The layout of the controls is one of the most beautifully designed, in my opinion. I think this decks achieves almost a near perfect design.
The door has a motorized mechanism for opening and closing. It's 'smart', as it closes when you press 'play' and it's open.
Apart from the common controls, it has separate buttons for FF/REW and for searching the next/previous tracks, like other decks (TEAC 8030S...). Many decks have combined buttons for these, so when you press FF and the tape is stopped, it just fast forwards but if you press it when it's playing then it searches for the next song. Sadly, it cannot search for two or more songs; just for the next/previous one.
As almost all decks, it has a headphone out but with a volume control, which I find so useful.
The screen is big, like the one of my AIWA XK-S9000 or the Technics RS-B965. The information is very clear and nice to read.
Dolby mark is placed at -1.2 dB, so this is clearly a DIN scale (see my guide for excellent recordings for more info on that). Sadly, there is not enough resolution just in that part of the scale, so it's not hard to do leveling errors of about 1 dB. Anyway, it's easy to familiarize with them and their speed to make good leveling.
The meters have enough resolution, which is excellent at 0 VU (one mark/dB) but not as good at Dolby mark and under (just one mark between -1dB and -4dB), which causes a few problem.
The counter shows time in minutes:seconds and it can also return to the 0:00 position when you hit REW, thanks to the Memory function. The precision is good (difference between the counter and real time) though not perfect. After once minute there's 1.5s of difference. After 10 minutes, this difference becomes 15 sec.
RECORDING & CALIBRATION FEATURES
The calibration features are excellent, one of the most completes I've ever seen, with three pots:
Rec cal level
Rec EQ cal (with 3 presets)
With all them it's not hard to achieve near-perfect recordings. I can only think of the Pioneer CT-F1250 for having a more complete system, with variable EQ (not just presets).
It has internal signal generators, making it very easy to calibrate a tape. With this assisted calibration system, often found in '90s decks, all you have to do is to adjust the three pots until you align both signals (High and Low) to the calibration signal. It's a bit long to explain with words but I guess this video will show you clearly:
After calibrating a lot of different tapes, I can say this system works pretty well. Only a few tapes failed to calibrate properly, which were tapes of pure chrome (like BASF ones). The rest worked very fine. For this article I've tested 7 different tapes. After every calibration I've analyzed the results with a RTA (Real Time Analyzer) to check the linearity, and it was surprisingly good. Results later...
It's excellent. I love it. It's a pleasure to play with. The door is quick and the mechanism responds quickly. The FF/REW is fast as many other decks but not as quick as the Revox B215. The pause leaves the mechanism engaged and really prepared so when you release it starts in decimals of a second.
The meters are quick and very clear to read and the peak meter is always very helpful. The big rec level is a true pleasure to use. Full, cold, metal and very smooth movement. Delicious.
The independent rec balance is a really welcomed, helping to balance when you detect some imbalances. I prefer this one over the integrated into the rec knob, by far.
Having independent buttons for FF/REW and skip/search songs is very welcomed. Sometimes you just want to FF a bit while it's playing and with many decks it's boring that you actually have to stop to then FF to avoid the search function.
All Dolby systems works perfectly, with almost no influence on the frequency response. Dolby S achieves outstanding performance. The separated HX Pro button is pretty cool but it's actually very hard to detect any difference. I guess I have to get better hearing traning to detect that. I know the difference is in the high frequencies distortion but it's really hard to hear any difference. At least with my usual high quality chrome tapes.
The lack of an output knob makes more difficult to use external noise processors as my dbx 224X. It will be very welcomed.
When it's time to clean head and rollers, this deck shows how much attention SONY's engineers put into detail: it has a special mode to help you in that. You just have to keep the OPEN/CLOSE button pressed while you power it on... and voilà. The door opens, the mechanism engages and plays, so you just have to start clean. No tricks, no complicated methods. Easy and elegant.
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