The Stereo LP
Please see the Vinyl LP page for the history of the Stereo LP format, recommended recordings and LP care and maintenance.
Stereo Reel to Reel
Please see the Reel to Reel page for the history, recommended recordings, tape types, tape storage tips, care and maintenance.
Please see the Cassette page for the history and recommended cassette recordings.
The 4-track cartridge
4-track cartridge or Stereo-Pak is an audio storage magnetic tape
cartridge technology, inspired by the Fidelipac 3-track tape cartridge
system invented by George Eash in 1954 and used by radio broadcasters
for commercials and jingles - since 1959, then adapted by Earl "Madman"
Muntz in 1962, for use in cars as an alternative to radio.
tape is arranged in an infinite loop that traverses a central hub and
crosses a tape head, usually over a pressure pad to assure proper tape
contact. The tape moves at 3¾ inches per second, pulled by tension, but
this tension is dampened by a lubricant, usually graphite, on the back
of the tape to prevent a tape's tension from damaging the tape and/or
player. The tape ends in a 4-Track are not connected by a splice made
of a conductive material - as are the later "automatic" switching
8-track cartridges. 4-track cartridge players had to be switched
manually between programs 1 & 2 by a lever on the machine. Due to
the method the tape is moved, it is impossible to rewind, and often
risky to fast-forward a 4-track tape.
splices in a 4-track tape can break due to age, handling, or poor
manufacturing quality. This problem also affects other infinite-loop
tapes, such as 8-tracks.
endless loop tape cartridge was designed in 1952 by Bernard Cousino of
Toledo, Ohio, around a single reel carrying a continuous loop of
standard 1/4 inch plastic oxide-coated recording tape running at 3 3/4
inches/s (9.5 cm/s). Program starts and stops were signaled either by a
conductive foil splice or sub-audible tones. The tape was pulled from
the center of the reel, passed across the opening at the end of the
cartridge and wound back onto the outside of the same reel. The spool
itself was freewheeling and the tape was driven only by tension from
Eash [also of Toledo, OH], an inventor who had rented space in
Cousino's building in the fifties, later revised Cousino's design [1954
- received patent Jan. 1957] and marketed it under the name Fidelipak.
These cartridges were first used in radio stations (broadcast
cartridges) from 1959 on to program commercials & single song hits.
Earl "Madman" Muntz of Los Angeles, California saw a potential in these
broadcast carts for an Automobile Music Tape System and in 1962
introduced his "Stereo-Pak" 4-Track Stereo Tape Cartridge System &
Tapes - mostly in California [& Florida]. He licensed popular music
albums from the major Record Companies and duplicated them on these
4-Track Stereo Tape Cartridges or CARtridges, as they were first
music in the car had been restricted mostly to radios. Records, due to
their methods of operation and size, were not practical for use in a
car, although several companies tried to market an automobile record
player: that is where the Motorola Corporation derives its name (motor
+ Victrola = Motorola).
celebrities such as Frank Sinatra had 4-track players outfitted in
their cars, and music was released on 4-track tape for automobile
enjoyment and later, home use.
manufactured 4-track tape players and pre-recorded 4-track cartridges
until approximately 1970, when the 8-track tape prevailed. Columbia
Records was one of the few major record labels to release music
recorded on 4-track cartridges themselves on a widespread basis.
Muntz's 4-track Stereo-Pak cartridge had four monaural or two pairs of
stereo tracks. To switch back & forth between the 2 program tracks,
a manual lever is engaged which physically moves the head up and down
mechanically. [4-Tracks did not switch tracks automatically like the
later 8-Track Cartridges.]
tape was coated with a slippery backing material patented by Cousino,
usually graphite, to ease the continuous slip between the tape layers.
This coating sometimes also caused the pinch wheel to slip, leading to
poor speed control and tape flutter. Due to these problems, 4-track
cartridges were never popular with audiophiles. While the design
allowed simple and cheap players, unlike a two-reel system it didn't
permit winding of the tape in either direction. Some players offered a
limited fast-forward by speeding up the motor while cutting off the
audio but rewinding was impossible.
taking a ride with Muntz in a 4-track player-outfitted car, Bill Lear,
maker of the Lear Jet, modified 4-track technology for his own uses.
