There’s Not A Cassingle Thing Missing From This Cassette Deck Masterclass

For [ke4mcl], this whole cassette craze of late is not a new discovery so much as it is a personal nostalgia machine. Since [ke4mcl] sees a lot of basic questions go unanswered, they made an incredible beginner’s guide to all things cassette deck. This concise wealth of information covers everything from terminology to operation, basic maintenance like repairing the belt and lubricating the motor, and appropriate cleaning methods for the various parts. Yep, we’re pretty sure this covers everything but the pencil winding technique, which you probably already knew about.

You don’t need a lot of tools and supplies to maintain a cassette deck or twelve (apparently they’re addictive) — mostly just head cleaning fluid, isopropyl, window cleaner, and a bunch of cotton swabs. And given this guide, you’ll enter the enclosure confidently, armed with knowledge about everything from the belts to the capstan to the head. This is valuable information, the kind of stuff your older brother wouldn’t take the time to explain to you in the 80s. But maybe he didn’t know reverse bias from the holes in the top of the tape.

Don’t care for the quality of audio cassettes? Tapes are good for lots of stuff, like data storage and decoration.

78 thoughts on “There’s Not A Cassingle Thing Missing From This Cassette Deck Masterclass

  1. If only some company would manufacture a high quality cassette mechanism. There’s only one or two manufacturers of them now and even when all the best build options are selected, they’re still garbage. Techmoan on YouTube has reviewed several recent new players and all of them have one or the other of those mechanisms, mostly gone cheap on the options like plastic flywheels and a cheap erase magnet instead of an erase head.

    None of the good mechanisms should still be under patent so a company could choose any really nice one and copy it.

      1. two stroke engines???

        most big diesel engines are 2 stroke, with valves

        with a proper, well designed exhaust a 2 stroke engine is more efficient than a 4 stroke

        there are no “wasted” strokes in a 2 stroke cycle

      2. I like the physical medium. I have a Harmon Kardin turntable with moving coil cartridge, a Micro Seiki turntable with Grado cartridge, a Sherwood integrated amplifier and tuner. I just purchased a Luxman tuner and cassette deck. I still have have the TEAC cassette deck. I combined all of this with with NAD component to bring everything together. Oh I forgot that I use a very high end Toshiba VCR for music and a Grundig TS 1000 reel to reel, and a Sony CD recorder/player.

      3. Nothing wrong with enjoying the old tech that is still arround though, I would rather see it in the hands of enthusiasts than in land fill! So I don’t agree with your good riddance comment……

    1. Who besides archivists and die-hard cassette nostalgists would buy a high-quality cassette deck? The format has about nothing to offer the modern music listener… besides hiss, flutter and stereo image instability. Unlike open-reel analog tape or vinyl, the analog cassette really has no virtues compared to the cheapest USB stick.

      I loved them in the 80s and 90s, and now I’m done.

      1. >vinyl
        Records are terrible, why people invest money in expensive TT systems is beyond me, they’re just nostalgia machines the same as cassette decks are. You want analog perfection, go buy a good reel to reel, nothing else is even close

        1. False, records are awesome and they sound great. You don’t even need an extreme high end turntable to make them sound good, you just need a semi decent stylus and cartridge.

          Then you can have some real analog fun by making your own vinyl mixes on tape.

          No, I don’t do it for nostalgia, vinyl is a great way to have a big beautiful PHYSICAL music collection. It’s much better than looking at files sitting in a folder.

          1. Get a good 3 head deck with Dolby S and record a CD, play them back to back in front of someone and have them tell you which is which. It will be very difficult to determine which one is tape, and that not even using type IV metals. Go find “Best of Canned Heat” on Vinyl (nope) or “remastered CD” that compacted all the dynamic range to CD like quality. It loses all its character from the analog masters to tape. Hiss? It’s just there to preset the volume of your 1978 silver faced 30 lb 150 WPC receiver and huge speakers before the track starts to play!

      2. Don’t forget that a good cassette tape player helps to preserve all the never released music (rare demos, live bootleg recordings, etc). Compact Cassette tapes represent a piece of musical history together with all rare or unusual recordings are stored on them.

