Pardon me for doing the following as I know it is cringed upon (the tv reference) but:

Is there any good reason for the usage of 'tape' recorders? Ex. taping a conversation between criminals, this is done digitally nowadays and the signal can be relayed between multiple points I believe. Is there any good reason to continue using tape recorders rather than digital ones?

  • With respect to people who might want to mention the archival value of tape interviews: as a rule, when interviews get transcribed the original recording is destroyed. The transcription becomes the "official" record, and you don't want a potentially-conflicting record to be available for scrutiny.
    – tylerl
    Jun 2, 2012 at 9:28

3 Answers 3


At least in some cases, they're just props. A law professor once gave a talk about not talking to cops and devoted the second half of his time to a cop. In the video, the cop told a story about when he was interrogating a suspect. He told the suspect that he'd turn off the tape recorder (which he did) and things would be "off the record". He also said that it didn't matter -- the actual recording that would be used was hard-wired into the room.

Much like with police cars and surveillance systems where everything is basically digital, I strongly presume that in most places recordings are being kept digitally. Tape recorders provide visual cues for Hollywood that are better than modern digital technology, and they do the same for officers. For actual recordings or covert surveillance that you mentioned, I don't think tape is really out there anymore for audio recording and storage.


Capturing such conversations via magnetic tape is usually used for simplicity relative to maintenance of chain of evidence and integrity of the interview.

First, there are people/organizations on the cutting edge, bleeding edge, and followers. Those that can afford cutting edge or bleeding edge technologies are generally the minority (say 20% of the 80/20 rule). The rest of the organizations follow past "best practices" and magnetic tape was it. Consider that many organizations still backup data to tape at some point for long-term storage. Such decision is usually based on cost. It's still cheaper to keep data on tape than on magnetic disk.

Second, taped evidence is only useful if/when its integrity can be verified. Tape is a medium that is still familiar to those in a position to make such determination. With that said, 20-30 years from down, I'd bet that storage on digital media (disk, SD card, etc) will be more widely accepted as the cost to produce tape media and players further decline.

Third, there are organizations that leverage a hybrid approach. Tape media may be used for long-term storage but the interview may be digitalized to share with other organization and entities.

In the long term, I believe that it'll be cheaper to digitalize most content. But until the cost of tape media starts to rise exponentially and the cost to maintain integrity goes way down, tape media will continue to be used.


To expand on bangdang's answer:

...taped evidence is only useful if/when its integrity can be verified. Tape is a medium that is still familiar to those in a position to make such determination.

...integrity matters. I don't know whether it's easy or not to fake edited recordings on magnetic tape, but it's certainly easier still with digital media.

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