KENWOOD KX-880D: The Evolution

Submitted on: 08 Feb 23

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Category: Analog recorders/players

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On these pages, I’ve already dealt with Kenwood and the models KX-1100HX and KX-880G, and now I have the model 880D by my side. As I mentioned earlier, I don’t know of any other model that existed in so many versions.

The Kenwood KX-880 in the D version appeared on the market in 1986 and remained in production only during that and the following year.

Compared to the previously described G version, the D version retains the identical mechanism, while later in the HX version, a tape tensioner over the left roller is added, a later standard solution in Sankyo mechanisms.

The electronics are very similar, and almost the same modules for playback and recording are used, applied to some other decks of this manufacturer, e.g., KX-990SR, the auto-reverse version of KX-880. The recording section is based on the Kenwood TX3010N integrated circuit, which functions as an amplifier for recording with the Super TLLE function (Twin Loop Linear Exciter).

On the mechanism – the cassette compartment, there is still a thin front plate covering the transport – the thick zinc one that complicated servicing obviously came later.

However, the D model has an addition that is shyly written on the front panel: Dynamic Bias System. There is very little data about it, but it is evident that it is a counterpart to the HX and HX Pro systems developed by Bang & Olufsen and Dolby Labs. It is obvious that at the time of designing the KX-880, Kenwood was developing its solution and only later accepted HX Pro as the standard on models 880 and 1100. DBS most likely works very similarly, but with the limited data I have and without the electronics scheme of the deck, it is difficult to conclude how it actually works. From what I’ve learned from modest advertising materials, the theory is the same: variable bias at higher recording levels depending on high tones to reduce their influence on bias and low tones, the so-called “self-biasing”.

The VBS system disappeared as quietly as it appeared and, as far as I know, did not even reach other models, especially the triple-head top model KX-1100, which was made only in the basic and HX version, which included HX Pro.

I can only guess why this happened – the reasons may be technical (that HX Pro did a better job) or economic (that HX Pro was cheaper over time, so Kenwood agreed to use it).

The Kenwood KX-880D is very decently made, just like the other siblings with the prefix 880.



I can’t say exactly whether it’s the case with the KX-880D compared to the 880G, but the 880D had a slightly cleaner and more detailed sound at the top end, with micro-details that I thought the 880 series deck couldn’t extract. However, it succeeded without any problems, reminding me of some Yamaha decks, but the Kenwood KX-880D was more musical.

Nevertheless, I would like to hear just a slightly stronger bass from this deck, but that is at the same time the only flaw I could point out. And it’s not significant. Dynamics, musicality, playback stability, clean sound image – everything is commendable. When I look at it this way, it’s no wonder that the Kenwood KX-5010, the successor to 880HX, with added auto-calibration, is one of the better dual-head decks I’ve had the opportunity to hear and own.

However, I also challenged Kenwood with a tricky partner: the Grundig CF7500, which I wrote about in the previous cassette deck article. Both decks appeared in 1986, but Grundig was 50 EUR more expensive (450 versus 400 for Kenwood). Kenwood has two displays, a real-time counter, manual sensitivity and bias calibration (without an oscillator), and a variable bias system. Its mechanics have three motors, while the main motor is directly driven (direct drive), and it has an amorphous head for recording/playback.

Grundig, on the other hand, is a triple-head deck with a belt-driven capstan and a DC motor. It also has three motors like Kenwood. It has automatic sensitivity and bias calibration, a large, beautiful display, and the ability to program the song sequence on the side (with skip ahead), post fading, and some other tricks.

I made comparative recordings on both machines on identical equipment and started listening.

Kenwood held up well all the time with a neutral, detailed, and clean presentation. However, Grundig, on the other hand, had a magical presentation. I must note that this is a phenomenon I noticed with some decks from European manufacturers. Japanese machinery literally crushed European manufacturers in everything, but not in terms of sound quality.

Compared to the correct but somehow uninspiring Kenwood, Grundig had a great transfer of passion emanating from the tracks. I must note that this is a phenomenon I noticed with some decks from European manufacturers. Japanese machinery literally crushed European manufacturers in everything, but not in terms of sound quality.



Kenwood is a great deck for the money sought in ads – unfortunately, there are fewer and fewer of them as cassette decks are a dying breed with fewer surviving specimens. But it’s certainly a recommendation in terms of not top-notch but very solid sound, easy maintenance, and reliable mechanics.


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