June 26, 2022

A Worthy dbx Successor? Yamaha KX-1200 U Cassette Deck

The Yamaha KX-1200U sitting pretty in my usual rack. Love that titanium silver color scheme, if I have to choose a word for it, it would be CLASSY!

Since my experience with the Yamaha K-1X or KX-1020 depending if you're in the Japan or the rest of the world, I have a very different view in regards to Yamaha's credentials when it came to their hifi equipment. Oh, my buddy has a unit of the Yamaha KX-1200U cassette deck, the 1987 successor to the K-1X which is currently in my care. The KX-1200U  had a production run of 6 years, which lasted till 1993, demonstrating the sales success of the model in question. Oh said I should compare both the K-1X vs the KX-1200U to confirm his own observation.

Styling wise, the KX-1200U carries over the K-1X practically lock, stock & barrel, sans a small window at the bottom of eject button for remote sensor. Power up the unit and that bold red/blue fluorescent display typeface has given way to a more refined yet at the same time more generic typeface looking whitish fluorescent display. Like the K-1X, the KX-1200U comes in both titanium silver or satin black color scheme. I found the titanium silver color scheme on this unit very classy, and will almost certainly prefer it over the satin black. Weighting in at 7.9 kgs, the KX-1200U is exactly 1 kg heavier than it's predecessor. However, a simpleton audiophile likes to view on the subject of build quality by weight, that it seems heavier is better? 

Build quality is the same finely measured compromise between cost vs luxury build. On the front panel, that lovely all glass & aluminum sandwich cassette well door is nicely carried over but now with tint. The cassette well illumination is improved as well, now with a tape center back light and a top light, which is super useful when the need to perform tape head and capstan pinch roller cleaning. All other front panel layout remains exactly the same as it's predecessor, including the six major transport control keys & that flip down panel for recording control knobs and Dolby selection. This Yamaha still came with dbx NR system, but is now the simplified dbx type II prefix, which is deemed to be less extreme in effect compared to the earlier version. By the way, that chunky looking feet at the bottom is still decorative plastic, no ceramic or stainless steel here!

Either way you look, the Yamaha KX-1200U is very nice! 

There are some changes elsewhere too, such as the Sendurst tape head is now the harder wearing amorphous type for long service life. Did I mentioned a wireless remote is now offered with KX-1200U as optional or standard? By the way, the review unit didn't come with the original KX series remote, but nevertheless came with a compatible remote which worked for most transport function. Still on the mechanism, the KX-1200U also does track search, and program play sequence too! Stuff that I don't advocate to use as it may wear out tape head. Otherwise the 3 head, dual capstan transport is pretty much the same. Cassette eject is still non-motorized mechanical.

A close up of the 3 motor Sankyo supplied transport & amorphous tape head

So far so good, Yamaha seems to have added much more convenience feature in to the KX-1200U over the older K-1X, which is good. Moving over to sound quality however, there were also compromises compared to the former. The first thing one will notice, coming in straight from the K-1X is the reduced headroom & dynamic bandwidth. The highs less airy and mid range less sweet. The bass, less kick ass.

I would speculate that due to the need to cater to the older more extreme dbx NR system the K-1X super boosted all the attributes I mentioned above, especially the headroom and dynamic range. The KX-1200U sounds more comparable in character to my other reference, the Akai GX-95 MKII, i.e., is the cassette format sound character. I believe that the K-1X sounds the way it does is due to the dbx NR system it deploys. And with the KX-1200U, Yamaha has chosen to fall back in line with other cassette deck manufacturers. I know that from what is described above, it would seem that the KX-1200U sounds disappointing, but that is only if one is coming from the K-1X predecessor. If one is coming from something like the Akai GX-95 MKII, then the playing field begins to level. And the KX-1200U is a pretty good sounding deck. It got a super strong transport that plays certain tapes that other cassette decks have given up on. I love the refinement the new amorphous tape head brings along with a more neutral tone, compared to the K-1X. The KX-1200U is also more transparent sounding too, by the way. So it's not all bad, but compromises, clearly a few have been made.  

On the inside, noted that big potted power transformer, not many cassette decks feature that. Also note the dbx NR PCB standing up right from the main board on the left! 

Even the wireless remote is color coded to match either Satin black or Titanium silver color scheme 

There's even a deluxe version in Japan domestic market only, come with wood cheeks, whih to me at least, is a must have for all top of the line products!

