World’s Best Cassette Tape | National Audio Company

December 17, 2016 | Branden Schwab

Located across from Founders Park, on the North side of Water Street in Downtown Springfield, the National Audio Company’s non-descript building — with its massive yet unassuming signage — tends to fade into the background. Despite its immense size, the brick and concrete structure, and the company that operates within its walls, nearly hides in plain sight. But that’s starting to change…

With a portfolio that includes the show-stealing “mixtape” from the film Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), National Audio has been pleased to witness a major resurgence in the humble cassette tape in popular culture and the recording industry. Following the advent of the compact disk, many thought the cassette was headed the way of the dodo (and the 8-track). But “as analog music publishers shifted their concentration to digital media, or died out altogether, NAC was happy to inherit the position of both cassette manufacturer and America’s primary source of cassette duplication.” (National Audio Company History)

Led by Steve Stepp, President of National Audio Company, this eFactory-organized tour of the offices and warehouse revealed the operations and production facility behind the Springfield-based company that lays claim to the lion’s share of the world’s production of cassette tapes.

quoteNot only does NAC produce the greatest number of cassette tapes of any company in the world, they also claim to produce cassettes of the highest quality. Though initially skeptical, I became more convinced after hearing Lead Sound Engineer, Saki, play a portion of one of his masterpieces, created for a major motion picture. Stitching together old and new recordings made decades apart, he engineered a smooth, robust sound that is powerful, dynamic, and balanced.

“This project was really challenging because we have 122 instruments playing all at once. So, the most difficult part… was to preserve the tympani on the low end and those screaming french horns. To get them all together with the percussion and still get a really loud signal even when there are really low parts, when there is dialogue and stuff like that.”

– Saki, Lead Sound Engineer

img_3517In addition to serving the film and music industry, a significant portion of NAC’s production is driven by demand from a government program created to benefit people who are blind or visually impaired. Handheld players with a built-in speaker play cassette-shaped USB storage devices, allowing people with visual impairments to listen to audio recordings of just about any print publication they request. The requested magazines, books, newspapers and more are read aloud, recorded and then distributed as part of a free service provided by the Library of Congress and contracted with NAC. Oversized buttons on the player announce their function when pressed, which helps listeners navigate menus and easily enjoy their favorite publications.




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