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consumer indifference explained: Elcaset

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Fenris Wulf:
I've been enjoying the station's huge vinyl collection but NOT enjoying the surface noise and scratches. I started thinking about the compact cassette (which was designed for dictation, not music) as a delivery medium, and why someone didn't make a better version with twice the width, twice the speed, and a proper transport instead of a little felt pad holding the tape against the head.

It turns out someone DID. It was called the Elcaset, it was technically brilliant, and it was a complete failure in the marketplace.


So if you ever wonder why digital has gone BACKWARD since the introduction of the CD thirty years ago and nobody seems to care, there's your answer. Convenience is everything.

Oh, I remember Elcaset quite well.

It's a great example of how -given a choice between better quality or greater quantity- people will always ignore quality, once it passes the 'acceptable' point.


I remember the Elcaset. It didn't live long.

As I recall, it didn't offer aural improvement over the reel to reel and cost about the same, so the hi-fi nuts stuck with open reels.

It was too expensive for the general public, plus we were still enamored with the cassette because it was so much better than what it replaced:  the 8-track. A cassette was golden by comparison.

Fenris Wulf:
Elcaset would be equivalent to a quarter-track 3 3/4 ips machine. We have a few of those around and they sound pretty good, especially the Akai with a crossfield head design that makes 3 3/4 sound like 7 1/2.

Elcaset would have been a pretty fine release format, IMO. More pleasant than CD, cleaner than vinyl, smaller than VHS, and more durable than any of them. 1/4" tape doesn't really wear out unless it's abused.

I was telling the previous station manager of my disdain for all forms of digital technology, and he offered digital watches as a counter-example. I said, "Actually, I have three or four digital clocks and NONE of them keep accurate time. If digital watches had never been invented, and all the R&D went into mechanical watches instead, we'd probably have cheap and reliable mechanical watches by now."

Short of supervillain tactics (like designing a virus that eats rare earth elements and disables all the world's digital devices), it'll never happen. But one can always dream.

I think that the conclusion drawn from this example is narrow. Clearly there is more than one environment that people want to experience music in.

One is a mobile environment. Cars, beach, gym, etc. In this environment convenience (and rightly so) trumps all. There is no real benefit with fidelity racing down the hi-way with your windows open tunes cranked. As a matter of fact your better served with less dynamic music as well. So competing with a mobile playback system by offering fidelity at an expense of convenience is a mistake. And apparently proven to be so.

The other environment is a fixed listening environment. Home theatre, home stereo, etc. Now unless a new product can trump an existing one in fidelity and features, it's a tough sell. And you have to know your market, especially in today's society where this market is becoming more and more "niche".

I think a product that tries to balance the two will always fail. I do wonder how the Elcaset compared sonically to vinyl? That would give a better understanding as to it's failure. Obviously it would have lacked the perceived value vinyl can offer in the artwork and add ons department.


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