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Measurements of Nakamichi Dragon Cassette Deck

MRC01

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I recently bought an old, dusty, well-used Denon DRM-540 on eBay and refurbished it. Mine turned out quite nicely compared to the results above. Frequency response was +/- 2 dB from 20 Hz to 18 kHz at level -20 dB, channels matched to about 1/4 dB. THD at -40 to -50 dB through most of the frequency range. Since a cheap deck like this had decent performance, I expected more of the expensive ones that were legendary in their day.
 

MakeMineVinyl

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I recently bought an old, dusty, well-used Denon DRM-540 on eBay and refurbished it. Mine turned out quite nicely compared to the results above. Frequency response was +/- 2 dB from 20 Hz to 18 kHz at level -20 dB, channels matched to about 1/4 dB. THD at -40 to -50 dB through most of the frequency range. Since a cheap deck like this had decent performance, I expected more of the expensive ones that were legendary in their day.
I have no doubt that the high end response of the Nakamichi could be brought up to nearly flat by reducing the bias current, but this will increase distortion, so its a tradeoff. At such slow speeds its impossible to get full spectrum response at maximum recording level at a very low level of distortion and noise (without noise reduction). In the world of analog tape, 15 ips reel to reel is the minimum speed/format which can basically 'have it all' as far as full response range with lack of saturation, with good noise/distortion performance. Its no coincidence that 15 ips was the standard speed used for professional recording studios. Some masters were made at 30 ips, but this was generally viewed at too expensive as far as tape usage. 35mm magnetic film beats all of the tape formats, but it hasn't been used at all in decades.
 

sabristol

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Yikes!
And to think that my parents preferred the sound of CDs recorded to Maxell Metal cassettes on this machine to their digital counterpart played natively. I guess they liked the extra distortions.
Was a nice machine when it worked, proper time counter working in real seconds, a door that was power assisted, a generally overall nice look. Sadly it tended to start shredding tape in the end, so we ditched it.
Usual problem is belts. Hope your parents didn’t ditch it as serviced it would have easily fetch >£180.
 

sabristol

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I have no doubt that the high end response of the Nakamichi could be brought up to nearly flat by reducing the bias current, but this will increase distortion, so its a tradeoff. At such slow speeds its impossible to get full spectrum response at maximum recording level at a very low level of distortion and noise (without noise reduction). In the world of analog tape, 15 ips reel to reel is the minimum speed/format which can basically 'have it all' as far as full response range with lack of saturation, with good noise/distortion performance. Its no coincidence that 15 ips was the standard speed used for professional recording studios. Some masters were made at 30 ips, but this was generally viewed at too expensive as far as tape usage. 35mm magnetic film beats all of the tape formats, but it hasn't been used at all in decades.
It was the first cassette deck I’d tested and was surprised at the relationship and interaction between recording level, frequency response and distortion.
 

sabristol

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Was that frequency response taken at -20dB? If not, that could account for the premature rolloff due to saturation.
I doubt it was saturated as I adjusted the recording level to get the best response possible.
 

Robin L

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Some masters were made at 30 ips, but this was generally viewed at too expensive as far as tape usage. 35mm magnetic film beats all of the tape formats, but it hasn't been used at all in decades.
The other problem is that 30 ips has less bass, believe it or not. What I have heard from 35mm recordings from Mercury, on LP and those excellent CD remasters, was only a little better, and nowhere near the dynamic range and quality of modern digital [when it's done right]. But probably better than anything else in its day. I do recall some of the 355mm Mercury masters did not store well, with dropouts, and that in a few cases had to use the back-up tape, don't remember if it was quarter-inch or half-inch.
 

