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Revox B215 cassette deck

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology
 

Simple gray rule


Revox B215 cassette deck: Fast on the draw, smooth on the ears
 

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1986, The Syracuse Newspapers

The glamour boy in audio these days is the compact disc, with its digital signal offering stunning playback quality. But technology has not ignored the other compact recording medium, the audio cassette.

The latest advances in cassette technology make it clear that instead of being outstripped by digital techniques, analog cassette quality is striving to keep pace - and succeeding in many areas.

The best evidence of this comes both as hardware and as software" - recorders and recordings themselves.

For an example of the industry's best efforts in the design of cassette recorders, I asked the American branch of the Swiss firm Studer Revox to supply one of its new Revox B215 cassette decks. It is one of the most expensive ($1,400) and feature-laden decks on the market.

For a look at what the recording industry was doing to keep pace, I listened to two tapes from one of the pioneers in the audiophile recording business.

As befits a recorder from Revox, a company best known for its indestructible professional recorders, the B215 is large and very heavy. Like all top-quality recorders, the B215 has three heads - erase, record, and play - to permit off-the-tape monitoring while recording.

But the B215 also has a circuit that automatically adjusts the deck's internal controls to produce near-perfect results with any brand and type of tape.

Like most current cassette decks, the B215 has Dolby B and Dolby C noise reduction circuits to trim the level of hiss. But the Revox deck is rare in incorporating another circuit, Dolby HX Pro, which also cuts distortion.

The B215 has many other features worthy of note - including a circuit that automatically sets optimum recording levels, a real-time counter with two memory rewind locations, and fast-acting meters that show signal levels as accurately as anything a pro could afford.

But what impresses me the most is the B215's tape transport mechanism, mounted on its own heavy alloy chassis. To start with, instead of using one capstan to pull the tape past the heads, the Revox uses two, on each side of the heads. Each capstan is actually the extended shaft of a separate motor, and each reel hub works the same way. The head assembly pivots against a set of hydraulic shock absorbers that appear large enough to support a motorcycle.

The four direct-drive motors provide what is probably the best tape handling of any deck on the market, with amazingly fast tape shuttling in either direction.

All this would matter little if the deck could not record and play as well as it handles tape. In tests and subsequent listening sessions, I found the B215 to be unmatched in smooth frequency response, vanishingly low hiss levels and overall clarity of sound.

Direct comparisons with a $5,000 digital tape recorder showed the Revox to have more inherent noise and a slight roughness in some sounds, but few other differences were noted. There was no evidence at all of flutter, a common problem of most cassette decks.

The "software" I used to judge the playback abilities of the B215 are Dolby B metal-particle cassettes from Ultragroove, a California company that started out in the 70s as a firm that made direct-to-disc records. In fact, one of the two cassettes just released started out as a direct-disc record, although the cassette is being duplicated from a digital back-up tape that was made during the direct-disc recording session.

The direct-disc clone is one of Arthur Fiedler's last recordings, a Boston Pops rendition of two war-horses - Tchaikovsky's "Capriccio Italien" and Rimsky-Korsakov's "Capriccio Espagnol."

The digital master also showed up a few years back as a dbx-encoded super-high-quality tape from dbx Inc., and I used that version as a comparison. Amazingly, the Ultragroove tape, which doesn't have the help of the super-quiet sonics of the dbx version, is every bit as hiss-free.

The other Ultragroove tape is similarly reincarnated from a 70s release. It is "Diahann Carroll," a session made with the Duke Ellington Orchestra. If anything, the sound of the current Ultragroove cassette is superior to the carefully pressed disc version I first heard a decade ago.

Both Ultragroove tapes, which cost $15 each, show the potential of metal-particle tape, which is becoming cheap enough to permit its use by major duplicators - but they won't do so unless they believe that consumers care. It's likely that anyone who hears either of these two releases will care quite a lot.

For more information, contact:

Studer Revox America, 1425 Elm Hill Pike, Nashville, Tenn. 37210.

Ultragroove, P.O. Box 838, Orinda, Calif. 94563.


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