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Measurements of Nakamichi Dragon Cassette Deck

jded

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Of course one cannot expect the same dynamic as a digital file (properly done), given the speed of the tape. To get closer you have to use a R2R.
The Nakamichi Dragon was surpassed by the Revox B215 (Studer A721). The Revox B215 had 4 motors direct drive and auto-bias. Made a big difference.

B215.png


As mentioned in the thread the tape used has a big impact. In the 80s the best tape I found were the TDK MA-XG and the Sony Metal master.
They also made a big difference on the perceived sound.
At the time hiss excluded, I was getting a close copy of Vinyl or CD.
Dolby C & HXpro were supposed to improve the snr, but I always found that a recording made with those gave a worse sound albeit less hiss.
 
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amirm

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The Nakamichi Dragon was surpassed by the Revox B215 (Studer A721).
Just did a search on ebay and the listing there is asking for $2,500 plus $115 in shipping! Insane....
 

jded

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Indeed insane. I bought mine when I was living in Seattle for 700$... Still a lot of money.
Now living near paris I cannot send it to the US for test.
 

MRC01

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I looped back through the tape monitor (only possible on 3-head decks) when I tested a Teac open-reel deck after fixing it up.
...
Rick “would work on any 3-head deck” Denney
If it's not a 3-head deck, you can still do this. First record the REW sweep. Then rewind the tape and play the sweep back into the computer while recording (you can use Audacity). Then in REW, use "import SWEEP". Load the original REW sweep file as the stimulus and the one you recorded and played back on the deck as the sweep file. This requires having a good sound card or digital recorder.
 

dtaylo1066

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The Ford Model T does not measure so well either. It's technology has been surpassed by massive amounts. In general, cassette decks for hi-fi sucked. Top manufacturers tried to make a faulty and doomed format into something it really could not be. Dolby, Chromium Dioxide, etc. Tape speed was too slow, hiss was abundant, dynamic range was limited. The Dragon was prized in its day, as was the T. Thankfully for our ears we have moved on in big ways.
 

MakeMineVinyl

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The Ford Model T does not measure so well either. It's technology has been surpassed by massive amounts. In general, cassette decks for hi-fi sucked. Top manufacturers tried to make a faulty and doomed format into something it really could not be. Dolby, Chromium Dioxide, etc. Tape speed was too slow, hiss was abundant, dynamic range was limited. The Dragon was prized in its day, as was the T. Thankfully for our ears we have moved on in big ways.
Still, considering how hobbled the format was, pretty good sound was achieved overall. That said, I never took the format seriously, using it mostly for my car.
 

pseudoid

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Has it really been near 40 years since the NakamichiDragon ruled? Wow!
Those years are quite fuzzy for me but I recall getting a great deal at CrazyEddie's, as I had paid somewhere near $2K for my new Dragon (cannot remember which exact model). Within a few months, I was able to do a sweet exchange with a buddy, which allowed me to GET TWO (2) HarmanKardon decks: HK CD401 + HK CD491 (3 Heads • Dolby-C NR • Full Logic Control • Metal Tape • Dual Capstan).
A little historical perspective is essential in consumer music recording market of that era: The CompactDiscs were still a few years out of reach, and automotive CD players even further in the future. The Cassette Recorders of that era were the only means of being able go for road-trips with music. In the 21st Century, the results of those measurements seem 'gawd awful' but there were no other means to party in those road-trips, w/o home-recorded cassettes. :facepalm:
I had purchased a Luxman T-12 FM tuner ($700 circa 1978) and I would be continuously (on-the-fly) recording NYC WNEW-FM radio station using the HK CD491. When WNEW-FM played a "good" song; I would dub it over w/the HK CD-401, using TDK SA 90 minute cassette tapes.
Who were we to complain in our road-trips about the source of music? We were just happy we had "music".
Youthful exuberance? I think not!
Desperation for music? Dang right!
Despite the fact that in the 21st Century, we are spoiled rotten that we can quibble over bit-depth of 16 or 17.


I have hundreds of recorded compilation TDK SA-90s that have been stored properly for all these decades.
So? How long do recorded cassettes really last?
 
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MRC01

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...
Dolby C & HXpro were supposed to improve the snr, but I always found that a recording made with those gave a worse sound albeit less hiss.
I thought HX Pro was an improvement, yet agree that Dolby C (or dbx, remember that?) never sounded right to me, on various different tape decks.
Dolby B seemed the sweet spot: reduction in noise/hiss without mangling the sound. Perhaps because it was simpler, easier to implement.
 

MakeMineVinyl

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I thought HX Pro was an improvement, yet agree that Dolby C (or dbx, remember that?) never sounded right to me, on various different tape decks.
Dolby B seemed the sweet spot: reduction in noise/hiss without mangling the sound. Perhaps because it was simpler, easier to implement.
Noise reduction systems tended to magnify deviations in frequency response. DBX was the worst with this.
 

rdenney

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Still, considering how hobbled the format was, pretty good sound was achieved overall. That said, I never took the format seriously, using it mostly for my car.
Same for me. But a lot of field recordings were made on cassette, and I’m attached enough to them to sustain a capability.

When we say “our ears have moved on” I think we overestimate our ears. Hiss notwithstanding, distortion was low enough for most people that when very carefully recorded (rare enough, it is true) the results could be quite good. For me, what’s different and better about digital is more about dynamics than coloration.

Being electromechanical, equipment upkeep is an ongoing challenge, of course.

Cassettes were always a convenience format, but we celebrate efforts to make it as good as it became.

Rick “who can’t hear the hiss in the car” Denney
 

dlaloum

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Of course one cannot expect the same dynamic as a digital file (properly done), given the speed of the tape. To get closer you have to use a R2R.
The Nakamichi Dragon was surpassed by the Revox B215 (Studer A721). The Revox B215 had 4 motors direct drive and auto-bias. Made a big difference.

