YAMAHA KX-1200: The Ice Queen

Submitted on: 29 Jan 15

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Category: Analog recorders/players

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I was really amazed regarding efforts that Yamaha put during construction phase of it’s K2000 deck. It wasn’t the best in the world, nor was the best looking ever. Even the display could be better but overall this is a hell of the deck.

Well, after K2000 which stays the most expensive Yamaha deck on my list, the new model was coming – K1x, followed by K-1020 and the latest “big” Yamaha – the KX-1200. All three decks look almost the same from the outside, sharing the same transport, despite K2000. On the other side, the front side design clearly resembles of K2000, but is also improved.

It is important to say that Yamaha KX-1200 has different electronics regarding it’s predecessor K-1020. Although basic schematics is the same there are new Dolby ICs, new operational amplifiers etc. which should also reflect the sound. I remember the sound signature of K-1020 I had years ago, and I still have one, so I will do the comparison in the meantime and publish this in a K-1020 post.

The overall design and quality of KX-1200 (produced from 1987. until 1993., list price was around 750 USD) is excellent! It’s depth is pretty large, so there are no messy print boards and conductors. The front plate is made of aluminium, which was standard for the price, but the transport buttons are also metal made, so no damage will be caused from fingerprints, unlike Pioneer 9xx decks, Sony 9xx decks or Aiwa Excelia 009, to name just a few others in this price class.

The door cover is another surprise: cassette holder is sturdy metal made and the cover is made of heavy glass, similar to Technics RS-M85. Very, very nice, especially because manufacturers stopped doing this years before KX-1200 came to market.

All commands are well laid and easy to use and the display is one of the best I’ve ever seen on a cassette deck: large, easy to read, two color with big elegant red numbers for pseudo real time counter. This display is ages ahead the one used on Yamaha K2000.

And, of course, there are several interesting tricks: recording cancel function – press rew during recording and the deck will go back to the point it started recording. Track search (only one) is also available.

Introskip is possible via specific remote control. But this is not all: KX1200 has possibility of selecting and programming tracks to play, similar to CD players or Technics RS-B78R, for instance. This is very interesting choice because such option is usually not implemented in high class decks – audiophiles usually don’t use such things. The counter is able to calculate remaining time until the end of the tape, but You will also need remote commander to do this.

Calibration regarding different tape formulas is, on the other side, the same as it was on older models: ORBiT or Optimum Record Bias Tuning) tunes bias by means of two indicator showing on which side you should turn bias knob. No automatic ORBiT here, like on Yamaha K2000. It is almost the same as on Sansui D570. Unfortunately, there is no level calibration, which is a pity and KX1200 often needed it during my test with different tapes. In my opinion, I would be glad to trade programming for level calibration.

Inside, KX1200 is beautifully organized: very little wiring all around. Everything is easy to access and transport can be put out of the rest with a little effort. Yamaha decided to keep large housing, which is a very good decision in my opinion. Interestingly, although KX1200 doesn’t have level calibration it has six trimmers inside to calibrate level to a reference normal, chrome and metal tape – nice touch.

The transport is Sankyo made, similar to TEAC V5000 but using idler in a reel drive section which will loose the grip as it becomes older – like on BX and CR5/7 Nakamichi models. But the transport is pretty good itself: three motors, belt driven with pretty large closed loop dual capstans and cast alloy drive base.

The sound

Yamaha KX1200 sounds very interesting and I compared it with a few other decks, Aiwa Excelia 009 (review still to come) Pioneer CT979 and Yamaha KX670, to name just a few.

The sound of this deck is extremely clear and crisp. Interestingly, using headphone output (not used for a comparison anyway) just for fun showed that Yamaha KX670 has some kind of mat sound towards KX1200 which was bright and clear – a typical example to show how older decks had better made phones amplifier.

Details and 3D stage are excellent (for a cassette deck) with fine details played with ease. Upper frequencies sounded a little bright in some (but not all) cases and user should take care in using Yamaha KX1200 with other components to avoid fatigue. But in the right system KX1200 will shine: female or male voices are very, very precise, put in front of the listener and a really joy to listen to, like just a few other decks do.

I remember that the bass was the issue on K2000. It seems that KX1200 made a step ahead: it is not soft, it has well controlled and defined bass, but it’s weight is not as heavy as I would would like it to be, and this is where Pioneer CT979 and Aiwa XK009 shine… They sound more musical and KX1200 is more technical sounding, with less musicality and emotions that emerge from the music. On the other side Sade sings very nice and precise on this machine and guitar strings have amazing level of details while playing on KX1200. So, there is very little to complain: well designed and very nice looking (to my opinion), pretty robust (cassette holder and real glass cover, metal transport buttons) and also nice for general maintaining. Although it is not the very, very best, I could live with Yamaha KX1200 for years… Except for not so advanced calibration system.

– Solid Sankyo transport
– Easy to service
– Beautiful display
– Detailed and clear sound

– Maybe sounding clinical a little bit
– Calibration system should be more advanced

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