ELBOW – Raise The Cassette Tape Culture

ELBOW is a portable cassette player reduced to the core. XXI century has been a hard time for an audio cassette. The rise of cheap and convenient digital formats has made all physical media… outdated”, if not altogether extinct.


Still, there remains a niche audience willing to appreciate the tape medium, with all its intricacies and flaws. The tactile intimacy of physical formats is dearly missed. That’s the reason behind the resurgence of vinyl, and also motivation behind ELBOW. Despite being such an ordinary everyday object, the audio cassette is not just a medium – it’s a cultural icon. Therefore it should not be obscured inside a device, but brought to the forefront of user’s attention.

By exposing the cassette to the elements, ELBOW offers a fresh user experience, allowing the listener to directly appreciate the mechanical motion, or even forcibly interrupt playback. The music player becomes more like an additional element – in a way, the cassette plays itself.

A typical cassette player uses a capstan and a pinch roller to drag the tape along the magnetic head at a constant speed. Additionally, separate pulleys rotate the take-up and supply reels to manage the tape. As tape relocates from one reel to another, mechanical clutches, belts and springs adjust the speed of both pulleys. Alternatively, capstan and reel pulleys can have separate motors. All of this result in a quite complex device and takes up a lot of space. In ELBOW, a single pulley is used to drive the tape. To maintain constant playback rate, tape speed must be tracked by optical sensor and used as a control parameter for motor adjustment.


ELBOW’s most prominent feature is the biaxial arm. It rotates in two directions -upward motion enables the insertion of a cassette, while sideways motion allows to manually switch the playing direction. In a way, the biaxial arm mimics a tonearm of a vinyl record player. The control wheel has a triple function. On the initial position, the device is off. Turning the wheel left plays the cassette and increases the volume. Turning in the opposite direction fast-forwards the cassette, with a gradual speed increase (the more you turn, the faster the motor goes).

The device has two connections: a standard 3.5mm audio plug, and a standard mini-USB port for charging and transferring audio from the cassette to a computer. A small pin pushes into the back lid, enabling attachment to clothes and other textile objects. Currently, ELBOW is in the concept stages.  Judging by the reaction, we’d expect to see this in full production coming in the next year or so.