View attachment 165270

As mentioned in the thread the tape used has a big impact. In the 80s the best tape I found were the TDK MA-XG and the Sony Metal master.
They also made a big difference on the perceived sound.
At the time hiss excluded, I was getting a close copy of Vinyl or CD.
Dolby C & HXpro were supposed to improve the snr, but I always found that a recording made with those gave a worse sound albeit less hiss.
My B215 is waiting for me to find a trusted engineer to service it :(

In the mid 80's I did compare the B215 to the Dragon, and the Tandberg 3014A... in the end I concluded 3014A>B215>Dragon...

None of these were affordable!! (I purchased my B215 a couple of years later, lightly used...) - used it for years, then had it in storage for 20 years, and when I pulled it out to try it, found it had a fault.... In the next year or 2 I would like to re-fettle it, to be able to retrieve some recordings I don't have elsewhere.
 

dtaylo1066

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Nakamichi pushed the format as far as it would go, at the time beyond what anyone thought was possible. True innovation. And very expensive at the time. A decade or later the format was dead to hi-fi. And Nakamichi is now an essentially dead brand that's part of a Chinese holding company.
 

pseudoid

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Nakamichi pushed the format as far as it would go, at the time beyond what anyone thought was possible.
So true!
Hope you don't mind me providing a historical perspective that is very relevant and which preceded Nakamichi.

"The Compact Cassette or Musicassette (MC), also commonly called the tape cassette, cassette tape, audio cassette, or simply tape or cassette, is an analog magnetic tape recording format for audio recording and playback. It was developed by the Dutch company Philips in Hasselt, Belgium, by Lou Ottens and his team. It was introduced in September 1963. Compact Cassettes come in two forms, either already containing content as a prerecorded cassette (Musicassette), or as a fully recordable "blank" cassette. Both forms have two sides and are reversible by the user. The compact cassette technology was originally designed for dictation machines, but improvements in fidelity led the Compact Cassette to supplant the stereo 8-track cartridge and reel-to-reel tape recording in most non-professional applications. Its uses ranged from portable audio to home recording to data storage for early microcomputers. The first cassette player (although mono) designed for use in car dashboards was introduced in 1968. From the early 1970s to mid-2000s, the cassette was one of the two most common formats for prerecorded music, first alongside the LP record and later the compact disc (CD)." From <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cassette_tape>

"designed for dictation" are the key operative words here.
 

dtaylo1066

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It makes one wonder what DAC capabilities and prices will be in 5 years, given the advancements in out digital playback world.
 

Werner

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Barely any distortion is introduced by playback.

Amir: Do you measurements of this you can post?


It is well known that in magnetic tape recording the distortion (and compression and saturation) are caused by the combination of recording head and tape, and to a lesser extent by the recording amplifier if of incompetent design (which happened a lot).

Proving by measurement that the replay side of things does not introduce distortion is a bit tough, as it would require me to disconnect the heads and inject signal straight into the replay amplifier at levels comparable to what a head produces, which is very feeble. This is very hard to do without picking up noise and hum, or sending the replay amp into oscillation. Moreover, the stimulus would have to be equalised prior to injection, at least when multiple frequencies are used.

So: no. I do not have measurements for that.

But I do have other measurements for tens of decks and hundreds of tapes. I also happen to have a lot of alignment tapes, the genuine stuff from ABEX, TEAC, and BASF, costing a small fortune. Such tapes were typically made for one or two specific purposes (i.e. playback level, replay azimuth, speed + wow&flutter, replay head height, ...) but a tape for replay distortion simply did/does not exist. No specific attention was spent on distortion during the recording of alignment tapes: distortion only had to be adequate so as not to endanger the tape's primary function. In fact, some of these tapes were not even produced on a recorder, but on machinery imprinting specific magnetic patterns.

When I play a cassette recorded on deck A on deck B, I see the distortion spectrum of A. When I play a cassette recorded on deck B on deck A, I see the spectrum of B.

Something like a Sony Metal ES on a Nak CR-4 has less than 0.3% third harmonic at 400Hz at 218 nWb/m (DIN), and happily takes peaks 10dB over that for 3%. Total A-weighted dynamic range is 68dB without Dolby! That is today. With tape and deck 30+ years old.


As an aside: all measurements should be referenced to a specific magnetic flux. '0VU' is meaningless without stating the flux level the deck was calibrated for.
 

Werner

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The best cassette deck I owned was a Yamaha 3 head closed loop capstan deck. It was supposed to have the tape handling mechanism from Nakamichi but the electronics were Yahama's.

Not quite. At a time Nakamichi, Yamaha, and a bunch of others used the same mechanisms manufactured by a third party, currently believed to be Sankyo Seiki (although some people maintain it was Alps). That's all.

Except for their initial OEM period in the 70s Nakamichi never contributed to any other player's decks.
 

pseudoid

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When I play a cassette recorded on deck A on deck B, I see the distortion spectrum of A. When I play a cassette recorded on deck B on deck A, I see the spectrum of B.
I am not sure I understand your math: CassetteA+DeckB=DistortionA and/or CassetteB+DeckA=DistortionB
My math sez both =DistortionA+B
I am sure that every cassette user manual stated that you really should not playback your recorded cassettes on other hardware... for best results:confused:.
 

Werner

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My math sez both =DistortionA+B

As I said, the bulk of the distortion is generated in the recording process. Playback is feeble fields around a non-saturated core into linear amplifiers.

I am sure that every cassette user manual stated that you really should not playback your recorded cassettes on other hardware... for best results:confused:.

Which has nothing to do with distortion, and all with geometrical and electrical alignment.
 
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