with these clunky, audio time capsules.

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