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Beginner Hi Fi for Cassette Tapes

I'm a meat and potatoes kind of cassette guy- not an audiophile. I got into tapes to save money on vinyl after buying a Technics deck, hooking it up to my receiver, and jamming my recently acquired first modern tape- iconAclass: Changing Culture With Revolvers, and finding out it sounded dope as fuck- which I wasn't expecting. I grew up taping music off the radio and making mixtapes from CDs for the car but had no idea they could sound as good as a record, if not better in many cases, especially considering the often significant difference in price.

I'm an example of someone who was buying tapes and vinyl beyond their means when I got into collecting- so when I faced financial hardship in late 2019 then again in early 2020, my collection became my primary source of income.

With that in mind I like to stress the investment factor of your collection, which means playing your expensive tapes on something that won't eat them and taking good care of them so they retain value if you ever do need to sell them.

Anyway- serious serious serious. This is about getting down to it and having the best experience with tapes for your money. Let's talk that first (or maybe second or third, even) cassette deck.

There really is no need to carry tapes around for portability- streaming is so convenient. In my opinion the full tape listening experience happens at home in the same place you listen to your records or CDs. Still, many will go for the Walkman for their first cassette player (Guardians of The Galxy, anyone?), though I feel this is a mistake (not anything to judge or hold against anyone. Many also try to use the term "walkman" for any small, portable player with a belt clip. I don't like to do this. Sony built the Walkman and if you are going to get a Walkman, get the real thing, or a comparable player from that era- REFURBISHED or expect to deal with learning to fix the thing.) On cassette forums, the number one thing I see is people demanding to know what is wrong with or how to fix their tape players, particular Walkman and other portables, when all that information should be available on youtube. To me, buying these portable players and expecting them to last long only leads to disappointment, and then you're back to spotify anyway at that point. 

To get the full auditory values from your tapes, you need a classic hi-fi stereo setup: Cassette player, receiver, speakers, speaker wire and AV cables (those red and white things, whatever they're called).

Repairing the little Pads: You should also have some school glue and a tweezers handy for re gluing the felt pads- pinch a pad with a tweezers, dip the bottom side in a tiny dab of glue, lift the tape itself slightly out of the shell using the bottom of the tweezers- re glue, rewind, and let it dry.

This setup doesn't have to be expensive- you can always start scrappy and build a more pleasing syetem aesthetically later while getting value from your tapes in the meantime. Of course, expensive means different things to different people but I'm going to show examples of stereo builds for a variety of budgets.

For your first deck I recommend something from the 1990s by Technics- REFURBISHED or not at all. (If you find one in working condition, for a price you can live with, by all means don't pass it up.) These usually have cool 90s conveniences and features like Dolby noise reduction, auto reverse, etc. There is something to be said about players with less moving parts lasting longer (Meaning no auto reverse,etc). I like auto reverse, though- you don't have to get up to flip the tape like you would a record. Purists would probably slap me but I dig the convenience, shamelessly.

Technics decks are well-rounded, solid decks- nothing fancy but also a lot of depth for the price. You can find them readily repaired and tuned on eBay, generally for around $100 including shipping- you'll pay the same for a new Pyle or whatever they brand those modern things as, as they're all the same, as you've likely heard, just with slightly different setups. They will never be capable of sounding as good as the machines built in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. So why waste the time and money? Go for the real thing, right away. 

Technics Decks on eBay:

Technics RS-TR170 Stereo Dual Double Cassette Deck Recorder

Technics RS-M231X 

Technics RS-915 Cassette Deck Player Recorder

If you have a million dollars or a bitcoin or something get a Nakamichi Dragon. Otherwise don't worry about that shit when the tape bullies tell you that's what you get first (and there are tape bullies on the forums, lol...?).

You need a receiver. If you're running your record player without a receiver, this is a great time to get that outta here and hook the thing up to a receiver. You can generally find cheap Sony receivers which will last a while before burning out. There is no shortage of receivers in the way there is a shortage of sorts of solid, refurbished tape players.

Sony Receiver Audio Video Center STR-D390 Tested & Working

I've also seen tiny Microcomponent receivers by Panasonic,Toshiba and Sony that include a CD player as well as USB and bluetooth, and you can totally rock a tape deck with one of these- you just plug in the cassette player to the audio in, and the speakers also plug directly in to it.

Toshiba Micro Component Bluetooth Stereo - TY-ASW91- NO REMOTE- Works!

If you have a million dollars I don't know what to recommend. I guess that's awesome! On to speakers.

This is embarrassing, but the only speakers I've used for the past 5 years or so were Bose 141 Bookshelf Speakers. I generally find them at thrift stores or try to pay no more than $50/pair. I'm cheap. Have you figured that out yet? 

Bose 141

If you'd like me to build you a budget stereo, email me at and I'll do my best to help you find something cool within your budget. Having even a basic hi fi setup in the home is the mist rewarding way to enjoy the investment you've made in your cassette tapes and records.

Here are some additional resources:

How to Hi-Fi: A Beginner's Guide to Home Audio Equipment

Reddit Extreme Budget Hi Fi

Youtube: Audiophile System For Under $350