      3. I purchased a used mint Nakamichi CR7E for £500 in 2008 and I would place it in reel to reel territory for sound quality. I decided to sell it before it required servicing for £1500 2 years later. My current cassette decks are both Revox, a B215 and a B710 mk2 and they sound as good as the Nakamichi but easier to repair so they’re keepers. I make sound comparisons with by Revox B77 mk2 reel to reel decks. I can only assume some have never listened to quality cassette decks playing through high end amplification and quality speakers. I can guarantee, unlike vinyl which may give away the odd click, if anyone listened to my cassette decks, reel to reel or cd in a blind test they would never guess which one is which.

        1. I’ve owned and repaired (professionally) both open reel and cassette units, including Revox and Technics. I know what even the best cassette decks, properly aligned, look like on test instruments. And I agree they can sound very good, very pleasing. But they still don’t perform quite as good as the best streaming audio, or CDs. So, unlike open reel, I don’t think that cassette offers anything that isn’t available from mainstream inexpensive digital reproduction.

          But cassettes are still cool; I still have a couple of decks, including a pro Walkman cassette recorder. I keep them around for transcribing cassettes to digital.

        2. I have a 1991 Onkyo cassette deck…it was pretty high end for the time. I am building a system around it a1997 JVC receiver a new Dennon turntable and CD player… pretty nice set up…

      4. I can tell you from experience (I have owned over 30 cassette decks) that pretty much any half-decently set up cassette deck has NONE of that. Even with Dolby noise reduction off, tape hiss is minimal. But the noise reduction is there for people who want to get rid of the tape hiss.

        Flutter? Again not really an issue unless the tape deck was really cheap or in horrible shape.

        Stereo image instability? Meh, that’s more or less an issue with the tape itself. Just an FYI – the levels can be calibrated from various points on the circuit board

    2. It’s still less expensive to pick up a top-tier Harman Kardon from the 90’s and a calibration cassette from ebay, and spend a few hours disassembling/cleaning and re-calibrating it back to optimal working condition using little more than a sound card.

      It was a fun afternoon :) i’m a fan of vaporwave so the medium fits too

          1. Cheapest in my county was about $1500 and that was for one that didn’t work! I used to repair these era things when I own an electronics repair center. It look like it would be profitable to repair old units again but not for me, I’m to old now and don’t have long left.

            It reminds me of a visit to an old technology museum some time ago. For some reason a phone number scribbled on wooden side of a large piece of electronic equipment (more electric/electro-mechanical really) caught my eye. It took me a while to realize it was my office number from several decade before.

            At that point my experience of looking at old technology became far more personal. I realized that rather than simply looking at old technology, I was actually watching my self going though the process of being young and interesting then outdated than retired and now waiting for disposal. Fortunately they don’t display old expired humans in museums lol.

    3. I still got my old deck and still like new and now far of cd sound, always use top end metal tapes that cost a lot. You got to spend good money on a deck. Only a good vintage one is the only choice, todays ones are junk.

      1. I have a 1991 Onkyo…its works perfectly and has many features…it’s a nice deck. I’m building my system around that and 1997 JVC receiver as well as a new Dennon turntable and CD player ..a pretty nice setup…

    1. People with money like to pretend they can relive their youth. Audio should just be FLAC files now that flash storage is dirt cheap. I have no desire to return to the days of yore with analog storage mediums.

      1. I mean, at least LPs and reel-to-reel have motion you can watch, and the more or less elaborate somatic near-ritual of loading/unloading/cleaning the media and the player, and large containers for the records/tapes that can display cover art.

      1. Speaking of which,
        Is Discwasher fluid still available?
        (fires up search engine)
        Well, that didn’t seem to help much, other than “don’t trust the Discwasher 4+ fluid that comes from China”

    2. Actually, the consumer didn’t leave it behind the record companies did and not the reasons you think.
      CDs was the first recording medium they can restrict where they can be played. Without the proper regional setup the CDs will not play, it is why people bootlegged CDs unto cassette and sent it to different friends and family in other countries.
      Cassette is the last format that can be played anywhere in the world without restrictions.

      1. Audio CD’s are region free. It’s built into the Redbook standard. Data CD’s, DVD/BR on the other hand, yes regional by county code, but even this is overcome with a region free player.

