Have you considered going reel to reel instead of cassette for the transfer of your treasured vinyl?
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Some of the Onkyo Integra recorders from the late 80s, early 90s. They are very solid. They are as described, except for the VU's. Many are 3 motor. There are a few, but the TA2800, TA2600, are about 10 years ago, and the TA2090 from about 1988. Also the TA2058.
I also have a tape deck made by Dual the turntable company. Does a real nice job, except it does not have separate channel recording settlings. Very rare in the US.
I bought a new Nakamichi CR3A for $800 14 years ago. They go for between $250 - $325 here on Audiogon. It has all the features you seek except separate channel record levels. You'll need a separate preamp if you plan to use microphones. It still works fine, but like anything with motors it needs regular exercise to function perfectly. If I let it sit for months it sometimes takes the servos a few tries and some voodoo before they'll "remember" and respond. With regular use it functions perfectly every time. I used TDK MA type IV metal tape to transcribe my LP's with excellent results.
See if you can find a Nakamichi LX5. If you wanted to spend the $$, a CR7A would be better (automatic biasing, alignable playback head, and a few other bells & whistles), but the LX5 is very good. It doesn't have analog VU's, but with cassette that's a benefit, not a detriment. VU's read average levels; what you have to be concerned with when dealing with cassette is peak levels, and the Nakamichi meters do that just great. I have both units, so I can attest to their quality as recorders.
i truly suggest a sony 3 head with dolby S!!!!!! $250 at frys electoronics (a warehouse sized store we have in california). combined with metal tape, it can be truly archival. the metal wont lose highs, and dolby s is ded (yes-DED) quiet clear accross the audio band, not just the top half. you cant tell if the cd or tape is playing! for that kind of money, you can afford to take the chance. btw, its NOT taking a chance.
nakamichi isnt making decks anymore and the parts are becoming scarce, in addition to people that know how to work on them, and i loved my 700!
Hi- apologies for being so late in posting this.
I suggest the Onkyo TA-2060. It has Vu meters, and
two LEDs, for -0, and +03db, but otherwise, all mechnical!
I really enjoyed the 'two-tone oscillator' that generated a
400hz tone, then 1000hz tone, then repeats, for use, with
the playback head, calibrating for the Dolby and bias.
It was built solid, very heavy, very sturdy! I have been
looking to reclaim one for a month. I see alot of 2058s or 2600 series, but I haven't seen one, electromechanical-meter
TA-2060 yet. I don't know where it was built. Good luck!
What's the sense in using a *cheap* deck for those precious archives? Get yourself something of real quality, it won't cost that much more anyway these days when good used decks are going for such good prices. One machine that I have meeting all your requirements above is the Luxman K-03 manual calibration cassette deck. Original list was $1200 & worth it, but I don't know what they sell for now (sorry I'm keeping mine ... along with both of my reel machines). I have seen the K-03 for sale here, albeit rarely.
I am also with the others who said for you to get a Nakamichi as well. Unlike most other decks that were made during their generation, Nakamichis tend to be well made, and they also tend to have very good heads, mated to very good electronics, and have most of the features you are looking for. I have a Nakamichi myself, and I "DO" swear by it. I have a BX-300 that is 15 years old, and it is a 3-Head/3-Motor design. It was one of the last affordable direct-drive decks ever made (I believe that the CR-4A was the last one). It also has "bar graph" type of VU meters (which I like better than the "analog type dial in the needle" type of VU meters. They are better able to help you set recording levels more accurately). I believe this deck has retailed for about $800.00 back in 1984-87 (I bought mine in 1987, and got it on sale for $600.00 (and dare I say that THAT was the best $600.00 I ever spent)). But now, you should be able to land one for about $300.00, tops. Of course, if you are willing to spend a little more money, then a CR-7A would be better. If I had the extra money to spend on a deck at the time I have bought my BX-300, then that's what I would've gotten. Or if you want the ultimate deck that Nakamichi has ever made, then there is always the Dragon.
So, as you can see here, I am very happy with my BX-300. And that I don't intend to part with it (unless I can find a CR-7A at a price that I cannot refuse). Believe me, if you can find a Nakamichi of your own, you're going to feel the same way. Trust me on this one.
Hope you find your deck very soon.