SSQ : Single Speed Quality Duplication Service

So, this is about cassettes, yeah?

More and more artists are releasing their music on audio cassettes.

Audio cassettes have nostalgia to some. Novelty to others, but as more of the music world transitions to streaming, the acquisition of physical media is a growing market.

And they are unique in the world of physical media, as they’re little works of art that will never die and always be cool. There is no other format which has so much variety in their aesthetics. Look how many novelties, phone cases, T-shirts etc have cassettes on them…

 

We are hunter/gatherers. We like to collect things. It’s in our DNA. Look at the rise of vinyl…

 

So, what is this “Single Speed Quality” (SSQ) all about?

At this moment, the cassettes being released all share these features:

  • Duplicated at up to 96x speed! That mean they do one side of a C90 in about 30 seconds!
  • Single head duplication machines
  • Using Chinese / Italian shells
  • Using remnants of New Old Stock tape, but mostly new Chinese tape
  • Type 1 – Normal position
  • No Dolby noise reduction

This creates audio quality that is lower than is fully capable with compact cassettes and creates a “cookie cutter” product, that is seen simply as a cheap novelty.

“Single Speed Quality” makes the most of the compact cassette medium by providing the highest audio quality through:

  • New Old Stock (NOS) cassettes from recognisable brands likes of TDK, Maxell, Sony, SKC, BASF with high quality shells which give a real visual impact as well as nostalgia
  • The option to use, not just Type 1 “Normal” position tape, but Type 2 “High / Chrome” position tape or even Type IV “Metal” position tape
  • Single speed duplication - This maximises the sound recorded to the tape
  • Direct “digital bin” duplication: direct from digital source, through a dedicated external DAC, to cassette in one “hop” – no generational degradation
  • Utilises high end, 3 head, duplication decks that were designed to record studio masters, which are then individually tuned to the tape’s formulation
  • Recorded with Dolby HX Pro headroom extension for better high frequencies
  • The option of encoding with Dolby B noise reduction

This will ensure that the cassettes sound BETTER than any mass duplicated cassette, from now or even in the heyday of cassettes and allows you to release a boutique, analogue, product with a low entry fee due to the low runs (25 maximum) which you can't get with vinyl creation.

Do people really care?

This is not a “mass market” product. Most are buying cassettes as a novelty and playing them in cheap, mono, players that are currently being churned out in China.

SSQ cassettes are not for these people. Regular duplicated cassettes are good enough for them.

However, there are many who are interested in the best sound quality a medium can provide, coupled with exclusivity, who have high end decks that most pre-recorded cassettes simply don’t sound that great in.

This is where SSQ plays. SSQ cassettes are meant to supplement mass cassette runs by giving fans and collectors something more premium, as well as collectible…and stunning analogue sound.

More than anything, they give you, as a new artist, something to brag about. Something to generate social media and press release buzz with: A limited edition cassette, that sounds as good as analogue media can, in a mostly digital world and looks premium to other cassette releases.

*This Candy Apple Blue release was priced at $29.99 and 30 copies sold out in 4 days...*

But cassettes sound crap, and get chewed up!

Cassettes only get chewed up in decks that haven’t been cleaned and maintained.

Cassettes that have been stored well, don’t deteriorate. Magnetic tape is still the number one media for long term data storage. There is a reason for that.

A good cassette, recorded well, can rival vinyl for analogue sound quality. It’s the old adage: “Put shit in, get shit out”

As most music now is done in the digital domain, the cassette offers a unique proposition.

What “unique proposition”?

The basis for most cassettes is Iron Oxide. Rust. It’s rust stuck on to plastic.

Rust can’t degrade further, but it has a unique quality…natural compression.

Take a crystalline, digital, source record it “hot” (+3 to +5 db) on cassette tape and the natural properties of the ferric will create, natural, truly analogue compression which will “warm” the music up.

Why do you think there are now a mass of cassette emulator plugins for most DAWs?

This type of compression only works if:

  • It’s good tape
  • The deck recording the tape is giving the correct amount of bias signal
  • The decks circuity and heads are good enough to take full advantage of the signal absorption of the tape

SSQ duplicated cassettes embody all of these qualities, which is why they stand out.

