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The audio cassette did not say its last word

It was thought that it would suffer the same fate as the Minitel, the VHS or the phone booth: the audio cassette with the scent of yesteryear is again produced since November by an SME near Mont-Saint-Michel (western France) , which exports in about thirty countries.

In early 2017, several sound professionals knocked on the door of this small company in Avranches, Normandy, specialized in the manufacture of magnetic tapes. Reason: Global stocks of cassette tape are dwindling. Faced with the CD, then streaming, the “K7” first declined before disappearing almost completely, however, keeping some audiophiles lovers of side A and side B.

“We said + there is something that happens and we had not seen any coming +”, recognizes Jean-Luc Renou, CEO of Mulann, which has a turnover of five million euros.

Used to selling magnetic tapes for subway tickets or tolls, as well as audio tapes for the recording studios and the military industry (submarines), this SME of about forty employees decided to seize the bullet to the leap: it detaches five people to the development of cassette tapes that the SME had never produced before. After a year of research, the “K7” is marketed in November when it was no longer produced in France for twenty years.

“We started from a chemical formula that we already had on the high-end audio tape and we had to solve the technical problems of the coating (positioning of the coating on a plastic support, ed) and the cutting”, notes Mr. Renou, recalling that the degree of precision was measured in micron.

In the midst of machines, some of which evoke looms, and a smell of solvent, Laurent, “cutting operator” according to its exact term, carefully checks the quality of the bands. “We put 89 meters in a cassette of 60 minutes!”, he exclaims.

Tapes with a deliberately vintage orange and black design, sold for 3.49 euros each, are produced in thousands each month, while the audio tapes are exported to “replicators”, sound professionals who record the album. on a support for a label.

If it is a “niche market”, the SME exports 95% of its cassettes, to countries such as the United States, England, Germany but also Malta, Sweden, Israel, the United States. Uzbekistan or Kazakhstan, says Theo Gardin, commercial director, 27 years old, who confides with an amused eye not having known in his youth the joys (and inconvenience) of the walkman (and the band that gets tangled and qu you have to rewind with a pen).

To explain this renewed interest, Ronan Gallou, General Manager, believes in the need to “own objects” in an era “where everything is dematerialized”.

“When you listen to music on Spotify or Deezer, it’s often rare to listen to an entire song, you can easily zap it in. There, with a tape, you listen to a whole musical work, an entire album,” he argues, pointing out that the soundtrack of Bohemian Rhapsody or an album of the French group Indochine were recently released on this support.

For Jean-Luc Renou, a small place still exists for analog sound in the current world of music. “Take the example of heating: you have radiators at home, it’s comfortable, it’s digital, but next to that, you can make a good fire, we are more in the pleasure, is the cassette or the vinyl, “he philosophizes.

In Rennes (west), in a supermarket specialized in entertainment, no cassette is visible. “We had some sales but the demands are extremely rare, it has nothing to do with the phenomenon of vinyl”, recognizes a seller who prefers to remain anonymous.

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