Cassette Decks: Frequently Asked Questions
Heads up!Welcome to this article from the Crutchfield archives. Have fun reading it, but be aware that the information may be outdated and links may be broken.
Q: What's the difference between 2-head and 3-head cassette decks?
A: For recording, a tape head functions as a small electromagnet powered by the audio signal. The current flowing through its coils induces a magnetic field that penetrates the tape and alters the magnetic state of the tape particles. During playback, this process is reversed: The magnetic field of the tape is picked up, inducing an electrical current in the head's coils.
A 2-head cassette deck uses a single head for the recording and playback functions. The second head is for erasing. This design produces fine results in both recording and playback.
If you do a lot of recording, stepping up to a 3-head deck has several advantages. It uses separate heads for play, record, and erase for better performance. With each head optimized for its singular task, you'll enjoy better recording and playback performance — including improved frequency response — than you would with a 2-head deck.
Also, 3-head decks are arranged so that the erase head comes first, the record head second, and the playback head last in the tape path. This design lets you listen to the signal on a tape just instants after it was recorded, without interrupting the recording process. This is especially useful for checking the quality of a recording in progress, and for making fine adjustments to signal level and bias.
Q: If I don't plan on doing any tape-to-tape dubbing, is there any reason to consider a dual-well deck?
A: That depends on the ways you like to record and listen to music. One non-dubbing feature that many people like about auto-reverse dual-well decks is the ability to relay play two tapes. With the press of a single button, you can enjoy hours of continuous music — both sides of both tapes you've got loaded will play in succession, and you won't have to lift a finger.
Q: Cassettes have been around for a long time. Are they about to disappear?
A: No. It is true that other formats, like the CD and MP3, have outpaced the cassette, but many people still use cassettes at home, in their cars, and in their portables. This is especially true for people who have invested a lot of time and money in a cassette collection, or for music lovers whose favorite albums were never re-released in a digital format. And today's cassette decks offer advanced performance and loads of user-friendly features, so you can enjoy your cassettes for years to come.