Forget vinyl, cassette tapes are the hippest new format from the past

cassette tapes thrive 80s nostalgia
dubassy/Shutterstock

Vinyl records aren’t the only analog music media undergoing a revival in the modern era. A company that specializes in another nostalgic format — cassette tapes — just had its best year ever.

Springfield, Missouri-based National Audio Company (NAC), which opened in 1969, produced 10 million tapes last year according to a Bloomberg. report. The company noted that cassette sales are up 20 percent year-over-year, with 70 percent of the sales in the music category. The news follows the aging format’s recent resurgence on a broader scale, which has resulted in cassette-only record labels, an annual Cassette Store Day, and even a cassette re-release of Metallica’s debut record Hit the Lights.

NAC is the leading cassette tape manufacturer in the U.S., producing runs for both major record labels like Sony Music Entertainment and Universal Music Group, and a variety of indie labels.

“I think you could characterize our operating model as stubbornness and stupidity,” said the company’s president Steve Stepp to Bloomberg. “Now, we’re making more audio cassettes than we’ve ever made. And that’s something to say in 2015.”

The company, which still uses machines built in the ’70s, has stayed alive since the format’s heyday in the mid ’80s. And Stepp isn’t too surprised about the revival. Apparently 30 Rock’s Dennis Duffy was right: Technology is cyclical.

“[We were] preparing ourselves to pick the music market up when it came back,” he said in a Bloomberg video, “and that’s exactly what happened.” Now, NAC is responsible for producing cassette releases for do-it-yourself basement bands, big acts like Metallica, and even the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack.

The latter soundtrack was the second best-selling cassette of 2014, selling 2300 copies according to Rolling Stone. That’s no surprise to those who’ve seen the movie, given Star Lord’s love for his prized cassette mixtape. Late Mexican singer Cuco Sanchez’s Tu Solo Tu was the top seller, with 2600 units. These numbers may pale in comparison to 2014’s top vinyl sellers (Jack White leads that list with 87,000 copies sold of Lazaretto), but they’re still rather impressive in the streaming age.

Cassette sales surely aren’t going to usurp CD, vinyl, or digital download sales, but they’re enough to keep one company’s doors open for 46 years. And that’s due, first and foremost, to good old fashioned nostalgia. “Probably the thing that has really enlarged our business at a faster phase than anything is the retro movement,” explained Stepp.

Computing

Mueller report releases on CD, forces Congress to find PCs with disc drives

The Mueller report was released this week to Congress via CDs and congressional members had to find PCs with working disc drives to access the 400-page document. The redacted report was also released to the public on a website.
Gaming

The hottest Nintendo Switch games you can get right now

The Nintendo Switch's lineup started off small, but games have steadily released as the console continues through its second year. Here are the best Nintendo Switch games available now.
Home Theater

Record Store Day is here! Here's how to build a killer vinyl collection

Feeling the vinyl vibe? You're not alone. If you're interested in starting your own record collection and listening to tunes the analog way, we're here to help. This guide will take you through everything you need to know.
Gaming

Feeling nostalgic? Here are the 25 best Sega Genesis games

Although the company has since fallen into obscurity, Sega was an indisputable titan throughout the '90s. That said, here are 25 best Sega Genesis games that helped define its fabled decade.
Home Theater

Is Amazon making headphones to compete with the Apple’s AirPods?

Amazon is reportedly working on a pair of Alexa-enabled true wireless headphones to compete with Apple's AirPods. The new true wireless model will allow people to bring Alexa with them anywhere and may come out in the fall.
Music

The best new music this week: Weyes Blood, Ages and Ages, and many more

Looking for the best new music? Each week, we find the most compelling new releases just for you. This week: Ages and Ages, John Vanderslice, Kendrick Scott Oracle, Louis Cole, Shana Cleveland, Tyler Ramsey, and Weyes Blood.
Home Theater

Amazon’s Echo Link and Echo Link Amp bring hi-fi sound to Alexa’s living room

Amazon's Echo Link and Echo Link Amp are designed to bring high-fidelity sound to your Alexa ecosystem. Are they worth the significant expense over a smaller Echo speaker, and how well do they integrate into a typical hi-fi system?
Music

How to clean your records to keep them looking good and sounding sweet

Vinyl records are back in a big way, but the sound quality can suffer if you don't keep your collection clean. Check out our tips for keeping your vinyl and stylus immaculate, so you can hear every note of your favorite analog tunes.
Music

These droolworthy albums are among the most expensive vinyl records of all time

From rare Beatles originals to one-off test pressings, these are some of the most expensive vinyl records on Earth — the kind of discs that make plaid-clad record collectors and average listeners alike green with envy. Or sticker shock…
Home Theater

Keep those albums sounding great by converting your vinyl to a digital format

There are all sorts of reasons for ripping records and storing them digitally, but what's the best way to do it? We cover the different types of equipment and software available for ripping records at any price in this guide.
Emerging Tech

Even a true rock god can’t smash this unbreakable 3D-printed metal guitar

Rock stars love to smash guitars. Geeky engineers love to build things using the latest high-tech tools. What happens when both parties meet? This "unbreakable" 3D-printed metal guitar.
Home Theater

Celebrate Record Store Day in style with the best vinyl setups

From simple and affordable to sleek and swanky, these are our recommendations for incredible vinyl setups that will allow you to listen to your favorite records with outstanding fidelity and take your collection to the next level.
Music

Amazon rumored to be launching free music-streaming service

Rumors are swirling that Amazon is planning to take on Spotify by launching its own free, ad-supported music streaming service. This seems to be a move aimed at Echo users in particular.
Home Theater

Surface Buds? Microsoft might make AirPods competitors, joining Amazon and others

Microsoft is reportedly hard at work developing its own true wireless headphone model to compete with top offerings from Apple, Samsung, and others. It's aiming to take on the AirPods and Galaxy buds with its own pair of portable in-ears.