Analog technology at its impressive best.

Before the days of cd, digital software editors and portable mp3 players, us music lovers were constrained to the tinny, hollow and crackly world of analog technology.  This included the joy of listening to your favourite tune from a scratchy record, a hissy cassette, or an eight track cartridge, where you could have sworn you were listening to two tracks at once, only to realise that your cart-players heads were out of alignment from the tape.  Just like many things, there was the badly manufactured stuff, and.... the well crafted audio units that sounded fantastic.

Unfortunately, through the rush of the large consumer electronic companies, wanting to be the first and best with the latest technology, and the cost cutting with the manufacturing of items, some products that were well designed have become discontinued, and are no longer available on the market.  I'm referring to the best piece of analog equipment ever made, the Philips D 8514 Powerplay Cassette Recorder Unit.

History of cassettes.

Philips, with some help from Sony, invented the compact audio cassette in 1963.  Initially the sound quality of the cassette technology was abysmal, as it was mainly made for talking tapes.  Cassette tapes were a small plastic shell that was around the size of a pack of playing cards, that carried a reel of tape.  The tape was a polyester plastic, coated with a ferric oxide, and a cleaning agent that prevented the oxide from shedding from the tape during recording and playing.

During the 1970's, the quality of cassette tapes had greatly improved, as manufacturers like TDK, Maxell and Hitachi used better materials.  This included the making of Chrome-dioxide cassettes.  The advent of Metal-oxide cassettes soon followed, and the recording of music on tapes became very popular.  The success of the technology was further spurred on by the portable radio cassette recorder.  These machines would eventually earn the name "ghetto blaster", as they were featured in several music movies of the early 1980's.  The units would carry a radio and cassette recorder in one unit, but by 1983, would expand to also include an amplifier, such as the Philips D 8514, the most impressive piece of technology ever made.

As these units were massed produced on a large scale, many of them had sounded tinny, as the speaker systems were small.  The recordings that they made were often contaminated with ambient sounds from the motors and mechanisms from the machine.  With the advent of FM radio, many young people had used the machines to tape songs off the radio, and build up a collection of mixed tapes.

The Philips D 8514 Powerplay Unit.

Still to this day, the Philips D 8514 was impressive in it's design and performance.  It successfully overcame all of the problems associated with portable cassette recorders.  Manufactured in England, and marketed across Western Europe in 1983-1984, the unit sold well.  This was achieved by the designers objective, as they were wanting to create a high end quality cassette recorder, rather then a "run-of-the-mill" all in one unit, seen in many electric stores now-a-days.

The design was simple, as the unit was not burdened with cd players, over-the-top equalizers, and other components that would have impacted on the units quality.  The parts were also superior to other units, as they were made in Europe.  Unlike any other portable unit, even up to this day, it recorded it's audio in Hi-Fi stereo sound, and was able to do this onto any cassette format, ferro, chrome and metal.

Rather then having a cheap cd player shoved into the top or side, the D8514 had several input and output jacks at the back, which at the time allowed for a cd player.  By today's standards, the unit versatility would still be impressive as dvd players, mp3 players, or any other "RCA plug" compliant device could still be hooked up to the system.  The D8514 also carried output plugs to connect larger external speakers if required.

Excellent sound output was achieved by Philips inserting to tweeter-woofers at the top of each speaker.  Though small, they were good enough to give the sound of a small hi-fi system.

The units ability to record events, such as live concerts and performances was nothing short of amazing, as it carried two inbuilt microphones.  These were not the average mass produced microphones that were made in Asia, rather-more, a microphone designed by Philips, which was either made in England or the Netherlands.  The sensitivity of the mics was vivid, as recordings made by the unit were faithful.  In the days of having a working unit, I would be able to record conversations from the opposite side of the house, something that could not be done with any of today's units.  From the aspect of recording a concert, it would pick up the softest instruments. (and even the drop of a hanky :) :) ).

