Part of the show Science Question and Answer - New Horizons Mission
Esther via email asked:
I know cassette tapes are virtually obsolete, but I have a question about them. Very often when I'm listening to my Harry Potter audio books there's a muffling in the background. If I listen very carefully I can hear the other side of the cassette being played. I've tried this out with several different cassettes and different players. Is there a scientific reason behind this or is my brain just going mad?
The way a cassette works in the first place is that you have a big long strip of iron and when you apply a magnetic field to it, it gets magnetised. That's how you record things onto it. The varying magnetisation can then be converted into vibrations and you hear that as sound. The way that a double-sided cassette works is that when it's one way up it reads information from the bottom of the cassette and when you turn it over it reads it from the top of the cassette. So you have two strips: one at the top and one at the bottom with different information on it. So what's probably happening when you're hearing the muffled sounds is maybe the sensor that's reading the magnetic field is a bit too close to the middle and so you're picking up some of the other side of the tape, probably backwards.