SONY WM-D6C: The Little Dwarf

Long ago before I started to play with “real” cassette decks, I was a Walkman fan… I have had dozens and dozens of them and also like to get hands on some good Walkman even today. Of course, Sony WM-D6 was the pinnacle of these, along with DD9, some Aiwas, Panasonic, Sanyo and few others.

It’s dimensions are not quite “Walkman”, but when you take into concern that it can also do recordings, the things change. Yes, there were others that could record too, but this feature was added more like manufacturers add tone controls to MP3 players in the form of “rock, pop, vocal etc.” – good looking but almost unusable for a true high quality recording. The first thing you would notice on this small machine is the build quality. It is REALLY good, even by my, pretty high, standards. High quality metal case, extremely good feeling while using commands, good quality switches. I think that WM-D6 and WM-D6 should have ES mark on it. Actually, they don’t but they have “Professional” mark instead, which only one other Sony Walkman had – the WM-D3, the less expensive model. Talking about the price, WM-D6 and “C” version were listed around 900 DEM, which was in the 3 head high quality full size deck category. Just to mention, WM-D6C is a 2 head machine using amorphous Rec/Pb head.

The features of this Walkman include cue and rew, Dolby B and C for recording and playback, mechanical counter, full tape type switch and also switchable pitch control. Recording level can be adjusted but not independently for both channels. There is a cute LED array of 5 diodes that could be turned off or put to peak mode. It also shows the battery status and this was clever made: only one LED is gloving, and this preserves battery. When it stops to glow, it is time to change the batteries. This method was already known on some portable recording machines. Inputs/outputs are implemented by two stereo 3.5 mm banana jacks and there is another used for a stereo microphone.

I didn’t want to disassemble my own D6C, but I know how it looks like from the inside. During decades (it was first made in 1982. As WM-D6 and “C” version started in 1984.) the little machine was improved in the way it started to use SMD components and became more compact internally. To get the better headroom of operational amplifiers, it included DC-DC converter raising 6V DC from four AA batteries. The mechanism is already known, and to my opinion it is the best Walkman mechanism ever. It is a modified version of what was used on the first Sony Walkman – TPS-L2, followed by WM3 (the same model in technical terms, I think). Going back, it was first used on TCM-600 mono portable recording cassette machine. So, Sony decided to put it into WM-D6(C) and this was a very good choice: many other mechanisms, even Sony-made, suffer from problems after several years. They are not caused by the wear of the parts, but aging, with gears breaking after 10-20 years or so (well known to many WM-2, WM-DD etc. users). Of course, Sony didn’t make Walkmans to last so long… But they did it on WM-D6C and it is very durable. The transport has mechanical controls and uses Disc Drive system which consists of motor directly attached to the capstan through the rubber ring on the lower side of if. This system, although not as good as direct driven capstan motors, gives very good results in practice. Wow and flutter figures that were published by Sony show that WM-D6C belongs to the same class as cheaper 2 motor stationary decks, which is a fine achievement for a Walkman. The motor was controlled by a servo circuit, but in a slightly different way than the one on WM3 and similar. The tacho sensor was put beneath the capstan and was used to send impulses to the control circuit. A quartz crystal was used as a reference, this being implemented on just a few other Sony Walkmans. Very good, indeed.

So, how does this little thing sound?

Many magazines praised WM-D6C for it. There is a rumor that it was compared to Nakamichi Dragon and that Dragon was just a little better. But the things are not so simple. I had a few WM-D6C and all proved to have the same sound quality. Let’s start from the beginning – the reproduction. Sony WM-D6C does this like no many decks could do. It really shines, and the sound is clear and beautifully defined, top to bottom. The better the recording, the better the sound You’ll get from this dwarf, like it doesn’t have the real limit in playback quality. The character of the sound is very soft, like it has some small vacuum tubes inside. It resembles of big Sony decks (TC-K970ES, TC-K990ES) but with more neutral bass. To my experience, WM-D6C is (let alone WM-DD9 which I didn’t have yet) the only Walkman I would take to a vacation and enjoy it as I am listening to a “big” HiFi at my home… using headphones, of course. Someone would think that this may be the perfect cassette device. Yes, it is very fine when it plays back and is pretty forgiving about other deck’s quality, bringing the best as long as channel balance and azimuth are right. On the other side, WM-D6C is not so good about it’s own recordings. Even with internal bias trimmers adjusted to a specific tape, it records fairly good, but not excellent. Details are good but not sky high, the soundstage is OK but nothing special and there is evident roll-off at the extremes. I don’t want to sound like a spoiled child, but I expected better comparing it with it’s gorgeous reproduction of other’s decks recordings. To be honest, it is not as bad as it looks: it records very good taking into account it’s dimensions and all other limiting factors. But the reproduction is in the class of stationary decks much more expensive that the list price of Sony WM-D6C was. Recording, on the other side, belongs to a basic but good quality 2 head stationary machines, for example Aiwas. I remember that even ex-mine Aiwa AD-F350 gave a better result. To put it in other words, WM-D6C is a great for field recordings. It could have been used for portable recordings and then played in car cassette players or other Walkmans. But it it not so good to be called an audiophile recording device. On the other side, if used as a player, I can imagine only a few other portable players in this league.

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