Decks and plugs and rock and roll: Tascam CD-A750 cassette and CD combo

I'll give you my tapes when you pry them from my cold, dead hands


The analogue age

That said, unless you’ve an audiophile collection of tapes and a dead deck of repute to replace, these spec differences aren’t going to be too obvious, as the chances are the gear the tape recordings were made on in the past didn’t fare much better than the CD-A750’s deck.

The shocking part is that you might have assumed advances in technology would allow for an improved performance over gear dating back a couple of decades. Yet it seems things are different in the analogue domain and that the digital distillation that makes things smaller, faster, cheaper and better doesn’t apply here.

Tascam CD-A750 compact cassette deck and CD player combo

A solitary coaxial digital output delivers CD audio to other digital devices

I might be being a tad ungenerous here, but it would appear that Tascam has bolted on a budget deck to a half-decent CD player and consequently potential buyers assume this is the mutt’s nuts, as it includes pro audio analogue interfacing and some remote control functions. It certainly gives the impression that it’s made to be taken seriously, but the model with the best spec Tascam still produces is the double-decked 202mkV and its Teac equivalent, the W-890R. Neither has the XLR connectivity though.

Perhaps this browbeating is a little harsh and a reality check is in order, as the cassette tape is a has-been technology. Those digital boons of better and cheaper only occur on products that are actively being developed and who is busy doing R&D on cassette recorders these days? Any names spring to mind?

If you’re thinking of Ion Audio, these products are aimed at format transfer convenience rather than a serious effort for archivists; you won’t find Dolby on an Ion deck, just a generic noise reduction function.

So let’s ignore the specs at this time and just embrace the fact that you can still buy a brand new, fully functional cassette deck in 2013, that’s a fairly recent model too, as Tascam announced the CD-A750 back in 2009.

Basic instinct

In use, it’s funny how quickly old habits start to kick in, as I wound back a slightly slack pre-recorded tape with my little finger pressed against the sprocket, without giving it a second thought. Inserted and ready to play, familiar mechanical noises greeted my ears as the tape heads clunked into place.

Tascam CD-A750 compact cassette deck and CD player combo

The recorder heads rotate to enable continuous recording when the cassette tape is auto reversed

As for fast-forward and rewind, these functions instantly gathered up any slack with a clack as the spool began whirring away sounding like a muted sewing machine with occasional rattles adding to the mix. You forget how long these tapes take to get from one end to another. A couple of minutes for a C-90 – what did people do with the time?

Playing an aged Musicassette of Roxy Music’s Greatest Hits (1972-1975) was a pleasure in itself, and this Dolby B tape still sounded strong even though it had been manufactured at least 20 years ago. It’s difficult to make a definitive judgement on performance here because there isn’t the source to compare it to. So what I found most striking – a somewhat contained stereo image – may, in part, be a consequence of how it was originally mixed.

Tape noise didn’t seem too much of an issue and drop-outs were virtually non-existent. The latter typically experienced when there have been previous tape handling grubbibess or the occasional capstan chew.

Obviously, an easy way to test playback against a source is to do some recording from the CD player and I began with Goldfrapp’s Seventh Tree which has its dynamic moments. Again, those instincts kicked in, as I hunted around for the loudest part of the track, checking the metering in order to set recording levels that wouldn’t overload and distort on this analogue media.

Here, playback comparisons had a je ne sais quoi about them. A quick and dirty frequency response test using RTA’s iPhone app suggested similar levels across the board. It was hardly a scientific analysis and I’d say the definition suffered here, which could be the tape I was using, the recorder or just a consequence of recording on analogue tape and the noise inherent in this process. Indeed, switching from a ‘normal’ ferric oxide to a chromium dioxide tape was a marked improvement here but still a bit muddy in the mid-range.

Tascam CD-A750 compact cassette deck and CD player combo

The CD player can display MP3 track names and artists

I tested out recording a variety of music being sure to remember to check for levels, listen to song fade outs whilst taping and to press pause just before the next track kicked in. There was a craft to home taping that’s definitely been lost, but not easily forgotten if you grew up with it. I did other tests with the recordings, trying them out on my remaining cassette decks – a Philips DCC 900 (digital compact cassette deck) and an old Panasonic RQ-2734 portable from 1976. On both systems, nothing stood out as extraordinary, which is a good thing.

Next page: Legacy issues

Other stories you might like

  • It's 2022 and there are still malware-laden PDFs in emails exploiting bugs from 2017
    Crafty file names, encrypted malicious code, Office flaws – ah, it's like the Before Times

    HP's cybersecurity folks have uncovered an email campaign that ticks all the boxes: messages with a PDF attached that embeds a Word document that upon opening infects the victim's Windows PC with malware by exploiting a four-year-old code-execution vulnerability in Microsoft Office.

    Booby-trapping a PDF with a malicious Word document goes against the norm of the past 10 years, according to the HP Wolf Security researchers. For a decade, miscreants have preferred Office file formats, such as Word and Excel, to deliver malicious code rather than PDFs, as users are more used to getting and opening .docx and .xlsx files. About 45 percent of malware stopped by HP's threat intelligence team in the first quarter of the year leveraged Office formats.

    "The reasons are clear: users are familiar with these file types, the applications used to open them are ubiquitous, and they are suited to social engineering lures," Patrick Schläpfer, malware analyst at HP, explained in a write-up, adding that in this latest campaign, "the malware arrived in a PDF document – a format attackers less commonly use to infect PCs."

    Continue reading
  • New audio server Pipewire coming to next version of Ubuntu
    What does that mean? Better latency and a replacement for PulseAudio

    The next release of Ubuntu, version 22.10 and codenamed Kinetic Kudu, will switch audio servers to the relatively new PipeWire.

    Don't panic. As J M Barrie said: "All of this has happened before, and it will all happen again." Fedora switched to PipeWire in version 34, over a year ago now. Users who aren't pro-level creators or editors of sound and music on Ubuntu may not notice the planned change.

    Currently, most editions of Ubuntu use the PulseAudio server, which it adopted in version 8.04 Hardy Heron, the company's second LTS release. (The Ubuntu Studio edition uses JACK instead.) Fedora 8 also switched to PulseAudio. Before PulseAudio became the standard, many distros used ESD, the Enlightened Sound Daemon, which came out of the Enlightenment project, best known for its desktop.

    Continue reading
  • VMware claims 'bare-metal' performance on virtualized GPUs
    Is... is that why Broadcom wants to buy it?

    The future of high-performance computing will be virtualized, VMware's Uday Kurkure has told The Register.

    Kurkure, the lead engineer for VMware's performance engineering team, has spent the past five years working on ways to virtualize machine-learning workloads running on accelerators. Earlier this month his team reported "near or better than bare-metal performance" for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers (BERT) and Mask R-CNN — two popular machine-learning workloads — running on virtualized GPUs (vGPU) connected using Nvidia's NVLink interconnect.

    NVLink enables compute and memory resources to be shared across up to four GPUs over a high-bandwidth mesh fabric operating at 6.25GB/s per lane compared to PCIe 4.0's 2.5GB/s. The interconnect enabled Kurkure's team to pool 160GB of GPU memory from the Dell PowerEdge system's four 40GB Nvidia A100 SXM GPUs.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022