Cassette tape inventor Lou Ottens has passed away at 94

Dutch engineer Lou Ottens brought the power of portability to the world of music and set the stage for the way we record and listen for decades to come.

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What would life be like if the cassette tape had not been invented. How would you have put together your favorite mix? What would you have jogged to? Are you even old enough to answer that question? Regardless, Dutch engineer Lou Ottens arguably had a huge influence on the trajectory of audio and playback for years to come. Recently, the inventor of the cassette tape and part collaborator in creation of CD technology passed away at 94 years old.

Lou Ottens’ passing was recently reported via Dutch news outlet NRC Handelsblad (thanks NPR), who listed his age at 94. Far back in the 1960s, audio was still handled via large film. The medium was high quality, but bulky and impractical outside of home listening. Ottens took on the task of reducing the size of audio down to a far more compact and portable form. He wanted to make something that the every day consumer could afford and bring with them at their leisure. The result of his work was the compact cassette, introduced officially in 1963.

Lou Ottens' efforts on the cassette tape would eventually go to Phillips for commercial use, but his invention had a profound effect on the entire audio industry for decades to come.
Lou Ottens' efforts on the cassette tape would eventually go to Phillips for commercial use, but his invention had a profound effect on the entire audio industry for decades to come.

Ottens’ invention was eventually licensed to consumer electronics company Phillips, and the work they did together made cassettes an everyday staple of entertainment. He was also a quirky fellow as noted by music technology experts.

"Lou was an extraordinary man who loved technology, even as his inventions had humble beginnings," said Philips Museum Director Olga Coolen. Reportedly, the original prototype of the cassette tape was a wooden form, but it was lost when Ottens’ apparently used it to as a prop for his jacket while changing a flat tire.

The world of music changed after the cassette tape was invented. Suddenly, we could listen to music wherever we wanted to if we had the device for it. Suddenly, we could change what artist we wanted to hear with just the swap of a cartridge. Years of innovation upon the original design would bring simple consumer audio recording. Mixtapes of our favorite tracks could be arranged. Even further, as the versatility of portable audio expanded, Ottens would aid Phillips and Sony in transitioning to CD and digital formats and further pursing consumer accessibility to listen to music anywhere.

Lou Ottens had a profound effect on audio and formats as they have evolved even today, whether it was through the portable cassette or any of his other innovative work. Music technology owes a profound “thank you” to him, and Shacknews offers best wishes and condolences to his friends and family following his passing.

News Editor

TJ Denzer is a player with a passion for games that has dominated a lifetime. When he's not handing out beatdowns in the latest fighting games, exploring video game history, or playing through RPGs with his partner, he's searching for new food and drinks in the constant pursuit of good times with good people inside and outside the South Texas area. You can also find him on Twitter @JohnnyChugs.

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