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Teac's best cassette deck

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology

Simple gray rule

Teac's best cassette deck challenges digital recorders

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1994, The Syracuse Newspapers

Digital sound is getting all the glory these days, but the old-fashioned way of recording is getting better, too. The latest evidence comes from one of the veterans of the audio business, the Japanese manufacturer Teac.

Old-timers may remember the sturdy Teac open-reel tape recorders that set the standards for top-quality stereo sound three decades ago. They're still available in a few versions, but the big-reel format is a techno-turkey to most of us. That's why Teac has put all its efforts into what may be the world's best cassette deck, the model V-8000S.

But "Best" in this case also spells "pricey," with the V-8000S costing as much as a dozen compact disc players—$1,300, to be exact. What do you get for such a big bill?

Sweet, unadorned analog sound, that's what. Analog is what all tape recorders used to be before digital came along. Even the big machines with reels almost a foot across were analog.

Despite what most of the so-called experts say, there's nothing really wrong with analog. It's just that digital sound is new, and analog sound isn't, so the future keeps rolling in. And that's that.

But Teac has found a way to hold that future at bay a little longer, at least for fans of cassettes. The V-8000S has everything a digital recorder has except the digits—super high fidelity, a total absence of hiss and noise, and no sign of any of the wobbly sound that older cassette recorders often exhibited.

Teac demolishes noise and hissy sounds with the latest engineering triumph from Dolby Laboratories, Dolby S. You're probably familiar with the Dolby B switch that just about all cassette decks have, and you may even own a deck that has a fancier circuit called Dolby C. (Yes, there's a Dolby A, but it was made for the pros.)

Dolby S is like one of those miracle products they sell on half-hour infomercials on TV. It takes a good cassette deck and turns it into a great cassette deck. No strings attached.

No strings, that is, except for an unfortunate lack of timing. When Dolby Labs came up with the idea for Dolby S a couple of years ago, a zillion other companies were rushing to market with ideas of their own, all spelled with a capital "D" for "digital." With little but yawns to greet its new way of turning analog sound into even better analog sound, Dolby Labs looked for months and months to find manufacturers willing to put Dolby S in their cassette decks.

A few went along, but only for show. When audio fans looked in the stores, Dolby S was as scarce as 45-rpm records. Just as bad, in the first year of production, was the cost of the Dolby S circuitry—$500 extra. That kind of icing on a $400 cake was hard for any company to go along with.

But Dolby S is now cheaper. Rather than coming up with a $300 Dolby S recorder, however, Teac saw the real competition for the V-8000S in the $1,000-plus digital recorders that Sony and other companies are hoping to sell by the millions. Teac's goal is measured in the thousands, but it's a goal that should make fans of cassettes spin their reels in joy.

Nothing can unruffle the V-8000S. Like a good studio tape recorder from the days when digital meant something you did with your fingers, the Teac has a smooth, silken sound. And like the latest digital machines, the Teac copes with the loudest passages in music, rocking and rolling with the punches. Best of all, the V-8000S treats the ribbon of cassette tape with the kind of precision you'd expect from a NASA data recorder.

In overall sound quality, the V-8000S is a match for any digital recorder a consumer can buy. It lacks some of the Star Trek features of those digital recorders that make for nearly instant retrieval of a song from a tape or disc, but it has a huge advantage: It uses regular cassette tapes. Spell that with a "C" for "cheap."

And spell that "S" in the new Dolby system for "super." It's probably the last volley in the war between the old and the new in tape recording, but you have to give Dolby credit for taking such a good shot.

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