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Elcaset Articles

 

Here are some random articles about the Elcaset format that I have found buried on the web.


From Stereo Review October 1976, page 71

ALTHOUGH it won't be available until well into 1977, you'll be hearing more and more over the next several months about a new tape format called the elcaset. No, it was not designed in Mexico or in Spain-, it originated in Japan, and as of the moment it has the support of Sony, Teac, Technics, Akai, and JVC. To appreciate where the elcaset is coming from technically, rather than geographically, you first have to understand some things about the conventional cassette format.

At the time of the cassette's birth a dozen or so years ago, its parents (Philips of the Netherlands) never thought that it would one day grow up to be a high-quality recording medium. As I remember the early ads, there were frequent references to a "sound-camera" concept. The "compact cassette" (as it was, and is, known formally) was intended merely to duplicate the convenience and simplicity of the Brownie box camera, to provide sonic "snapshots" of a quality no higher than the Brownie's visual ones. The cassette's subsequent history proves that one can make a sonic silk purse out of a sow's ear-if enough talented engineers are put on the job. However, from the purist's point of view, the cassette still suffers, when compared to the reel-to-reel format, from a variety of inherent technical handicaps.

THE first of these is that there are just too many mechanical tape functions built into the cassette itself. ("Cassette" means, literally, "little box," but in the audio sense it refers not to the container, but to the tape unit contained.) Everything from the tape-to-head contact, through the friction of the feed hubs, to the guidance of the tape as it passes over the heads is determined, for better or worse, by the individual cassette and not by the machine playing it. Thus each cassette is a separate potential source of mechanical (and therefore sonic) variables. Other problems: the cassette's size and its single, slow playing speed (1-7/8 ips) are fixed: Philips has been rather rigid in refusing to license any variations on their original patented scheme. (As a matter of fact, there was for a time some question even about whether the Dolby-B system was "compatible" enough for Philips.)

The 1-7/8-ips playing speed is the source of a variety of interrelated technical problems: low overload margin, high-frequency distortion, and inadequate high-frequency response. These, together with the cassette's narrow tape and track width, also make a relatively high hiss level almost inevitable.

Nonetheless, it is clear that today's cassette machines work well, and, when tape of the highest quality is individually and carefully recorded and played back on the best available machine, it is frequently impossible to tell a duplicated program from a high-quality original. However, for optimum results, everything has to be close to the state of the art including the user's recording technique. There is very little margin for error, and the errors that do occur are, not easily edited out. 'The better cassette machines and tapes certainly fulfill the recording needs of the vast majority of home tapesters, but for the purist and the live recordist, open-reel is still the preferred format for the reasons mentioned above and for several more as well.

The promoters of the elcaset format have it as their intention to profit (in both senses) from the shortcomings of the cassette by combining the convenience of the cassette with the technical advantages of open reel. How? First of all, by increasing the tape width to 1/4 inch and the tape speed to 3-3/4 ips. The wider recording track and the faster speed are tremendously helpful in providing greater recording-overload headroom and reducing both distortion and noise level. They do, however, make for a larger (see photo above) cartridges - 6 inches wide, 4-1/8 inches deep, and 3/4 inch thick-and (for the moment, at least) a maximum playing time of 45 minutes per side.

An additional, though not visible, benefit of the elcaset system is that the tape is actually drawn out of its shell during play. This means not only that the playing machine handles the tape in much the same way as open reel, but that it can be edited easily. There is also accurate tape guidance, precisely controllable tape-to-head "wrap," and full support to prevent skewing and help provide a smooth wind. The same open-reel head configurations-and the same high-quality heads that have served with distinction for many years can now be built into a cartridge-format machine. And, since the back of the tape is now accessible, use of a crossfield-bias head becomes feasible.

Almost all users are aware that the compact cassette has knockout tabs on the rear to prevent accidentally re-recording over an already recorded tape. In addition, some cassette manufacturers supply another notch that provides (on some machines) automatic switching to CrO2 bias and equalization. Elcaset has these same coding slots and notches plus several more, including one with tabs that are labeled noise reduction.

Track arrangement on the elcaset is the same as for the compact cassette (two adjacent parallel tracks in each direction), except that there is also provision for a pair of novel "control" tracks running right down the middle of the tape, separating the two tracks of side one from those of side two. Each control track is less than half the width of an elcaset audio track. As of the moment, the projected purpose of the control tracks has not been made explicit, but they could serve for slide synchronization, cueing, or even selection finding if the appropriate sensing electronics are built into the player.

