LOS ANGELES (PTA) — What’s old is new again. Cassette tapes and their players are finding a whole new audience with younger Millennials and the financially rising Generation Z’ers who are resurrecting the once deceased format. At THE SHOW 2019 it was Ralf Porankiewicz of the DCC Museum who was giving me my second tour through Digital Compact Cassette.
It starts with Ralf Porankeiwicz, originally from the Netherlands, who came to the United States in 2009 with a passion for older analog and digital formats from the ‘90s. Shortly after relocating to US soil, Mr. Porankeiwicz began the search for a working Digital Compact Cassette (DCC) player. Coming up short here in the states, he finally imported two players from his home country and thus began his journey into the DCC format. Unfortunately both of the DCC players were broken, but a little help from a soldering iron, both were brought back to life, with one to keep and the other immediately being sold on eBay — and by immediately I mean within 30mins of posting.
Learning through that eBay sale process that he was not alone in his interest in the DCC format, which was coinciding with the resurgence of analog compact cassette. It was at this time when Ralf discovered a video by a YouTuber called Techmoan. The Techmoan channel on YouTube is dedicated (mostly) to exploring the history and technology behind sometimes forgotten audio formats and their playback devices. Based out of the UK, the channel has a wide following both here in the states and throughout Europe.
Around the 2015 pop-stars like Justin Bieber started releasing their recordings on analog compact cassette formats, along with pop-culture retailers like Urban Outfitters beginning to embrace cassette tapes sales alongside the already popular vinyl segment. Ralf asked himself, “could this [resurgence] be possible for DCC as well?”
From there Ralf began to enlist an army of interested people who were willing to take up the cause for DCC tape. Including a Los Angeles based audiophile (and fellow Dutchman) who was working with DCC Tape on his own. The group members started importing and restoring players, along with growing awareness.
In 2017, Ralf was contacted by Jeremy Heiden, an American based singer-songwriter, who was looking to release a 20th anniversary edition of his album Blue Wicked onto every possible format available. With the help of Ralf and the DCC Museum, the project began to produce a DCC album. After collecting a lot of equipment and figuring it all out as they went along, a final DCC recorded album was born, and sent to friend-of-the-format Techmoan for a video review.
The DCC format video by Techmoan nearly went viral in terms of the cassette format’s burgeoning popularity. But the battle to bring the format wasn’t over, it was just beginning for Ralf. With a lot of misinformation about DCC floating around the internet, Ralf took it upon himself to become the true authority for DCC tape history. In the YouTube era, it was going to take a video or better yet, a full DCC documentary to do proper justice to the story of DCC tape. With the help of the true founders of the format, and many other essential players, including Techmoan, a documentary film was crafted, and premiered in late June of 2019.
As for the players at the show, there were many restored models on hand, all rebuilt by the DCC Museum members. With units sourced from around the world, often by donation. Odd fact, most of the players and tapes being sold today are doing so in countries that formerly had no connection to the DCC format.
When I fired up Marvin Gaye’s album What’s Going On, I was immediately befuddled how this format sounded more analog than digital, but still with that impressively low digital noise floor. This wasn’t CD sound, this was something better. In truth the format does allow more dynamic range than CD, and more bit-depth as well. The sound of DCC is really unique to my ears, more akin to what I’ve heard with SACD. In the end, DCC is an extremely interesting format, that I would even consider getting into. Is DCC tape the future of physical digital formats? Maybe.