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Old 26th Nov 2020, 1:59 am   #50
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Join Date: Aug 2006
Location: Madrid, Spain / Wirral, UK
Posts: 6,236
Default Re: Are there any cassette machines in current production

I just revived about half a dozen hifi cassette decks (vintages: late 1970s to late 1990s) for a little sound art project. I was considering doing a write up of one or two but instead will put some reflections here.

In the late 1990s, shortly before a move abroad, I bought two single direction decks (Dolby B & C, logic control, 2 head, but variable bias). They were used briefly then stored for about 20 years! One Sansui and an Aiwa. When I opened them up a couple of weeks back, both had melted Philips style belts. The Aiwa also had a problem with the rec level pot, which I suspect may have taken a knock. It only passes a signal one one channel unless the knob is pushed in! Apart from a couple of connection problems they revived okay. Belt change was okay, fiddly but do-able in under 30 mins; say 6/10.

I also repaired a Thomson (also sold as Triumph 400) and a Fisher with powered mechanisms. Vintage 1980-ish. On one, the main flat belt kept falling off, on the other it was, unbelievably, still usable. The counter/motion sense belts were past it and the decks kept shutting off. I also needed to lubricate the motor on the Thomson as it seized up after a few hours' use. I think the powered mechs take a bit of a toll on those motors. Belt change a little more awkward, 5/10.

The oldest ones were a Rotel and a Uher. Both piano keys. The Rotel needed considerable work: belts, switch contacts, idler tyres and more disassembly was needed. The Uher had an absurd gearing arrangement which had problems involving split plastic and loose pins. I was going to scrap it but persevered! Both had decent motors. Mech work difficulty rating 3/10 due to added complexity.

There were a few more but will write about those later.

All in all, I would say that:
-The electronics posed few if any problems across the various eras of deck. As anyone who has worked on VCRs will know, most faults are mechanical.
-Although one thinks of the piano key decks as simple, repair is not actually that easy or quick. Motor and capstan bearing lubrication seems to be essential. An array of belts idlers and linkages soon makes for lengthy and complicated work. The 90s models were simpler in this regard but build quality was far below the older ones. Time will tell.

My favourite deck in daily use is an Aiwa F660, vintage circa 1984. New belts and pinch rollers a few years back, and on she goes without a murmur, despite being dual capstan, which can be a nightmare.

To return to the modern day decks mentioned in the thread, as has been said they seem to have those Tanashin mechanisms one usually found in sub-50 pound radio-cassette portables. They fall far short of even the 1990s entry level hi-fi decks I mentioned above, that I bought at under 100 pounds in the late 90s (and even they have small-ish transformers, small Mabuchi motors and lots of plastic in them).

I think the key is someone reviving one of the mechs from a major manufacturer, 90s era which would be a balance between minimum quality /w&F specs, yet more cost-effective than the older designs. Logic control makes for safer tape handling and possiblity of remote control. If demand keeps increasing someone may do it -after all cassettes seem to be selling more year on year. We shall see.

Last edited by ben; 26th Nov 2020 at 2:09 am.
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