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Enter the Dragon

Discussion in 'audio' started by AudioAl, Jan 14, 2022.

  1. AudioAl

    AudioAl pfm Member

    After decades of wanting a Nakamichi Dragon I casually looked on that web site and low and behold a Dragon Had just been listed at afordable price , This is the wording on the listing
    This deck was last serviced in about 2007 and not used since. I have moved homes and countries several times since and was anxious when I tested it yesterday. I plugged in my headphones, put in a mix tape recorded with the Dragon and was blown away by the sound. The door no longer opens all the way and needs gentle pull to open it and the drive seems louder than I remember it. There are scratches on the top with some paint scuffs and some sticky tape residue on the rear where the last, now illegible service receipt which I removed yesterday, was stuck to it. Original Manual and invoice included. It cost me about 3 months gross salary at the time.
    Nakamichi's Dragon epitomized cassette-deck technology; it was considered the Holy Grail of what could be accomplished at 1 7/8 i.p.s. A three-head deck with discrete heads for recording, playback and erase, it used Nakamichi’s NAAC auto azimuth correction to optimize playback azimuth on any tape played. This resulted in a deck that could play back tapes recorded on other manufacturers’ machines as well as doing a great job with pre-recorded tapes.

    The Dragon's wow and flutter – 0.019% weighted RMS and 0.04% weighted peak were the lowest on the market. Long-term speed stability of the Dragon was exemplary and absolute speed error (+0.2–+0.5%) presented no audible distraction.

    Dynamic range for Type I, II and IV tapes equalled 54, 56.5 and 59 decibels (dB) respectively; record-high figures for cassette machines. Frequency response, measured to within ±3 dB, extends to 11–12 Hz. The upper boundary for low-level (-20 dB) signals extends to 22–24 kHz depending on tape type.

    The listing had a start price and a best offer option so I made a offer £50 above the start price and this was accepted almost instantly , Happy days , Then the dougt started " Is this a genuine listing ? " am I about to be scammed ? , I paid and kept my fingers crossed
    4 days later , Ding dong , Mr UPS was at the door with the box I was waiting for , Still uneasy and with thoughts wizzing around in my head , Will it hold a dragon or some bricks or a crap cassette player ?
    Out with the knife , Box opened and low and behold there it was my very own Dragon in lovely condition
    The seller also include the original Owners Manual ( mint condition ) and original invoice dated 27/6/1983, 3226.15 German marks , Not sure what that equates to in money now ? , He did say it cost several months salery back then , It has the weirdes looking power plug I have ever seen but did come with a UK adaptor to a std 3 pin 13 amp plug . Plugged it in and switched it on, and yay it powered up fine, Into the listening room , Connected up and out of decency inserted the home made mix tape he provided , Pressed play and off it went , It does have a audible rhythmic ticking noise yet to be looked at , Played fine and did the auto reverse as well,
    With most Dragons I have seen advertised you can tell the amount of use they have had by how polished the buttons are , This one still has matt buttons indicating little use , He did say it's not been used since 2007
    I will take the lid off and have a look inside to see if I can find the cause of the ticking noise ,
    New belt kit and pinch roller tyre on order from the US of A
    Enough rambling here are a few images
    [​IMG]E0391F17-3A67-4031-81A0-48D518E36854 by , on Flickr
    [​IMG]050FBC91-72FF-4844-B74E-DC59DAEFE817 by , on Flickr
    [​IMG]2D5A6998-B3F8-4995-AA13-5078CEC4EBD1 by , on Flickr
    [​IMG]C54AC484-5593-4396-8194-DEC2BE14D3D3 by , on Flickr

    The images do show some light reflections

    That's it for now , Will update as and when :)
    flapland, gninnam, joe9407 and 22 others like this.
  2. Dirkster

    Dirkster pfm Member

    Ooh yes! I am jealous.

    I lusted after this beast, back in my early years.
    AudioAl likes this.
  3. Werner

    Werner pfm Member

    This deck will need a full service prior to any use. Are you experienced? If not please look for someone who is and be prepared to pay for it. Do not tinker yourself.

    I hope these are parts that were tested and approved by e.g. the people on, and not just any kit? This transport is critically sensitive to parts quality, while most of today's parts are sub-standard.

    A ticking sound is often the auto-azimuth malfunctioning. But as said, there will be much more to fix.

