Nakamichi


Nakamichi
Nakamichi Corporation Limited
Type Subsidiary of Grande Holdings Ltd
Industry Electronics
Founded Tokyo, Japan (1948)
Products Hi-fi equipment
Revenue unknown
Website http://www.nakamichi.com/

Nakamichi is an historic Japanese high end audio company most famous for its innovative[citation needed] and very high quality[citation needed] audio cassette decks.

In 1972, Nakamichi launched its first Nakamichi-brand products, home audio gear that included the world's first three-head cassette deck. In 1999, the Nakamichi-brand SoundSpace audio and home theater audio systems were introduced, all design-oriented products that could be hung on a wall. Nakamichi also sells a line of higher-quality mini systems, to a market similar to that sought by hi-tech companies as well as selling automotive stereo products, home theater items and as of 2006, DVD video products.

Contents

Background

Nakamichi was founded in 1948 as Nakamichi Research Corporation Ltd (Nakamichi Kenkyujo Kabushiki Kaisha ) in Tokyo Japan. It specialised in manufacturing portable radios, tone arms, speakers, and communications equipment. Founded by Etsuro Nakamichi, it was later headed by his younger brother Niro. Etsuro's son Ted is the only remaining Nakamichi in the company today. The company was originally established as a research and development firm in electronics and optics but later became known as a manufacturer of quality audio products. While their cassette decks were particularly well known, the company is also credited with numerous other audio innovations, such as self-centering record players, high-end DAT recorders, and ultra-compact slot-loading CD changers. Over the years, the company managed to garner an impressive level of brand loyalty.

In the 1950s, Nakamichi developed one of the first open reel tape recorders in Japan under the Magic Tone label. In 1957 it developed and made its own magnetic tape heads. With the advent of magnetic tape at the time, the company decided to work with the format. Subsequently it went onto develop and market its own tape recorder, and during that same year, launched the Fidela 3-head Open Reel Stereo Tape Deck.

Because of its experience in manufacturing magnetic tape heads and equipment, in 1967 the company started making tape decks for a number of foreign manufacturers including Harman Kardon, KLH, Advent, Fisher, ELAC, Sylvania, Concord, Ampex and Motorola.

In 1973 Nakamichi created stereo cassette decks with such high quality that they eventually made reel-to-reel tape recorders obsolete for consumers. The Nakamichi 1000 and 700 were regarded as two of the finest cassette recorders made in the mid-1970s. They had three heads, dual capstan drive that reduced wow and flutter to new low levels, and Dolby-B noise reduction to improve the signal to noise ratio. The feature that really set them apart was the adjustable record head azimuth and Dolby calibration that could be optimized for each cassette tape. Many audiophiles aspired to but could not afford a Nakamichi 1000 or 700 (whose model number was derived from the list price), so Nakamichi came out with more economical two-head models such as the Nakamichi 500 and the wedge-shaped 600.

A Nakamichi 550. Portable, though the size and weight of an early VCR.

Nakamichi pushed live recording with their Nakamichi 550, a portable cassette recorder that had three microphone inputs: one for left channel, one for right channel, and one for a center blend channel. This recorder could run from batteries or AC and was used to make very high quality recordings in the field. All of these products were known for top-notch engineering and sound quality.

In the late 1970s Nakamichi updated their machines with the Nakamichi 1000 II, the 700 II, and other midrange and low-end models such as the 600 II. They branched out into other audio components such as amplifiers and eventually speakers, but these products were never as highly regarded by the audio community as their cassette decks.

In the early 1980s Nakamichi came out with further refinements in a successor top-of-the-line machine, the Nakamichi 1000ZXL. Prices pushed upward with this machine being $3,800 at the time. The updated 700ZXL was a mere $3,000. Low-end cassette decks sold new for under $200, with the Nakamichi name on them. This time period stands as the pinnacle for cassette recorders, as from that time onwards digital recording methods began to make inroads.

