The Tandberg 3014 will easily outperform any Nakamichi deck, including the Dragon. I have compared many times when I worked at an audio store that sold both brands. Tandberg always won.
I realize that you only asked about the Nak decks, but I felt compelled to inform you about the Tandberg, since you are considering a high performance deck.
FWIW I have always found Nak decks to only sounds best when played back on that deck. That is great if you aren't planning onusing the tapes else where... but otherwise can be a problem.
I must also admit, that I still have a Nak C4A in my system, the unit must be 20 years old, and still works perfectly.
Thank you, I should have added that I am interested in what other players may be suggested.
I bought a ZX9, new, many years ago, and it has given me great service and pleasure. During the cassette's heyday I also owned a Dragon, but, unfortunately, it gave me nothing but mechanical trouble. Little things always seemed to go wrong and it was in the shop more often than at home. Fixed it one last time and then sold it.
I still have the ZX9, and had it regulated and professionally serviced once in over 20 years. (I do still keep it up by cleaning the heads and demagnetizing when needed.)
Somewhere (maybe it was a Nak advertisement), I read that at the Nakamichi studios, in Japan, the ZX9 was the preferred deck.
I'm not familiar with the Tandberg that Tom recommended, but I owned an RX 505 for quite a while. I was very happy with it. It was used mostly for making tapes to playback in the car or truck.
While I liked the RX 505 the Dragon is altogether a better cassette deck. Most people would be perfectly happy with the 505, but for those who have to have something really great, try the Dragon, or if Tom has swayed you, try the Tandberg. I doubt that you would be disappointed with any of them.
I have no experience with the tandberg, (and I have learned that TWL has good and honest oppions that are trustworthy) but I have a lot of experince with a lot of cassette decks of many brands, and mostly naks.
While I do believe it is true the naks are the best, there is a compatibility issue. The best cassette recordings I have ever made have been on 3-head naks, and I consider a good recording one that works on all decks for playback. With a cassette you are dealing with both the quality on the tape and the ability of the deck to reproduce it. With a cassette, tracking is the biggest issue, and if the adjustments are not the same deck to deck, things fall apart quickly. 3-head naks have a VERY narrow tolerance that allows them to be capable of greater fidelity, but also makes recordings made on them to be more demanding for playing on other decks.
The most critical is the azimuth. That is the alignment of the head gap to the tape. It should be at a perfect 90 degree, but more importantly should be played back the same as it was recorded. If you play it back at a different adjustment, things get out of phase and you also lose highs frequecy. Without getting to into it, playing back with a narrower head gap than what was recorded is more forgiving than playing back on a wider gap than what was recorded. The narrower the head gap, the more information you can put on tape, but the harder it is to track. If you have a tape that was recorded on a narrow gap that has more information, it will sound better, but be more suseptable to misalignment.
The dragon is the flagship of the naks, in part because it continully adjust the playback head to be in alignment. It is also a very hard deck to keep in proper alignment because of its complexity, and finding people skilled at this is becoming impossible. It is also time consuming, and expensive. When buying a nak you should be prepared to have to possibly spend money on having it properly tuned. If it is, It will be the best deck you can get- if it isn't, you may be better served with a lesser capable deck.
Both the rx-505 and the dragon use heads with a very narrow gap and of the same tolerance. The dragon also has tone generaters so you can monitor the adjustment and make minor adjustments as you want, but if the dragon gets out of adjustment or gets in need of a tune-up, you are out of luck unless you are willing to spend 300 to 1000 to get it working right. The rx-505, while capable of nearly the same performance, has no tone generaters and so makes it harder to see how it is working, and thus harder to use, but cost less to maintain. The dragon is the best you can get for playback, but there are a lot of other naks that will do as good if you can keep them tuned, and better choices than the rx-505.
If you can be be more specific on your requirements, what you want to do and how much you want to spend, and what you have available, perhaps I (we) can help you better.
I really want to play cassettes only (no recording) I am not the "have to align it type" if it does so on it's own great, if not it's not me. I enjoy female vocals, "very" light jazz, and easy listening.
Budget? That changes with the weather. Lets say 1500.00 to start.
My system: Lector CDP 7TL, McIntosh C2200 pre and the Mac 352 amp.
I liked the idea from Tom to look into the Tandberg 3014. I have read some of the reviews on this unit last night.
