Dutch engineer Lou Ottens, who led the team the developed plastic cassette tapes and later helped develop compact discs (CDs), has passed away at the age of 94, Consequence of Sound reports. The influential engineer passed away in his home last Saturday, however no cause of death has been provided as of press time.
After completing his studies to be an engineer, Ottens joined Phillips in 1952 and rose the ranks to become the company’s head of product development by 1960, where he led his team through the development of the first portable tape recorder. Two years after his appointment, Ottens revolutionized the standard reel-to-reel tape system by making the first cassette tape, which had the slogan “Smaller than a pack of cigarettes!” upon its introduction at the 1963 electronics fair.
Ottens eventually convinced Phillips to license the design so it could become an industry standard, which led the company to make a deal with Sony. This allowed the product to explode in popularity, with 100 billion units sold worldwide.
While cassettes are often synonymous with vintage recorded music, Ottens first created the technology for voice and field recordings. Upon realizing that the sound quality was better than expected, Ottens revamped the technology to allow for half an hour of recording for each side.
“The very first one, we said, well, speech is good enough,” said Ottens. “Then we came to the conclusions that [the sound quality] was much better than we had anticipated. We said, if it’s made for music, we should have 30 minutes per side.”
Following this massive success, Ottens would be part of the team that helped develop CDs, another Sony-Phillips creation, which has sold 200 billion copies. From a personal standpoint, Ottens preferred CDs stating, “nothing could beat the sound of a CD.”