Recently my CT-S600 Pioneer from 1989 died on me. Being that Pioneer doesn't stock the parts for this unit any longer, I started on my quest to find a tape deck to be able to play my extensive cassette collection. Sadly to say, the cassette deck has gone the way of the 8-track player. There are only 4 manufacturers that make cassette decks (JVC, TEAC, Sony, and Onkyo), and they are all double-decks, which I was never a big fan of. Too many features to break, and the sound quality was always questionable. On top of it all, none of the stores here had a demonstrator unit to be able to listen to it before buying. I found a second-hand, and mint DR-8 Nakamichi cassette deck at Audioproz,com. The DR-8 was one last models that Nakamichi manufactured from 1999 to 2002. I have always enjoyed the sound quality from Nakamichi decks, so I had no hesitation on ordering the DR-8. The sound quality of this deck is flawless! It plays tapes solid. The sound quality, whether it be from tapes I recorded on my Nakamichi DR-1, or even older tapes that I recorded on my CTF-500/CT-S600 Pioneer decks, all play excellent. Strong detail, and very clean sounding, with solid bass. No fatigue on your eardrums, just the amazing sound of your recorded music! What I always liked about Nakamichi tape decks, and their other products, was that they were very basic, without a lot of extra features to flaw the sound, or break-down later on. The DR-8 follows the Nakamichi philosophy of "less is more". The DR-8 features Dolby B&C, auto-repeat, auto-record, tape selector for norm, chromium, and metal tapes. As you can see, there are not a lot of bells and whistles on this deck. The sound is what counts. Cosmetically, the build quality is solid, and this unit is made in Malaysia. If you are like me, and would like to get a deck that will play your tapes without colouration, distortion, and most of all reliable, the Nakamichi DR-8 is in a league of it's own, for sound, and quality.
I always wanted a Nakamichi, so naturally when these became avaiable at a paltry £200 - I jumped at it.
I wasn't disappointed either. The idea was to play my old tapes - often poor quality and they really do sound good. I don't record much now but from CD, recordings are really good (onto TDK Super D) and not too bad off vinyl.
This player seems like an old '80s design when you first use it. It is solid though, and the main control bank is the most ergonomic I ever used - you can use it in the dark. None of the other controls are even remotely easy to use, especially the power switch.
I used it with:
Arcam Alpha 5 CD player
Rega Luna integrated amp
Rega EXs power amp
Mordaunt Short MS20i spkrs
Good machine..good for playback, but lacks 3 head to perform perfect recording of source. If i could have streched my budget i would probably gone for DR 10 or Dragon..but nevertheless still good machine.
This tape deck really sounds good as long as you play back the tapes in this machine only. When I play the tapes made on this deck on other machines, the highs are so lacking that I can't stand to play a nakamichi made tape on any other deck. On the other hand, tapes made on other decks sound fine on the DR-8. I have tried tapes made on this machine on my other decks, in the car, and on my neighbor's decks, and they all sound too dull and lifeless to listen to. But pop the same tape back in the DR-8 and it's fine. Go figure! A good deck but this is a serious limitation to its use.
I bought my Nakamichi-refurbished DR8 on eBay for about 80% off the list price, though there are quite a few places to buy a new one for about $250-300. Mine looks new and appears to perform as new. The 5/5 value rating would still be appropriate at $250-350. This deck sounds great - skip to the last paragraph if you want a summary.
I always wanted a Nakamichi and now that I have one I'm not disappointed. Well, at least not totally disappointed. It far exceeded my expectations for playing back prerecorded tapes. You'd be surprised how good those sound - through a decent system they're far better than what 95% of the population is experiencing with their flashy CD changer systems. I'd even go so far as to say I probably couldn't have got a new CD player that's as easy to listen to for the same price ($130, remember).
Recording from radio is close enough to the original that you probably wouldn't care about any difference. I'm sure it's there but I've never bothered to identify it. It's recording from CD or DAT that you can hear a difference. Using Dolby B and good type-II tapes like Maxell XLIIS or TDK SAX it's great, but not perfect (MXS & MAX are a little better but then you have more hiss). There's no way you'd mistake it for the original, but if you heard only the tape you'd probably be happy. All of the 3D soundstage is preserved beautifully and everything stays where it's supposed to be, it's easy to pick out individual instruments, there's virtually no hiss, the bass goes down forever and cymbals and voices are clean. But the pitch isn't totally stable. It's very good, but you can hear it occassionally on pianos or acoustic guitars.
The main differences between this deck and the DR10 are that this one has 2 heads instead of 3, and 1 capstan instead of 2. I think the single capstan is the bigger factor affecting the sound here, and it's pretty surprising to find a deck that retails for $600 and only has one capstan. That said, for a single capstan deck it's incredible. The DR8's wow & flutter specs are actually about 50% worse than the Sony Pro Walkman specs, but I think Nakamichi were just more realistic because it is a lot better than the Sony in this respect.
So, the sound is great, but not perfect. There's more to it than the speed stability but it's minor. There's some loss of detail, but not much, and it's better with Dolby on TDK tapes than on Maxell, which is unfortunate since Maxell tapes are better. Overall, it's very smooth, a little warm, and very easy to listen to.
With a Nakamichi cassette deck everything is secondary to sound quality, so it's missing the point to complain about ergonomics or lack of features, but I'm going to do it anyway. Only the first one has the potential to be a real pain.
Manual tape type selection is inexcusable! Maybe with one of these things you're expected to only ever use metal tapes, or maybe it's to make you think before you record, but everyone else manages to do auto tape type selection. Amazingly, though, I've never forgotten to set the tape type before recording. I think it's such a glaringly obvious thing to be missing that you never forget it's not there and get used to pushing the right button.
It has fine bias adjust but no record level calibration. This would help the sound on Maxell tapes with Dolby. Even better would be auto calibration like on the CR7 and most of the Sony ES decks but maybe that's not possible with a single record/play head.
It doesn't have Dolby HX-Pro but, to be honest, it doesn't need it. This has better headroom than anything else I've heard.
The tape counter is digital but counts up in some arbitrary units rather than minutes & seconds. While writing this review I wound a 90 minute tape from one end to the other - the counter reads 2338 at the end. Yeah, I'll remember that when it's at 2290 there's only a couple of minutes left. It's not even linear so it counts up more slowly as the tape progresses. It would have cost them $3 more to add the logic to do minutes and seconds.
There's no remote control unless you've got a Nakamichi receiver and connect the two together.
To summarize, if you've got a collection of old tapes, they'll sound better on this than on virtually any deck from any other manufacturer, and if that's how you're going to use it then it's probably worth about $400-500. Recording from other sources it sounds very sweet and slightly warm, and you'll be happy if you paid up to about $250-350. If you've got a recent Audi, the Dolby B seems to match the Audi cassette player perfectly so you'll have tapes in the car that sound almost as good as CDs. If you want exact copies of CDs or LPs to listen to on a good system at home, this isn't quite there. You could listen to the DR8 all day, and it's better than 160kbit/s MP3s, but it sounds pleasant rather than accurate. Try DAT, CDR or a Nakamichi CR7, Dragon (or maybe even a DR10 or secondhand DR1) if you want virtually perfect copies. My Sony DTC75ES sounds significantly better, has remote control, no tape settings to worry about and the counter shows minutes and seconds. But then it won't play my old tapes, blank DATs are expensive, and it probably won't last as long.