I’m sold, so, what needs to happen now? 

Choosing your cassette type:

 Cassettes types can be broken down like this:

TYPE 1 – NORMAL POSITION - BASIC FERRIC

Characteristics

This is the type that most duplicators use. These are the most “cassette” sounding cassettes and ones that most people used back in the day. The nostalgia is strong with these

Examples

  • TDK D
  • Sony HF
  • Maxell UR 

Pros:

  • Large selection
  • Low price
  • Many different lengths
  • Lots of recognition / nostalgia
  • Great for warming up loud, digital, music
  • Great bass response – Good for EDM
  • Compatible with all cassette decks

Cons:

  • Lots of “hiss” – Benefits from Noise Reduction
  • Not good for quiet music
  • Not fantastic High Frequency response – Benefits from Dolby HX Pro
  • Not premium looking

 

TYPE 1 – NORMAL POSITION - PREMIUM FERRIC

Characteristics

Embodies many of the benefits of the basic ferric, but with the added bonus of better, more premium shells and better high frequency response.

Examples

  • TDK AD
  • Sony HF-S
  • Maxell UDI

 

Pros:

  • Lots of recognition / nostalgia
  • Premium, great looking, shells
  • Great for warming up loud, digital, music
  • Great bass response – Good for EDM
  • Can be recorded “hot” to get maximum, natural ferric, compression
  • Compatible with all cassette decks

Cons:

  • Rare and pricey
  • Lots of “hiss” – Benefits from Noise Reduction or being recorded “hot”
  • Not good for quiet music

 

TYPE 1 – NORMAL POSITION - SUPER FERRIC

Characteristics

Some of the greatest cassettes ever made, and that includes Type 2 & Type 4. Can take massive levels of signal, in premium shells and mega high frequency response.

Examples

  • TDK AR(-X)
  • Sony HF-ES
  • Maxell XLI(-S)
  • SKC AX

 Pros:

  • Highly coveted by cassette aficionados
  • Premium, great looking, shells
  • Takes a massive amount of signal
  • Can make verbatim copies of digital sources
  • Can be recorded “hot” to get maximum, natural ferric, compression
  • Compatible with all cassette decks

Cons:

  • Very rare and pricey
  • Limited lengths
  • Lots of “hiss” – But can be recorded so hot this isn’t an issue, but still not recommended for quiet music

 

TYPE 2 – HIGH / CHROME POSITION – SINGLE COAT FERRO / COBALT

Characteristics

These are what people bought back in the day when they wanted something “better” than a Normal Type 1, for those special recordings. No duplicator duplicates to Type 2 tape, as it hasn’t been made for over 15 years and even then, was rarely used with pre-recorded cassettes. Nostalgia is strong with these.

Examples

  • TDK SA
  • Sony UX
  • Maxell XLII

Pros:

  • They’re branded as “High” so many think they simply just sound better than normal Type 1s, and on the whole, they do.
  • No commercial cassettes are currently duplicated on Type 2 tape
  • Premium, great looking, shells
  • Have the bass of a Type 1 ferric, but due to being cobalt doped, can also take high frequencies
  • Can make nearly verbatim copies of digital sources, but have the ability to still add analogue warmth
  • Can be recorded “hot” to get maximum, natural ferric, compression
  • Versions for all budgets

Cons:

  • A small percentage of cassette decks don’t have a 70µs EQ facility, especially new ones. In these decks, Type 2 cassettes will sound like they have enhanced treble. Most decks however have no problem with them.

 

TYPE 2 – HIGH / CHROME POSITION – PURE CHROME

Characteristics

The first ever Type 2 cassettes. Tricky to record and they don’t take a lot of signal, but that’s not a problem as they have the lowest hiss and widest dynamic range of all Type 2s, especially the dual coated / cobalt doped ones. Most people think all Type 2 cassettes are "chrome", they're not. "Chrome" has become the friendly name for Type 2 cassettes, like "Hoover" has for vacuum cleaners.

