The Cassette In Question
Teac's cassette deck - demo quality?
At a recent seminar on digital audio, one of the speakers received a little stick from the gathered hoards for daring to suggest the humble C-format cassette as a viable medium for the digital age. Whilst this criticism was possibly fair enough, it is typical of the general attitude towards cassettes as being very much the 2nd-class citizens of the magnetic tape world.
But is it any wonder that their reputation is such? After all the standards laid down by Philips pertaining to cassettes do nothing to ensure high quality, and there are some horrendously bad cassettes and cassette players around, the sonic performances of which can plumb the very depths of darkly muffled distortion.
At the upper end of the market, however, recent years have seen a number of very significant improvements in head, transport and cassette/tape design resulting in greatly improved possibilities. So is the cassette now a truly respectable medium? If you're using a low cost 8-track system to make demos, should you feel pressured to mix down to 1/4" tape, or can you use your hi-fi without loss of credibility? Burning questions indeed, and of course the final answer has to be a personal one.
In this review we are not looking at the very top of the Teac range but rather at the least expensive machine in the range that offers all the basic requirements for good quality recording. The appearance of the V-700 is less than ostentatious. It presents a rather unassuming all-silver image to the world with very little colour to speak of. If you're looking for a piece of hi-tech furniture, this probably won't be to your liking - unless you want to leave the power permanently switched on, that is. With the depression of the On/Off switch, the display panel lights up and the machine comes far more impressively to life.
The display includes a digital tape position counter featuring both a real-time display (minutes and seconds) which works in the play mode only, and a display of arbitrary units (as per normal with cassette machines) which works in all play and wind modes. In consideration of the price, the inclusion of a real-time counter at all is to be commended.
One of the main features of the V-700 is that it has three heads: erase, record and playback, as opposed to only two where a single head has to function as both record and playback. Having three heads means that you can monitor off tape as you're recording - just as with the vast majority of reel-to-reel machines. In this way you can hear the final result as you're committing it to tape, thereby cutting out the guess work.
The V-700 has both record level controls and a fine bias adjustment. These you can adjust using your ears (assisted by your fingers, naturally), to suit the tape and programme you're working with. Too much level will result in a duller, distorted sound, too little will bring the relative level of tape hiss up. Conversely, too little bias will give rise to distortion, whereas too much will cause a loss of high frequencies. It's all a bit of balancing act, but at least with three heads it is possible; with two it's more or less impossible without an awful lot of trial and error.
In addition to bias and level adjustments, you can also add a little final Eq to the mix, making sure that it sounds as good as it can coming back off tape - after all that's the whole point of the exercise.
With new tape formulas being able to handle greater and greater fluxivity (more level), greater pressure has come to bear on the head's ability to handle high levels. When metal tape first arrived on the market, its impressive headroom was often superfluous to the quality of a recording because the machine's heads would start to saturate and distort long before its peak was reached.
In recent years the toss up has generally been between crystal heads which last a long time (maybe up to 20 years) and permalloy heads which are physically softer (8-10 years in domestic use) but which offer a far greater magnetic capacity. The V-700 uses a well designed permalloy head (Teac are amongst the world leaders in head design), and thus there is no problem with premature overload. The very upmarket Teac models costing between about $500.00 and $1,000.00 are fitted with a new design of head made of a very promising new material, Cobalt Amorphous (CA), which seems to offer long life and low distortion.
The transport on this machine uses the same 'servo assisted' idea as seen on the Porta One, where the head assembly is gently driven to and from the tape for play and wind modes, respectively. This avoids the jarring effect of more conventional methods, and helps maintain the all important physical alignment of the heads and tape path whilst also improving overall reliability. An important difference with the V-700 is that it uses full logic controls as opposed mechanical controls on the Porta One. In operation it was all very smooth.
The third important arrival in recent years is that of Dolby C noise reduction. The V-700 offers both B and C, the latter being vastly preferable and, at the price, very effective.
In testing the V-700, I used a new range of tapes going under the collective title of THAT'S. Using a new production process of these tapes all offer unusually good results at relatively low cost and includes ferrous, chrome and metal formulas. They're well worth looking out for.
Using good quality chrome (or pseudochrome) or metal tapes with a machine finish such as the V-700 undoubtedly gives results quite good for demos, and although the 1/4" format can undoubtedly offer superior performance plus the advantage of editing, the modern C-format cassette can surely not be written off.
Contact: Harman (UK). (Contact Details)
Review by Jim Betteridge
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