MakeMineVinyl

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The other problem is that 30 ips has less bass, believe it or not. What I have heard from 35mm recordings from Mercury, on LP and those excellent CD remasters, was only a little better, and nowhere near the dynamic range and quality of modern digital [when it's done right]. But probably better than anything else in its day. I do recall some of the 355mm Mercury masters did not store well, with dropouts, and that in a few cases had to use the back-up tape, don't remember if it was quarter-inch or half-inch.
I used to work with 35mm magnetic film regularly when I worked in films in Hollyweird. The speed of 90 feet per minute, or 18 ips fits into the sweet spot of high enough to have better HF saturation and frequency extension than 15 ips, but not so fast that bass response suffers. Also, three tracks on about an inch of oxide area makes for very wide tracks. At the time, magnetic film which was just as advanced at open reel mastering tape was available. Other advantages of film is much thicker base material, generally thicker oxide coating, and isolated sprocket drive which used huge flywheels to keep wow/flutter at bay. On one film I worked on they actually had to compress the original magnetic film mix in order to transfer it to digital since the dynamic range of the 35 mm magnetic film was wider than could be accommodated by the 16 bit digital recorders. Magnetic film could be that good. But film stock was absurdly expensive.

Remember that in the days of the Mercury 35 mm recordings, the film stock was on the same level as Scotch 111 tape. What was available in the 90s was far more advanced.
 
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rusty_trombone

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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.
FWIW a Stereo Review March 1988 article: "Top 5 Tape Decks". The Nakamichi Dragon ranked No#1 with "the lowest noise level, especially at high frequencies, by a clear margin in source vs tape comparisons." "More accurate and clear sounding even over the Revox 215" (ranked No#2). Both decks virtually flawless, with the Dragon pulling ahead of the 215 -sounding more "musical". A Tandberg 3014A came in at No#3, and Harman/Kardon CD491 and Onkyo TA-2090 (interchangeably) coming in 4th and 5th (note: their retail prices were less than half of the Nak/Revox/Tandberg decks).

Oddly enough a NAD 6300 deck was featured on the front cover of the magazine, and is considered a "dark horse" among TOTL cassette decks from tapehead enthusiasts.
 

rusty_trombone

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I see a few sour posts from Tapehead members, having a hard time facing the fact their cherished Nakamichi decks don't bode well in comparison to their digital counterparts.

Tape decks were SotA back in the day -they just no longer are. That doesn't mean you cannot receive satisfying musical sound reproduction from cassette. The review only stated the obvious: the Dragon's measurements by the numbers does not fare well vs digital.

I've owned (and sold) a few totl serviced (ESL; Willy etc...) Nak decks over the last 10-15yrs. If you cannot hear an audible difference between say a CD or a cassette, I question your bias and hearing accuracy. Trying to criticize the review on the owners maintenance, tape head wear, or the quality of the calibration tapes (all 3 were poor??) is a reach.

As a matter of fact, what type of owner owns calibration tapes (usually expensive)? IMO sounds like an owner who takes care of their deck.
 

MRC01

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I see a few sour posts from Tapehead members, having a hard time facing the fact their cherished Nakamichi decks don't bode well in comparison to their digital counterparts.
...
As a matter of fact, what type of owner owns calibration tapes (usually expensive)? IMO sounds like an owner who takes care of their deck.
It's not so much that the Nakamichi measured worse than digital. That's expected. The problem is that it measured no better than a tape deck that I bought on eBay for $50 and refurbished myself. This makes one suspect that Nakamichi deck isn't fully up to snuff.
 

dlaloum

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FWIW a Stereo Review March 1988 article: "Top 5 Tape Decks". The Nakamichi Dragon ranked No#1 with "the lowest noise level, especially at high frequencies, by a clear margin in source vs tape comparisons." "More accurate and clear sounding even over the Revox 215" (ranked No#2). Both decks virtually flawless, with the Dragon pulling ahead of the 215 -sounding more "musical". A Tandberg 3014A came in at No#3, and Harman/Kardon CD491 and Onkyo TA-2090 (interchangeably) coming in 4th and 5th (note: their retail prices were less than half of the Nak/Revox/Tandberg decks).

Oddly enough a NAD 6300 deck was featured on the front cover of the magazine, and is considered a "dark horse" among TOTL cassette decks from tapehead enthusiasts.
At the time I compared Dragon, B215, HK CD491 and 3014A - over a couple of years, in various showrooms, in different combinations - my personal conclusion ranked them as 3014A, B215, Dragon, and HK CD491 last - I ended up with a B215. - But they were all excellent - and when new, well nigh indistinguishable from CD's that the cassette was copied from. (My standard test tape was BASF Chrome).

The Nak did do better on tapes of "unknown provenance" - due to its self alignment - but for tapes recorded and played back on the same machine, it gave up a bit of ground to others.