The Yamaha KX-1200U is still a very good deck after all, otherwise it wouldn't have a 6 year production life span vs the 2 years that it's quirky predecessor enjoyed. The fact that I liked the quirky K-1X so much is because it's exactly the kind of kinkiness for my personal preference. The KX-1200U on the other hand, goes the more prudent & for the lack of better terms, generic direction. And I guess that's why the KX-1200U is the much more successful in the longer term. May be I sum it up this way, about the 2 sisters. Older sister is at once exciting to be with, totally punk style colorful and has wild character to match, you gotta see her quirks as an abject beauty. The younger sister is more traditional, girl next door type, which in the long run, probably make her easier to live with, once the initial excitement has worn off. 

In the used market, now going for about MYR 1,800 a piece, the choice is yours, and Yamaha being not all that popular back then, doesn't really offer much examples in the market.

June 18, 2022

Northern AV Show Report

The Northern AV Show was held at Ascot Gurney hotel over the last weekend of 11-12 June 2022. As part of the organizing team, it was our duty to ensure a good show for all stake holders, namely Penang State Development Authorities, exhibitors and finally the show goers.

Here's a pictorial with some personal comments below:

Officiating the Northern AV Show, from left: Ashwin, YB Yeoh Soon Hin & our very own Wilson Teoh

Getting YB Yeoh in to the AV hobby!

The show not only featured hifi, but live acts too, seen performing here is EB Duet

CMY brought all their big brands on display

Some pretty nice Canto-pop tunes coming out of this system

ProAc + Cyrus system

Center Circle Audio introducing Avantgarde speakers & HiFi Rose amongst the system

HiFi Choice brought many systems with them to the show, but this B&W + Michi system truly shines

Dali speakers also featured

Sonus Faber speakers too

Stenheim speakers with DCS hi-res player, unfortunately the hotel wifi glitch prevented this system from fulfilling it's hi-end performance 

Also present were Silbatone tube amps, Novaris PLC & Frank Ultra bank here, presented by Frankie Voon himself, and sometimes Peter Ting 

AA Audio streamers, developed locally by Dr Anwar Ali, former Intel engineer

Inside the AA Streamer

Tech X displayed desk top speakers & E1 Personal Audio presented much head fi 

Stars Picker booth was busy all with many head fi fans checking out the latest products

Double GT Audio displayed some of their gears plus offers cash & carry too 

Fine SPL display their locally designed speakers which are made in China

AFC Top HiFi has Xavian speakers & other hifi brands on demo

Hi-Way Laser was displaying all ATC system

Hau HiFi demo-ed ATC speakers with Myryad electronics

Hau HiFi also had this Ultra Short Throw project by CHiQ on display, which I found the picture quality to be rather impressive

Choy Audio showcased Yaqin amps mostly

I kinda like the looks of this tube amp, especially the meters

CCY Engineering had their impressive sounding locally designed & made amps on demo with Yamaha speakers 

Quantum Acoustics show cased their AV system with excellent surround system

Caruso Vinyl had a booth selling software to feed audio systems

At the 2nd floor main foyer, there were three levels of AV demos, including the level 7 & 22.

Overall, the show was well attended and the Penang State Development Authorities had some pretty ambitious metrics for the show. The Northern AV Show will be back next year, bigger & better! 

June 13, 2022

The Northern AV Show Update

The Northern AV Show, held at Ascot Gurney Hotel Penang over the weekend has ended it's run. Stay tuned for show report coming soon!  

June 5, 2022

"dbx" Wonder? Yamaha K-1X

The Yamaha K-1X is a Japan domestic model but also called KX-1020 in international export markets. I am not sure if the are any difference internally between them 

For some reason or another, I was never quite taken by Yamaha hifi components. Yes I do have a Yamaha AVR for my living area 5.1 HT system, and that's it. Even that is because I got it bundled with the Bose Acoustimas speaker system for a good price! So why is this in the cards? you asked. My buddy Mr Oh's influence!

This is good deck, you try, this one got dbx noise reduction system, otherwise you don't know what you're missing, he said! And so I did try with an open mind, plus I was curious about the dbx NR system. On spec, it seems to be great deal better than the generic Dolby B/C & HX Pro, which is now default features on most cassette decks. 

The Yamaha K-1X sitting in my audio rack, as usual just below the Aesthetix Janus Signature pre-amp 

The Yamaha K-1X is from 1985 vintage, it self is a further evolution from the K-2000 & K-1000 flagship decks from 1982. Key features of the K-1X includes 3 heads, dual captan transport, Sendurst tape head, Dolby B/C & HX Pro and lastly, dbx noise reduction system. Styling wise, the Yamaha looks chunky with it's rather deep width and tall box, and one peek inside shows why. While the box is compartmentalized inside, Yamaha doesn't go the whole 9 yards & copper coat it either. I see money being spent on the important things like a reliable and high spec transport with a bright green illumination, the Sendurst tape heads, detachable tape well cover made from real glass & aluminum, decent size PS transformer & thick, non detachable power cord. Yamaha chooses to go prudent with other things, like no remote, plastic face plate, no copper chassis coating as mentioned before. The tape well of the Yamaha is well designed for easy access to perform tape head and pinch roller cleaning.

