Get the Goods:
to Choose the Cassette Deck that Will Bring You the Most Pleasure
retained popularity well into the affordable digital era because the
format is still the most inexpensive way for most people to record
music. People with large collections of pre-recorded and self-recorded
tapes are continuing to buy and use cassette decks. Prices of CD
recorders have dropped in half since consumer models were introduced,
but still cost two or three times as much as cassette decks. Computer CD
burners and MiniDisc™ recorders are also much more expensive than
cassette decks. Even portable MP3 players cost more than cassette decks.
numbers of consumers (and record companies) are still embracing the
cassette format, audio equipment manufacturers are focusing their
attention on digital recording and playback technologies.
Few new decks are being introduced, and much of the focus is on the
market sector. Fortunately, goodguys.com is still able
to offer a selection of good cassette decks.
Unfortunately, you must choose between quality and convenience. For
example, you don’t have to turn over a tape to play (or record on some
decks) side B on a deck with auto-reverse, but the sound quality in the
reverse direction will be considerably poorer than it is in the forward
direction. Extra mechanical capabilities also degrade reliability.
We’ll explore those trade-offs to help you make an informed decision.
you step into the middle of the price range, you generally get the same
sound quality with more convenience features. In the upper price
range, you get better sound quality, and sometimes fewer convenience features. At the point where
cassette decks and CD recorders converge in price, a cassette deck is
still a valid purchase if you have an investment in blank or
pre-recorded cassettes. Most people prefer the sound of homemade CDs to
that of homemade tapes. This is especially true when CDs are the source
of the homemade recording. You also want to consider where you will
listen to your recordings; if you have a car cassette player and a
cassette boombox or Walkman®, you may want to stick with the format for
you prefer to avoid learning the jargon of cassette decks, click here to use the goodguys.guide to cassette
decks [not a link here],
which will let you make choices, then select from a short list of
decision will be whether to buy a single-well
or dual-well (also called “dubbing”) cassette deck. goodguys.com sells mostly dual-well
decks because that’s what most people want. Generally, single-well
decks sound better and are more reliable. Generally, dual-well decks
cost less (improving sound quality costs more to manufacture than adding
inexpensive hardware) and offer all these convenience features:
feature lets you copy a tape from one well to the other at double speed.
It is one of those cool time-saving conveniences that degrades sound
quality (especially higher frequency sounds). You can’t expect fast
food to be as good as gourmet cooking.
your deck to play or record the second tape as soon as the first tape
reaches its end. Most
auto-reverse dubbing decks will play or record all four tape sides in
can make two tapes from the same external source simultaneously. Note
that some dual-well decks only record in one well.
both tapes and press one button to begin tape-to-tape dubbing.
decks employ one
play/record head and one erase head. Three-head decks employ separate
play and record heads. Three-head decks provide better frequency
response and let you compare the recording to the source and make level
adjustments in real time (your ears will be more reliable than meters).
head can be optimized for its sole function.
As with heads, three motors are better
than one or two. A single motor, as you’ll find in a boombox, moves
the tape in two directions (play and fast-forward in one, rewind in the
other) at two speeds (slow for play, fast for fast-forward and rewind).
Two- and three-motor systems use fewer belts and are dedicated to a
task, which produces smoother tape movement for better sound quality. As
the extra motor(s) have fewer functions, they have a longer lifespan. If
the deck uses motors to move tape hubs directly, it doesn’t need
belts, which degrade sound quality as they wear, and eventually become
disengaged or break.
decks also have two capstans for better speed accuracy, which helps to
and flutter. The
capstan is the rotating
spindle that guides the tape and regulates its speed.
the recoding process induces noise, especially at higher frequencies,
some form of noise reduction technology is necessary to make tapes
listenable. Dolby Laboratories licenses all the noise reduction (NR)
systems currently used on cassette decks. Three systems encode
the signal during recording and decode
it in playback. Dolby S®
is the most effective system. Dolby C® is superior to Dolby B®. Most
pre-recorded tapes are Dolby B®-encoded. Tapes recorded with Dolby S®
or Dolby B® can sound OK when played back on a car unit or portable
player without a decoder, but you’ll lose the benefits.
