In a world where streaming audio is quickly becoming the listening method of choice, the sale of hard copy formats should logically decline. That may be the case for CDs, but not so for vinyl. And vinyl isn’t the only retro format that’s on the rise again.
In 2014, the National Audio Company made more than 10 million audio cassette tapes. National Audio — headquartered in Springfield, Missouri — sells directly to bands, indie record labels and more, which is enough business to keep them producing miles of tape every day.
National Audio Company President Steve Stepp spoke with Marketplace’s Molly Wood about why tapes made a comeback and how they keep the format alive — even when equipment manufacturers go out of business.
On who buys tapes these days:
The end users are the under 35 age group. These are people who grew up with the MP3 and earbuds and that’s what they thought music sounded like. And then at some point in time, they listened to grandpa’s open reel tapes or cassettes, or maybe his LPs, and they heard real analog music. And they thought “Wow! That’s what music sounds like.” … The retro revolution is part of it, but the second thing is a realization that we really got away from something good when we gave up analog audio. And people now who have heard the two types prefer it.
A look at the audio cassette–making process. (Courtesy National Audio Company)
On analog’s better audio fidelity:
…The second thing is a realization that we really got away from something good when we gave up analog audio, and people now who have heard the two types prefer it. These people may be under 35 now, but they’ll be 36 and then 37 and then 40 and then 45. They will have made that comparison and decided that analog won in their opinion.
On the machines they use to make audio cassettes:
Our equipment is all orphans. The people who build it, not only don’t build that equipment, they’re out of business. So we have to be able to maintain all the equipment that we have here. We have our own machine shop to make parts if metal parts break. And the other little secret that we have is we have enough equipment in reserve as we have on the floor right now. So we could easily double our capacity without even going to another shift.
Courtesy National Audio Company
On current tape sales:
It’s growing probably at the rate of about 20 percent a year right now… That was the reason we kept buying equipment. There isn’t going to be any more. We know there’s no tomorrow if we don’t buy the parts and pieces we need today.
We’re here to help you navigate this changed world and economy.
Our mission at Marketplace is to raise the economic intelligence of the country. It’s a tough task, but it’s never been more important.
In the past year, we’ve seen record unemployment, stimulus bills, and reddit users influencing the stock market. Marketplace helps you understand it all, will fact-based, approachable, and unbiased reporting.
Generous support from listeners and readers is what powers our nonprofit news—and your donation today will help provide this essential service. For just $5/month, you can sustain independent journalism that keeps you and thousands of others informed.