I never encountered the Onkyo 2090, was fascinated by some of the Akai's but never had a chance to try them out, owned a TEAC Z5000 - which was very good indeed, and ended up being replaced by the superior B215....
 

AndreaT

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I remember the first time I saw a Nakamichi 1000 cassette tape recorder at an Hi-Fi Show in Milan, circa 1975. It was unreachable for price of the unit and of the cassette tape required to achieve its maximum performance. I had inherited an old Sony TC-127 cassette deck and I experimented with different tapes, the economics in my world then required a C-90 to be less expensive than half the price of an new LP, to record the two side of an LP (typically less then 22 minutes and 30 seconds each) on one side of the C-90. The fascination was the potential to record all the LPs from my friends for a quarter of their price. Then came Tubular Bells, with a 25-minute side A. And as the quality of the amplifier/speakers improved, the limitation of cassette recording of LP became obvious and progressively less tolerable. Cassettes were a stepping stone in my "itinerary to immersive Music listening". I am very happy Amir has tested this Nakamichi deck to show the enormous progress in music reproduction of the past 50 years, and the significant decrease in cost to us to achieve superb SINAD and volume.

 

restorer-john

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was fascinated by some of the Akai's but never had a chance to try them out, owned a TEAC Z5000 - which was very good indeed, and ended up being replaced by the superior B215....

I have a bunch of Akais, including several of the upper range units all with Glass Crystal (GX) heads. The one I lusted after was the GXR-99 (auto reverse three head) ceramic headstoppers etc. Amazing piece of gear.

I have a GXR-55 in the storeroom- full random programmable tracks over both sides of the tape.
 

Dimitri

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For the record (nice pun huh?) I never looked at distortion when looking at specs.. I cared about wow and flutter and frequency response with Fe and CrO2 tapes.
You may have noticed I didn't mention price. Price was irrelevant. I was a teenager with no money to buy anything so it was all academic back then :)
I was happy to have a boombox (Sanyo M9980K) that was better sounding than what most of my friends had at the time. Paired with TDKs AD formulation it was almost good enough.
I missed it so much I got another one a few months ago!
 

dtaylo1066

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Alas, The Nak Dragon in 2022 has no fire in its breath, just some dismal halitosis. In the day I coveted a Dragon, but got a Teac reel to reel instead. Regardless of the brand or model of cassette player, I could never get over the HF cassette hiss and/or the muffling sensation created by Dolby. So in the 1980s I got a Teac A230-S, which at 7 1/2 ips put out some pretty nice tunes, though I'd rather not see its SINAD vs. today's standards. The Teac at 3 3/4 ips made for some great party tapes in my college dorm and apartment. Of course its looks were bad ass in the day!

1662841771790.png
 

pseudoid

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Strangely, from my experience, mainstream pre-recorded open reel tapes of the period which were my main purchases never sounded as good as the best real time duplicated cassettes of the day.
I got gas from that statement and still haven't been able to digest it.
I have a bunch of Akais...
Yes, you give me gas too. :oops:
I have always tried to buy quality audio gear, which would cause me to use them for years and years, until offloading them to next of kin.
Do you have a warehouse full of (hi-end) audio equipment that you plan to include in a future audio museum?
 

dlaloum

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Back in the day - the store I worked in had Revox (and Dual, Marantz, Quad, Pioneer) - and also had a substantial CD store attached... needless to say - I made many recordings from Revox CD to Revox B215 cassette deck.

I also did many back to back comparisons... with the tapes auto cablibrated, preferably using Chrome (metal was too expensive), and using Dolby C - a carefully recorded Cassette (from CD) was indistinguishable in blind testing from the CD. Tested this with myself, with multiple other employess there, and with the occasional customer.

The 70db S/N you could get with cassettes on a good deck like the B215, was and is more than needed under most circumstances, and for most recordings.

People keep talking about "thresholds of audibility" - under most circumstances they are NOT the 100db+ people are aiming for!!

Now I just need to find someone to refurbish my B215 (in Melbourne Australia)...
 

DavidEdwinAston

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I could still play my 1985 CR7. And would enjoy the results! Pure nostalgia, I know! :)
 
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