The Studer-Revox brand has been related with tape audio since the 50's. They specialized in durable machines and their quality is legendary. Since their very humble beginnings, Willi Studer decided to to separate his professional audio creations from the domestic versions, hence the name "ReVox was created. It basically means "repeated or continuous sound".
The first cassette deck manufactured by Revox was the B-710 under the direction of Marino Ludwig, the creator of the B-77 open reel deck. In those days, Willi Studer was reluctant to make a cassette deck, a machine he constantly degraded and refer to it as "a toy". When his sales department ask for one he constantly replied "We don't produce that kind of things here!". Unfortunately for him, by the end of the 70's the cassette deck revolution started to eclipse the open reel decks due to cost constraints, size and tape prices. Brands like Nakamichi, Teac and Sony were constantly pushing the envelope for better and more technological advanced cassette decks and for the very first time in history, some of these decks were getting really close in sound to their behemoth cousins.
Willi Studer yields to the constant pressure on behalf of his subordinates and Marino Ludwig, again, played a key role in this. Marino by himself and under secrecy, started studying the best cassette decks available in the market and brought his test results to Willi. He was finally convinced and said: "Ok! But it has to be according to my ideas". The cassette deck sales during 1978 and 1979 were significant and it took a while for Revox to come out with a design which could mimic the quality, durability and sound of their already established and famous open reel decks. This is when the B 710 was born!
The B 710 MK ii
If we examine the mechanism of the B 710, we can relate it to their open reel decks. Take a look at it. Same buttons, toggle switches and finish of the B 77. It's the only and true direct drive, beltless design with 4 motors and perhaps the most stable of its kind in the history of cassette decks. This same mechanism were used later in their B 215 project, now with the addition of the engineer Meinrad Lienert while Marino Ludwig continued as Product Manager.
The best sales pitch of a product, is the product itself. The B -215 mechanism.
The new B 215 is a three-head, four-motor deck with Dolby B and Dolby C noise reduction, Dolby HX Pro headroom extension, and microprocessor controlled tape transport and electronics. It was designed to meet the most critical audiophile's sonic demands.
My ReVox B 215. Bought in 1985, it was the first one in Puerto Rico!
The tape transport of the B215 is built on a heavy, die-cast aluminum chassis. To minimize wow-and-flutter, two quartz-crystal-controlled, direct-drive Hall-effect d.c. motors are used for the closed-loop, dual capstan drive. A second pair of direct-drive motors is used for reel spooling. After the user presses a button to select the tape length, a microprocessor coupled to an optical tachometer measures the relative rate of rotation of the reel motors and calculates the elapsed time on a side, which is continuously updated on a four-digit, liquid-crystal display. During winding, an optical sensor is used to detect the difference between the tape and the translucent leader at its ends, and electrical rather than mechanical braking stops rotation so that the tape is never yanked at the hub connection when the end of the side is reached.
Here're my B 215S together with her companion B 226 The Signature CD Player.
The record and playback heads are separate units joined in a common casing, which allows immediate comparisons between the source and the recording. The three-head design also enabled Revox to optimize the respective head gaps, using a narrow-gap head for playback (ensuring against high-frequency losses) and a wide-gap head for recording (maximizing signal-to-noise ratio). While the deck automatically switches its bias and equalization settings to match the tape type (ferric, CrO2, metal), the user can manually override the settings. In addition to providing Dolby B or Dolby C noise reduction, the Revox B215 employs the Dolby HX Pro headroom-extension system whenever the deck is in the recording mode.
Since many different tape types vary slightly in their characteristics, the Revox B215 also incorporates a sophisticated, micro-processor-controlled alignment procedure. The user presses a button to begin the procedure, which takes about 20 seconds. The deck records and analyzes a brief series of inaudible tones, using the results to optimize recording bias, playback equalization, and sensitivity for the selected tape. Following these internal adjustments, the tape is rewound to the beginning. The B215 provides nonvolatile storage of the optimized settings for two brands of ferric, three of CrO2-type, and one of metal tape, so the procedure need not be repeated unless you change to a new brand.
My B 215S before the modifications took place.
Signal to noise ratio and the wow & flutter figures are among the best in the industry. Some techs I know insist that the mechanism design is an over kill and with time it becomes its own enemy. It could be, but my Revox cassette decks are already over 30 years old and just recently they were re-capped and totally serviced and now both are singing better than new! There's a former Creek engineer, Alex Nikitin, who has developed an IC for cassette decks and the B 215 has proved to be one of the best candidates for it as it noticeably improves its performance in sound. Incidentally, what Willi Studer refer as a "toy", became one of the best cassette decks ever made and still going strong, even after over 30 years of introduction.
This is the order of the test too. Beginning with the NAD and ending with the TEAC. Let's make a closer examination of these "guys":
NAD 6300: a little simple machine. 3 heads, dolby B & C, Dyneq and HX PRO, playtrim to help with azimuth discrepancies, car compression device, bias fine tune, capstan direct drive, dual capstan transport. MSRP: $900.00 (1987-1991) Comments: a surprising little and plain looking cassette deck with a huge sound! You can find it relatively cheap anywhere.