The insides of the Yamaha K-1X. On the right there's 4 pcs of standing PCB for the dbx noise reduction system. With this system, there's a requirement for the audio circuitry to accommodate an extra headroom for signal to noise ratio. Weighting in at 6.9kgs the Yamaha K-1X is not the heaviest battleship around, but is solid enough nevertheless. If I have to rate it, may be at pocket battleship level? 

Another area that I love about the K-1X is the styling, this unit finished in stain brushed black has the usual tape well on the left, a recoding level slider on the right next to tape well, then flanked by an unusually long tape counter and peak level meter display. The display really sets this unit apart by use of bold typeface and very striking blue & red illumination. I think the extra long peak level meter is to accommodate the extra headroom of up to 60 db as required by the dbx noise reduction system. At the bottom of the display are six major transport control keys and a flip down flap on the right to hide all the recording adjustment knobs & noise reduction selectors for a clean facia appearance. On the whole, the styling reflects a image of bold power, yet classy altogether.  

That detachable tape well cover is made from real glass, sandwich at the bottom and insides with real aluminum frame. Very solid and chunky when removed for tape head and pinch roller cleaning 

The tape counter in red illumination has big chunky typeface, making easy viewing from near or far. The peak level meters is extra longer than usual, but does not have peak hold feature

All recording adjustment knobs & noise reduction selectors are hidden inside a flip down flap on the right side of the cassette deck

It all looks very neat on the facia when the flap is up, covering all the recoding functions, making the deck look less busy in comparison to others. The recoding level slider in use here is OK, but I much prefer a big master rotating knob for that purpose 

The sound of the Yamaha K-1X or KX-1020 in export markets is incredible, with or without dbx system in use! I used mostly pre-recorded & tapes recorded from my previous Teac V-670 and those tapes all sounded much better than I ever experienced them before. The sound is big scale, bold, and very dynamic to boot. The bass kicks ass with well defined kick drum, and clean note to note transfers, no woolly bass notes as normal cassettes. I think part of the credit goes to the strong dual capstan, 3 head transport. There's a certain kind of sweetness in mid range & highs. The highs in particular are airy & will bite if the music calls for. There's also a clarity and dynamic range that most other decks will find hard to match. In comparison, the Yamaha did lost out slightly on resolution, compared to my resident Akai GX-95 MKII deck.

I then made a CD recording using the dbx noise reduction, and on playback there was total silence in the back ground just like CD, with the dynamics and slight coldness all included. I would say this Yamaha makes the most true to source recordings one can ask for. I also tried play some of my previously recorded tapes with Dolby C on the dbx system, but the sound came out weird, very loud, and also seemingly boosted to the point of clipping. So Dolby B or C recorded tapes must be played without the dbx switched ON. But even then, the benefits of the extra headroom that this deck offers is highly evident, yes even without the dbx system. I just usually switch OFF all noise reduction during playback, yet this Yamaha is so engaging to listen to everytime, all the time!
In 1987, Yamaha introduced the KX-1200U, which looks almost identical to it's predecessor, but come with remote control, and other modern era tape deck functions such as track search 

 In the end, I told my poison buddy Mr Oh, that I don't want to return this deck to him! He was reluctant to sell to me because he wanted to keep it for his own "collection" of cassette decks! And yes, he has many top decks. In the end I managed to convinced him to let me continue to use the Yamaha K-1X, rather than see it sitting on his shelf as a collection.

Mr Oh also have another bullet in his amoury, he said I should try the newer version of the Yamaha K-1X, in the form of 1987's Yamaha KX-1200 U! Stay tuned for that to come next..........

May 29, 2022

Northern Audio Visual Penang, On 11th - 12th June 2022

Finally, an AV Show in Penang! Held on the weekend of 11th - 12th June 2022 at Ascott Gurney Hotel. Organized by none other than Wilson Teoh, also organizer of the Gelombang AV Festival, to be held in Kuala Lumpur Melia hotel from the weekend of 5th - 7th August 2022. The Northern AV Penang will be a glimpse of  what is to come in Kuala Lumpur.

The Penang show is fully booked by exhibitors, and best of all, entrance is free!  

See ya all in Penang soon!