Lodewijk “Lou” Ottens, a Dutch engineer, died on March 6 at 95. It was Lou Ottens who, while working at Philips, invented audio cassette tape as a medium and cassette itself as a format. He then led the development of CDs.
Love for sound in him woke up early: even during the German occupation, he built a radio on his own in order to listen to prohibited radio stations with his parents. After the liberation of the country, he received his education as an engineer and in 1952 began working at the Belgian Philips factory in Hasselt. Already in 1960, he headed the development department and a year later introduced the EL 3585 portable tape recorder. However, many companies at that time were trying to develop more compact music media – including Philips.
The media, according to Ottens, had to fit comfortably in a jacket pocket – this is what determined the dimensions of the cassettes that Philips presented to the world in 1963. The cassettes, designed by Ottens and his team, were smaller than a pack of cigarettes, and it was this comparison that became one of the main advertising slogans.
However, Japanese engineers photographed the presented Ottens cassette from all sides, and almost immediately Japanese companies released their counterparts – only they were larger. Love for standardization, apparently, is in Ottens’ blood: he met with representatives of Sony in Japan and agreed that the media developed by Philips would become a standard. After that, cassettes spread all over the world, only in the USA eight-track versions were used for some time.
Beginning in 1972, Ottens worked at NatLab, which was developing an improved media. After some experimentation with an analog signal, the team came to the conclusion that there is only one way to achieve a low noise level – digitally with an error-correcting decoder. This time Philips immediately partnered with Sony and introduced the CD standard in 1980. The compacts as we know them are 12 cm in diameter, which Ottens did not like: he wanted the discs to be even smaller, and offered 11.5 cm.
At the same time, he had to buy the first CD in Japan in 1982 – because the release of discs from Philips began only in 1983. And until the very end he considered CDs to be the best medium: “Nothing can compare with the sound of CDs. It has no noise or rumble, which cannot be said about cassettes. “
He retired in 1986. Ottens spoke modestly about his contribution to the development of the audio industry: he always said that it was a teamwork.