Young listeners are pressing play on cassette tapes

The latest retro music trend is taking off.

What’s old is new again: in fashion, in pop culture, and, apparently, in music technology.

A cassette tape on a geometric yellow background.

The humble cassette tape is having a resurgence driven by Gen Z listeners, per Bloomberg.

  • Major artists like Taylor Swift, Dua Lipa, and Kendrick Lamar release new music on cassette tapes for superfans who want a physical memento.
  • Cassette tapes are cheaper than other physical formats: A new vinyl record can cost up to $35, while a cassette is closer to $10.
  • Gen Zers, with a penchant for outdated tech, are drawn to the nostalgia of cassettes.

While cassette sales today are nowhere near the 450m units sold in the US in 1988, there were 436k+ units sold in 2023, up from just 81k in 2015, according to Luminate Data.

Record sales

Cassettes aren’t the only retro music tech making a comeback.

Taylor Swift’s The Tortured Poets Department sold 1.64m physical units in the first week of sales, including 859k vinyls, 759.5k CDs, and 21.5k cassette tapes.

Brands have taken notice of fans’ old-school inclinations:

  • Bang & Olufsen recently introduced the $55k+ Beosystem 9000c, a revived version of its ‘90s-era CD players. (It did the same with its Beogram 4000 turntable in 2020.)
  • China’s Guangzhou FiiO Electronics Technology Co. launched CP13, a portable cassette player, in March.

And vinyl — the reigning champ of physical media — has even entered the restaurant and bar scene, with listening bars becoming a new trend.

The nostalgia for outdated tech is interesting given that most Gen Zers weren’t even alive for these trends, let alone old enough to dance around with a Walkman.

But when that tape gets tangled, will they realize what they’ve got with limitless streaming straight from their phones? Maybe.

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