    40 years old decks don't just run.
    Decks that have been unused for 15+ years don't just run.
  4. essgee

    essgee pfm Member

    Nice one, hope you manage to succeed in getting it working to full spec. All the info in Werner's post is very useful and strongly recommend following it.
  5. AudioAl

    AudioAl pfm Member

    Indeed it is , Going on tape heads soon for advice
  6. pickwickpapers

    pickwickpapers ‘It wasn’t the wine, ... It was the salmon.‘

    off at a bit of tangent and appreciate it might not be relevant for you, but as I mucked about a lot with tape replay (and machines!) last year:

    (YMMV etc) - if you're intending to play old pre-recorded tapes, the 'trick' of heating them in a food dehydrator (the £20 jobs) really does work in terms of making them playable. It certainly worked on all the tapes I tried last year (this being tapes that were sticking or subject to slow-downs etc).
    Of course they still shed awfully, and you'll need to clean the heads pretty much after each toon, but that's my experience as far as that goes.
    Dark Lord and AudioAl like this.
  7. Werner

    Werner pfm Member

    Better not use a Dragon or any other valuable dual-capstan deck with those then.

    Dual-capstan drives are accident-prone when not 101% in working order or when fed suspect tapes.
  8. ToTo Man

    ToTo Man the band not the dog

    I didn't realise SSS was a 'thing' with cassette tapes. I've had some old, pre-recorded reel-to-reels make a right royal mess of the heads and guides of my R2R deck, and I know all about Ampex 456, but I've yet to experience it with cassettes. Having said that, the oldest shop-bought pre-recorded cassettes I have are from the mid-80s and all of the blanks I bought and recorded onto are from the early 90s and onwards so perhaps not old enough for the binder to start deteriorating. Are there certain formulations and brands of cassette that are more prone to this issue?
  9. pickwickpapers

    pickwickpapers ‘It wasn’t the wine, ... It was the salmon.‘

    gosh, based on my experience of last year, I'm really surprised to hear that Toto Man.
    Not so much your self-taped ones from the 90s, but the pre-recordeds.

    I'm not sure it's SSS as such - I 'researched' the topic at some length on tapeheads et al, was none the wiser, and forged ahead with my tape renaissance - only to find that those forum posters were all correct and most of the pre-recordeds I bought last year (I was starting from scratch) suffered from playback issues to one degree or another.
    I soon started to try and buy only 'play-tested' ones - but even those, if they started off ok, would start to exhibit problems in fairly short order.

    So not sure if it's the same as reel-to-reel SSS (as it isn't, visually, so dramatic), or more to do with general shedding of oxides or whatever, and other age-related issues which lead to tapes not playing through properly. Machine dependent to a degree I suppose, but I went through a fair few decks last year (although mid- to lower end) and they all pretty much exhibited the issue - although the manifestation wasn't consistent.

    The tapes dated from the late 60s (Pepper!) to the 90s.

    And again for anyone in the same kind of situation - the food dehydrator thing really works (as far as I could tell - probably did about 20 tapes with it before losing interest).
    I also tried other things, like re-housing the tapes (surprised I could do that) etc - but it really seemed to be the heating that made the difference.

    I would say that I was amazed by the quality of playback from some of the darned things (obviously the usual mix / mastering variables apply).
    I'm a 'no dolby' chap (the hiss doesn't bother me), and with some of them I would say it's the best audio I've had the privilege of listening to - and I appreciate the technical limitations of why that 'can't be so' ... !

    On the Dolby score - that's a strange one - there's a very informative Youtube video by a guy from (eastern I think) europe who explains, and demonstrates, that an external, stand-alone, dolby de(en?)coder was needed to really get things like dolby-B to work properly and actually remove hiss without negatively affecting the music.
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2022
    ToTo Man likes this.
  10. wylton

    wylton Naim and Mana member

    @AudioAl congrats on your purchase I'm jealous!
    AudioAl likes this.
  11. keiron99

    keiron99 pfm Member

    So, so envious, I dreamed of a Nak Dragon as a boy. I settled on a Sony Walkman professional WMD6C and boy, do I regret selling that.
    AudioAl likes this.
  12. bazza.

    bazza. pfm Member

    I so wanted one of them back in the day but could never afford one I ended up with a Denon DRM-700
    AudioAl likes this.
  13. Werner

    Werner pfm Member

    Last year I obtained a bunch of Ampex Grand Master I cassettes, seemingly in good shape.
    However, each one played for a while, then ground down. All of them were perfectly fine in winding. What happened was that the tape itself adhered to the head, eventually bringing the mechanism to a standstill.

    It got only worse after baking in the oven with the usually prescribed regime.

    I have a few other cassettes (a.o. the new ATR ferrics) that squeal: the surface properties of the tape being wrong enough to set up a violent vibration against the head.

    As the vast majority of prerecordeds were encoded with Dolby B, playing them undecoded may sound better, but is objectively wrong. However ... (read on).

    Dolby is very sensitive to the absolute level of the signal on the tape, and to the spectral balance. The signal off-tape must perfectly match what was recorded. Most decks don't manage that, even when aligned to the actual tape. But most decks were not even aligned back then. Further, wear and tear conspires to lose level and to lose treble. At the end of this Dolby decoding fails and you end up with dull playback.

