Elcaset development started in early 1974 as a joint effort between Matsushita, Sony and Teac that led to the development of a remarkably well-built machine designed to bridge the sonic gap between the cassette and open-reel recorders.
The Elcaset tape is 3.15 x larger than a compact cassette 6 x 4 1/8 x 5/8″ (152 x 105x 15mm) as compared to the cassette at 3 15/16 x 2 1/2 x 15/32″ (100x63x12mm). The Elcaset uses a thin stock 1/4″ tape running at 3 3/4 ips which does not rely on a pressure pad or have a moving head assembly, as the tape is drawn out of the shell. This format offers increased frequency response, dynamic range, signal to noise ratio and headroom. The end result was a far superior tape recorder than the cassette that was the equal of “home” open-reel recorders with frequency response (20-23k) and wow and flutter (.04%). The signal-to-noise ratio claimed by Sony on their top-of-the line EL-7 was 67 dB, using Dolby B, but many enthusiasts found using an external noise reduction unit, possibly Dolby C or other options, produced better results. The Dolby B available at that time was not great.
Ultimately, Sony produced by far the most production units followed by Teac and Technics.
Although Sony gave no origin for the name Elcaset, it was thought to have derived from L-cassette or “E”xtra “L”arge cassette. In mid-1976 Sony introduced the EL-7 into the European marketplace, the EL-5 (a few months later) and the EL-4 in 1977. North America’s debut of the three units did not appear until late 1977.
Other companies expressied interest in the Elcaset and began producing prototypes or production versions of their own.
Sony EL-D9 (the first prototype Elcaset)
Sony EL (EL-7 prototype)
Sony EL-7 (production)
Sony EL-7B (the Japanese black faced Sony EL-7)
Sony EL-5 (two head machine)
Sony EL-4 (two head basic machine)
Sony EL-D8 (an amazing portable)
Teac EL (prototype of AL-700)
Teac AL-700 (production)
Technics RS-7900 (prototype of RS-7500U)
Technics RS-7500U (production)
JVC LD-777SA (prototype of LD-777)
JVC LD-777 (production)
Lo D (aka Hitachi) D9000 (Version of the EL-7 under the Lo D name)
MediaTech M950 (black faced EL-5 with MediaTech name)
Wega E-4950 (production version of the EL-7)
Fisher and Sanyo even went as far as producing prototypes using the Elcaset format for PCM recorders. Essentially an early idea for the DAT. These versions were the:
Fisher ELE 5500 PCM
Fisher ELE 5600 PCM
Although the PCM versions were actually a brilliant idea, only these prototype units were ever produced.
In North America the Sony EL-7 sold for around $1000, the EL-5 about $700 and the EL-4 $525, a tidy sum even in today’s market and by 1980 the last of the Elcaset recorders that weren’t sold were auctioned off to Finland where they were purchased for next to nothing. The Philips cassette format won out and became the choice for home recordists. Open-reel recorders where still being manufactured, but were being targeted at audiophiles and studios who felt the cassette was still substandard, and rightly so. The cassette would eventually achieve higher audio performance in the late 80’s to 1995, long after the Elcaset format was phased out. Sony, became famous for their introduction of the “Walkman” portable cassette players. From basic models to the top of the line D6C, the Walkman eventually made it into the Guiness Book of World Records as the most successful venture in audio history. Quite impressive for a narrow gauge format. In the mid-1980s, cassettes represented over 50% of record companies sales against the other formats.
Suffice to say that the cassette concept was a good one! Will we be seeing this again in future?