SANSUI D-570: A Real Sleeper

Japanese audio giant was very well known for it’s amplifiers. During 70s Sansui receivers were among the best, and are sought even today. Nevertheless, this Japanese company also made some very good turntables and damn good tuners. Unfortunatelz, Sansui could not stand competition during 80s and 90s, so it virtuallz disappeared from the market. Since owner was changed, so were the targets: many low quality devices were presented under Sansui name.

Some time ago Sansui brand was again born and products were presented to the market, but these devices are just a shadow what their ancestors used to be: low class HiFi components, nothing more.

Cassette decks, on the other side, were not the primary interest of this manufacturer. And they are also pretty rare in this part of Europe.

I have had only one Sansui machine – the Sansui D-35BF. It was a logic controlled two motor basic model, with Dolby and almost nothing else. It didn’t even have record level control, it was fixed and the actual level was displayed by singe LED blinking in correlation of signal strength. After many years I discovered some lost cassettes recorded on this deck and was surprised how good they sounded.

Few days ago a got my hands on D-570. It was a top model, according to some Internet info. But there was also a D-970 with higher list price, which had one important option less – the variable bias with so called Just Tuning Bias system. D-970 was equipped with two capstans – although just one capstan shaft towards tape and only one roller! It also had pure DC head amplifier, while D-570 has some capacitors in the signal path. So, D-970 should be even better machine although lacking variable bias that could be pretty important.

Looking at D-570 I found some scratches over the top of this deck, but heads and roller were top notch and the cassette compartment (made of metal frame with plastic cover) showed no trace of wear at all. I opened this machine and was positive about my feeling: it was almost unused.

Sansui D-570 uses rugged and loud Japanese two motor two solenoid mechanism with capstan being directly driven by DD motor. Interestingly, it also uses electromagnetic brakes instead of rubber ones. The only rubber parts are reel motor idler and roller, so it seems very easy to service.

Electronics is divided into three main sections: the power/control, the audio and Dolby section. Sansui D-570 has Dolby B and C implemented, but this is kind of old version Dolby C, when companies were running fast to adopt the new technology. It is based on two sequential Dolby B circuits working on different parts of frequency spectrum. Additionally, rec and play processes need their own Dolby C circuits since this is a 3 head machine. This solution on D-570 makes need for total of eight Dolby ICs and the printed circuit board containing them is rather large, the same size as the whole audio board. Sansui D-570 is not the only deck implementing Dolby C this way: Nakamichi 682ZX and some earlier versions of Beocord 9000 were made the same way.

I liked very nice window, divided in two parts containing counter and peak level display. It is lit using just one light bulb which is sufficient for the task due to clever position and using most of it light towards transparent plastic parts.

What I didn’t like are the peak meters. They are good, easy to use but belong to years before D-570 came to the market. There are twelve green/red LEDs per channel but arranged in old fashion way which is a pity for a such nice, simple deck. Harman Kardon CD491 has LEDs too, but this is much better designed. Additionally, D-570 has the same color green/red LEDs for Just Tuning Bias system, but the counter uses vacuum tube display with numbers in light blue color. What a mess.

Sansui D-570 also has some interesting counter in real time (rec/play only), double memory and one track music search hided by not so easy-to-understand Compu Edit and AMPS buttons.

Talking about Just Tuning Bias System we can see that it is almost the same as on Yamaha K-1020, KX-1200 etc. It is very simple to use: after turning it on the user just has to turn bias knob in the direction of lighting LED until both LEDs are turned on or off. And that’s it. It was misadjusted on my D-570 but I adjusted it.

The list price of this deck was around 540 USD back in 1982. It was high, but not even near as, for example, Nakamichi 680ZX with 1650 USD list price. So, I didn’t expect miracles.

The Sound, The Measurements, In use…

My God, I was really wrong! The first thing I noticed was a clarity of the sound. You know, old cassette decks tend to blur sound and this is quite normal, not because of the age but because of the technology used. So, this is quite normal in this price range. But Sansui didn’t make it this way. It’s clarity is exceptional and details are very, very good. The 3D soundstage is also better than I excepted, but what made me like the sound of this deck is it’s character: almost neutral and clear but not clinical at all. It colored the music very little, using it’s own spirit. If I could make a comparison, it is somewhere between Yamaha K2000 for clarity and Harman Kardon CD491 for clarity and musicality. Since both are much more expensive decks, take this as a compliment.

Another plus is the bass: very strong but beautifully controlled and soft, although not too much. It also doesn’t go into upper frequencies, it’s definition is outstanding. But what is also special is the whole picture: cohesive, integrated, music for the ears. I really liked it.

Direct driven transport was on the par with electronics. It is pretty loud while changing modes – I can’t understand how most of manufacturers didn’t address this problem in 70s and at the beginning of 80s. On the other side, it is very very quiet while doing rewind, fast forward or play functions. I didn’t have enough time to measure wow & flutter but I actually couldn’t hear any, so the deck was working very gently. I also noted that it is very quiet with subjectively very good signal/noise ratio.

I did some measurements and the frequency response was around 20 kHz on metal tape and around 18 kHz on chrome. It is good and up to the manufacturer’s specifications.

What shall I say at the end? It may not be so attractive from the outside although it is a respectful machine from the inside. But the sound counts and this nice device plays like the one that costs at least 70% more. If I try to find misses, it would be LED display and various counter and CompuEdit functions which I would trade for level calibration system.

Comparing record/playback performance of D-570 and top notch decks (various 3 head Nakamichis, Revox B215 etc.) shows that they are just a little more relaxed and have better transparency on upper end. And that is all. It is interesting when You buy some expensive audio equipment to hear how it sounds. And it should perform well. But the real joy is to get something pretty cheap and find that it works almost as good as the far more expensive models. I think this machine is a damn good deck, like Sansui tuners were. A real sleeper, to put it in other words.

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