When I went to search (sale) I could not find one available at this time. Maybe there is something to be be said on that for the 3014.
Can the Dragon, or RX-505's heads be aligned, & kept true with the aid of a MFSL Geo Tape?
Basement gave you a lot of very useful information. I am not an "expert" as some are, but I have owned numerous very nice Nak decks (680, ZX-7, ZX-9 and CR-7A) and I used to be assigned to a Nak e-mailing forum for a few years where there was a lot of information shared, I don't know if it is still up and going.
As for TWL's experience with the Tandberg, I will be clear in that I have never owned one, but followed discussions in like manner before, from those that owned both Tandberg and Nak and those that serviced both. The Tandberg (3014) is a very good deck, BUT it will not "easily outperform any Nakamichi, including the Dragon" as TWL says. Basement already did a great job at covering why one "may" think that if all isn't right.
I would like to further add that Nak decks have a far greater following and as the use of cassette decks dwindle, IMO it will be easier to get the Nak serviced than the Tandberg. I will mention www.eslabs.com as "probably" the most qualified to work on Nak decks. You don't find any 3014's for sale as they are rare.
The nice thing about the two decks you mention is that they have auto-reverse, which can be quite nice; if this is very important to you, don't give it up. I agree that there are better Naks than the 505 for performance, though when tuned up you may be splitting hairs; as for the Dragon I have read that it can be tempormental, but when working great it is a great playback deck.
You mention that you do not want to bother with calibrating the deck when you record, a deck like the CR-7A will do it for you at a touch of a button, but no auto-reverse.
Vvrinc, you are correct, Nakamichi used ZX-9's in their recording studio.
As Basement alluded, all decks need to be properly aligned. I don't care what deck you record a tape on, if you play the tape on a deck that isn't properly aligned, the tape will not sounds its best, no matter how good the deck is. On the same token, if a deck out of alignment records a tape, though it may sound fine being played back on the recording deck, it may not on others.
Most of the information is dead on. I've owned 5 Nak decks and while I've not owned the Dragon, am all too familiar with a less than dependable record. When aligned and tuned to a knat's ass it is incredible. You will not need to fidgit with the 505, ZX-9, 670ZX or many other Naks. Good luck.
Just to add a suggestion for Valleyplastic, but also ask a question of the more knowledgeable Nak buffs: What about the BX-300? (I own one). How does it compare to the other Naks mentioned here, & specifically the 680Z?
If playback is the only (main) concern, and you have a big budget, the dragon would be an excellent choice. Especially if you don't want to fidget. If you are playing cassettes from a variety of sources, it is inevitable the you will get tapes recorded with a variety of azimuth adjustments, and the dragon will automatically align itself to play them back at their best. You will get far better use of a cassette collection this way. If you have a large collection, it makes that collection that much more valuble.
If you are not recording and not primarily using the dragon for that purpose, the other reliability issue and alignment issue actually becomes less. With alignments one thing leads to another and effects another, and the complexity of the dragon along with its self-aligning nature makes it harder to keep these alignments at the critical best, which is why the zx-9 and others are used for the absolute best recordings. As parts age and wear the need for alignment is still there, and the alignment issues will compound and make recording alignment the hardest, and with the dragon, there is MUCH more to align to get this up to spec, but for playback, the self-aligning playback head of the dragon will compensate for this better as other alignments for recording start to fall out of spec. In other words, the complexity of the dragon that makes it harder to maintain for the best recording is an advantage for playback.
While 3-head naks are thought of as great recorders, they are really great players. The playback head of the 3-head naks are really in my opinion the best. A lot of them, including those refered to above, are better than nearly anything (if not all) for playback, and usually by a wider margain than most consider because most people evaluate them for thier recording ability. (I would be interested in what TWL remembers in this regard compared to the tandberg).
To put a finer point on it, while a lot of 3-head naks will still enjoy an advantage for play back because of its narrow head gap and alignable nature, dragon would excell in this regard. The dragon was really made to be the state of the art player, made for customers who are willing to spend the money on extracting the most from cassette playback. While there is more than can and will go wrong with the dragon, for playback it will have an advantage in the alignment/maintenence issue.
It all depends on what you are willing to spend on cassettes. If they are important enough to you for the extra dough of a dragon, you would be a good home for one.
If I may add one note to Basements last (great) reply, the CR-7A will also allow you to dial in the head for playback, though not quite as "flexible" as the Dragon and it is manual, not automatic.
