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Seeking advice on cassette decks!

Discussion in 'Tape' started by Taketheflame, Sep 2, 2018.

  1. Taketheflame

    Taketheflame Member

    Messages:
    98
    Hey all,

    So, as the thread title suggests, I am considering picking up a cassette deck to add to my stereo rig. Like many folks, I haven't had a cassette player of any kind for years now, but I've noticed more and more local/independent artists at shows I go to and such are selling their music on cassette tapes (sometimes, but not always with digital downloads), and frequently see old goodies in used bins for next to nothing at record stores I go to, and realized I might actually have a use for one again (or at the least, it'd be fun to have one).

    I've been doing a bit of research into the matter, but still have some questions. From what I've gathered, it's usually better to go with a single tape deck as opposed to a dual? (usually better build quality in the singles?), and that it's best to go w/a player that has 3 heads, and some type of noise reduction? I never played tapes through anything fancy growing up, so I get the impression that I might be pleasantly surprised at the audio quality through a good player w/a tape in good shape.

    Another thing I'm curious about is the risk involved with buying a vintage unit. I'm currently running an Akai AA-R30 receiver that's in pretty great shape, and ideally, I'd like to end up w/a matching, or similar unit from the same era (partly for aesthetic reasons, I will admit - I find 1970's - early 80's stereo gear to be pretty beautiful stuff). I'm curious what to watch out for when buying a tape player that old - are you SOL on getting something repaired if a belt fails? or if it needs a new head or anything like that? I'm wondering if it's like CD players where if the laser goes, you're basically stuck with a fancy paperweight?

    Lastly, what is considered "good" wow/flutter ratings, and THD ratings? I've been looking into a few Akai and Technics cassette models from the same era (mid/late 70's), and I'm finding specs on as low as 0.035% wow/flutter (to up to 0.07% or so), and THD ranging from as 0.75% to 1.5% or so.

    Thanks in advance!
     

     

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  2. revox-b77

    revox-b77 Super Member

    Messages:
    2,985
    Location:
    Fingerlakes, NY
    In general the higher up any brands model line you go the better the machine will be. Akai made some very nice stuff. The belt issue is usually not a big deal. The tough one is when the electronic bits start to fail. It costs plenty to have a machine electrically restored. You are dealing with equipment that is 40+ years old. Motors at this point may need a donor unit as they can be near impossible to find these days. But like anything a vintage cassette deck can be brought back to like new condition. It depends only on your desire and how deep your pockets are.

    The easiest route may be to purchase a unit from a dealer that has been refurbished. It will come with a guarantee it will work when you get it home. At least for a while.
     
  3. soundmig

    soundmig AK Subscriber Subscriber

    Messages:
    1,767
    Location:
    Western Colorado
    You only need three heads if you plan to record a lot. Good 2 - head decks can play back as well as most 3-head decks. I have a Nakamichi BX-100 that has new rubber and belts and has had the playback levels tweaked. Playback is superb. Not recorded with it much as I don't have any blank tapes ... nor any alignment tapes with which to tweak it. I know that it does record as I used a short part of an old tape to "test it out" and it sounded good, but I've not used it enough to say exactly what shape the record function is in. Anyway, will sell it pretty cheap. if you're interested let me know and I'll list it in Bartertown for sale.
     
  4. KentTeffeteller

    KentTeffeteller Gimpus Stereophilus!

    Messages:
    25,849
    Location:
    Athens, TN
    A good deck for not a lot of money would be a Technics M 205. That is two head, records and reproduces well in good order, and nicely made.
     
  5. BilboBaggins

    BilboBaggins AK Subscriber Subscriber

    Messages:
    3,407
    Location:
    Ottawa, Canada
    I’ve had a couple of Yamaha and Denon decks that I was impressed with. Both the Denon’s record beautifully. I still have them. The two headed unit loads the cassette through a drawer similar to a cd drawer. It also has remote control, and a Denon master control remote works fine with it. I would definitely recommend a used Denon tape deck. You should be able to find a decent deck for about $50. I would start there, but continue to keep an eye out for a good three head deck if you enjoy making your own tapes.

    Make sure you test it out thoroughly before you buy it. I second the advise to buy a refurbished unit. There is so much that can go wrong on these! Most of the time it is just the belts, but I’ve had more than my share of tape decks with oscillating outputs.

