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Audio Cassette Tape Inventor, Lou Ottens passes away

Inventor of Audio Cassette Tape, Louis Ottens has been confirmed dead at the age of 94 according to multiple sources.

Ottens died on March 6th in Duizel, the Netherlands with no cause of death provided according to Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad.

A longtime engineer at the Dutch electronics and technology company Philips, Ottens — in his role as head of the product development department — led the Belgian team charged with converting the bulky reel-to-reel tape recorders of the era into something more portable and consumer-friendly; Ottens’ goal was to make a cassette tape that could fit a jacket’s inside pocket.

After its development, Philips’ audio cassette made its debut at electronics fairs in August 1963. Soon after, Japanese electronics companies created their own iteration of the audio cassette of varying sizes, but Ottens struck a deal between Sony and Philips to ensure their model would become the patented cassette on the market.

(Americans, however, would remain tethered to the 8-track cartridge for about another decade until Sony’s Walkman revolutionized the portability of music; one of Ottens’ biggest regrets was that Sony and not Philips invented the Walkman, “the ideal application for the cassette… It still hurts that we didn’t have one.”)

“The cassette tape was invented out of irritation about the existing tape recorder, it’s that simple,” Ottens said of his invention, NRC Handelsblad reported. Ottens also spoke about the invention in the 2011 documentary Cassette: A Documentary Mixtape. “I expected it would be a success, not a revolution,” he said in the film.

Even as cassettes and vinyl records solidified themselves as the dominant formats for prerecorded music, Ottens — now Philips’ director of audio — tasked a team with developing compact disc technology for the consumer market; once the technology was quickly replicated by competitors, Ottens again struck a partnership between Philips and Sony to make their model the world’s standard.

“By 1978, long before cassettes hit their late-80’s peak, Lou was already spearheading the development of the compact disc,” Taylor added. “‘When your time has gone, it’s time to disappear,’ he told me. ‘If there are better products than the cassette, then you move on. I don’t believe in eternity.’”

While sales of cassette tapes waned and nearly went extinct in the era of compact discs and MP3 and digital technology, the format has enjoyed a renaissance in recent years. However, Ottens called the cassette resurgence “nonsense,” adding that nothing could match the compact disc’s sound.

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