National Audio Company

I was still a college student when my father and I began this business in 1969,” says Steve Stepp of USA-based National Audio Company. “One day a gentleman from Ampex Corporation, one of the major manufacturers of tape came by and showed us the audio cassette. And I laughingly look back on that time and I didn’t show much foresight because I said “that looks like a toy, I don’t think that will ever win any acceptance because it looks like something you put in a doll so it can have a voice”. I was proved wrong because the audio cassette became the dominant format for the music industry, not long after that.”

He continues, “we began selling cassettes for Ampex and, as the industry developed, they couldn’t make them fast enough, so had to start building and buying our own equipment. After a few years we had sixteen machines manufacturing cassettes; we now have sixty five. About six years ago the music industry bottomed out on the audio cassette, and many of our competitors decided they wanted to get out of the duplication business, they wanted to clear the floor and free up their personnel to make CDs. So we bought their audio cassette manufacturing equipment, duplicating lines and other equipment. We restored it to brand new condition because we believed that the analogue sound would make a comeback. And that’s exactly what we’ve seen.”

“Cassette followed the vinyl resurgence by about three to four years and has been running in parallel since,” says Steve. “It takes a while to get vinyl on the market, there’s a certain amount of upfront expense. Most of the people in the early days going back to audio cassettes were independent record labels and bands so there was an advantage to them to get their product on the market quicker, and that made audio cassette very attractive. As you know the frequency response to the dynamic range on audio cassette and vinyl are almost identical, they both have full harmonics as opposed to being compressed, as they are on digital, so the sound on one sounded very much like the sound on the other product. It was a lot easier, less expensive and much quicker to get the audio cassette on the market as a release.”

“That’s what really began to pick it up because immediately we realised that there’s only so much vinyl production capacity left in the world,” reflects Stepp. “And once that was saturated, people were waiting six months to a year to get a new release on the market. So people are now using cassette to release music, not only the independents but also the major record labels, alongside their CD, LP and download releases. It is fortunate for us, and kind of amazing!”

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