Most notably, eight tracks were squeezed onto the same ¼" tape,
reducing potential audio quality, but allowing twice as much music to
be put onto the same length of tape. The pinch roller was also an
integrated part of the 8-track cartridge, although many early rubber
rollers would suffer from deterioration - because the rubber had not
been fully cured. Once this was discovered all later rubber pinch
rollers were "fully cured" (hard) rubber - or plastic rollers
(introduced by RCA in 1970) were used instead. Thanks to his connection
to Motorola, which made radios for Ford Motors cars, Lear was able to
ensure that 8-track players would be included in many Ford cars, and
they became popular mainly during the early- to mid-1970s. 4-track
tapes gradually faded away and were gone by late 1970, as most people
switched to 8-tracks, although players compatible with both 4-track and
8-track tapes were sometimes made. 4-Track tapes are still in-demand by
8-track cartridge is a magnetic tape technology for audio storage,
popular from the mid-1960s to the early 1980s. The 8-track was created
by Bill Lear in 1964 at the Lear Jet Corporation, after he heard Earl
"Madman" Muntz's 1962, 4-track tape system, called Stereo-Pak.
Stereo-Pak, in turn, had been inspired by the 1959 Fidelipac 3-track
system (invented by George Eash in 1954) used by radio broadcasters for
commercials, jingles, and single song hits.
original format for magnetic tape sound reproduction was reel-to-reel
audio tape recording, first made available after World War II in the
late 1940s. However, the machines were bulky and the reels themselves
were more difficult to handle than vinyl records. Born from the desire
to have an easier-to-use tape format, the enclosed reel mechanism was
introduced in the mid-1950s.
endless loop tape cartridge was first designed in 1952 by Bernard
Cousino of Toledo, Ohio, around a single reel carrying a continuous
loop of standard 1/4-inch, plastic, oxide-coated recording tape running
at 3.75 inches per second (9.5 centimeters per second). Program starts
and stops were signaled either by a conductive foil splice or
cartridge was later revised and marketed under the name Fidelipac in
1959 by George Eash (also of Toledo, Ohio), an inventor who had rented
a work space in the Cousino building in the 1950s. These Fidelipac
cartridges were first used as radio station promo and advertising
"carts" starting in late 1959. Collins Radio had introduced them at the
1959 National Association of Broadcasters convention.
Earl "Madman" Muntz of Los Angeles, California saw a potential in these
"broadcast carts" for an automobile music system and in 1962 introduced
his "Stereo-Pak" 4-track system and tapes, mostly in California and
Florida. He licensed popular music albums from the major record
companies and duplicated them on these 4-track cartridges, or
"CARtridges", as they were first advertised.
Lear, of Lear Jet fame, designed the Lear Jet Stereo-8 track cartridge
in 1964. It simplified the mechanism by rolling the motorized metal
capstan in the player against a pinch wheel installed inside the
cartridge to pull the tape across the player's read head (in the
earlier Muntz 4-track Stereo-Pak, the pinch wheel was part of the
player and flipped into the cartridge through an access hole). The tape
was pulled from the center of the reel, passed across the opening at
the end of the cartridge and wound back onto the outside of the same
reel. The spool itself was freewheeling and the tape was driven only by
tension from the capstan.
tape was coated with a slippery backing material patented by Bernard
Cousino, usually graphite, to ease the continuous slip between the tape
layers. This coating sometimes also caused the pinch wheel to slip,
leading to poor speed control and tape flutter. Due to these and other
problems, 8-track cartridges were unpopular with audiophiles. While the
design allowed simple, cheap, and mobile players, unlike a two-reel
system it didn't permit winding of the tape in either direction. Some
players offered a limited fast-forward by speeding up the motor while
cutting off the audio, but rewinding was impossible.
