TEAC V-970X: Plastic Giant

Teac V-970X cassette deck is a twin brother of TEAC R-919X I already wrote about. They look so similar – like the same model, not two different. Everything is the same: display with few unused symbols made for auto reverse R-919X, the same auto calibration method, the same cheap, squeaky plastic, the same housing and a few options less kept for the brother – 919X.

The rest on V-970X is almost as comfortable: track search, IR remote control sensor, intro skip and very nice and pretty simple calibration system, made for sensivity and bias calibration of each channel independently.

Removing the cover, we can see that both decks are practically the same: the same PCB just not populated where parts for additional/auto reverse function are supposed to be soldered. There are also some higher quality parts.

There are some differences, though: one magnetic brake instead of two, and the same two capstans just in closed loop configuration with two rollers engaged at the same time (R-919X just one roller). Speaking about them, they are different: R-919X uses two standard sized rollers and V-970X has two smaller, harder to get as a replacement parts. The rest is equal: three motors, the main one being DC and belt drives the capstan. The second is for reel drive and the third is ancillary motor. I would like that TEAC made V-970X with one, or better three DD motors, like on Z6000 or Z7000.

The main difference is regarding rec/playback heads: these are made of amorphous material (I am not sure that R-919X are the same) and have a complex, very good head base which can be used to adjust the whole geometry of the head. The base is alloy with letters casted into it: “Micro aligned rec/play head”.

Refreshing and OP-AMP playing

Right from the start this was a huge disappointment. Teac V-970X sounded much worse than Technics RS-M245X. Blurred sound, recordings with very small distortion margin, impossible to calibrate deck using front panel controls etc.

After a few days the deck was opened, transport removed and partly disassembled, washed, cleaned and lubricated – just see the pictures. I also readjusted heads and this helped removing distortion problem.

It took me few days to play with electronics. I started by changing electrolytic capacitors in rec/play amplifiers and bias section. I also changed coupling caps in all audio sections, using cheap and solid Yageo and, where applicable, better quality Nichicon capacitors. After burn in period (few days), the sound started to change: definition and strength were better now. It was time for the next step.

I decided to change playback amp IC – this was the only DIL8 IC I could easily change, because I didn’t have enough time to play with others. I started with Burr Brown OPA2111, then OPA2604 and 2134. The next was Analog Devices AD826 and the last was LME49720. Actually, I did the same as I did on Kenwood KX-9010. After each change I adjusted bias and equalization circuits and then performed listening test. OPA2111 sounded very dark, with emphasized bass but less details than expected. Burr Brown OPA2604 and 2134 were pretty similar, much more listenable than OPA2111, still a touch of emphasized bass but much better than OPA2111. AD826 proved to be too much bright, with strong upper frequencies details that went towards artificial sound. The bass was very hard to listen to. LME49720 didn’t get my approval for this configuration: detailed but cold, with irritating high end. At the end, after all the work I’ve done, it seems that original IC M5220 gave the best results, so it continued to work in Teac V-970X.

The sound and how it compares to R-919X

After refreshment and adjusting I was very surprised how this deck sounds, especially regarding it’s modest appear and pretty simple construction. Excellent details, HX Pro that works very good and unobstructed and beautiful definition of the whole spectrum: the bass is so strong, deep but controlled at the same time, so distinctive from other sounds but doesn’t influence on anything else. This deck sounds so fluid, full of harmony with very clear but not irritating high frequency tones. I compared it to a good Teac R-919X and V-970X proved to be more clear but also a little less soft. It is not that R-919X is bad, but I think that V-970X has a little more serious and professional approach to the sound, although I could live with R-919X. These differencies in sound may be also to a head, microalignment or refresing that was done to V-970X, so I can’t be 100% sure. The difference in price was small: 800 USD for V-970X and 830 USD for R-919X.

If I compare Teac V-970X to some other high end decks, namely Harman Kardon CD491 or Alpine AL85, I could say that they are even more engage listener into the music. The same refers to top Nakamichi decks, but V-970X sound doesn’t have any obvious drawback which would put it’s status to question. Dynamic presentation, excellent 3D soundstage (for a cassette deck…), micro dynamics (during quiet recordings and passages) is something to praise it for. I admit, it seems to me that it is at it’s best while playing vocals or acoustic instruments without too much pop/rock crowd. It plays them well to, but vocal/acoustic presentation makes V-970X put listener in to the center of the music emotions.

Conclusion

As rare as it is, Teac V-970X has certain sound character and quality, nice looks and several well thought functions. These Scrooge McDucks at Teac tried to spare some money by putting low quality plastic parts but I can live with this since they didn’t try to put bad electronics or heads. If You find this V-970X at a fair price, check if it is generally OK, than do the preventive service, sit down… and enjoy it.

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