TEAC W-990RX: Comfort and Quality

Submitted on: 04 Jun 23

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Category: Analog recorders/players

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Personally, I’ve never been fond of dual cassette decks. I’ve always regarded them as AV amplifiers and receivers: part of production costs, and therefore the price, goes into something I don’t need and probably won’t use. Others may need it, and that’s why it’s made; every product has its buyer.

Specifically, dual cassette decks often have cheap mechanisms of questionable quality, typically at the bottom or at best in the middle of the single cassette deck range. The options are tailored to people who want to record from cassette to cassette, make double copies simultaneously (only in the case of top models), or play one cassette after another automatically. Well… roughly speaking. However, there are exceptions: for example, the Aiwa AD-WX909, which consists of one auto-reverse mechanism and one true three-head, which lacks auto-reverse but has mechanics from their three-head machines and even bias adjustment. Bliss. Some later Aiwa models had auto-calibration, but not three heads. Pioneer produced models with Digital Noise Reduction system, essentially A/D D/A converters and a DSP processor (e.g., CT-W806DR). Grundig also had one good and nice model, decently made (CCT-903).

Not to talk too much, here’s Teac, which, under the Tascam brand, still makes dual cassette decks to this day, the 202 Mk7 model. The deck I decided to buy through our popular website for used and new items cost me 4,000 dinars (a little less than 35 EUR), and I couldn’t understand why no one wanted to buy it. The seller emphasized that one mechanism (“deck”) doesn’t work properly, doesn’t turn the head all the way. This minor problem in some cases can be difficult or impossible to solve, but let’s take the risk.

The W-990RX model was the best they made between 1987 and 1990. It also had a remote control with many functions and is quite crowded with buttons even though it’s not visible at first glance, and the deck itself is quite thin. Its price was around 750 EUR (1,500 DEM at that time), and for that money, you could buy some top model three-head decks – for a little more money, even the V970X top model Teac or R-919X, perhaps the best three-head deck with a rotating head that I’ve encountered in my many years of pursuing this hobby.

Here are some details:

Starting from the front panel: cassette holders also have LED status indicators, which used to be popular with better models, and later moved to the display (because, you guessed it, cheaper to produce). The holders themselves are pure plastic commercial, nothing special. Transport controls are completely duplicated and mirrored. Both decks can record, but they share some common functions such as noise reduction, recording level, and, for example, auto-reverse mode. Cassette ejection is mechanical.

Using it is very simple and practical. The display located in the upper middle part of the front panel is large enough, it strongly reminded me of those found on Tecnics RS-AZ6/7 and BX501 decks. The peaks are two-colored, but there is no peak hold, pity. Moreover, the biggest flaw is that the counter displays only one deck’s status at a time – to see the status of the other transport, you have to press a button. The counter itself is four-digit and very precise – one side of a C60 cassette reaches up to about 1650 on the display. Unfortunately, there is no display in pseudo-real or real-time, a bit odd for a top model.

The main “tricks” that the W-990RX has are almost hidden beneath the display itself, in a row of buttons, or you can use them via remote control. The deck features skipping longer pauses, synchronized recording where both decks switch to record on the other side simultaneously (if the cassettes in them differ slightly in length), track search, as well as – programming the recording or playback sequence from transport number one, similar to a CD player.

There are a couple of things I would criticize: the buttons below the display are small and it’s very difficult to read what each does if the lighting is not optimal. I think they could have solved this with some backlighting. What’s worse is that even the inside of the cassette compartment is not illuminated, it would have been nice if at least the light came from the back and shone through the cassette shell – it’s hard to see how far the tape has reached when the amount of external light is slightly lower. A shame for a 750 EUR deck.

The deck does not have an HX Pro system, but it does have Dolby B and C, as well as the dBX noise reduction system, which was very rare at the time, for example. Noise reduction circuits are not separate for each transport, i.e., it is not possible to select one deck to record with Dolby B and the other with dBX.

 

Inside

Inside, you can see a million connectors. Realistically, the transports are to blame for that; the boards are very neatly organized with a minimum of connections, but each transport has 6 connectors.

The transports themselves are generally identical, but they differ in the position of the cassette eject button, which is symmetrically arranged.

The mechanism is auto-reverse, as I already mentioned, with two solid cast flywheels, driven by a classic two-speed DC motor. But besides that, there are two more motors – one for winding/rewinding and the other for servicing the mechanics. In that sense, the W-990RX doesn’t “click” like the Aiwas, but rather buzzes like some VCRs – it’s not as quiet as decks with Pioneer Reference Master mechanisms, but it’s quite good and simply charming in its buzz.