Dolby S® offers an additional benefit: Dolby Laboratories requires high standards for tape transport quality in any decks that use Dolby S® circuitry.
HX Pro® is a distinct technology that works in tandem with one of the
three NR systems. It improves signal-to-noise ratio and extends
dynamic headroom. It requires no decoding, and the tapes will sound
better when played back on any player.
aspects of performance are measurable, and specifications can give you
some idea of a cassette deck’s performance.
refers to the desired audio content (usually music or speech), while
noise refers to the unwanted content played along with it. Higher
numbers are better.
refers to the frequencies a deck can audibly reproduce. The maximum range
of human hearing is 20-20,000 Hz. Few decks can reproduce the top octaves; all will do better with better tape types.
in the speed of a tape deck are called “wow” and “flutter.”
indicate more accurate performance.
full-logic tape transport
as opposed to mechanical, control of tape movement functions results in
faster, smoother operation when you press a button (e.g. play or
fast-forward) and lets you switch from one function
to another without pressing “stop” in between. Full-Logic
(also called "soft-touch")
mechanisms are more reliable than mechanical ones, and less damaging to
Bias is an inaudible high-frequency
signal recorded onto tapes that reduces distortion and increases
frequency response. Different tape tapes require different bias
levels. Some decks automatically,
but inexactly, adjust bias. Manual bias adjustment allows more control for
better recordings than basic automatic
bias adjustment. Decks
with sophisticated automatic bias
adjustments will record
test tones, determine and adjust the bias setting, then rewind the tape
to its previous position. This feature is also called “auto record calibration.”
Record-level meters show the approximate
level being recorded, and help you prevent recording distortion. More
LED segments allow greater control.
This filter will prevent the deck from recording the high-frequency pilot
broadcast by FM radio stations.
Microphone inputs are now a rare feature. If you have a deck without them, you will need an outboard mixer to record speech or live music.
dial adjusts tape speed during playback. The feature is very useful for
playing tapes recorded on other decks, as few decks maintain perfect
inexpensive decks do not come with remote controls. Text and buttons on
an illuminated or backlit remote control can be read in the dark. Some
remote controls have track programming features.
See the y2k cassette deck market section for an explanation of this feature.
This feature allows one-touch synchronized recording and other communication
between products, if you have a CD player from the same manufacturer.
real-time tape counter
A real-time counter shows elapsed tape time, current recording
time, and remaining tape time. This is as opposed to a simple
A deck with basic music search capability
will find the next track on the tape and the beginning of the current
track. Some decks will find any track in either direction (the deck
looks for several seconds of blank tape).
You can listen to tracks in any order you
want (however, this can damage a tape), skip tracks, and repeat tracks.
auto play/memory rewind
These features let you rewind a tape and
start play from the beginning of the tape or another designated point on
the tape. You only have to engage the rewind button.
If you want the best sound-quality, buy a
single-well deck with three heads, at least two motors, and Dolby S®
NR. Expect a deck with that hardware to have a full complement of
performance enhancing features.
If a low price is an important
consideration, buy a dual-well deck that has only the features you
really want. Avoid features that can compromise reliability.
you want convenience, versatility, and flexibility, buy
a dual-well deck with all of the described features that you might use.
Remember that more heads and motors and fewer belts and mechanical
functions will result in greater reliability.
Whether you’re recording tapes to listen to in the car, making back-up copies of priceless LPs, just playing pre-recorded tapes, or making a tape of love songs to play at your sister’s wedding, your new cassette deck will lead to many hours of listening pleasure. We hope you enjoy it so much that you will return to goodguys.com for your next electronics purchase.