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Measurements of Nakamichi Dragon Cassette Deck

amirm

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This is a detail measurements of the iconic, Nakamichi Dragon Vintage cassette deck. It was kindly brought to me at a meet at our local audio store (Gig Harbor audio).

For those of you too young to know :), the Nakamichi Dragon has the reputation of being the best cassette deck available at the end of the cycle for the format. It came out in 1982 and retailed for USD $2,499. That would be $6,500 today's dollar so quite a lot of money. I was too poor to afford one at the time so it was a pleasure to get my hands on one finally for this test.

We were testing it in a dark room and this is just with the light of a phone so please forgive the poor lighting:

Nakamichi Dragon Cassette Tape Measurements.jpg

Unlike digital products and amplifiers, we are at the mercy of calibration tapes for testing such products. The owner had a few of them and that is what I used for testing.

I unfortunately did not capture the results of 1 kHz tone but here are some other frequencies.

315 Hz:
Nakamichi Dragon 315 Hz Measurement.png


Oh boy. :) We are so used to SINAD (signal over distortion and noise) of 90+ that numbers like 41 dB seem so, so low!

Likewise distortion components are just 40 to 50 dB down from our main tone as opposed to 90+ in digital.

Let's jump up to 3 kHz:
Nakamichi Dragon 3 kHz Measurement.png


Channels are mismatched in both phase and amplitude. The Dragon is supposed to auto-calibrate the phase but clearly it is not able to do so.

Increase in frequency has also increased our distortion.

Widening of the 3 kHz tone at the bottom shows random jitter/tape speed variations.

Lastly here is 12.5 kHz response:
Nakamichi Dragon 12 kHz Measurement.png


Granted, the levels are low ut 4.5% distortion??? Phase and amplitude errors followed us here too.

Conclusions
Even though this is not a thorough test and the pedigree of test tapes is unknown, these results are more than depressing for those of us who cherished this marquee audio product. Worst of the worst digital products have performance that is hundreds of times better. Oh, well. :)

-------------
As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

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Hugo9000

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#2

Johnb

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I myself had a nostalgia moment today when I read a comment recommending a used GFA-555 amp. Just think Amir, had you bought the Nakamichi at the time, how much later you might have had the money for the down payment on a house. Today's hot item is tomorrow's nostalgia piece. Best to keep the expenditures reasonable.
 

RayDunzl

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#4

watchnerd

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This is a detail measurements of the iconic, Nakamichi Dragon Vintage cassette deck. It was kindly brought to me at a meet at our local audio store (Gig Harbor audio).

For those of you too young to know :), the Nakamichi Dragon has the reputation of being the best cassette deck available at the end of the cycle for the format. It came out in 1982 and retailed for USD $2,499. That would be $6,500 today's dollar so quite a lot of money. I was too poor to afford one at the time so it was a pleasure to get my hands on one finally for this test.

We were testing it in a dark room and this is just with the light of a phone so please forgive the poor lighting:


Unlike digital products and amplifiers, we are at the mercy of calibration tapes for testing such products. The owner had a few of them and that is what I used for testing.

I unfortunately did not capture the results of 1 kHz tone but here are some other frequencies.

315 Hz:
View attachment 18585

Oh boy. :) We are so used to SINAD (signal over distortion and noise) of 90+ that numbers like 41 dB seem so, so low!

Likewise distortion components are just 40 to 50 dB down from our main tone as opposed to 90+ in digital.

Let's jump up to 3 kHz:
View attachment 18586

Channels are mismatched in both phase and amplitude. The Dragon is supposed to auto-calibrate the phase but clearly it is not able to do so.

Increase in frequency has also increased our distortion.

Widening of the 3 kHz tone at the bottom shows random jitter/tape speed variations.

Lastly here is 12.5 kHz response:
View attachment 18587

Granted, the levels are low ut 4.5% distortion??? Phase and amplitude errors followed us here too.