    But if you can control the level of the signal entering the decoder upon playback you can restore some of this. There are no decks with externally-accessable pre-Dolby level controls (these are internal settings), but if you use an external Dolby decoder then indeed you can bring the level up to where it sounds optimal. And if you have a deck with Play Trim (a pre-Dolby treble equaliser, used by NAD, Yamaha, and Uher) then that helps massively, too.

    (Picture below shows a Nak CR-7 playing into a JVC NR-50 external Dolby/ANRS unit, and then into a Tascam DA-3000 digital recorder.)

    Dolby B was the 1970s cure for the then-prevailing cassette problem of noise. But since 1984 or so tapes got so much better than many music styles were perfectly manageable without active noise reduction(*). A petty then that the music industry stuck to Dolby.

    (* A Sony Metal ES measures a massive 68dB(A) between bias noise and MOL on my Nak CR-4.)

    James, AudioAl, darrenyeats and 5 others like this.
  14. pickwickpapers

    pickwickpapers ‘It wasn’t the wine, ... It was the salmon.‘

    there is certainly a lot of contradictory evidence / opinion about the issue/s and the treatment/s for sure.

    just to clarify tho' - I was only speaking of consumer 'small' format pre-recorded tapes from yesteryear - which is why I'm not sure if SSS is quite the same thing (it sounds / looks more dramatic than what I was encountering - although this may merely be a question of degree, given the greater amount of tape / coating etc with R2R ...)

    and sorry to kind of hijack Al's thread about his lovely new (old) deck. Just thought it might be of interest to him and others getting back into Cassettes.

    I've been wanting to put something 'out there' about how successful I found heating old pre-recordeds, and this seemed as good a time as any.
    But I will stress again: although the heating allowed tapes to play through more consistently they were still shedding badly, and sound audibly deteriorates pretty quickly unless you obsessively clean the heads / tape-path (with the worst ones you really are looking at after every track pretty much!).

    also: I used a cheap dehydrator (the plastic tower of Pizza looking jobbies), not the oven - and they may actually be more effective than the latter approach.

    But, also repeating myself, if a good range of material both contemporary and vintage were to become available on good quality tapes again, I'd very seriously consider going that way, even tho' I'm currently much enjoying vinyl again with an old Dual belt-drive.
    At it's best, my adventure with small format tapes last year gave me what I was hoping for: the 'advantages' of analogue mastering and playback (if that's your thing) without the surface noise issue of vinyl.

    I have no trouble tuning out hiss even with old tapes (it's a consistent 'noise' and is soon masked by most of the material I'd listen to), and was amazed by the quality of reproduction from such a long-maligned format (I used it back in the day in the same casual uncritical way most people did - even when getting into portastudio's etc of the time for performance recording).

    but very interesting re: the Dobly (I had to once :rolleyes:) info - wish I had a link to the Youtube video I mentioned.
  15. topoxforddoc

    topoxforddoc pfm Member

    Lovely deck Al. A tip top Dragon is a thing of beauty. Shame Alex Nikitin (ANT4066) is no longer taking on new work. He was the guru for tape decks in the UK, until he moved from Ruislip and took a new job in Cheshire. Alex rebuilt my Dragon with his famed ANT 4066 mods - I'm playing it right now as I type. He's too busy now and stopped taking on repairs several years ago. But he is still very active on tapeheads and may be able to suggest someone to help. The Dragon is not a machine for novices.
  16. graystoke4

    graystoke4 pfm Member

    Wow the uber of uber, did they sell a real gold version of this, not to disregard yours , it looks grand, and i have a shedload of tapes , you can have just for postage, the drangon hi-end stops there , well done, you brave guy
  17. AudioAl

    AudioAl pfm Member

    Thanks Charlie , I have a lead for someone who does Dragons , May have a long wait as he is inundated with work
    topoxforddoc likes this.
  18. AudioAl

    AudioAl pfm Member

    Hi , Re the tapes are they blanks / Pre recorded retail tapes or home mega mix
  19. graystoke4

    graystoke4 pfm Member

    hot mix of my Swedish girlfriend, plus a draw of other bands, will let you know , later,
  20. Werner

    Werner pfm Member

    Erm, no.

    The absolute top was the 1000ZXL, with its unsurpassed auto-calibration procedure and best-ever heads. It was also available in gold as the 1000ZXL Ltd. The Nak CR-7 is also generally seen as surpassing the Dragon in sound quality. But of course differences generally will be minor, and today the maintenance state of the machine is much more important that how it performed in its youth.


    Ben&Ted, darrenyeats and topoxforddoc like this.

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