Cassette Tape Decks - For the Love of Saturation

Discussion in 'Vinyl Nutjob World: Turntable and Related Gear' started by E_Schaaf, Mar 16, 2018.

  1. E_Schaaf

    E_Schaaf MOT: E.T.A Headphones

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    TL;DR - The point of this thread is to discuss the qualities of the cassette tape format as it relates to particular musical styles, and to explore what makes different decks have their own distinctive sonic characteristics.

    This is not a tape vs vinyl vs digital thread. It seems safe to assume most people here are already familiar with the technical limitations of each of these formats. If you aren't, read elsewhere.


    Yes yes yes, I know that cassette tapes have a massively higher noise floor and very high amounts of harmonic distortion compared to even a modest digital or vinyl setup.

    But here is the dilemma I am faced with - I sometimes like the sound of tape saturation to a certain degree, depending on the content. There's something it does to the sensation of presence... something both tactile and visceral. And I also find more and more music in my vein of enjoyment being released on cassette (especially overseas).

    Sometimes I don't want to cough up the dough to buy a digital copy of something I like (would rather stream through legal means), and I often mistrust contemporary vinyl pressing quality (I once purchased a reissue of Song for My Father with a fly literally pressed into the middle of the record, and went through 3 reissues of The Shape of Jazz to Come, all of which were factory warped beyond play-ability).

    But I still love the feeling of having a musical recording manifested in a physical package, which I can hold and collect, and I'm willing to pay for that experience.

    Maybe I'm more of a music-phile than an audiophile (as I'm sure many others here are as well). Maybe cassettes are inherently anti-audiophile. All I know is that I want to support my favorite artists in this way (and build up a personal library), but have very little knowledge of tape deck designs from yesteryears.

    Saturation doesn't always have to be the enemy.

    Mods - if this thread is too off-topic, in the wrong forum section, or doesn't suit the interests of SBAF, I would be happy to delete or move it. Just saw a huge hole after using the search engine.
     
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  2. luckybaer

    luckybaer Friend

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    I have some 35 year old cassettes in my closet. I just purchased a PS Audio NuWave Phono Converter. I'm tempted to buy a vintage cassette deck, hook it up to the NPC, and fire up some of those old cassettes. I'd also be able to copy the content of the cassette onto my PC if so desired. Brings back some memories of recording my LPs on cassettes for portability purposes (Sony Walkman & car audio).
     
  3. dubharmonic

    dubharmonic Friend

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    Many mixtapes (real mixtapes, not what the kids are talking about today) from DJs that I grew up with gained a lot of character from slight over saturation. There’s definitely an art to it.
     
  4. scapeinator1

    scapeinator1 Once You Go Black You'll Never Go Back

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    My car actually has a cassette player so I still listen to old mixtapes on it. A lot of Blink-182 and NWA on those tapes. I still have blank tapes at home and a boombox from my childhood. I've been thinking about getting back into ripping stuff off the radio or making tapes from CDs.

    I'm kinda young, and even though I've never known a world without CDs, tapes were what me and my siblings used growing up. It has a nostalgia factor for me but its kind of more than that. I caught so many random moments on the radio and random quotes. I just used to like recording stuff and seeing what I got. The digital era and ripping audio and samples off youtube kind of killed the joy of it for me.
     
    Last edited: May 19, 2018
  5. Mystic

    Mystic Mystique's Spiritual Advisor

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    The first music I ever owned was on cassette tapes. I still remember using an old Sony Walkman listening to tapes as a kid.

    I've been feeling nostalgic lately, partly due to digging out an old Technics M205 from my parents basement, I've wanted to see how cassette has fared over time (not as gracefully as Vinyl and CD).

    I bought an old Nakamichi BX-100, fully serviced. A two head deck, but still has the good sound of a Nak. Surprisingly some artists still release cassette tapes (like the one sitting on top the deck below) and sealed cassettes go for far less online than out of print Vinyl and CDs.

    Can't say I've missed the tape hiss, but it sounds better than I thought it would. Doesn't hold a candle to my CD setup though.

    IMG_20181024_181637.jpg
     
  6. Azimuth

    Azimuth FKA rtaylor76, Friend

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    I was learning pro audio recording at college when the digital multi-track recorders started to take over. When I started, they had one digital editing suite,and when I left, every studio had Pro Tools and many more smaller "project studio" rooms are built with small digital consoles.

    In essence, what we learned is that thw hysteresis and interplay of transformers (record head/play head) as well as bias/eq/tape choice/tape speed all affectes the outcome.

    High saturatuon also has a soft knee compression effect. If your kick or snare didnt light up the overload light, you weren't doing it right.

    To the OP and cassettes...most high compressed loud is the best sounding genre for the format. I will never forvet hearing Rush's Tom Sawyer on a tricked out Alpine car stereo.

    I remember having a Kenwood mini system that you could program for dubbing a CD to cassette and the Kenwood would scan tbe tracks and set the optimum level for cassette recording for each song. I remember even using the graphic EQ bad "'re-mastering" CD's for cassettes and bumping the real low end and high end just a touch for better playback on my car.

    But back on point...my Metallica and Megadeth tapes do sound better than some stuff loke Clapton and James Taylor does. As long as it is loud, there is no hiss or flutter.
     
  7. luckybaer

    luckybaer Friend

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    Maybe I’m crazy, but I just picked up a Nakamichi DR-2 off of eBay. I always wanted a Nakamichi when I was a kid, but could never afford one, and didn’t have the system for it, anyway. Then, when I got older, CDs took over, so cassettes became forgotten.

    Now, at least I’ll have something to play my old cassettes on. Plus, I may fiddle around making some tapes of vinyl or CDs just for the memories of the old days.
     