Conclusions
Even though this is not a thorough test and the pedigree of test tapes is unknown, these results are more than depressing for those of us who cherished this marquee audio product. Worst of the worst digital products have performance that is hundreds of times better. Oh, well. :)
It should have done a better at it's peak performance, from what I've read.

I've seen 15 IPS RTR with SNR in the 55-65 range, and over 70 for 30 IPS.

Are these results really the best TOTL cassette could do, or is the deck perhaps a bit out of calibration?

Then again, cassette is 1 7/8 IPS and 4 track on a tiny tape width....
 

Blumlein 88

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Yes, why couldn't you do a record and replay test?

Also what about with Dolby C engaged.

Were the tape heads demagged?
 

watchnerd

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Here are some measurements from 1983:

https://www.soundandvision.com/content/vintage-test-report-nakamichi-dragon-cassette-deck-page-3


My first experience with great audio playback was in a shop with a full set of 7-series Nakamichi components with KEF Reference 107 loudspeakers. It was in autumn of 1987. I'll never forget it.
Okay, this more like what I would have expected from TOTL cassette back in the day:

"With Dolby-B and CCIR-ARM weighting, the S/N figures were 64.3, 66.2, and 68 dB, and Dolby-C increased them all the way to 73.9, 75.5, and 77.5 dB."
 

amirm

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"With Dolby-B and CCIR-ARM weighting, the S/N figures were 64.3, 66.2, and 68 dB, and Dolby-C increased them all the way to 73.9, 75.5, and 77.5 dB."
That is SNR, not distortion+noise.
 

amirm

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#11
Could you record and playback some tones?

(I guess not)
Yeh, the idea is to have tapes that are precision recorded beyond the test unit.

At any rate, these are quick tests on location so no time to do extensive testing.
 

Blumlein 88

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#13
I've got a working BX300. Not as good as the Dragon of course. I keep saying I'll pull it out and test it.
 

Blumlein 88

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Yeh, the idea is to have tapes that are precision recorded beyond the test unit.

At any rate, these are quick tests on location so no time to do extensive testing.
I understand the limited time for on site testing. And the idea precision tapes are something of a reference. But the age of those tapes would be an issue plus an unknown history of what they were used with.
 

bennetng

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#18
Okay, this more like what I would have expected from TOTL cassette back in the day:

"With Dolby-B and CCIR-ARM weighting, the S/N figures were 64.3, 66.2, and 68 dB, and Dolby-C increased them all the way to 73.9, 75.5, and 77.5 dB."
I tried a cheap Fuji Type I tape on A fairly new and rarely used Tascam CD-A750 and the noise levels are pretty similar to that review.

My test was done by playing the test signal from RME Multiface II with low gain (0dBFS = +2dBV), recorded it with the deck, then played the signal and recorded it with the RME again. Nothing I could do other than adjust the record level on the deck to minimize noise and distortion.

I also tried to record and play a song and I would say Dolby B (at least on this deck) sounds bad. It reduced the noise by 10dB, but it also added other distortion and made the mids sound harsh. I can do a much better job by digitizing a tape without Dolby and do the noise reduction with software.

See the attached RMAA report.

[edit]
Added a screenshot to show the left and right channels are nicely aligned at sample level up to 96k.
phase.png
 

Attachments

Last edited:

restorer-john

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#19
Without a record to play test and only using the dubious 'test' tapes, no real conclusions can be drawn and it's not fair on the Dragon IMO.

No assessments of the tape path, guides, head condition, pinch rollers etc?

The speed is clearly spot on based on the frequencies reported. The blue channel is clearly lower in level and the phase delay suggests the head alignment is out or the auto-azimuth is not working correctly.
 

restorer-john

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#20
I've got a few decks here and dozens in the storeroom. A couple of identical Quartz locked direct drive, closed loop dual capstan, Dolby B/C Sony ES (TCK-333ESR) units and every tape known to man in my cupboard.

I think I'll have to do a few tests myself.
 
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