4-track Stereo-Pak cartridge (Eash's Fidelipac) had four monaural or
two pairs of stereo tracks. Track switching was achieved by physically
moving the head up and down mechanically by a lever. A professional
version also used in broadcasting, achieved much wider bandwidth with
single full-track mono or a half-track stereo pair, along with a
separate cue track for recording cue tones for fast cues and a fixed,
non-moving playback head. While this provided higher fidelity and was
extremely convenient and reliable for busy disc jockeys and studio
engineers, program length was usually limited to that of a single song
and the cartridges required some maintenance, making the format too
expensive and limited for consumer use.
all versions, the cartridge played continuously with no rewinding,
though there was usually a short gap in the audio at the splice in the
tape loop. 8-track cartridges doubled playing time by recording four
stereo tracks (for a total of eight) on the tape, although this made
each track half as wide, reducing the sound quality. 4-track tapes had
to be manually switched from program 1 to 2 and back. (The term 4-track
cartridge was created by back-formation.) 8-track tapes were advertised
as "automatic", because the foil-sensing splice at the end of each
track switched the player to the next program automatically, without
the need for a person to adjust the player as was necessary with the
had an audible pause and mechanical click (often in the middle of a
program) when tracks were automatically switched. Unless by coincidence
the original song lineup had breaks that fell naturally near the 1/4,
1/2 & 3/4 positions of the original album, there would either be
long pauses at the end of the track (if the original song order were to
be preserved and the songs not chopped), the songs were reordered (to
achieve a more even distribution of song time to minimize the end or
track pauses), or in the most egregious cases, having a song actually
be chopped into pieces.
due to the expense of 8-track 1/4" wide tape heads, most 8-track
players used a two-track 1/4" head and moved it to align with each of
the four "programs" (pairs of left and right track) on the tape.
Mechanical alignment of the head to the tape is crucially important,
and moving the head up and down with a comparatively clumsy and
imprecise mechanism ensured the head would quickly come out of
alignment. Among audio service technicians, there used to be a joke
that "the 8-track is the only audio device which knocks itself out of
alignment four times during each album", a premise which actually did
the azimuth of the head became misadjusted, there would be a faint
audio bleed of adjacent tracks into the currently playing track, as
well as a loss of frequency response, as with any misadjusted tape
system. Also, the cartridge mechanism was prone to breakage from
dropping, etc., so misused and uncared for 8-tracks had generally short
popularity of both 4-track and 8-track cartridges grew from the booming
automobile industry. In September 1965, Ford Motor Company introduced
built-in 8-track players as a custom option.  By 1966, all of their
vehicles offered this upgrade. Thanks to Ford's backing, the 8-track
format eventually won out over the 4-track format, which disappeared by
the problems of fitting a standard vinyl LP album onto a four-program
cartridge, the format gained steady popularity due to its convenience
and portability. Home players were introduced in 1966. With the
availability of cartridge systems for the home, consumers started
thinking of 8-tracks as a viable alternative to vinyl records, not only
as a convenience for the car. Within a year, prerecorded releases on
8-track began to arrive within a month of the vinyl release.
devices were especially popular among professional truck drivers, as
this was the first successful prerecorded playback device for use in a
moving vehicle. Previous attempts to build a mechanical disc player
were troubled by skipping caused by vehicle motion.
recorders were available but never achieved the sales level of the
players. Like cassettes, their recording quality meant they were rarely
used for commercial music recording although there were famous
exceptions such as Bo Hansson's The Lord of the Rings.
8-track cartridges (Introduced by RCA Records in September 1970 and
first known as Quad 8, then shortened to just Q8) were also produced.
The format enjoyed a moderate amount of success for a time but faded in
the mid-1970s. Collectors prize these cartridges since they provide 4
channels of discrete sound, unlike matrixed formats such as SQ. Most
Quadraphonic albums were specially mixed for the Quad format.
Decline and demise
Compact Cassette made the 8-track cartridge obsolete. Unlike the
8-track, it was invented as a monophonic dictation device in 1963 with
no consideration for high fidelity in its original design. The stereo
"Music" audio cassette (or Musicassette) introduced in 1966 became a
practical high-fidelity format with the addition of Dolby noise
reduction to cassette tapes in 1971. With further refinements,
frequency response in excess of 20 kHz and wow and flutter below 0.05
percent by the 1980s in the best machines would rival all but
professional reel-to-reel decks.
were more convenient to use, with faster song access compared to
8-tracks, which did not have rewind and had only limited fast-forward
functions. They had more robust sound quality, were smaller than
8-track tapes, stored more music without breaks, and could be recorded
in home cassette decks, which were uncommon in 8-track format. During
the transitional period in the 1980s, there was wide availability of
adapters that fit into automotive 8-track players to allow insertion
and playback of cassettes without the need to install a new stereo.
players became less common in homes and automobiles as the 1970s went
on. 8-track Tape Cartridges were phased out of retail stores by 1983.