  8. Mystic

    Mystic Mystique's Spiritual Advisor

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    Having an issue with my Nakamichi. Whenever I power it on, the green light on stop stays lit but nothing else works. Play, FF, RW, etc don't do anything. The deck doesn't even try and do anything. Just sits on "stop". Any thoughts?
     
  9. crazychile

    crazychile Eastern Iowa's Spiciest Pepper

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    I remember back when I worked at an audio shop we'd get in BX series Nak decks for worn Idlers all the time. Eventually they all go. And if I remember correctly, when the idler goes the deck will just power up and not do much else.

    I could be wrong. That was a long time ago.
     
  10. Jh4db536

    Jh4db536 Friend

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    I bought into a Nak CR-1 earlier this year because i wanted to try my hand at restoration, calibration, and recording/ripping functionality without using a PC and software. This is a 2 head (erase and combined record+play) single capstan for simplicity and has a mostly gear driven mechanic. I was able to find some NOS Type I, II, and IV tapes at my parents house. Very happy with the results - they have tape hiss but these can also capture the "musicality", energy and even NOS or tube sound in the source. I'm so used to tape hiss now, i forget it's there when the music is playing. Happy to use this as a low power backup instead of powering up the whole chain sometimes. Metal type IV tapes are legit good. Some tapes sound better than the CD and Vinyl. Some songs have more information, like entire sections of music are missing (likely edited out or removed) from the CD song but there on the tape version.

    I found that prefer a recorded version of my 1541 dac over my Wolfsen delta sigma even though it's at a much lower technicality. That's pretty nuts.

    I'm not sure i prefer the Japanese fi Nak sound yet, these use a lot of old burr brown components and they sound a little relaxed for my taste. Maybe modern decks or european ones ie. Tandy, Revox, Stud have a more preferable sound. By recording a more aggressive source, ive been able to get by.

    [​IMG]
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    Last edited: Oct 22, 2021
  11. BearFacts

    BearFacts Rando

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    +1 on the metal tapes. I've tried lots, and those are definitely the way to go when dabbling in cassette. Also, if you ever go reel to reel, I preferred BASF the most.
     
  12. luckybaer

    luckybaer Friend

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    Sadly, 99% of my old tapes were trashed. However, I do like recording HOT CDs to cassette (and then converting to FLAC). Seems to take the “edge” off. I like what I hear, anyway.
     
  13. shaizada

    shaizada Friend

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    Recorded some vinyl today on a Sony UX Type II Cassette on the Nakamichi ZX-9.
     

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  14. Azimuth

    Azimuth FKA rtaylor76, Friend

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    Has anyone recorded on TDK AR tapes?

    I was doing some research in some old magazines where this Normal Bias tape was rated exceptionally well over some Type II or Type IV tapes.

    I guess so, because the price of these tapes now is about the same as some Metal or Type IV tapes now. I was just curious about this tape.
     
  15. Jh4db536

    Jh4db536 Friend

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    Personally, I only liked Metal Tapes so far (Sony Metal SR). Someone gifted me some NOS Maxwell type II (the super thicc and heavy plastic ones) that were quite excellent.

    I bought these when they were on sale to try, but i havent tried it yet.

    https://tascam.com/us/product/424/top

    IMO, the calibration of your tape deck to the actual tape used has a high degree of influence for performance when it comes to recording and playback on the same unit. If the deck has three bias settings, then each one should be calibrated and aligned.
     
  16. Azimuth

    Azimuth FKA rtaylor76, Friend

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    I have never liked any Metal tapes. Then again, my decks have always been sub-par. I always felt they never had enough ooph to really push the levels up on Metal tapes. Always sounded kind of muted and dark.

    The TDK SA and finer particle SA-X tape is excellent tried and true formula from the 70's. Mostly they just changed the case for better damping and the packaging. One of my favorites. Back in the day this one of my go-to tapes as well as Maxell XLII.

    Just ordered a JVC TD-V711 and it has Bias Calibration and 3-head, so I can monitor to make sure the tape is getting saturated. I will look in the manual to see what tape formulations they recommend.

    I also did not know about the Tascam tape. Thanks for the link!
     
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  17. Kernel Kurtz

    Kernel Kurtz Friend

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    TDK SA-X was my preferred tape back in the day. Does that ever make me feel old LOL.
     
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  18. shaizada

    shaizada Friend

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    If you have the capability, TDK SA-X and Maxell XL II S both are biased with +2 on the Nakamichi ZX series machines. On The Nakamichi RX-505, you would use the Bias dial to go -2 to -2.5.

    If your deck has the capability, you can extract so much from cassette when aligning / handling record head azimuth, bias and levels. Then some tape formulations can be pushed for recording levels, others less. It is too much fun finding the sweet spot and getting amazing results. You can also try some cool things like aligning a Type II at 70 EQ, but recording them at 120 EQ. The results can be very nice. Depending on the tape formulation noise levels and type of music being recorded, you can choose to engage Dolby or not. If I do choose to use Dolby (mostly I don't), I go with Dolby B to have better compatibility with Walkman playback.

    Even recording from digital (CD quality or High Rez from you favorite DAC) to cassette can sound BETTER than the direct playback of source files. There is SOMETHING about magnetics and high quality tape heads that engage the heart more than the mind.

    This is a new part of this hobby that I am experiencing at the moment.

    I have a few Nakamichi cassette decks now, Most brought back to spec by professional Nak Techs:

    3 Head Decks: Nakamichi Dragon, Two ZX-9 one serviced one awaiting service, ZX-7, RX-505, BX 300
    2 Head Decks: BX 150, BX 125

    And to experience the recordings at work, refurbished and serviced Cassette Walkmans: Sony WM EX9 Chameleon Edition, Sony WM EX678

    So yes, I think I am kind of into cassette recordings now. Shoot me! :confused:
     
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2022

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