The use of the unit was easy, as the base, treble, balance, and spatial stereo controls were all controlled by rotating knobs, rather then the fiddly buttons, found on many of today's units.  The tuning of stations was also controlled by a knob.  The recorder was also capable of receiving short-wave stations, as well as FM, AM, and long-wave.  The recorder carried a rear-end plug for an external antenna for improving radio reception, though the built in antenna performed great, and could receive many of the radio stations in Sydney, and some Gosford and Wollongong stations, depending on the weather.

Some parts to my Philips D8514 needed to be repaired in 1992, after a good nine year work out.  To my big "BIG" disappointment, I could not get the unit repaired, as the parts were not replaceable.  After looking through many electric consumer stores like Harvey Norman, Dick Smith, Brashs, Big W, Len Wallis Audio, Sydney Hi-Fi, and the countless other stores, I would find nothing that would compare.   I still find it amazing that no other system, even ones over $1,500 come nowhere close to the versatility and quality of the Philips D8514 Powerplay Unit.

I would like to use this page to beg to Philips, if they can please, please, please pull out the old design of this unit from 1983, and run a whole lot more of these cassette recorders off.  Cassette tapes still carry a certain ease of use, that digital technology lacks.  Cassette recording is instant, and with a unit like this, can still sound professional.

Blank Audio Cassette Manufacturing.
(1980 to 1985)

The technology that went into manufacturing the actual blank cassettes was at its peak during the period of 1980 through to 1985.  This was when Hitachi and Maxell developed their cassettes, using special manufacturing techniques.  Individual parts of the cassette, such as the slip sheets, the spindles and the actual material composition of the tape were refined to absolute perfection.

Slip Sheets:  The most important and crucial reliability attribute of a cassette tape, is it's ability to playback with absolute perfect tape-to-head alignment.  Though many tapes did this to a good degree, Maxell achieved absolute perfection with their then "LN" and UL" Series cassettes.  This was done by moulding a ribbed pattern into their slip-sheets, which would tightly guide the tapes traveling path through playing and winding.  The slip sheets would also assure that the tape would be wounded onto the spool evenly, as the ribs on the sheet would keep the tape aligned exactly through the entire spool.

No oxide shedding,

After manually cleaning the heads of a cassette recorder with a wet solution, it was possible to play a hundred of these Maxell cassettes on the same unit, resulting in no oxide residual on the head.  Upon opening there tapes, it was not possible to see how this was done, but I would guess it either be a incredibly good binder, or a certain oxide that didn't shed.  This was so with there "UL", "UR", "UD" and "XL" tapes.

Unfortunately it seems that Maxell have made several changes to the way they manufacture tapes, and as for today, none of these high-end tapes are no longer available.

Maxell S-LN 90  -  First Generation  -  First manufactured in 1991  -  Released to Market in late 1992

Maxell UD 90  -  Second Generation  -  First manufactured in 1976  -  Released to Market in late 1977

Maxell UD-XL II 90  -  Second Generation  -  First manufactured in 1982  -  Released to Market in early 1983

Maxell UR 120  -  Seventh Generation  -  First manufactured in 1995  -  Released to Market in early 1996

Sony HF 120  -  Eighth Generation  -  First manufactured in 1995  -  Released to Market in early 1996

TDK D-60 -  Seventh Generation  -  First manufactured in 1986  -  Released to Market in late 1986

Maxell UD 120 -  Fourth Generation  -  First manufactured in 1982  -  Released to Market in late 1982

Maxell XL-II 90 -  Fifth Generation  -  First manufactured in 1987  -  Released to Market in late 1987

Maxell LN 90 -  Fourth Generation  -  First manufactured in 1987  -  Released to Market in 1988

Above is a selection of scans from my personal cassette collection.  Note how most of the tapes are Maxell, as I found this brand the most reliable.  The last two tapes on the bottom, (Maxell XL-II 90 and the Maxell LN-90), are tapes that were used very heavily in their day.  With the production of my first programs on community radio, I literally went through a truck of these, as they were cheaply available at the local grocery store, of all places. :) :)


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