ReVox B 215 S: one of the so called "heavies" in the audio cassette hobby. It comes with the best transport ever made, modular electronics and a darling to service. 3 heads, Dolby B & C, HX PRO, auto cal system, dual capstan, double direct drive and you know the rest. MSRP: $2,800.00 (1988). Comments: perhaps the best tape handling and wow& flutter figures. When modified, it's a killer (even without it). Often used to produced standard calibration tapes for other machines. Another triumph for Revox distinctive achievements. The S version is black with gold lettering and green liquid glass display (not so good visibility). Simply a beautiful piece but it comes expensive in the used market.
Nakamichi ZX 9: the black beauty and perhaps the best sounding Nak out there. Discrete 3 heads, dolby B & C, double capstan, direct drive, asymmetrical dual capstans, manual azymuth, level and bias cal., pressure pad lifter and slack tape take up. 3 motor mechanism. MSRP: $1,550.00 (1982-1985) Comments: it's no secret that this is one of the best Nakamichi's ever made. For me, it's the best sounding of the top 4, including the CR 7, Dragon and 1000 ZXL. Used for Nakamichi's own real time tape duplication (32 or so units), the sound is amazing.
Teac Z 5000: the smaller of the famous Z series trio. Not as good as the other 2, 6000 & 7000, but also a serious contender. 3 head, dolby B & C, dbx, HX PRO, automatic program search & space, manual cal of bias, level & eq, direct drive, single capstan belt drive transport and 2 motors. MSRP: $1,000.00 (1983). Comments: a nice looking machine with many features. It doesn't come with the bells and whistles of the bigger sisters, but still a nice sounding machine.
I choose 4 records for this test. The selections would help us identify sound stage, transparency, punch, focus, details, dynamics, mids, highs and lows. We'll see how the cassette decks could handle what we through at it. The tracks were recorded on a Maxell XL II, no dolby used and each track has a 1.5 minutes of duration. All matched to the same level of +2 with occasional peaks at +4 maximum. The B 215 & ZX 9 matched easily, but the other 2 required more effort to do it right. I opened with the punchy and very dynamic "Busca" by the group YAYA from the CD Vibraciones Positivas. AJ Records, 1999. # 10337 11202. For those of you who participated in the Nak Marathon Tape 1 project in 2003, this was the second track then. The second one is the direct from the masters recording of James Newton Howard & Friends "L'Daddy". Sheffield Lab, 1984. # CD 23. Third track is "Symphony No. 5" of Ludwig Van Beethoven. Seiji Ozawa conducting the Boston Symphony Orch. Telarc, 1981. # CD-80060. The last number is "Here I Am" from the CD The Second Adventure by Dinasty, Solar Records 1981. A very diversified, high quality recordings of different genres. Now, let's do the test!
I recorded the same tracks on all 4 decks, direct wire from the Marantz CD Player to the NAD, Revox, Nakamichi and Teac. Once I finished recording on one deck, I left a 30 seconds silence space and then move to the next deck. As I was using the same wires, it was time consuming but I didn't want to add any extra artifacts, leaving the decks singing all by itself. Once the material were recorded on all 4 decks, the evaluation was begin.
I started the playback in all 4 decks while taking notes of my impressions. This really was the best part and full of surprises! The first positive sign was that no matter where you played the tracks, it sounded excellent on all 4 decks. Even for a trained ear could be a little bit tricky to recognize that the material was recorded on 4 different decks! This kind of excellence is to be expected at this level. Only one deck sounded less brilliant in the highs but more neutral than the rest. That was the Z 5000. The other 3 were closely fighting for the best transparent and less annoying highs of all 3. The B 215 was very good as expected and I can say "a hair" better than the 6300 in that department. Recording made on the 6300 sounded good in all decks. The only one of the group who took the first place away from the B 215 "highs" was the ZX 9, but again, not by much. One interesting note I wrote said: "As soon as the ZX 9 recording is played, you'll notice it immediately as the better overall sound in all decks". I then choose the ZX 9 as the best in highs management, followed by the B 215S, the NAD and Z 5000 respectively. The difference between the B 215 and 6300 was mainly due to the giant sound stage of the 6300. I mean, amazingly wide! Very similar to the ZX 9 in this department. There's only one thing where the B 215 clearly excelled over the rest: focus and mids! As soon as the B 215 recording was played, the presence of the voices and snare came forward. You could hear the difference. The Z 5000 has pleasant mids, even better than the ZX 9, but not as centralized and with the same presence as the B 215. Again, the ZX 9 was right on the money with the mids but I found the B 215 mids and focus more impressive. Everything was so close. In the mids I give the 1st price to the B 215, closely followed by the ZX 9, Teac and NAD. For the sound stage presentation, the winner was more difficult to choose but I finally decided that the 6300 was the one! Again, very similar to the ZX 9.