Examples

  • BASF Chrome Extra / Super / Maxima
  • SKC CD

  

Pros:

  • They’re branded as “High” so many think they simply just sound better than normal Type 1s, and on the whole, they do
  • Coveted outside of Europe, as not many were sold outside of there
  • Lots of respect from “audiophiles”
  • Unique smell
  • No commercial cassettes are currently duplicated on Type 2 tape
  • Premium, great looking, shells
  • Very low hiss – the best tape for quiet music
  • Can make nearly verbatim copies of digital sources, but have the ability to still add analogue warmth
  • Massive soundstage and frequency response

Cons:

  • A small percentage of cassette decks don’t have a 70µs EQ facility, especially new ones. In these decks, Type 2 cassettes will sound like they have enhanced treble. Most decks however have no problem with them.
  • Not common and can be expensive

TYPE 2 – HIGH / CHROME POSITION – DOUBLE COAT FERRO / COBALT

Characteristics

These are what people bought back in the day when they really wanted to treat themselves, for those REALLY special recordings. Highly sought after and coveted, these are some of the greatest cassettes ever made. No duplicator duplicates to Type 2 tape, as it hasn’t been made for over 15 years and even then, was rarely used with pre-recorded cassettes. Nostalgia is strong with these.

Examples

  • TDK SA-X
  • Sony UX-S(ES, PRO)
  • Maxell XLII-S

Pros:

  • They’re branded as “High” so many think they simply just sound better than normal Type 1s, and on the whole, they do.
  • No commercial cassettes are currently duplicated on Type 2 tape
  • Some of the most beautiful yet well made shells, ever
  • Have the bass of a Type 1 ferric, but due to being double cobalt doped, can also take high frequencies
  • Low hiss – great for quiet music
  • Can make nearly verbatim copies of digital sources, but have the ability to still add analogue warmth as these are some of the “smoothest” tapes ever
  • Can be recorded “hot” to get maximum, natural ferric, compression

Cons:

  • A small percentage of cassette decks don’t have a 70µs EQ facility, especially new ones. In these decks, Type 2 cassettes will sound like they have enhanced treble. Most decks however have no problem with them.
  • Rare and expensive

TYPE 4 – METAL BIAS / POSITION

Characteristics

To some, the ultimate Compact Cassettes. Always expensive. Always rare. Designed for studio and live recording use. Takes signal better than any other cassette and can match the source. No mass-produced pre-recorded cassettes came on metal tape.

Examples

  • TDK MA(-X)
  • Sony Metal SR / ES
  • Maxell MX(-S)

Pros:

  • Legendary and dripping with credibility
  • They’re Metal cassettes, so many think they simply just sound better than any other cassette, and on the whole, they do.
  • No commercial cassettes were ever really duplicated on Type 4 tape
  • Some of the most beautiful yet well made shells, ever
  • Can take signal better than any other tape type
  • Can make verbatim copies of digital sources, but have the ability to still add analogue warmth as these are some of the best tapes ever
  • Can be recorded “hotter” than any other tape type, to get maximum, natural, compression

Cons:

  • A small percentage of cassette decks don’t have a 70µs EQ facility, especially new ones. In these decks, Type 4 cassettes will sound like they have enhanced treble and perhaps a bit harsh. Most decks however have no problem with them.
  • Rare and expensive

TYPE 4 – METAL BIAS / POSITION – SPECIALTY CASSETTES

Characteristics

The best cassettes ever made, that will never get made again. You are part of an elite club if you own these and collectors are always searching for them. You would only ever use these as a one off, as a “halo” product or as a prize in a competition, as they are simply too rare and expensive to use in any quantity. Their shells are genuine industrial works of art, encompassing alloys and ceramics. No mass-produced pre-recorded cassettes came on metal tape and certainly never of this calibre.