There were many that agree with Basements assesment on NakTalk, those that had multiple Nak's would use the Dragon for playback and another Nak for recording; this isn't to say the Dragon does not make a nice recordings.
I use a Dragon for playback because, as Basement and others note, it is unsurpassed in this application. With the auto azimuth adjustment, it can even play back tapes better than the 3 head deck they were made on. It will not make the best tapes for use on other decks (none of the great Naks will, to my knowledge, because of the narrow heads); Tandberg or Revox would be better for recording because they have very stable recording head assemblies. I had to send the Dragon back once for a complete rebuild. The recording function later broke. They are very complex.
I purchased a 581 when new and really loved the sound however, I replaced it in 2001 with a CR-7A that I bought off of Ebay. I chose the CR-7 because it was reported to make slightly better recordings that the Dragon with the added benefit of autocalibration. I must say that it is a great machine that easily surpasses the old 581. The CR-7 has a playback azimuth adjustment on the front panel and on the included remote control so, you can tweak from your listening chair.
The Dragon does have auto-reverse and all of the other great features mentioned but, remote control was an option.
BTW, I had my CR-7 tuned by Stephen Sank, in NM, who also installed the factory gear drive modification to the transport. A great resource for information on all the Nackamichi models is: http://www.naks.com/
The bx-300 was the first to depart from the older transport design in an effort to lower manufacturung cost. It is still made to operate the same way and with the same specs, but it uses different parts, and is also sort of a transitional transport to the later cr series. The whole bx series seem to suffer from idler wheel issues, but the transports still seem to work well. The bx-300 was a lower cost 3-head, and still I think offers great value for the 100-200 you can get them for. The electronics seem to sound good too.
The 680 series uses an early transport that some consider the best ever made. There are some that consider the 680 series the best naks, but they are less acknowledged because of the zx series. The 680 series had many models that I can't recall specifically, but some had some features like self adjusting record heads and auto calibration in some parameters. The 680 series was the state of the art at the time. While some of the self-adjusting features were gadgetry more than performance, they do not have an affect on the capability of them. The transport is REALLY excellant as far as operation and working on. The electronics are excellent sounding, and I am thinking that you would have to have one side by side with the zx series to decide which was better. As far as that goes, you really could be splitting hairs. There are many slight design changes in all the years nakamichi made basically the same deck, some better and some cheaper.
Aside from the transport, the electronics are tuned. While most sound the same in the context of a system, I have yet to experience 2 naks that sound exactly alike in the context of making a tape and playing it on another system. Some of this is due to the tuning of the electronics, and some due to the design and voicing. I would generalize them as this- the older 580, 680, 480 series as more revealing, detailed, and anylitacal, and the cr, dr, and later as more weighty, punchy, and lush sounding. These are more forgiving of high frequency loss as well. The zx, lx, and dragon fall in between with much of the best of both extremes, being capable of extreme fidelity while at the same time not as touchy. Also, in the early ones, model #'s ending with a 'z' seem to differ from non 'z's' in that they sound closer to the zx series and dragon, especailly for playback. To some, this may be splitting hairs, but some may really tell the difference. When you consider the tuning aspects on sound quality, as well as the context you would use the deck, some might consider the bx-300 close to the dragon. My personal favorites are the 580 and 680 series, tuned PERFECTLY, as I feel I can get just a little more from them than the zx series. (I am currently using a 582 as my main recorder, because my favorite 582z is out of tune!)
Hope this helps and is interesting.
I don't know what the mfsl geo tape is, but if it is an azimuth alignment tape, or has an azimuth alignment recording on it, it would be excellent. I use a nak azimuth tape which has a -20 db 15khz tone recorded on it to get the play head in close alignment. I then record a 15khz like I am adjusting for bias using the built in test tones on the deck. I then flip the tape over and record the same without readjusting anything. If it is within 2 db on the meter, and hopefully one, and not dancing around more than one db, that is good. If anything changes in the alignment, the first to go will be the azimuth, and the meters will fluctuate as the tape goes out of the critical range, and looks like flutter. There are variations in tape shells, so flipping it over doubles any variation. I can get more into it if you like, but I have been long winded enough, time to post.
The Mfsl geo tape is composed of tones for adjustment just like the nak azimuth tape you mention.
If one where to record, are the TDK MA-XG 90 type IV tapes the best for Nak's?