        More likely any life the humble audio cassette was clinging to was shattered when CD-R went mainstream and became affordable in the second half of the 1990s.

      2. Not being snarky, just an honest question; do you mean the last analog format? It may have shortcomings, but I’m unaware of restrictions around .wav files. I suppose you can’t play them in a third world country that doesn’t have the technology, but the same could be true of a cassette.

      3. Maybe not regional restrictions, but certainly digital formats allowed the record companies to use DRM to prevent playback and copying in certain situations. My first DRM’ed CD was Craig David “Born to Do It” (purchased from Wal-Mart in about 2001). It wouldn’t play on a PC, wouldn’t allow for viewing files, copying, etc. Supposedly it came with a code to get a digital download to listen on PC, but that never worked. The CD would play, but only in dumb devices.

  2. I just had a look at the instructable by [ke4mcl] and then had a shop around to see what could still be purchased.

    Background: I owned a electronics repair center in this era. So I repaired lots of CRT TV’s, VRCs, Cassette players, component stereos etc.

    [ke4mcl] has done well with his article. There is a lot more to it than he has written but to be fair there is only so much you can expect to fit in an instructable.

    Most maintenance parts are still available and that’s quite surprising.

    In this day of 3D printing it could be practical to make your own unit.

    Electronics aside, the mechanism is actually quite complex. Most of this can be solved with a 3D printer but there are other parts needed.

    Heads (playback-record / erase) are available, so to are: capstan assemblies (pinch roller) including arm and roller, belts, felts for fast-forward / rewind. What is missing or hard to find is the capstan roller and flywheel, spool wheels. Spool wheels aren’t critical and could be 3D printed easily.

    The big cruncher is the capstan axis and flywheel and I’m wondering how good a hard drive spindle motor would be as a substitute.

    The electronics is fairly generic so one design could be used for a variety of setups. Just look up RIAA equalization to get it right.

  3. The higher end cassette decks have a recording bias control. I think it allowed for variations in magnetic tape, but trying to adjust it to hear any difference in the end result seemed illusive. Perhaps at extremes only… set it for the middle.

    I also recall recording in Dolby C, but playing back in Dolby B for a more lively high end. Hours spent recording LP’s or making mixed tapes, which today can be accomplished with a few mouse clicks.

    Still have lots of blank tapes that will never be used.

    1. IIRC, you set the Bias control by recording interstation noise on the FM band (white noise, pink noise?) at various settings, and the setting that gave you highest hiss, was the setting you used for that particular brand of tape.

  4. A couple of years ago I bought a low-end Nakamichi deck (2 head BX-100, which was reasonably priced back in the day). It holds up surprisingly well, and has very little in common with what many people think of when they think of cassette players.

  5. Cassette decks are fun to use and record. It takes a little more time that is often an issue. I recently purchased high end Yamaha deck for $90. I use it occasionly but it’s nice to use when you have time. Records are similar and take time to clean and store. If you have time it’s nice option. Most times I don’t have really enough time so blue tooth works. It’s like a vacation using analog. You run older equipment when your off clock.

  6. I think good cassette decks are like classic cars. They don’t have the features or benefits of new technology today. New cars are faster, safer, more efficient. New audio formats are robust and reliable, more portable, have many more advantages for sure. But if done properly there is that something that the old technology has that the new doesn’t. I really enjoy music done properly on cassette or vinyl. More so than a hard drive or USB. It’s just more satisfying. Like driving in a beautiful old classic car. A new Ford Focus is probably better in every logical way, but I’ll still take the old classic car thanks.

  7. I still have 700 cassettes, mostly live radio concerts. I have a JVC TD-W207 tape deck that still works. I used to work for JVC Company of America back in the 1980’s so I always had some great tape decks. I really liked my Dual 808 deck and my Tascam 3 head rack mount deck. I got the first JVC Auto reverse tape deck in the US after a photo shoot for a NYC based department store.