As a prerecorded-music format, the elcaset appears to be ideal. It should be far easier for a duplicator to turn out high-quality copies in elcaset form than in cassettes. And, as mentioned above, some sort of automatic selection cueing signal could be recorded on the control tracks along with the music on the other four tracks. The advantages of the elcaset as a home-recording medium, however, are not quite that clear-cut. For example, at the moment the elcaset has a 45-minute maximum playing time per side; a standard 1,800 foot, 7-inch open-reel tape operating at 3-3/4 ips will provide 90 minutes per side. The question, then, is not whether the elcaset can match open-reel quality (it is safe to assume it can), but whether those tapesters who are really concerned about recording quality are also terribly bugged by the several inconveniences of open reel.

It is clear that the designers of the elcaset have fulfilled their intention to provide in one format both the technical advantages of open reel and the convenience advantages of the cassette. Now it is up to time and the tape consumer to determine whether the elcaset is a superbly designed solution to a nonexistent problem or whether it is the format breakthrough the tape world has been waiting for. How do you feel about it? -Larry Klein

The three elcaset units on the cover were introduced at the June Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago (see September cover story). They are, top to bottom, Sony's Model EL-5, the Teac prototype, and the new machine from Technics.


From:  Dead Media Project, Dead Media Note 06.6 -

Dead Medium: the Elcaset cartridge tape and player

The Elcaset was a cartridge tape format introduced by several Japanese electronics firms in the late 1970s for use in high fidelity audio home systems.

"Basically, Elcaset is a king size cassette [i.e. Large cassette, hence the name] measuring about six by four inches, versus about four by two and a half inches for the Philips cassette. It is three quarters of an inch thick; the Philips is a half-inch thick. The Elcaset runs at 3 3/4 ips [inches per second]; the Philips at 1 7/8 ips. " [reference two]

The Elcaset was a compromise between the all-out performance of an expensive reel-to-reel deck and the convenience of a cartridge format. The machines were heavy, sturdy devices more like professional equipment in construction than most home tape recorders. Although the tape was stored in a plastic cartridge, when it was inserted in a player a loop of tape was drawn into the workings of the machine, where the precision mechanism pulled it smoothly past the tape heads:

"In the new format the tape transport is responsible for accurate movement of the tape past the tape heads. The tape is 'pulled' out of the Elcaset and moved between guides built into the transport. In the Philips system, tape movement accuracy is controlled by guides built into the cassette." [reference two]

The tape was divided into six tracks; four were used to store two stereo music programs, the other two were control tracks used to store cueing information. Machines used a form of Dolby noise reduction and some (like the TEAC AL 700) could use optional, external Dolby units to achieve slightly better performance.

Introduced at a time when ordinary audio cassettes could not meet reel-to-reel performance, the Elcaset seemed to have some appeal for serious home recording enthusiasts. However, the machines were more expensive than high-end cassette units ($650-1200) and record companies never offered a catalog of recorded Elcasets. The machines were pulled off the market within a couple of years, following slow sales.

Models actually offered for sale included the JVC LD-777 ($800), the Sony EL-5 and EL-7 ($630 and $880), the TEAC AL-700 ($1100), and the Technics RS-7500US ($650). Marantz announced a line of Elcaset recorders, but I have not confirmed that they actually were offered.

Sources:
Reference 1: Larry Zide, "Will the Elcaset Make It," High Fidelity's Buying Guide to Tape Systems (1978), pages 28- 30
Reference 2: "Elcaset" Hi-Fi/Stereo Buyers Guide volume 13 (January/February 1978), pages 48, 82.

Dave Morton
IEEE Center for the History of Electrical Engineering
Rutgers University
d.morton@ieee.org
dmorton@rci.rutgers.edu


From the Sony EL-7 Owners Manual:

In the audio market, the Compact Cassette of the Philips standard has been widely accepted and has been extended even to use in hi-fi recording as a result of its easy operation and advanced technical development. On the other hand, open-reel tape is still strongly supported by music and audio enthusiasts, for its high quality sound reproduction, which has been difficult to attain with the Compact Cassette.

Your "ELCASET" system not only realizes both the convenience of the Compact Cassette and the high sound quality of open-reel tape but also has the following advanced features.

