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SONY TC-KE500S Audio Cassette Deck - Product Review

Last Gasp Of The Audio Cassette

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Sony TC-KE500S Cassette Deck

Sony TC-KE500S 3-Head Dolby-S Audio Cassette Deck

Robert Silva
Is the era of the audio cassette finished with the advent of the CD burner? Believe it or not, there are still some good performing audio cassette decks. The Sony TC-KE500S is one of those decks. For more info, check out the above product review.


In a previous article, Adventures In CD Recording I stated that I had never personally owned an audio cassette deck. I have owned a couple of reel-to-reel audio tape decks in my life, including the classic AMPEX PR-10. However, I have never been totally satisfied with the quality of audio cassette technology (limited frequency response, dynamic range, and tape hiss) so the idea of making audio cassette copies of my vinyl records and CDs, or buying audio cassette versions of my favorite recordings, never really excited me too much.

Well, it looks like I may have to revise the above statement somewhat as I have recently purchased an audio cassette deck. The reason; primarily to make audio tape copies of some of my CDs and play them in the cassette player in my car (I have grown somewhat weary of talk radio lately) and also be able to use audio cassette recording capability as an audio dubbing and soundtrack creation tool in amateur video production with a colleague.

For the above purposes, my requirements were:

- Great sound quality

- Excellent noise reduction characteristics

- Record monitoring capability

- Manual record settings

Features I didn't need were:

- Auto-reverse

- Dual Deck Dubbing capability

So, the quest was on. Having never seriously "shopped" for an audio cassette deck, I noticed several things. Cassette decks are extremely cheap with dubbing decks even showing up in boomboxes. Most cassette decks are not only cheap in price, but cheap in performance. Almost all decks available are of the dual dubbing deck variety. With the popularity of CD recorders and CD dubbing decks, most retailers don't carry much inventory or selection of cassette decks.

Enter The SONY TC-KE500S

After doing some Internet and shopping research, I decided on a deck that I thought would fill my needs, the [http://www.sony.com]SONY TC-KE500S. Although the list price is $360, I purchased the unit at a local retailer for $249.

Of course, this audio cassette deck is still more than most "bargain" decks out there, but there are several features of this deck that separates it from the pack in both value and performance.

1. It is not a dubbing deck, it is a single well deck with no auto-reverse capability.

2. It is a three head deck, which is very important in that you have the ability to both monitor the input source or tape result while recording.

You hear what the tape actually recorded while the tape is being recorded, thus able to make adjustments as needed.

3. Besides Dolby B and C noise reduction (which is not an adequate noise reduction technology for serious audio recording), this deck includes Dolby "S" noise reduction which actually makes an impact on tapes hiss and silent spaces on the tape.

4. Automatic DolbyHX headroom extension. This reduces distortion and noise in higher frequencies. This is a must, along with Dolby "S" to really get a recorded result that is close to the source material.

5. Manual tape BIAS control. One of the main deficiencies of analog audio recording is that each brand/grade of tape has its own characteristics that result in unwanted tape hiss and distortion at certain recording levels. Although this deck has a very good automatic BIAS adjustment circuit, you do have the ability readjust the BIAS for your own taste. This is great if you intend to use the deck for live vocal or music recording.

Compatibility with all types of cassettes, from Type I and II to Type IV metal tapes. Note: Using Type IV metal tape is that if you intend to play the tapes in a variety of decks later, they must also be Type IV compatible. My suggestion: use TypeII tapes using Dolby S for best results.

Despite all these benefits, there are some negatives to this unit that must be pointed out.

1. This is by no means a professional audio recording deck -- although the performance is excellent for home recording needs, you must use it with a sound mixer that has RCA audio outputs in order to use this deck for live recording -- it does not have any type of microphone inputs.

2. Although Dolby "S" provides excellent noise reduction characteristics, this deck will not perform as well as DAT (Digital Audio Tape) decks that are used in more professional recording settings.

3. It is recommended that one use only C-90 (or shorter) length tapes, as longer tapes may have a tendency to stretch and cause problems with capstan tension. Since the deck has manual tape cueing only and no auto reverse, any tapes or CDs that you are making copies of will be cut off after 45 minutes on each side. However, you can turn the tape over, cue up your source for the remaining selections, and just finish your recording. This may be frustrating for most, but since I monitor my recordings periodically anyway, I am usually there to accomplish this task. For me, it is just a minor inconvenience.

Proceed to Page 2 - Setup and Testing

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