Paying tribute to the lamented, giant-size Japanese cassette Hi-Fi fans love to love.
PHIL STRONGMAN (UK)
Back before all-digital music, back before the Digital Compact Cassette, back before even theDigital Audio Tape existed, there was a strange audio device that briefly captured the imagination of Hi-Fi freaks across the world. The Elcaset, as it was called, was an enlarged cassette that started in Japan, wove its hidden, spinning spools around the world, and then finished, appropriately enough, in Finland.
The humble compact cassette was already more than a decade old in 1976, and its pros and cons had by then become fairly clear to most punters. It wasn’t a huge reel-to-reel deck as was used by pro studios and was thus portable by the standards of the day—even though Sony’s cassette Walkman was still a few years away.
The compact cassette’s sound was generally acceptable for a generation raised on crackly mono Dansette record players. But the small tape size—two sets of stereo tracks squeezed onto a strip of tape just 3.81mm wide—and the slow playback speed of 4.76cm (1⅞ inches) per second rendered the device incapable of really capturing and playing anything near the full sonic range that music ultimately requires. What’s more, there was often plenty of hiss that couldn’t easily be masked.
So 40 years ago, a trio of rising Japanese electronics giants decided to inject some quality into the game, something that they hoped would hit the Hi-Fi market as well as aspiring consumers and indie studios. Thus Panasonic, Sony, and Teac came up with the Elcaset, a larger small format. It was virtually twice the size of the old cassette—more like a paperback book in size, at a hefty 15cm wide, 10cm tall, and 2cm deep.