Let's talk about bass. Here the B 215, ZX 9 and even the 6300 were so close that it was almost impossible to decide, but we know that one of the main strong characteristics of the ZX 9 is the bottom end. And it shows! The B 215 bass is defined and punchy. The 6300 was also very good but not like these other 2...until the last recording was played. The Z 5000 bass swept the floor with the rest by a definitive margin. The others were punchy. The Z 5000 is visceral! There's the possibility that since its the more "oscure" of the 4, the bass could be easily detected over everything else, but I don't think this was the case because it was consistent with all 4 decks and with all 4 selections. Really impacting bass of the Teac, followed by the ZX 9, B 215 and 6300. Rhythm & pace was good in all 4 and I didn't choose any clear winner in that classification.
Playing the selections I found that the 6300 and ZX 9 were the best for high energy recordings like track 2 and 4. The Nakamichi was the best for Classical music as long as you don't touch the 6300 playtrim control. While playing track #3, I used the playtrim to see how it worked when needed. Very, very effective! It's not as precise and surgical as adjusting the azimuth but with some dull sounding recordings, this feature could bring some life to your recordings. The strings of the 3rd track were really helped by the 6300 playtrim! Track # 1 revealed the superb mids of the B 215 and it was even easier to detect as it came after the 6300 recorded material. The B 215 audio spectrum tends to be fuller and balanced. They sounded amazingly close with wider sound stage for the 6300 and better mids for the B 215 as I already explained. Track # 2 and #4 dynamic bass was dominated by the Z 5000, but the B 215 and ZX 9 bass were not shy either. The 6300 shift to the highs side of the spectrum, while the other 3 presents a punchy bass without loosing the highs transparency.
For this very first test these were my impressions: the ZX 9 was the most complete and overall it was the #1. It has a little bit of all the others in this group: the best highs, the mids of the B 215, the sound stage of the 6300, some bass of the Z 5000 and everything you record there sounds simply amazing on the other 3. Just the same as the 6300 in this consideration.The mids were dominated by the B 215 but also the highs and bass handling were simply excellent too! The looks of the "S" version are astonishing. Recordings made on the Swiss wonder were also consistent with the rest of the group. The sound stage of the 6300 was the clear winner and we also have to take into consideration that from all 4, this is the least expensive one but has nothing to be ashamed of. Nice highs even without the help of the playtrim. This machine really surprised me and again: it's a real bargain! The Z 5000 was the most neutral sounding of the 4. Really strong bass and easy to listen to. Bass guitar notes were easier to follow on the Teac. You can also find it considerably cheap in the used market. So, the order could be: ZX 9,B 215S, 6300 and Z 5000. Before you folks start getting ballistic with my findings I want to make a second test, but this time it's a little different.
Using the side B of the same tape, this time we are going to record a full selection from the same CD in the same order as side A. 6300, B 215, ZX 9 and Z 5000 to check how well recording and playback works among the different 4 decks. Once the tape is recorded, I'll let some friends come by and listen to the tape without telling them it was recorded on 4 different machines and see if they could hear any differences at all.
Well, I recorded the tape on each deck, this time using the same CD but with different selections. I used the superb recorded production of Luis Miguel "Romance". For the evaluation, this time I played on a neutral cassette deck: the ZX 7. Some of you will say:"But of course the ZX 9 would sound better"...no way José. Wait and see. As soon as I hit the play button the public were just amazed by the sound of the "obsolete" cassette tape. All 3 concluded that they liked the sound even more from the cassette than from the CD itself! Just the night before I listened to it alone and with all honesty this time I couldn't decide which one I liked it better! All sounded simply spectacular with the small differences already noted, but if I forget the order of the recording, I simply liked all of them! The easier to differentiate were the ZX 9 and the Z 5000 for obvious reasons already explained but the more I get into the sound the more I concluded that at this level of perfection there're more similarities than differences. By the way: nobody noticed a thing and couldn't believe the material were recorded on 4 different decks! Once I told them, they knew what to hear for and opinions were divided. The recording engineer choose the B 215S, the musician preferred the heavy bass of the Z 5000 and the acoustics professor choose the 6300 but didn't liked the looks that much. In overall, the final consensus choose, again, the ZX 9 as the clear winner. Excellent highs, strong bass, big sound stage and clear mids.
The real truth is that Nakamichi tends to be more pleasant to the listener because they use to apply different metrics in their calibrations to compensate for their lack and reluctance to use the HX PRO device. Nakamichi haters use this as an excuse to bash the brand when in reality it's a total misconception. I'm sure that Marino took into consideration a Nakamichi deck during his secret analysis because at that time, the Naks were the decks to be beaten! It's true that the Revox, as well as the Tandberg 3014 A which I also used to have, are more neutral and realistic in sound, but hey!; the way that Nakamichi color the sound it's very pleasant indeed.
The thing is this: the Revox B 215 records phenomenally and it's my main recording deck due to its neutrality and mechanism stability. Whatever I record on the B 215, sounds great anywhere else! The best combination is to record on a B 215 and listen on a Nakamichi. You are going to wet your pants!