Examples

  • TDK MA-XG & R
  • Sony (Signature) Metal Master
  • Maxell Metal Vertex

Pros:

  • Legendary and dripping with credibility – you could claim you’ve released one of the most expensive cassette albums ever!
  • They’re Metal cassettes, so many think they simply just sound better than any other cassette, and on the whole, they do.
  • No commercial cassettes were ever really duplicated on Type 4 tape
  • The most beautiful yet well made shells, ever
  • Can take signal better than any other tape type
  • Can make verbatim copies of digital sources, but have the ability to still add analogue warmth as these are some of the best tapes ever
  • Can be recorded “hotter” than any other tape type, to get maximum, natural ferric, compression
  • Basically the ultimate cassettes

Cons:

  • A small percentage of cassette decks don’t have a 70µs EQ facility, especially new ones. In these decks, Type 4 cassettes will sound like they have enhanced treble and perhaps a bit harsh. Most decks however have no problem with them.
  • Ultra rare and super expensive

Don't get hung up on one type

Due to the nature of these being New Old Stock cassettes, we can't simply phone up a distributor and order in what is required, so we have to use what is in stock.

So why not mix things up a bit? Have your music recorded on a variety of different cassettes! All Type 2, but some on TDK, some on Sony etc...

Even mix types, some on Type 1, some on Type 2 and maybe as a special prize, some on Type 4 metals! Variety is the spice of life!

Tape lengths

Due to being restricted to the size of the cassette, and not being able to custom wind them, here are the usual sizes that can be offered:

  • 30 Minutes – 1 side of a C60 – Other side blank
  • 37 Minutes – 1 Side of a C74 where available – Other side blank
  • 45 Minutes - 1 side of a C90 – Other side blank or both sides of a C46 where available
  • 50 Minutes – One side of a C100 where available – Other side blank
  • 60 Minutes – Both sides of a C60
  • 74 Minutes – Both Sides of a C74 where available
  • 90 Minutes – Both sides of a C90
  • 100 Minutes – Both sides of a C100 where available
  • 120 Minutes – Both sides of a C120 where available

Smaller lengths can be accommodated where the cassettes are available.

What about the packaging?

Every cassette is pretty much packaged the same way; the shells are plain, so anything can be UV printed on to it and a J-Card is printed and put in to the cassette case.

However, SSQ cassettes are designed to be of a low production run and the shells of the cassettes aren’t plain.

Part of the appeal is that classic cassettes are used and their aesthetics are part of what makes them special, you don’t want to cover them up.

As such, custom cases and J-Cards can be created and custom stickers can be applied to the shells.

Since commercial printers will not create these, due to the low quantities, they will be created and printed in house to a high standard.

This is actually appealing to collectors and fans, as they give the illusion that you hand made them, and perhaps numbered and signed them, and will make them stand out more than usual mass-produced packaging.

We can produce the artwork in house for your approval or use art you have already had prepared, print and ship them to you separately, so you can personally sign and number them. Maybe put a little message on the inside?

All cards and stickers will be printed full colour on glossy photo stock or clear acetate where applicable.

When you make it big, these will be the items that will change hands for the big money among collectors.

“Genuine SSQ” foil stickers will be applied on the J-Cards and cassettes, so as to prove their authenticity.

The two case options are:

  1. Standard “Norelco” shell with single sided, fold out J-Card - The backs of these are available in a variety of colours

  1. Retro black or white case with full colour insert

I'm sold! How do we make this happen?

Ok, this is a boutique service. The maximum amount we will duplicate is 25 pieces in total. This keeps them rare and desirable. 

If you want hundreds to put in a suitcase and sell after gigs at £4.99, this isn't for you.

How much will they cost?

It depends on the cassette used, how long the cassette will be and what case you want to use. Look on our webstore at the cassettes we have in stock, or contact us for guidance for what would be the best cassette for your release.

The constants are:

  • Cost of the cassette - Look at the webstore (we can sometimes discount depending on quantities in stock)
  • Custom J-Card / Insert / cassette stickers = £1.50 per cassette
  • Duplication cost = £0.04 per minute per cassette
  • Original Norelco cassette case = Free or
  • Custom Norelco case = POA or
  • White / Black Retro case = £4.99 per cassette
  • P&P

Best thing to do is use the contact form; https://www.cassettecomeback.com/pages/contact-us tell us what your thoughts are and we can take it from there.

So we hope this is something that the worlds No1 Cassette retailer can offer you and look forward to making an awesome release with you!

Tony Villa

CEO - Cassette Comeback