Interesting read from ars technica discussing the rise and fall of the digital compact cassette:
DCC seemed the logical way to bring top-quality sound into the world’s living rooms—with a system that could still play the hundreds of millions of analogue cassette tapes that consumers already owned worldwide, and which they and their parents had been using since the 1960s.
So how can old-style tape ever be digital? The answer is actually quite simple. Digital information is recorded or “laid down” onto the magnetic tape as digi code, just like it is imprinted onto a layer on a CD or DVD. The player then reads the code off the tape as it travels through the heads, and decodes it back into an audio music stream.
The tech was pretty impressive for the time. The 18-bit digital tapes had two stereo sides of four tracks each and were up to 90 minutes in length. The decks themselves could still play normal cassettes that might have been bought 20 or 30 years before.
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