Aiwa AD-F770 Stereo Cassette Recorder
For so long the innocent music lover has been dogged by poor quality cassette recorders containing low signal-to-noise ratios, a narrow frequency response and unreliable tape mechanisms. Indeed over the last number of years the cassette duplicating industry has come in for some quite harsh criticism over its product quality and the reliability of pre-recorded cassettes - and quite rightly so. It is not surprising that the home enthusiast has taken to taping his own records, using what is now a fantastic range of good quality blank cassette tapes of which chromium dioxide (Cr02) is undoubtedly the best all-rounder.
However, there have been some quite marked changes in the cassette duplicating industry over the last two years, and two main reasons can be accounted for this. First, there has been a change of attitude by the record companies, who are now demanding the use of higher performance tapes (under pressure from the consumer market?), and secondly, the introduction of Dolby HX-Pro.
In a nutshell, what the HX-Pro system does is to maintain a constant flux level across the record head gap. This improves distortion at low frequency, and increases the response at higher frequencies, by about 10dB. (Flux intensity to the record head varies with the frequency of the audio signal.) The HX-Pro is now a feature of some domestic cassette decks, (including this Aiwa unit), giving remarkable results. It is not a noise reduction system but functions automatically when the deck is in the recording mode. It can be played back on any other deck whether equipped or not with HX-Pro.
We are now left with the cart before the horse phenomenon (so to speak!); with a marked improvement in tape quality we require even higher quality tape machines capable of doing justice to that improvement. On the face of it, this Aiwa unit fulfills these requirements.
Aiwa is a company which during the late 70's and early 80's built up a good reputation for its cassette tape machines based on both quality and reliability.
The AD-F770 continues in the recent tradition of being a slimline, non-bulky 'full of gadgets' type recorder. It is housed in a rectangular brushed aluminium case with a plastic facia and a quite revolutionary protruding metal flange-cum-tray at the bottom of the unit which contains the various tape transport controls and gizmo function buttons, to be described later. It is not rack-mountable, weighs 5.5 kg and has dimensions of 420 (W) x 110 (H) x 280 (D)mm.
The more standard cassette deck features are included, namely: a timer switch, headphone jack socket, peak programme meters, monitor switch, Dolby B and C, output level control, digital tape counter, zero reset switch and memory rewind. There's the usual tape transport functions (stop, pause, rew, f.fwd., record and play), a record mute switch, microphone ¼" jack sockets (L+R), line in/record phono sockets, line out/play phono sockets, MPX filter switch and a remote control connection facility!
The only comment to be made on these extensive features is why put the MPX filter switch at the back of the unit? Anyone wishing to record an FM broadcast using Dolby are not going to find the switch easily accessible when the system is fully patched up.
In addition to the more usual functions there are a great number of other facilities, all of varying usefulness to the studio recordist. These include:
MUSIC SENSOR (MS) - Searches for the next blank section on the tape. This can be done in a f.fwd or rewind mode and puts the tape machine into a play mode once located.
INTRO PLAY - plays approximately the first eight seconds of every title on the tape, it can be operated in both a fast forward or rewind mode and is simply an aid to searching for a particular title.
DATA (Digital Automatic Tape Adaptation). This is a system which automatically adjusts the bias, recording sensitivity and equalisation of the cassette machine to suit a particular type of tape formulation.
To be able to do this it actually records approximately 13 seconds of tones onto the cassette tape and then adjusts itself to give optimum performance. Great idea, but operation is by pressing the largest button (apart from 'stop') on the machine. If it is touched accidentally while mid programme (I speak from experience) the machine will automatically jump into record, probably the worst design fault I have come across to date; any reason for this Aiwa?
With this DATA system there is a corresponding row of LEDs (bias, calibration, EQ ready) giving an indication of the level of performance obtained. For instance, if only the bias LED is illuminated this means reasonably fair quality recordings are possible. On the other hand, if the 'ready' LED is illuminated, then the cassette machine is adjusted for optimum performance.
MEMORY FUNCTION - This is a zero memory function; the counter switch is selected for replay or stop and on rewinding the tape the cassette will play or stop respectively from a pre-selected zero count position.
REPEAT FUNCTION - Cycling is possible between any two points on the tape by setting the timer switch to the play/repeat position using the zero memory as the start of the cycle. On reaching the end of a desired cycle, press memory rewind and the tape will play and rewind successively between the two points.
AUTO RECORD MUTE - When this button is pressed the cassette remains in a record mode but no input signals are recorded for approximately four seconds. It is best used for giving equal length blank passages between titles or for editing.
TAPE TIME REMAINING - A very useful facility; the cassette machine is preprogrammed by the user as to what length cassette is being used (C60, C90, C120 etc.). On pressing the counter/tape time switch the onboard microprocessor calculates the time remaining and displays it in place of the count, updating itself every second.
DOLBY HX-Pro - The F770 is fully equipped with this system and, as described earlier, works in a recording mode only.
ADMS (Auto De-Magnetising System) - After a period of time magnetisation builds up onto the tape head which can lead to an increase in noise. Every time the cassette deck is switched on, a self de-magnetising circuit works for 1.5 seconds.
I shall leave it up to you the reader to decide which of these facilities are useful, but I think it is fair to say that a large chunk of the cost of this machine must have gone into such gadgets.
Recording quality generally is very high, but the machine sounds audibly very similar to any other in its price range. The manufacturers quote a very optimistic 20Hz to 20kHz bandwidth for a metal tape, 20Hz to 19kHz for chrome tapes; they do not let on to how flat the frequency curve is however.
Two further problems arise when using this tape machine. Firstly, the record indication light is on the record button situated on the control tray, and therefore, it is not possible to see from a frontal position whether the machine is in record mode or not.
Also, because of the protruding metal control tray it is not possible to stack these tape machines on top of one another in a studio equipment rack, as it actually makes it impossible to insert a cassette tape!
This unit is not really suitable as a studio cassette deck, it's too full of gimmicks for my liking and does not have enough practical facilities; in fact, I would go as far as to say that the DATA button is a liability! The HX-Pro feature is a useful addition though, and the self-biasing mechanism is a very good feature. However, all in all it seems to be a case of trading off reliability and expense for extra facilities. Personally, I think this cassette tape machine belongs firmly on the sideboard at home where it would certainly create a talking point - just think of all those buttons and flashing lights! It's a pity really...
The Aiwa AD-770 retails for £279.95 inc. VAT.
Details from Aiwa (UK) Ltd., (Contact Details).
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Review by Chris Allison
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