Aiwa WX110 Dual Cassette Deck
The WX110 is a twin DC servomotor driven cassette deck with facilities to 'dub' both sides of one tape to another at twice normal speed, therefore copying the entire programme in a quarter of its running time. Dolby B and C noise reduction have been incorporated in the design, and also a fine bias control for LH tapes. Other features include automatic tape type selector (LH, CrO2 and Metal), continuous playback, music search, microphone mix available in either record or playback modes, and review and cue facilities on both decks.
The controls look complicated at first but they are all well laid out and have very logical functions. An LED configuration in between the two tape housings gives an excellent display of the various modes in which the machine is presently operating.
For straight-forward playback of a pre-recorded cassette the first deck should be used. This deck is fitted with a single, narrow gap four track, SH head used solely for playback, which allows for very good frequency response and accurate EQ. The second deck can either be used for playback or recording, taking its input from line in (phono jacks to the rear) microphone (¼" jack to the front panel) or from the output of deck 1, for tape to tape transfer.
Equalisation for playback is automatically set at either 120us of 70us depending on the tape loaded in deck 1. This is displayed by two LEDs incorporated in the lid of the first cassette holder, next to which three further LEDs present information regarding the tape presently loaded into deck 2 (LH, CrO2, or Metal). The bias of the second deck recording circuit is automatically set according to which of these three types of tape is used. There is also a fine tune LH bias facility which allows for maximum efficiency regardless of which brand of tape you use. (Aiwa obviously suggest that you use their own tapes for best results but they also recommend the TDK range of materials).
The peak programme meters (PPMs) are built into the lid of the second cassette deck and show playback levels of either deck 1 or 2 or the record levels of deck 2. Calibrations from -15dB to +10dB offer very good control over a wide range of signals, and despite the size of the individual LEDs which make up these meters, the readings are surprisingly clear and accurate.
In playback mode deck 1 is given priority, therefore this deck needs to be turned off if playback from deck 2 is required. The addition of both Dolby B and C allows for playback of commercially produced pre-recorded cassettes at their optimum quality and also gives extended noise reduction for home recordings. All commercial recordings use Dolby B which expands top responses at recording stage, then compresses the output when played back. The C system works in a similar way but extends to mid frequencies as well. Dolby C gives a very improved S/N ratio (quoted by Aiwa as being 73dB with metal tape) which is better than most reel to reel machines. This system does not cause the lack of brightness associated with Dolby B to such an extent, as the maximum output level (MOL) can be increased without distorting at mid frequency peaks.
Two added facilities for playback are 'music search' (available on deck 1 only) and 'continuous play' which plays one side from deck 2 and then one side from deck 1 without a break for a sip of coffee. Both of these are somewhat limited; the MS is operated while playing through the tape and can either go forwards or backwards to the next significant period of silence (4 secs or so). On most other systems I have seen with this facility it is programmable so that it misses out the number of tracks requested, but it is still well worth having.
The continuous play, however, seems a complete waste of time and, more than that, valuable space on the central LED configuration. Considering that pre-recorded sets which need more than one tape are normally backed one with two, three with four, etc. the only use I can see for being able to play a side of one cassette and then a side of another cassette would be at a party, where it doesn't matter if Tracey Ullman comes after Tom Jones provided she doesn't take too long about it! By losing this feature, however, the second tape deck could be set solely for high quality recording and a few pounds could be knocked off the price.
There are four different recording modes available on this machine: external source (line or mic) recording at normal speed on one side of the tape, and three settings for recording tape to tape (what Aiwa call 'dubbing'); one side at normal speed (1⅞ ips) one side at high speed (3¾ ips) or both sides at high speed. Dolby cannot be added or subtracted while dubbing as this would doubtlessly result in double encoding the second tape, if the first one was already encoded and would not help much if it wasn't.
The recording quality generally is very good, particularly when Dolby C is used. The dubbing feature also worked admirably, although there is a slight lack of S/N ratio which is noticeable when working at high speed. However, in my tests the end product was quite acceptable, just lacking slightly on the highs and a little noisy especially when the 'mother' tape was not Dolby encoded.
The Dubbing system is extremely easy to use and practically laid out. Two buttons select speed and record format which are displayed by the central LEDs when the dubbing programme is turned on, then by simply pressing the Record button both decks are simultaneously started and dubbing begins. Levels for this process are duplicated from the mother cassette and the slider controls are inoperative.
The microphone input is for matched impedances from 200ohms to 10kohms which allows for most popular mics to be used, definitely any (such as the cheaper dynamic types) that are likely to come with a ¼" jack fitting. Mic input can be mixed with tape output or be recorded by the second deck with or without the first deck's signal. The mic mix is controlled by a small pot on the left hand side of the front panel, which I have on very good authority is 'difficult to use with long fingernails'.
When the top of the unit is removed you are faced with the most unbelievable mess of wires and seven separate circuit boards; one simply holds the fuse, two control the logic between the decks, one is taken up with Dolby gubbins and the other three control different stages of amping and general working procedures.
I feel that circuit board space could have been utilised more efficiently, and quality of soldering and finishing is generally rather poor. One of the PCBs is mounted upright with its back about 1mm away from the outer metal casework. Just a single square centimetre of rubber stuck on top is provided for protection against downward bangs to the connectors at the base, which join this board onto another. No sub-frame is included for internal support, instead everything is built up from the bottom, which makes some of the fittings quite fragile and repair a particularly timely business.
The automatic setting of the EQ and bias relies on plastic prongs which detect the presence or absence of holes in the cassette casing, similar to the erase protect mechanism. Firstly, as not all manufacturers have adopted this system you are limited in the choice of tapes to use, and secondly if (heaven forbid) these plastic linkages should break or seize up, you are stuck with the default metal settings at 70us EQ.
The tape counter is very small and only operates with deck 2 which is a little annoying when you are trying to find something on deck 1. With the standby mode, an external can timer be inserted in the mains line and, if left in record mode, the machine will start recording when the power is turned on and end when either the tape finishes or the power is turned off again.
After reading the last few paragraphs you might have the idea that I don't like the Aiwa WX110. This is not true, I do. Recording gives very fine results and the dubbing mechanism works very well to a great degree of accuracy. What unfortunately I cannot say is that this equipment will give years of trouble free, continuously good, service to a home recording studio. The design and construction is based too much on the 'as many features as possible while keeping price to a minimum' principle and not enough on durability and reliability. Even so at under £200 it must represent extremely good value for the facilities it does offer.
The retail price of the AD-WX110 is £189.95 including VAT.
Further details from Aiwa UK, (Contact Details).
Review by Glenn L. Hughes
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