The heads are, mind you, made of amorphous materials and with LC-OFC windings. Without going into the details of physics, LC-OFC means that the cable is made of copper with linearly (more precisely, more linearly) arranged crystals and without the presence of oxygen that can lead to oxidation of the conductor surface and affect its electrical (and audio, you know) properties. This means that you have a higher quality wire from the deck heads to the amplifier. LC-OFC, by the way, was invented by Hitachi.

Deck adjustment is possible with internal trimmers and includes independent trimming of playback, recording, and bias levels for each transport and each channel separately, as well as playback equalization but only for transport number 1.

I had to slightly readjust the deck myself, including factory-set azimuth, speed, bias… but nothing was tragic.

Teac used its acculign head rotation system, claiming that it was very precise, and it seems so to me. This piece of W-990RX was hardly used, I would say it may have only had a few tens of hours of operation. However, due to age, a plastic part on one of the heads broke. This part is responsible for being a link between the head and the transport chassis via a spring. The spring itself is responsible for doing something similar to a snap-action switch: when the mechanism moves the head from one extreme position via motors, camshafts, levers, and gears, it doesn’t do so to the other extreme location but to about 70%, when the spring, which is tensioned during rotation,

begins to compress again and moves the head to one of the two positions (both are extreme head positions) where its force on the head is minimal – the spring is designed and positioned to compress and thus move the head to one of the two mentioned positions.

When there is no spring, the head rotates a little more than halfway and stops.

The solution was to repair the spring attachment system, which fully restored the mechanism. A bit tricky, but it can be solved, in this case with two-component epoxy glue and additional reinforcement.

At one of the transports, the doors even opened faster and couldn’t be adjusted, although they should be adjustable. The problem is standard and arises due to aging; it is an air damper for slowing down the door opening. And that was fixed, both doors were then adjusted to open slowly, and now everything is fine.

The unit I acquired cost only 35 EUR and was extremely little used, but it has traces of transport, although it looks much worse in the pictures than in reality.

 

And the sound?

And how does this double deck sound in the end?

I tried it using a plain ultracheap Maxell UR cassette, without noise reduction. The sound is surprisingly clear, with excellent details at the high end, which I didn’t expect. In a blind test, I couldn’t conclude that it’s a recording from a dual-head deck, and moreover, a dual cassette deck.

The dynamics are good, and the width of the soundstage is truly surprising for a deck, which has to do with the clean reproduction this device has. The sound itself is a bit harder if you’re recording rock, this is felt in the bass, which is otherwise excellently defined, so you need to be careful when integrating it with other components in the chain, as well as cables – if you even want to do that today regarding one deck. If we were to judge the W-990RX by its musicality, it lacks nothing, a good machine for enjoyment.

Switching to a TDK SA chrome cassette led to the expected reduction in noise but also to even better transparency and dynamics, in my opinion, using chrome and metal cassettes may be the best combination for it in terms of investment/return.

The experience with dBX is always fascinating in terms of “killing” noise and increased dynamics that this system provides. But somehow, the sound with dBX is a bit tiresome to me, with reduced transparency and, admittedly, slightly softened bass, which I think is a bit less defined. It’s excellent for rap or dance music or vocal presentations. Personally, from time to time, I like to play only with the Dolby S system, which is really, really good, although dBX was really a wonder for its time.

A few days after writing this text, I played with the Teac, and then inserted its recording into a Denon DRM-800 and listened. I was surprised that the recording made on the Teac sounded better on the Denon: softer, wider soundstage, and better, fuller bass. I returned the recording back to the Teac, thinking it was a subjective illusion, and then back to the Denon… but no, I concluded correctly. Why am I writing this? Because my conclusion is that Teac W-990RX can be a dangerously good machine for recording, even better than I concluded.

 

In conclusion…

In today’s world, where there are fewer and fewer decks in good condition (internally, not just externally), and prices have gone crazy, such a dual cassette deck can be a great solution for playing old and even very decent recording that you’ll get if you’re still at least a little stuck in the world of these old devices. Easy to maintain (but be careful, generally, you buy everything for it twice…), well-made, very comfortable, and excellent sound. On eBay, prices start from 100 dollars onwards. Even if you catch a unit with a remote control, it’s a full hit. Recommendation, without a doubt!

 

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