KENWOOD KX-9050: Less Is More

This one is an older brother of KX9050S. It lacks Dolby S, but everything else is practically the same. Dolby S version, KX9050S is a good deck, maybe even very good, but I had the feeling it is missing something, that it should sound better than it actually does.

So the idea was to get 9050 and check if Dolby S circuits degrade the sound on this deck. Not many people use cassette decks these days and even less use Dolby S, so nobody will miss it. I recalibrated inner circuits – the speed was a little wrong, and so was factory set recording level etc. Than I measured frequency response (1 kHz -20 dB ref. point, -3 dB was the last high frequency spot observed). The measurements were very good: 20 kHz on Sony HF (normal) and Fuji DRII (chrome) tapes, with pretty linear response. Measurements on TDK MA showed around 19 kHz on left and 20 kHz on right channel, which was a little worse than I expected, but was in the league of KX9050S. All measurements were done after using auto calibration feature.

The next was the sound test. And there was a clear difference: as my friend Endre said, 9050S had this “crappy IC sound” which I could not trace in 9050’s sound. Details on extremes were very good, maybe even marginally better but there was no sign of compression in sound as it did before. Soundstage was the same, huge and with obvious air in it, even around instruments. Besides all, the obvious change was in bass: it was not Nakamichi or Teac Z6000 bass, but was much better than 9050S’s thin and sometime lifeless bass reproduction.

So, what should I say about Kenwood KX-9050 at last?

Less is more, I think, at least when we talk about sound. The change is subtle, but well enough to refine the sound. I am so sorry that Kenwood spoiled this solid machine by adding Dolby S circuits. Unfortunately, trying it against Yamaha KX-670 put Yamaha ahead as long as it was tuned with the sound of the rest of the system. Small, plastic look Yamaha sounded good with all tape formulations and different quality tapes of the same kind. Kenwood didn’t like cheap tapes, but more expensive as TDK SA, SA-X or Fuji DRII. Nevertheless Yamaha sounded more clear and dynamic, and was a little angry beast against laid back Kenwood. Not that Kenwood is bad, but Yamaha proved to be a better choice. I must admit I was not expecting this result. As a prize for KX9050, it won when I was using few models of headphones (AKG, Sennheiser ) – laid back reproduction was better than super clear KX670 which made me tired after 10 minutes or so.

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