  8. Cassette usage of these days may well be mostly nostalgia but don’t discount them all as being inferior to digital formats. A CD or Mini Disk (which some would now say are obsolete) may sound clear with richer bass sound but a good type 4 metal cassette for example recorded properly on a reasonable quality deck can sound very impressive. The thing is they vary wildly and most people remember badly recorded cheep tapes or pre recorded tapes being played on a cheep boom box or car stereo.

      1. They were 20P (<$1.00 US) in Phillipines in 87! All were remastered off turntables as you could hear the random pops in the intro leader. I would buy 1-2 random tapes night with my pocket change on the way back to Subic Naval Base. Left most there to my roommates when I left.

  9. Cassette players/decks that play both directions without removing and flipping the cassette around.
    I thought those mfgrs that rotated the head when the tape direction was reversed-was a bad idea!
    How long before the head got out of alignment?
    A bi-directional head was more expensive to make, but at least its alignment wasn’t challenged every half hour.

  10. The best machines had one transport and ran in one direction as well. Those extravagances wasted the quality where it is needed.
    One feature to look for was Dolby HX Pro if you make recordings on it. People who recorded with Dolby and then turned it off on play for treble boosting were on the slippery slope of the loudness wars. Starting in the mid 80’s music became maxed and crap came out of the studios that way as well. Know the difference between White noise and Pink noise. Pink noise is all sounds that exist and our ears evolved to cope with, White noise is up to 100 times more treble than we need. With HX Pro you can make a hotter tape and not even need Dolby B. It dynamically varies the bias according to how much treble is there.

  11. Plastic gears and rubber belts (even “direct drive” cassette decks have them). Are the killers on older high quality decks. Few people can repair them and those that can ( if they can get parts) charge an Armand a leg!

  12. I copy songs from c.d.s to cassette since most portable radios have both.Then use a Crowley stereo to copy that 1 cassette onto 1 c.d.So. I make a playlist from several discs onto 1 disc with NO computer or restrictions.Ihave over 4000 cassettes & 2500 c.d.s. Tapes can have good sound since disc has music compressed which lowers sound quality.Discs actually originated in Germany in about 1978. Studios stuck with cheaper tape technology until ..bootlegged music became a money issue.Dvds are region encoded since movies are released different times in different countries. That is why macrovision was used on VHS around 1995.I copied movies also.Audio would duplicate but not the video.Region encoding also is used to eliminate entire movies or censored movies in certain areas.So only certain scenes can be cut out.France may show underage nudity but not animal abuse while Ireland may show that but not drug use.So the same movie may have 9 versions. That’s why copywrite now covers All content regardless of duration. I worked in entertainment forever so I know quite a bit.

    1. Copyright law varies from country to country, and region codes cover many countries, so where and when did copyrightability depend on the duration of a work? Also, how does copyright being applicable regardless of duration help with preventing premature/uncensored release of movies in foreign markets? Or do you mean only the short bits that were censored were being distributed, and they couldn’t be blocked on copyright grounds because they were too short for that, even though the whole movie was feature-length?

  13. I still buy and use obsolete physical media including the infamous 8-track cartridges. Compact cassettes are a big step above 8-track so of course I still use them. 2 weeks ago I purchased a Nakamichi Dragon cassette deck from my local Goodwill for $29.00 after being discounted (orange tag) from $31.49. All it needs is a new belt because all functions work except for playback which requires a good condition belt.

    Automatic azimuth adjustment on every single playback along with a 3 head system and 4 motors, yes 4. They simply don’t make cassettes decks like this anymore.

    Everyone has a certain preference when it comes to compact cassette performance. As for me I prefer the decks with either Dolby B or C without HX-Pro (which were not many). These can have a frequency response of 20hz to 20Khz when using type 4 metal bias cassettes. Obviously a digital FLAC file has way more performance than any compact cassette deck/cassette combination.

    The fun, nostalgia and pride of owning physical media plays a huge role regarding compact cassettes. Especially in this modern day age of internet based streaming services. Just my 2 cents worth.

    1. I’d call BS on that Nak from Goodwill but I bought a Hitachi SR-904 receiver for $19 too! Most of the stuff Goodwill gets that is known to be valuable goes straight on their website now and typically gets higher bids that Ebay for some reason. I passes on a Nak CR1 for $29, thought it was still steep for a 2 head.

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