Thanx in advance!
I have found max tape to be the best in a nak. Also, nakamichi tapes used to be made by tdk, they were the same tapes. The best tapes were the ceramic ones made by sony, denon, and tdk (is that the max 'g'?). They were REALLY expensive, though.
Do you know where to get them? I would be interested. Also, do you know where I could get a mfsl geo tape? It sounds like a great tape.
I have never owned a Dragon or an RX505. But I do currently own a CR-7, 682 ZX, 680, and Cr-4A. Having recently come to fine decks in just the last three years, my decision to go with my choices had to do with the repairability of the decks. The Naktalk forum used to have a FAQ section. Their technicians believed the 68x series were THE classic Naks for a combination of great sound, high reliability and great durability. But for recording, many of the Naktalkers think the CR-7 wins because it has auto calibration with great response throughout the whole frequency range. But the Dragon is the single best deck for playback if you are able to afford the expense of keeping it tuned because of its auto azimuth adjustment.
I believe Stephen Sank said Naks really set themselves apart from other decks in bass response. He has said the Studer B-215 series was also excellent. I have never seen him comment on the Tandberg decks which I am sure are very fine also. (TWL knows his stuff.) I do have a couple of Studer A-710 decks which I like very much. The sound quality may not be quite as fine as the Nakamichis, but it is still excellent. And the Studer parts can still be found and repaired because so many of them were standard studio equipment for so many years and parts are still abundant. The Studer was a $2400 machine when it came out. The Nak 682ZX was $1800.
I agree with basement that you may be splitting hairs with any of the Naks mentioned in the above posts. They all sound so much better, to my ears, than digital recordings.
One of the big problems is finding tapes. Occasionally people stumble onto odd lots of metal tapes made by TDK, Maxell, Fuji or Sony, and when found, buy them up immediately. But metal tapes are no longer being made, to my knowledge, by anyone. But type II, chrome tapes, can still be found. On a Nak the chrome tapes still sound excellent and I even like the type I, ferric tapes, which many say have superior bass response. But the middle and upper range does not have as much clarity. I really love the sound of a well made tape, and I am extremely disappointed that the medium seems to be irretrievably in decline. Good luck in your search for the right deck.
Thumbs up for the ZX7, ZX9, and CR7A. All have proven very reliable. My first choice would be the ZX9 every time. With modifications they are even better. find the Talking Dog Transducer website. Stephen Sank owns that site and is THE nakamichi tapedeck guru for upgrades/service.
i have had the pleasure of owning both the rx505 and the dragon.
As far as "pride of ownership" is concerned, nothing compares to the dragon, except perhaps the 1000ZXL. The deck is the ultimate in performance and showmanship.
As far as sound is concerned, there is actually very little difference, they both sound excellent. Slight edge to the Dragon.
I hope that helps.
I have had the Dragon and the tanberg both very good decks and I would call it a draw. But one other to consider is the Revox B215. They can be had for quite a bit less on the used market and it is a very good sounding deck. List new in 1985 was $2300.00 and I see them selling used for 1/2 what a dragon goes for
This inside looks like a mini B77 Reel to reel
They are built very well and sound great also
years after this debate but the simple question is 'what is the deck to be used for? If you will only record and play back from the same deck almost all of the top decks are equal, give or take some small differences. HOWEVER if you have a long standing cassette collection made on different decks, nakamichi and non-nakamichi and if you intend to buy pre-recorded cassettes then there is ONLY one deck to buy and that is the Dragon. For the playing of pre-recorded cassette it is the one and only king of decks.
A Dragon. If this were a question about the Dragon or a CR7, that would be a tricky question, as both have their devotees. Anyway I'm delighted with my Dragon, which has just been serviced and modified by Alex Nikitin (ANT4066 on tapeheads).
I cannot comment on the RX505 as I've never used one. I'm sure it's a great deck, but it's limited in features for best possible recording and playback. I've had zero issues with people playing back tapes I've recorded on my Dragon. I've had many comments on the excellent sound quality of tapes I've made on my Dragon using inexpensive Normal Bias tapes such as Maxell UR's. These tapes were played on other high end decks from Pioneer, Sony, Revox, and Tandberg. The Dragon is also the best playback deck made. With the auto azimuth, auto reverse, quartz locked dual direct drive capstans. The CR-7A, Cassette Deck One, and DR-1 feature user adjustable azimuth knobs.