YAMAHA K2000: The Black Beauty

You have probably heard about Yamaha, haven’t you? The horizontal and vertical diversification is proudly presented by this corporation. Just imagine: you like to ride the motorbike, you buy Yamaha. Then You decide to get a small (or not so small) boat, and it’s engine is Yamaha. By chance, your hobby may be playing piano or flute or both – and you buy Yamaha again. You listen to yours or other people’s  concerts through Yamaha equipment and hear loud sounds of movies using Yamaha home theatre system. Is it enough? Is there anything they don’t manufacture? I don’t think so.

Well, I can’t imagine better solution for HiFi equipment than the one where manufacturer also makes musical instruments and has a long history of doing this, since 1887. They should simply now how these things sound.  They also made some good and some very good audio equipment in the past, keeping the best for Japan market, as many other domestic companies did. But some of this stuff found it’s way to Europe…

I never liked Yamaha too much. Almost all their audio components use specific “Natural sound” sentence on their front panel. I can understand this for high quality, expensive equipment, but not for the LowFi components. I often find Yamaha’s “Natural sound” cold, sterile, detailed to the very maximum but not so transparent. After 30 minutes listening sessions I feel like it lasted for hours and hours, and I get headache. This was the situation with new CD-S/A-S2000 player/amplifier combination, and some others as well. They may be pretty good, but not to my taste.

Yamaha didn’t make some too much expensive cassette decks, but they tried to keep the position with Sony, Pioneer, Aiwa and others, never challenging monsters like Nakamichi, Revox etc. And they did it good, keeping it as simple as possible. Yamaha K2000 and K1000 started the new era in 1982., continued with marginally cheaper models which looked generally the same: K-1x, K-1020 and KX-1200until 1993.

Yamaha K2000/1000 from the original Yamaha brochure:

And here is an Internet picture of Yamaha K-1020

And the last one – Yamaha KX-1200:

Models I am talking about (K2000 and its little brother K1000) made design structure for further high class Yamaha cassette decks: minimalist approach with basic commands on site and less common hidden behind large metal cover. Looking historically, K1000 has more similarities with more modern Yamaha top decks, most of all because they shared almost identical bias calibration system.

So, let’s talk about big brother: Yamaha K2000 is pretty large specimen – it’s depth is around 340 millimeters, which is a lot for a cassette deck. It’s list price was around 1.800 DEM. Don’t worry about the headline: this black beauty also comes in silver finish, but I’ve never seen it acutally, except in catalogs.

Commands are easy to get used to, especially the large multicommand button located near the center of the deck. Command names and symbols have been engraved into the metal of the button, so this is almost indestructible and rarely found on other cassette decks. Less common commands include balance and phone buttons and Dolby B and dBX selection – unlike other manufacturers, Yamaha stayed with dBX system almost to the end. The display is OK, with very fine red pseudo real (but pretty precise) digital counter and LED status display board just right of it. It displays info about type of cassette tape, noise reduction system and calibration process. Right to it is long row of LED peak meters… sixteen steps per channel in two colors. The whole design of display/peak meters is fairly good, but misses background light, so it is hard to read peak LED position under non-optimum light conditions.

Transport in K2000 (and K1000) is two motor, direct drive system but with only one capstan. Although it is easier to maintain it than closed loop dual capstan system, it doesn’t have the level of tape path stability as closed loop dual capstan transport have. Later Yamaha 3 head models used solid Sankyo dual capstan three motors mechanism (like on some Nakamichi,TEAC and Onkyo decks), but were belt driven. K2000 and K1000 are, to my knowledge, the only Yamaha decks with direct drive feature and share the same mechanism as Marantz SD930. It is simple and long lasting. The only bad thing is cotton-like material under the erase head which makes tape flow over it. It ha been made to stabilize tension along the tape path. Pretty primitive, the replacement for this is hard to find when it gets old and dirty.

The inside of K2000 looks quite nice taking into account its age. Not too much cabling, components are well laid and sections are named. The main audio board has another one over it, so there is a lot of electronics inside. The upper boardatter is supposed for autocalibration system on K2000. Little brother, K1000, uses manual calibration, much alike later top Yamaha performer KX1200.

Yamaha called it’s calibration system ORBIT which is acronym for Optimum Recording BIas Tuning. This is implemented on K1000, K1, K1020, K1200 etc. Yamaha K2000 uses automatic version, so it is called α-ORBIT. This autocalibration system works somehow different regarding other decks and manufacurers. It is applied every time when cassette is inserted (even if you flip the side of the same one) and the Rec button is pushed. The same applies if you don’t take out the cassette but turn off K2000 – there is no calibration data memory in this deck.

The process is unbelievable short: just a little longer than a second (if you didn’t activate it over tape leader portion of the cassette). K2000 is using just two tones (1 kHz and 10 kHz)  in a fraction of a second to determine bias and sensivity levels. Actually oscillator is working for mere 0.2 seconds and computation takes another 0.4 secs. Tones are recorded only on right channel and are used to calibrate both channels at the same time.

This is where fourth head jumps into: since autocalibration takes less than two seconds, K2000 doesn’t rewind to where it started the process, it simply stops. In order for test tones to be erased, the fourth head which is erase head erases these tones. During playback it is also possible to activate this particular head so it clears everything after the replay head, when user decides that he don’t need it any more. So, Yamaha K2000 has not one but two erase heads: one before rec/play heads and the other after it.

Regarding some deeper technical features, it looks to me like Yamaha was really trying it’s best to put everything their Research&Develop department was able to squeeze in a 2.000 DEM deck. And there is a lot…

For instance,  the record/playback head is made of three-lamination material and uses just a half head coil windings, so has just half of usual impedance. Yamaha explains that this improves transient response and crosstalk. Additionally, bias is set to 200 kHz instead of standard 85-105 used in other decks. Just to mention, most other manufacturers put high bias (160-210 kHz) years after K2000. As we can see, Yamaha made recording system on this deck with great  care. But the star of the show may be recording amplifier which uses what Yamaha calls Linear Transducer system. Explanation: standard recording system uses recording amplifier with so called “bias trap” – essentially a mixer made of coils and capacitors that puts together signal and bias from bias oscillator. Linear Transducer system eliminates bias trap and isolates bias oscillator inductive/capacitive circuitry from the signal path, making (according to Yamaha) pure, undistorted signal to reach the recording head. To my knowledge this system was used only on K2000 and no other Yamaha cassette deck.

The sound:

Looking to it’s high price tag, I was very interested to hear how Yamaha K2000 actually sounds. This deck did crystal clear reproduction, with tons of details and very good dynamic on it’s own recordings. Trying recordings from several other cassette decks showed very high level of compatibility and particularly very good reproduction. K2000 seems like a little beast itself, packed into elegant housing. Micro details and definition of instruments, as well as the soundstage is very, very good. The whole sound is a little bit on the bright side but not so much that we could it call unnatural. The bass notes are well defined, have a good edge and decay, but lack the warmth and large analog-like body of some other decks like Nakamichi ZX9 and Pioneer top decks, just to name a few, so it won’t be up to everyone’s taste. But, I couldn’t call this a drawback, since the whole picture K2000 paints is a good one, stable and pretty transparent, so I liked it very much.

Conclusion: K2000 is a mix of convenient features, very good engineering, elegant style and exceptionally good sound, which all puts it in a high class.

Note: 

I got some valuable information from the Yamaha K2000/ K1000 brochure. It was sent to me from another true cassette deck audiophile, nicknamed Accu. Thanks a lot, Accu!

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