Last analog cassette player produced, ushering in a digital era

February 17, 2007, was a historic day for the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), Library of Congress, as it produced its last cassette book machine (CBM). During a ceremony held on March 1, 2007, in Blue Earth, Minnesota, Telex Communications, Inc., presented NLS with the milestone C-1 player—the 1,248,113th unit manufactured by the company since 1983. This event marks the end of the analog machine’s successful era and signals NLS’ foray into the production and distribution phase of digital talking books (DBs) and players.

"Analog audiocassette and cassette-book machine technology has been the backbone of the NLS system, but it is outdated and nearing the end of its useful life," said Frank Kurt Cylke, NLS director. "Our patrons have heightened expectations of service improvements, especially those who are tech savvy. Their expectations along with the impending obsolescence of key elements of analog technology warrant the conversion to a digital system."

The CBM has proven popular, reliable, and useful to generations of talking-book readers. Since 1969, 1.5 million CBMs have been manufactured and distributed to more than 25 million NLS patrons. These machines were designed to play audiocassettes recorded at 15/16 inches per second on 4-track tapes, allowing up to six hours of playback time per cassette. Throughout the machine’s existence, NLS has continuously enhanced the machine’s functionality. However, recent advances in digital technology promise to further improve the patron experience.

Despite the digital transition, NLS will continue to support the needs of cassette book readers. CBMs will remain in circulation throughout the transition period until digital titles and players are fully integrated.

"Though production of the CBM has ceased, NLS will continue to provide CBMs from our existing inventory and cassette audiobooks to our patrons during the transition to digital talking books and players," said Michael Katzmann, chief, Materials Development Division. "The use of CBMs will decline rapidly with the introduction of the digital player; however, we expect some patrons to continue using CBMs beyond 2012."

CBMs will be needed for patrons wishing to read audiobooks that have not been converted to digital. Additionally some people will prefer using familiar technology. To ensure ongoing availability of CBMs through 2011, the full transition period, NLS invested nearly $5.6 million in spare parts to repair CBMs as needed. NLS researched and analyzed the repairs made over the past several years to determine which parts would be needed to keep CBMs functioning through 2011. The spare parts purchased—mostly rubber parts and playback heads—will be used for routine repairs needed to keep the CBMs in working order.

In total, 66 different types of parts were purchased to repair up to 575,000 machines. These parts are expected to last as long as the current life cycle of the C-1 player, which is estimated at ten years. C-1 No. 1248113, the last CBM manufactured, is expected to be in service until the digital transition is complete.

With CBM manufacturing past, NLS is fully-focused on producing and distributing digital talking books and players. Flash-cartridge procurement has already started and will be followed by flash-cartridge production and duplication. In August, NLS expects to begin manufacturing the initial lot of DB containers and labels. This is the last step prior to full player procurement.

  Photo of Frank Kurt Cylke, Robert Norton, Margaret Goergen-Rood, and Robert Mainhart with the 1.5 millionth CBM.  


Telex Communications, Inc., based in Blue Earth, Minnesota, has been manufacturing cassette book machines since 1983. On March 1, 2007, Telex presented NLS quality assurance specialist Robert Mainhart with the 1,248,113th player, commemorating the success of the cassette book machine and the NLS-Telex partnership.

Mainhart (far right) presents the last player to Frank Cylke, NLS director (center); (l-r) Robert Norton, head of the NLS Quality Assurance Section; and assistant head Margaret Goergen-Rood.

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Digital Talking Book (DTB) Milestones


Start 1/12/04
Finish 10/1/08
Milestone Start Date
Distribution system implementation 10/1/2006
Flash cartridge production 3/2007
Flash cartridge duplication 2/2007
Manufacture initial lot of DTB containers and labels 8/2007
Full player production 9/2007


For Information on the NLS Digital Project contact:

Jean M. Moss, Digital Projects Coordinator
[email protected]  Fax: (202) 707-1690

To view the strategic business plan on the Web visit