Selected titles were still available as tapes through record clubs
until 1989. Some independent artists have released 8-track tapes as
late as 2006.
today the 8-track is dismissed as a failure, from a commercial
standpoint, it was a huge success. It was the first truly portable
format of music, reaching a mass-market and giving people the ability
to take their favorite music in the car, on the beach, or anywhere else
for that matter. Even today, 40 years after its debut, the 8-track has
established a somewhat cult following, with avid collectors located
coast to coast.
decrease in the quality of the parts used in the 8-Track cartridge was
one of the direct downfalls of the format, as problems developed with
the reliability, sound and smooth playing of the tape. As 8-track tapes
age, they sometimes need to be repaired so that their life may be
extended. With a little care and patience, an old 8-track can be
restored to its original performance.
tapes may break at the channel-switching foil splice when the glues
used during manufacture harden with age. Repair sometimes requires
careful disassembly of the cartridge and the addition of a new metallic
some cartridges, a plastic and foam pressure pad behind the tape path
holds the tape against the tape head as the tape moves across it. This
material can disintegrate with age, leaving a glob of sticky material
that will not support the tape against the head, and may damage the
tape. A new foam pressure pad will remedy this problem, although this
also requires cartridge disassembly.
in early cartridges, the rubber in the pinch roller, which pulls the
tape across the heads, was not fully cured, and this caused them to
deteriorate with time, melting into a sticky, tar-like material. These
can be replaced with a new rubber pinch roller of the same size and
proportions. Rubber pinch rollers manufactured after 1969 are made of
fully cured rubber that does not deteriorate over time. In late 1970,
RCA Records switched to a new plastic material, which some other
companies also used. However, rubber is the preferred material for
pinch rollers as it grips the tape better for more even and precise
was an 1/8" stereo audiotape format and playback system introduced in
1966 by Frank Stanton. It was a two-track system, and was launched to
compete with existing 4-track cartridge technology. The tapes played
anywhere from 8 to twenty-four minutes, and were self rewinding.
Because of its portability, PlayTape was an almost instant success, and
over 3000 artists had recorded in this format by 1968.
the time of PlayTape's launch, Earl Muntz's Stereo-Pak (based on the
broadcast "Fidelipac" cartridge system) was the current reigning sound
delivery system, and his car players were offered with stereo sound.
Bill Lear's 8-track tape system, though in production, had still not
achieved its market potential. Moreover, neither Lear nor Muntz was
offering a portable player, though Muntz eventually did sell one.
PlayTape found some success in targeting the youth audience, it was not
as successful in targeting the business audience. Stanton marketed his
device as a dictation machine, but he was unable to persuade businesses
to adopt his creation. Issues of player quality limited sales, and
ultimately, the introduction of home and portable players by the
4-track and 8-track manufacturers led to the demise of PlayTape.
a handful of small compact players and a few very rare car players were
sold to the open market. They are collector’s items today.
was a short-lived audio format created by Sony in 1976. At that time,
it was widely felt that the compact cassette was never likely to be
capable of the same levels of performance that was available from
reel-to-reel systems, yet clearly the cassette had great advantages in
terms of convenience. The Elcaset system was intended to marry the
performance of reel to reel with cassette convenience.
system was technically excellent, but a total failure in the
marketplace, with a very low take up by a few audiophiles only. Apart
from the problem of the bulky cassettes, the performance of standard
cassettes had improved dramatically with the use of new materials such
as chromium dioxide, and better manufacturing quality. For most people,
the quality of standard cassettes was adequate, and the benefits of the
expensive Elcaset system limited.
The system was abandoned in 1980, when, curiously, all the remaining systems were sold off in Finland.
The Sony Elcaset
Your Guide to the World of 8-Track Tapes
4-track cartridge tapes
PLAYTAPE - The 2-track cartridge tape