An Online Treasure Trove for Nakamichi Cassette Deck Fans

Some products inspire unwavering loyalty among their owners: Gibson's "Les Paul" Guitars, for example, or Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Only a handful of audio manufacturers have been lucky enough for their products to attain this kind of cult status. McIntosh is perhaps premier among them. Individual products---Audio Research preamps, Marantz tuners, Linn turntables---also have deservedly loyal and sizable followings.

But if the sheer number of loyal owners is considered, along with a manufacturer's historically relentless pursuit of perfection, no brandname can compete with Nakamichi for the much-abused title "Legendary." In high-end circles, cassette tape---by a wide margin the most popular audio format of all time---is generally dismissed as too lo-fi for consideration---unless, of course, the name "Nakamichi" is invoked. Except for a few rare, isolated models by other makers, Nakamichi is the only brand of cassette deck most self-respecting audiophiles will admit to owning.

That's with good reason. Nakamichi took a recording format that was originally intended for nothing more demanding than voice dictation, and, through consistent engineering refinement, lifted it into the realm of true high fidelity. Although other manufacturers---notably Ampex, Tandberg, Harman/Kardon, and Sony---contributed to the cassette's ultimate performance potential, Nakamichi was the firm that took it to the absolute maximum, extracting phenomenal performance where none should have been possible, given cassette tape's slow speed and narrow track width.

Like tube aficionados, Nak fanciers speak reverently about "Nakamichi warmth," a quality they find sorely lacking in the playback from almost all other brands. Those fans have a home on the Internet: the Unofficial Nakamichi Cassette Deck Page. Created and maintained by Dutch audio enthusiast Wouter Heijke, the site is a treasure trove for all things pertinent to Nakamichi's long dominance of the cassette market. The site features pictures and engineering specifications of products going back as far as the model 250 (which went on the market in 1973); links to other Nakamichi sites, including the company's home page; a discussion area ("Naktalk"); and pricing guides for used Nakamichi recorders. Most of the company's products have held their value well, selling at 25-50% of their original retail value, with some priced even higher.

Perhaps most useful to Nakamichi owners is a subsection of the site devoted to frequently asked questions (FAQs), put up by Marc Nutter, who owns Sonic Sense, a Denver, CO, company that specializes in home, studio, and remote-location recording equipment, and does a brisk business in the repair and maintenance of Nakamichi machines. With the aid of his lead technician (who has 17 years' experience with Nak gear) and an army of unpaid enthusiasts, Nutter has compiled a deep database of service tips for almost all the popular models. He explains clearly both the causes and cures, and includes probable estimates. Clay Cowdery, a Hewlett-Packard engineer and business-development specialist in Atlanta, mentioned that his long-troublesome ZX-9 recorder was finally fixed after he consulted Nutter's FAQ. "It had four simple parts that needed to be replaced," Cowdery said. "I took it into the service center and said 'Do this, this, and this.' It's been fine ever since." A little knowledge is a powerful tool.