Sunday, October 18, 2015

Nakamichi: An Audiophile Prerecorded Cassette Tape Manufacturer?

Famed as the maker of the world’s finest cassette tape decks during its heyday – but did you also know that Nakamichi also entered the audiophile prerecorded cassette tape manufacturing during the mid-1980s? 

By: Ringo Bones

Even though it was a sad day when they closed up shop back in the late 1990s because making the world’s finest cassette tape decks is no longer economically viable most audiophiles under-50 probably don’t know that during the mid 1980s, Nakamichi entered the world of audiophile prerecorded cassette tape deck manufacturing. Understandable, since – in my own experience at least – audiophile prerecorded cassette tapes are probably one of the rarest hi-fi related items one could find in a typical garage sale or flea market. 

In an October 14, 1984 issue of The New York Times, there was an article about Nakamichi going into the cassette recording business and has just issued the first two-dozen tapes in what was then the company’s new undertaking. Calling its new tapes the Reference Recording Series, Nakamichi has licensed recordings from some major audiophile disk manufacturers and duplicated them on TDK metal tape, with each tape recorded while in its final shell, rather than doing what was then a common industry practice of recording bulk tape first and then wound them into plastic shells. 

At the time, Nakamichi says its audiophile prerecorded music cassette tapes have a flat frequency response of 20-Hz to 20,000-Hz and a dynamic range or signal-to-noise ratio of over 90-dB. Quite impressive since most commercially produced mass-market prerecorded music cassette tapes at the time can barely crawl past 16,000-Hz and can achieve a signal-to-noise ratio of 70-dB only if the “wind is blowing in the right direction”. Each Nakamichi manufactured cassette is available either with Dolby B noise reduction – which was standard on most cassette tape decks at the time – or Dolby C, a newer and improved system at the time. Further and of special interest to those with automatic-reverse decks, the tapes are designed so that there is little or no blank space at the end of either side. The tapes will be sold through Nakamichi’s equipment retailers. According to those fortunate enough to experience the heyday of the audiophile cassette tape firsthand during the early 1980s, it was the increasing sophistication of car stereo systems at the time that became the raison d’ĂȘtre of the “audiophile prerecorded music cassette tape industry“. 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Aphex Aural Exciter Type C² With Big Bottom: Cassette Tape Bass Enhancer?

With its ability to boost bass levels without saturating tape, is the Aphex Aural Exciter Type C² With Big Bottom the ideal cassette tape bass enhancer? 

By: Ringo Bones 

Is it just me or is anyone’s primary or initial motivating factor of becoming an audiophile was having the ability to playback those deep gorgeous low frequencies often denied on lesser gear. And with the humble cassette tape, more or less, becoming the egalitarian hi-fi medium of choice from the late 1970s till the end of the first decade of the year 2000, should it be able to reproduce those low frequencies with aplomb at beer-budget prices? 

After seeing it advertized in most “musician oriented” magazines back in the early 1990s – i.e. Keyboard, Guitar Player, Bass Player and Guitar World magazines – I’ve always coveted the Aphex Aural Exciter Type C² With Big Bottom so that I will be able to record those gorgeous low frequencies onto cassette tape without the resulting muddy sound that results when you put to much low frequencies into cassette tape during recording. As promised by its advert, the Aphex Aural Exciter Type C² With Big Bottom allows you to do just that – record ridiculous levels of bass onto cassette without the resulting muddy result. And as an added bonus, when used as a preamplifier between your cassette tape deck and your main power amplifier, the unit has the ability to make your 8-inch woofer sounds as if it is a 15-inch woofer! But does it work as promised? 

Back in 2011, I had the good fortune of finding an Aphex Aural Exciter Type C² With Big Bottom on sale at our local pawn shop for around 79 US dollars so I snapped it up immediately for testing. As a cassette tape recording preamplifier, the resulting recorded low frequency sounds reminded me of those Luxman tape decks with a 12AX7 vacuum tube based buffer preamp – a gentle compression of the very low frequencies and adding a sense of warmth to upper bass and lower midrange frequencies – it is as if you are recording sounds onto cassette using single-ended triode vacuum tube circuits. As a playback preamplifier, it made the “solid-state sounding” solid-state power amplifier you are currently using sound as if it is a vacuum tube amplifier – at least in the bass frequencies. As for the actuality of the advertised claim of the unit’s ability of making your 8-inch woofer sounds as if it is a 15-inch woofer? Not quite but the Aphex Aural Exciter Type C² With Big Bottom did manage to lower the “listening fatigue effects of listening to budget solid-state gear on prolonged periods of time.