    My mixes are better quality than most of my prerecorded tapes. One thing I missed since the advent of cd and MP3s is the flow that happens when you make a mixed tape. You have to listen to the song you are playing and because of it, you get inspired into the next song.
     
  6. Taketheflame

    Taketheflame Member

    Messages:
    98
    Thanks for the input so far everyone!

    I did have a few more questions about tape types, and noise reduction types.

    Until a few days ago, I thought all cassettes were basically created equally (oh how wrong I am!). Some of the tape deck models I've looked up are not compatible with Type 4 (metal) tapes. How much of an improvement is metal tape over the other tape types/is it a feature really worth having? I've found that metal tapes are quite expensive! (Ranging from $12-$20 per tape for new old stock on Ebay and such). But I've also read a lot of praise from people about Type 2 tapes being a big improvement over type 1 (and that it's a bigger quality jump from type 1 to type 2 than it is from type 2 to metal/type 4). Interestingly enough, I've also read that only type 1 tape can still be found for cheap/relatively easy versus other blank tape types.

    On noise reduction - Many of the vintage units I've looked into only feature Dolby B. I've read a lot of mixed opinions about whether the noise reduction is worth using at all (some seem to love it, and some say it kills the fidelity). Is Dolby C much of an improvement over B?

    My primary use for a deck will be listening to tapes I pick up from shows from independent bands (local or touring) and ripping them to digital for on-the-go listening. But I can also see myself hunting down deals on pre-recorded stuff for fun, and possibly ripping some CDs I have onto blank tapes to give some things in my collection some analog flavor for at-home listening (and either played on the same deck it is recorded on, or something else of high quality).
     

     

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  7. Markoneswift

    Markoneswift Quartz locked n ready to rock

    Messages:
    3,397
    Location:
    Aotearoa New Zealand
    It's quite hard to find silver face, or nice 'vintage' styling coupled with lots of nice to have technology like three heads, direct drive, Dolby B/C/S etc.

    In my opinion, some of the best tape technology came about as the media was in decline - specifically Dolby S noise reduction (and HX Pro a bit earlier).

    This is just my experience of the world of cassette tape from an amateur point of view. I got an Aiwa AD-F990 which is regarded as a really good deck, but it needed replacement belts. A tricky job on those for the inexperienced and recalibration is always recommended when belts are changed (on any deck not just the Aiwa). Later I picked up a Nakamichi Cassette Deck 2 which sounded awesome and needed no work done. After that I found a Technics three head direct drive deck with a powered loading door - that deck is my main deck and sounds excellent but of course, it's totally black and doesn't have big bouncy VU meters (just LED strips).
    Recently I picked up a NAD 6325 belt drive deck. No bells or whistles other than play trim but it sounds wonderful.

    Metal tape makes a big difference to my ears and is like night and day compared to other types.
     
  8. slow_jazz

    slow_jazz AK Subscriber Subscriber

    Messages:
    13,812
    Location:
    SE Michigan, Downriver....
    Chrome and metal tapes are a big improvement.

    Look for a nice 2 head w/o auto-reverse.

    I turn dolby off.

    I've had a nice Pioneer CTF-9191 for years.

    Good luck...
     
  9. Markoneswift

    Markoneswift Quartz locked n ready to rock

    Messages:
    3,397
    Location:
    Aotearoa New Zealand
    You could always go reel to reel - who knows maybe they will show up at gigs soon !
     
  10. Decibel_116

    Decibel_116 AK Subscriber

    Messages:
    1,901
    Location:
    Madison, Alabama, USA
    I recommend a 3 head, closed loop dual capstan deck. In my experience, wow and flutter specifications of 0.05% or less is best. My last deck was rated at 0.03% and had a quartz locked speed control. These machines usually are very heavy and have 3 or at least 2 motors in the mechanism. For any of these high performance decks, the pinch rollers will need to be reconditioned or replaced for it to meet any factory wow & flutter specifications. Rubber parts such as these and belts deteriorate over time and must be replaced. 3-heads will allow you to listen to the actual recorded tape as it is being recorded so that you can make fine adjustments to bias, levels, and eq and hear the result immediately. Very handy feature! The Nakamichi decks are very nice with the Dragon being the end game in consumer decks back in the day. I had a Pioneer CT-F1250 that sounded amazing with a metal tape.
     
