KENWOOD KX-9050S: The last one from the Japanese giant

This is the last one top recorder from Kenwood. It doesn’t mean that it is the best, even looking at the other models from this company, but is pretty good. Started in 1994., this cassette deck entered the market when analog audio compact cassette format was declining sharply. Compact Disc was the king of all, while DAT and MD were fighting to survive and kill each other, if possible. So, this is the reason why manufacturers didn’t give their best, even if  they tried to make it look like this.

Kenwood KX-9050S was made in two variants: 9050 and 9050S. Letter “S” here stands for Dolby S addition to standard Dolby B and C noise reduction companders. The “S” variant also had a little higher list price, around two hundred  Deutche Mark or so, getting at around at 1.300 DEM. In all other aspects it was the same deck. Remote control was supplied with it.

 

Differences from another great Kenwood – KX-9010 are obvious: centrally mounted mechanism, motorized door, even the front panel is not flat, but has a large curve in the bottom part. Buttons are arranged in the more interesting manner and there are two displays, instead of one: in one word, we could describe KX9050S design as… modern for it’s age. So, let’s start with the options: KX-9050S can do the track search (one or more) and can play each track for several seconds before jumping to the next one. Fine. Display can be turned off (I mean just segments, it doesn’t actually turn off the complete display like JVC TD-V1010 for example), partly or both displays. Recording starts at the press of the button  – just one, and the deck immediately starts to record, no pause, no warning, so be careful not to erase your favorite song.

Inputs are doubled: standard and “CD direct”. The latter is implemented in the strange way: usually this option bypasses balance knob during recording, but KX-9050S also bypasses the master record button itself! This means that you have one predefined recording level and you can’t change it. OK, looks logical, but in practice many CD players have different output levels, so going into red on peak meters can be very often, and it compromises use of CD direct option.

Speaking of peak meters, they are really beautiful, not too large, not to small, just the way they should be regarding width and height of this deck. They are clear and fast and very useful. But buttons are the other side of the story: they feel cheap because of the plastic Kenwood used, just like on Akai GX-95, for example. Headphones output can’t be muted turning the knob all the way left, there is always a sound if you plug in the headphones. Master rec level knob position is not barely visible under poor light conditions – I would like little LED over it and it would make KX-9050S looks much better. Potentiometer behind this button is much cheaper than the one used on KX-9010, for instance.

Auto calibration process is user friendly: after push on the button deck starts to work long enough to jump over leader tape at the beginning, which is good if the tape is not wound previously. Then there is a series of tones: 400 Hz and 10 KHz, as usual. What is interesting is that 9050S uses only ONE channel to calibrate both and this is the right one. So, if channels are not perfectly aligned during factory preset (and they almost never are – this largely depends on tape type, manufacturer etc.) 9050S won’t be able to align itself perfectly. Why it is using just right channel, why not left? The answer is: because the left channel is near the tape edge and is more prone to damage than the right one. The result of 9050S calibration is somehow disappointing: Fuji Z cassettes sounded perfect, no source/tape difference at all. But others sounded so and so, with Sony UX-S at the bottom of all chrome tapes I have tested. There is a little help: bias can be adjusted manually with or without auto calibration process and it clearly shows relative position on the peak display. I liked it.

Kenwood KX-9050S looks quite nice inside: well laid out circuit with mains transformer put far behnd the transport.

The left side is occupied with power/control section…

The right side contains playbac and Dolby circuits. Part of the playback amplifier is shielded, which eas rare solution in these days and sure helps in fight against RFI.

It is interesting that recording amplifier is on the separate board, close to the transport and heads, which is always a good idea – less cabling and possible hum.

Unfortunately, the quality of the parts is not such good as, for example, on Kenwood KX-9010 which uses ALPS Blue Velvet recording level potentiometer. This one uses standard commercial part.

The transport of Kenwood KX-9050S is mixed of good and cheap parts: many gears have been miniaturized, they are very thin and make the whole transport  also thin. That is good, but not for the old tapes which often demands a little higher torque than new pieces tested in laboratories.

Gears responsible for door opening and closing and actually the whole cassette door mechanism feels pretty cheap and I am not  hundred percent sure about it’s durability. On the other side, capstan motor has very decent size and is directly driven. The other one – the take-up capstan is not that big, approximately as the one on Technics RS-B965.

The sound of KX-9050S is very specific and shows so many features of decks from the middle of 90s. It is so crisp and clear, so beautifully detailed but… lifeless.

Actually, someone can’t find so many drawbacks in the way KX-9050S sounds, but it simply doesn’t sound like top of the league players. It has good dynamic and a beautiful soundstage and I like it’s way in presenting micro details, especially on higher frequencies. Kenwood KX-9050S also presents every instrument in the orchestra in the easy way, you can hear it easily but the whole orchestral sound is still preserved. Dolby HX Pro works correctly with no unnecessary emphasizing of top end.

On the other side, there is a lifeless approach which reminds me of a solid middle class CD player during KX-9050S era, perhaps Marantz CD67, CD17 or similar one. Everything is there, all seems OK, but if You compare it to a low priced turntable CD lost the battle. In such way, fifteen years older two head Nakamichi 580M has much, much better sound.

Generally speaking, I liked Kenwood KX-9050S – it is and example of modern approach during 90s, easy to operate and use. But it missed the point – it should be near top of the class league, which it isn’t.

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