PHILIPS N5756: European Black Star

Few days ago I read in the newspaper that Philips decided not to sell it’s audio division to Japanese Funai. Decades ago, it would sound like a good joke. Funai was and is a respectable company, once even trying to put it’s own video format on the market. On the other side, I remember when I was a kid, how Yugoslav people praised Philips stuff for it’s quality and durability. Many things changed during 80s, at least in audio department. Philips went into Marantz venture, and let it’s own audio products go downhill. But  people still liked it: plastic made, cheap CD players lasted long and were used by many. They were as popular as Volkswagen Golf these days. Going back to the audio history, I can’t remember any company being so tragic with it’s inventions. It seems that engineers were very good, but the marketing and management were deaf and blind at the same time. Just recall Video 2000 system – superior, costly but came into already divided market between JVC and Sony. Before that – the compact cassette: Philips made just a few good decks, letting many others go much further. If we compare it to Sony, we can see that Japanese were always devoted to their inventions, never letting them down. But, let’s get back to Philips: there is Compact Disc, invented by Philips and Sony. Dutch company was making very good devices for a few years, but then stopped, focusing on a low end HiFi, not to disturb Marantz which they eventually bought. There was also CD-i, good hardware in a cheap plastic box, with price too high and bad software to support it. And (again) DCC – Digital Compact Cassette – the format of the future as some HiFi magazines thought, but never found it’s way to the stars. I also  remember the story about SACD, when Philips didn’t even try to put new SACD player  into proper housing on one audio fair, but used one from the cheap DVD player. Of course it didn’t catch too much attention.

The things were not all so bad: during 70s they made a gigantic leap, putting High Fidelity Laboratories series to the market. Philips already made some pre/power amplifiers, but they were manufactured in Japan and sound so like … mid-fi Japanese devices. But the High Fidelity Laboratories was made in USA and the quality is much, much better. The most known units are preamp, power amp and tuner (22AH572, 22AH578 and 22AH673 silver versions, with their black counterparts adding “1” to the end of the model mark). I had AH673 tuner and it was one of the best I ever had, between dozens and dozens of them. There were others, not so well known components of HFL series, like 7800 receiver (also made in USA). At approximately the same time, Holland giant decided to make a good cassette deck. And they did it, producing few similar models. On some advertisements of AH572/578/673 system we can see N5741 – 3 head top model. It was made in Belgium. I had it and was not satisfied.

The other one was N5756. Not so much different from outside, but it uses different head and much better display. This is the one I will talk about. It is fully made of metal, except for the few buttons. Recording level, phones level and other buttons are well made and even headphones knob can adjust level balance. Fine. Display is two colour model with option to set peak hold, but without auto reset, pity. It’s contrast can be easily adjusted using the button to the right. Unfortunately, after many years the plastic window cover lost part of it’s transparency – the same as on Philips CD304 players.

N5756 has few interesting features, one of which is cue and rewiev and the other is post fading – this is what Philips really liked back then, putting it even in it’s portable radio cassette recorders. Here it is implemented by a lockable control and potentiometer that defines the actual time during which the erase head will get stronger and stronger currency until it starts to fully erase the tape during playback i.e. post edit. This is rudimentary method, and not as smooth as you may think, but it works. The other thing is DNL – Philips own Dynamic Noise Limiter. Used only during reproduction, this psychoacoustic system works in the way it suppresses noise during quiet passages since in these moments human ear is the most sensitive to it. It doesn’t work during loud passages. And that’s it.The invention was not patented, so anybody could use it for free, and it suppressed noise as much as 10 dB. But it was not as successful as Dolby B. On N5756, Philips implemented both: Dolby B and DNL. The latter is obviously incorporated during later production series, because it uses switch manually inserted on the backside of the recorder, in the place nobody would ever use during construction phase.

I also noticed one more interesting thing: after putting the cassette in the recorder it gets the head assembly up – so it could start the recording/playback quickly – like it was meant to be a professional machine.

With the top cover removed, N5756 looks even more beautiful than from the outside. There are no stupid sentences like “This and High Currency Low Leakage bla bla audio transformer” or other stuff, but this one in N5756 is really shielded with simple steel plate.

The most of electronics is modular type with PC boards connected with the main one by multipin connectors, not wires whose number is surprisingly small in this type of deck. There are PCBs for Dolby (4 of them), DNL, Recording and playback amps, meter amps, logic control and transport motors/solenoid drivers. Everything is very neatly packed – not like many Japanese manufacturers did in these days.

But the pinnacle of this Holland device is the transport. I must admit I never liked most transports made by Philips: they used not reliable plastic parts and almost no metal at all. I remember their portable radio cassette recorders from 80s (and Grundig from the same era): if the transport was broken, it would be better to throw it away than to repair it. PCB traces and joints were also very sensitive and broke during soldering. Philips video recorder mechanisms were also scam. But this N5756 is a complete different story. Based around strong die cast metal frame, it is powered by two Papst motors: the direct driven capstan motor with large die cast housing and the reel motor.

Except for two belts (reel motor towards gears and counter belt) there were no belts or idlers at all. And these two are very easy to exchange. Everything else is made of gears. Unfortunately, some of them are manufactured of material which is somewhere between plastic and rubber and it makes gears less vibrate and work much quiet. On the other side they tend to deteriorate over time. I think this issue could be prevented by making new gears using 3D printing etc.

From a service standpoint, this machine is beautiful as long as the gears don’t break. Unlike top Pioneers (CTF1250) or Aiwas (6900) Philips N5756 is an easy device to work on. Transport can be removed from the chassis in a very short time and there are not so many wires, all of them positioned in a very logical manner. All wires from the transport (except heads) all go towards little snap-in board which is connected to a control section. Very nice and clever solution.

Servicing

I didn’t find N5756 sounding so good – as most cassette decks don’t nowadays. So, I decided to replace old Philips blue capacitors with the new ones. I choose Yageo, very cheap but OK. I also replaced all trimmers excluding output ones which I have overridden with wires. I also checked azimuth, level, bias settings, etc. The good news is that deck started to work OK, no any electrical problems. The bad thing is that it was sounding OK on normal, but not on chrome or metal tapes.

That’s All Folks!
Type I tape gave very good results – pretty much details with warm, punchy sound. It wasn’t as transparent as Eumig FL1000 or Nakamichi decks, but it was good. On other side, working with chrome/metal tapes gave poor results, with upper extreme slightly cut off. So, the result was partly blurred sound. I checked frequency response: on normal tapes it was linear up to 20 kHz but on chrome/metal tapes it was OK until 16 kHz and then went down. The recordings sounded better on Kenwood KX9050 than on Philips itself, so my guess is that playback circuit or head is wrong.

Pity, I decided to give up this beautiful machine and send it as a gift. After very short time it developed broken gear or so, as I was told. So, beware the Philips decks with similar mechanism.

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