is a now archaic music format that was wildly popular
in the 1970's. Similar to the cassette
in the sense that it uses tape as its recording medium
, an 8-track
tape is approximately the size of an 8-bit Nintendo cartridge
An 8-track cartridge consists of eight tracks (obviously) recorded on a 1/4 inch piece of tape, two of which (normally left and right channels of stereo sound) are played simultaneously. The tape is an endless loop (as opposed to the cassette) with a piece of metal foil splicing the ends together. The player senses this piece of metal and slides the playback head to the next two tracks. The complexity of the device and the large number of moving parts makes the 8-track conducive to tangling and mechanical failure.
The 8-track failed because industry improvements put the sound quality of the cassette format on a par with 8-track and manufacturers conquently shifted their R&D efforts towards the cassette. The lack of Dolby noise reduction was another reason for the 8-track's failure, as was the frequent breakdown of the tapes themselves, which could have been avoided by more stringent manufacturing practices.
The last known American 8-track was the Columbia House-manufactured version of Chicago's XIX. Today, 8-tracks can be only be purchased at yard sales, thrift stores, and the like, but they have a large enough following to support a trade magazine, "8-Track Mind", and a newsgroup, alt.collecting.8-track-tapes.