Before optical and then digital storage, magnetic tape was the standard. In the rush to develop dominant formats, we know Betamax lost out of VHS due to price (and because VHS captured the burgeoning porn market). But why did Phillips’s compact cassette become the standard while almost no one has ever heard of the Sanyo Micro-Pack?
As YouTuber Techmoan demonstrates, Sanyo’s Channel Master was developed concurrently with the compact cassette with the same goals: making open-reel magnetic tape more convenient, cheap, and portable. And it had a few unusual features — like a wide, squarish cartridge with a tape strip that ran diagonally, driven by a rubberised wheel at the reel’s center. That wheel would be Sanyo’s undoing.
While many of you reading this might remember buying albums (or, holy shit, cassingles) on Phillips’ format, no music was ever released commercially for the Micro-Pack. Early on, these consumer magnetic tape formats were, as Techmoan explains, mainly for general use — like recording voice memos and performing dictations. And for basic tasks, sound quality didn’t matter much. But for music, things like dynamic range (how loud or quiet something can be) and pitch accuracy matter. A lot.
The Micro-Pack suffered badly from what are called “wow” and “flutter,” essentially those warbles in pitch when a sound plays back at inconsistent speeds. This was due mainly to that rubberised wheel, which wasn’t very good at moving the tape forward at a steady rate, and forever dooming Sanyo’s otherwise neat-looking contraption to the dustbin of recording history.