  11. revox-b77

    revox-b77 Super Member

    Messages:
    2,985
    Location:
    Fingerlakes, NY
    My minimum quality tape I use for recording is chrome or type II if you will. I use Dolby C for most recording. I have some units with DBX which is great but it is so seldom seen that you can't share with your buds very easily. Metal is great tape, but I find that properly recorded chrome will get you 95% of the quality for a fraction of the price.
     
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  12. Markoneswift

    Markoneswift Quartz locked n ready to rock

    Messages:
    3,397
    Location:
    Aotearoa New Zealand
    This is my every day deck -

    https://www.hifiengine.com/manual_library/technics/rs-bx707.shtml

    It only cost a few bucks and needed a minor repair. I think someone had dropped it, or maybe just with age, but the counterweight had fallen off the direct drive flywheel and was making a loud rubbing sound when playing a tape. I pulled the mechanism out (which was easy due to tons of space inside) and simply glued the weight back in position.

    The specs are pretty impressive and it sounds great with quartz locked speed accuracy.
     
  13. Bob

    Bob AK Subscriber Subscriber

    Messages:
    2,262
    Location:
    West coast
    you don't need to start at the top - you can work your way up if you like cassettes

    - try for any machines that have metal (type 4) capabilities - makes it later production-wise
    - go for 3 heads because they're higher up on the food chain and are better built
    - no matter what you buy, clean the cassette well (capstans, rollers, guides, - all of it)
    and demagnetize the heads. the sound is noticeably better after and a mid-range
    machine will out-perform a high end that's never been cleaned/demagnetized.

    nowadays they are cheap. when I used buy them the Naks were chump change because
    of a 50cent part that lost friction to drive the capstans.

    good luck and cassettes are CHEAP - your crappy rock LPs go for $5-10 and cassettes
    go for 25 cents. same music - no scratches, pops, clicks, and organic materials, etc.
     
  14. Taketheflame

    Taketheflame Member

    Messages:
    98
    Well, I did end up finding a deck! It's a long distance buy, but it's from a shop (so it's been gone through and comes with a guarantee/return window) - it seemed like too much of a gem to pass up, so I jumped on it.

    Pics/revealing what it is/my impressions of it when it arrives in the coming days.

    On a side note - vintage gear is quickly becoming an addictive hobby - I have a feeling this won't end up being the only tape deck in my rig :)
     
  15. Taketheflame

    Taketheflame Member

    Messages:
    98
    Ok, I'm back - here it is!

    20180912_182910.jpg

    I found this Akai GXC-740D on Ebay and it arrived today. The picture really doesn't do it justice - it's in super clean/near mint condition - supposedly only one owner since new. Whoever owned it certainly took good care of it.

    Sound-wise? This thing is fantastic - it's amazing what a good deck can do for the humble cassette tape. Maybe not quite as good as vinyl, or as crystal clear as a CD to my ears, but with what cassette tapes go for these days (and the warmth they have)...let's just say I'm looking forward to some more bargain hunting at the thrift/record stores in the area :)
     
  16. BilboBaggins

    BilboBaggins AK Subscriber Subscriber

    Messages:
    3,407
    Location:
    Ottawa, Canada
    Congrats, and have fun! Try some recording too! It’s really fun to hear the results!
     
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  17. ssmith3046

    ssmith3046 AK Subscriber Subscriber

    Messages:
    3,352
    Congrats!
     
  18. Taketheflame

    Taketheflame Member

    Messages:
    98
    Thanks! So far, I've only used it to test play it with one tape (on my stereo rig), and to make a digital copy of another tape (a demo) from the first concert I ever attended but I plan to pick up some Type II tapes and see what kind of results I can get from copying a few CD-only albums I have into an analog format (what can I say? I think I prefer a recording with some tape saturation to it).
     
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  19. Hajidub

    Hajidub Chihuahua/Pug = Chug Subscriber

    Messages:
    5,361
    Location:
    Colorado Springs, CO
    Hard to go wrong with the Akai GXC heads. If you come across any Nakamichi grab it if you're going to continue with cassettes. I'm up to 800 pre-recorded and a 100 blanks, nice option when you're feeling lazy and not in the mood for vinyl work.
     

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