Wider Dynamic Range

The ELCASET tape is 6.3 mm (1/4 inch) wide and driven at a tape speed of 9.5 cm (3-3/4 ips). This results in a more extended frequency and wider dynamic ranges (noticeable in higher audio range) than those of the Compact Cassette. This ample headroom does make a difference in the reproduction of many recordings.

Stable Tape Transport

With a conventional Compact Cassette, the tape is guided by a tape guide pin in the cassette itself, and the accuracy of tape travel is very much dependent upon the precision of the cassette shells. This has been an obstacle in achieving high performance with the Compact Cassette.

Another problem with the Compact Cassette is that a multi-head (3-head) system has been difficult to use successfully since heads of recorders are put into the very limited space of a cassette. In the ELCASET, tape is in a case but it is automatically pulled out by the transport mechanism of the recorder. Therefore, there is no influence over stability of tape travel by the lack of precision in cassette shells. As a result, characteristics such as wow and flutter, modulation noise, cross-talk and level changes are also remarkably improved.

Compatible Tape Track Pattern Between Stereo And Monaural

The ELCASET has the same tape format as the Compact Cassette. This means tape is divided into two halves for side A and side B, each side permitting 2-track stereo or monaural recording and playback. This track pattern assignment makes possible stereo and monaural between them. The four-track tape width in the ELCASET is almost twice that of the Compact Cassette and nearly equal to the four-track open-reel tapes. This also attains excellent S/N figures open-reel tapes are able to obtain.

Lids For Tape Protection

The ELCASET has lids at left and right front ends. When the ELCASET is out of your recorder, lids are closed to protect the tape. The lids are opened automatically by the tape deck for threading tape when the ELCASET is inserted and a function button is depressed.

Reel Lock Device

Reel lock device is also provided in the ELCASET to lock rotation of a reel hub to prevent tape from coming loose when the ELCASET is carried. The reel lock is automatically unlocked by your recorder when the ELCASET is loaded.

Erasure-Proof Tabs

In the Compact Cassette, recorded tapes are protected from accidental erasure by removing a tab in a cassette. But once the tab is removed, the cassette cannot be erased or re-recorded without covering the broken slot. In the ELCASET, the protection is achieved by sliding tabs.

Types of Tape

There are three different types of tape for the ELCASET which are indicated on the labels. One is called TYPE I which has the feature of low noise output (called SLH tape by Sony). TYPE II has the same performance as FeCr tape by Sony. TAPE III will be for the tape equivalent to CrO2 type. For optimum recording and playback results, match the tape selector on the tape recorder with the type of tape used.

Automatic shut-off with ELCASET leader tape at tape-end The ELCASET has leader tapes at both ends of the tape. When the ELCASET is used on the tape recorder having the photoelectric method, tape motion automatically stops at end of tape for any operating mode. This is because the tape deck senses the leader-tape portion and activates the automatic shut-off mechanism.

ELCASET Specifications

Tape speed 9.5 cm/s (3-3/4 ips)
Tape width 6.3 mm (1/4 inch)
Time constant 3180 micro-sec.+70 micro-sec.
Reference recording level 185 nwb/m
Types of tape TYPE I, II, III
Dimensions 152 X 106 X 18 mm

From: alt.collecting.8-track-tapes FAQ version 1.7 - http://www.8trackheaven.com/faq.html#19.

19. WHAT WERE ELCASETS?

Well - it is neither an 8-track nor has it the advantage of 'endless playing' but it fits into that time - and shared the 8-track fate.

In the early 70's Sony decided to roam the market with their brand new development: the ELCASET. They combined standard-1/4-Inch tape-material with a Philips-like mechanism operating at the same speed of 9.5 cm/s which 8-tracks use. Their intention: easy handling (like the cassette) and wide-range audio features (like reel-to-reel), saving costs (they use the same tape like 8-tracks and reels). But: they failed. It was too late - the Compact Cassette (CC) was already there and rolling up the market. They had a variety of equipment available, home-desks and portables, where the home machines had about the size and look of standard front-loaded CC-recorders. There was a feature planned to adapt the ELCASET on a standard reel-to-reel machine. for example for studio works. It might have been a good idea - but wasn't. The first units were presented in SONYs 1973 catalogue and last mentioned in that of 1975. I don't know any private person who ever bought or used one. I'm searching the flea-markets around my home-town for years now, but couldn't find one. At least I saw one - about 1979 in a HiFi-studio in Bielefeld, operational, working and for sale but in those days I weren't interested.
Peter H. Wendt <phw@compunet.de>


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