Farewell to the cassette inventor

Farewell to the cassette inventor


norman lebrecht

March 11, 2021

The Dutch engineer who invented the audio cassette died this week at the age of 94.

Lou Ottens was head of product development at Philips when his team shrank music to pocket size.

The device was launched at a Berlin fair in 1963. More than 100 billion cassette tapes were sold worldwide.



  • Mark (London) says:

    Wow fantastic invention. Enabled us to okay music on the move . In Car . Bus. train .Walking. The first opportunity for mobile audio. Thank you Mr Ottens

  • Luca says:

    The musicassette was awful when it could have been a rival to the CD if copied in real time and put in a quality casing, not the cheap ones that too often jammed.

    • Paul Dawson says:

      It would never have rivalled the CD. Inferior sound quality and lower functionality. It was a good product for its time, but so were the adding machine and the typewriter.

    • Greg Bottini says:

      I’m afraid you’re wrong, Luca.
      The cassette tape only moved at 1-7/8 inch per second, and the entire width of the tape – carrying four discrete tracks – is a bit over 1/8 inch. There is absolutely no way that this system, given the slow playback speed and narrowness of the individual tracks, can ever rival a CD, or even an LP.
      The cassette was fine for what it was and what it could do – make copies of your friends’ records and be played in the car or in a Walkman – but it could never be “hi-fi”, no matter what the quality of the tape stock or the quality of the casing was.

      • henry williams says:

        the tapes kept stretching. but for its day music
        on the move they were good

      • Zandonai says:

        DAT (digital audio tape) was the size of an audiocassette and a true hi-fi format. I owned a portal DAT recorder for many years and made many live opera and concert recordings 🙂

  • Alexander T says:

    Great invention, but…..
    They can’t be recycled. That’s billions of bits of plastic that have ended up as landfill.

  • David K. Nelson says:

    But it’s initial value was for dictation machines and even the early telephone answering machines; music was not really the main idea hence the slow tape speed and the tiny amoung of tape dedicated to sound. When I started work in 1977 the dictation machines were old things that used a sort of tube-like belt of recording tape. Very unreliable. When we got cassette dictation machines we thought perfection had been reached – and then later the mini-cassette machines.

    If you had a Nakamichi “Dragon” cassette tape deck, with automatic azimuth control, and if you got the very highest quality blank tapes, or the rare and difficult to find pre recorded cassette tapes from In Synch (real time) it was astounding the quality of sound you could get from cassette tapes. In fact the demo tape that came with the Nakamichi deck was amazing as well although the music was not all to my taste.

  • Vissi d'arte says:

    I bought a used cassette Walkman only a couple of years ago on Ebay because I couldn’t find any for sale new! I like to do audio foreign language lessons while walking for exercise, and after trying cd versions, then those uploaded onto my iPhone, I still greatly prefer the cassettes because I have the greatest control over rewinding to exact spots to rehear phrases, and the sound quality is a non- issue (other than that one program I had that blasted popular Italian songs like “Volare” after the end of each big section!) Call me old-fashioned. Pressing those clunky on/off/pause buttons is so much more satisfying! RIP Meneer Ottens!

  • Johan van Leer says:

    Lou Ottens merely suggested to decrease the RCA VICTORE TAPE CARTRIDGE by 50%. It was mechanical engineer Piet van der Lely who solved the numerous problems this down scaling brought on.