The Nakamichi logo consists, in part, of the stylized representation of the letter "N"; it is also intended to represent in a fanciful way the earth, half of which is illuminated by the sun.[citation needed]

The Japanese to English translation of the word "NAKAMICHI" in the mark is "in the middle of a road" or "midway".

Notable Nakamichi products and advances

Three-head cassette decks

Nakamichi was the first to use a three-head recording technique in a cassette deck.[citation needed] Separate tape heads were used for playback, recording, and erase, whereas prior methods combined the playback/recording function into a single tape head. The three-head mechanism was optimized for each head and allowed the user to monitor the recording quality as it happened. This feature was limited to their higher end units.

The first Nakamichi three head decks were the 1000 and 700 introduced around 1973. In 1977 the 1000II and 700II. The 1000 and 700 series decks had tape bias settings for normal bias (IEC TYPE I) and high bias (IEC TYPE II). Competitor cassette decks offered Ferri Chrome (IEC TYPE III) where as Nakamichi chose not to do so. The settings for the normal and high bias were labeled as EX and SX respectively and Nakamich had their own brand of blank tapes available for sale.

Around 1979 when metal bias (IEC TYPE IV) cassettes came into the market, Nakamichi produced some early metal tape capable decks such as the 660ZX, 670ZX and the 582 as well as the 582Z. The tape settings on these decks were EX (normal bias), SX (high bias), and ZX (metal bias).

Around 1980 Nakamichi introduced the third generation of 1000 and 700 three head decks. The 1000ZXL and 700ZXL had full metal capability as well as normal and high bias abilities and had built in computers for calibrating the decks to a specific tape. These built in computers were known as A.B.L.E. for Azimuth, Bias, Level, and Equalizer. The user would run this program to optimize the deck to a specific brand of tape to get best recording results. Hence the 1000ZXL and 700ZXL were known as computing cassette decks. Also offered was a third lest costly deck the 700ZXE auto tuning cassette deck.

A 1000ZXL Limited was also offered, same spec as the 1000ZXL but with a gold plated face.

Flip-Auto Reverse

Nakamichi RX-505 audio cassette deck with UDAR.
Top view of UDAR mechanism.

Called "UDAR" for UniDirectional Auto Reverse. Used on the Nakamichi RX series of decks. With the advent of auto-reverse (playing the tape in both directions), Nakamichi had long recognized that the angle of the tape passing over the playback head was not optimized if the tape was simply turned in the opposite direction and its first approach was to track the azimuth on the tape itself by moving the head - a very complex affair which led to the design of the Dragon with its NAAC, subsequently Nakamichi never revisited this approach and set its engineers in search of a more elegant solution. Nakamichi soon developed its UDAR mechanism which mimicked the way we had all 'manually' turned our tapes over in the past - thus was born a mechanical system that would eject the tape, spin it around and reload it into the deck. It was available on all Nakamichi RX series of tape decks, i.e., the RX-202, RX-303 and RX-505. The 'top of the range' RX-505 was an updated Nakamichi masterpiece that was made AFTER the ubiquitous Dragon. Indeed, its operation was a lesson in engineering simplicity, easy to set up, easy to calibrate, and easy to use, with only one rewind and forward operation in an utterly unique unidirectional auto-reverse deck. It also had an updated and simpler drive system that was more direct loading, had updated and quieter electronics, and its revised capstan is essentially what Nakamichi used for their 1988 Nakamichi 1000 DAT recorder.

Tape pressure pad lifter

A cassette tape contains a "pressure pad" of some type, usually made of felt (reference image). This pad is within the cassette tape shell (located just behind the tape opening) and opposes the magnetic head of the cassette deck, providing pressure against the head(s) when the tape is being played. Nakamichi found that this pad provided uneven and fairly inaccurate pressure and was therefore inadequate for reliable tape/head contact. Furthermore, Nakamichi found that the pressure pad was a source of audible noise, particularly scrape flutter (the tape bouncing across the head, a result of uneven pressure), and also contributed to premature head wear. Nakamichi's dual-capstan tape decks provide such accurate and precise tape tension that, unlike other decks, the cassette's pressure pad is not needed at all. To remedy this problem, the vast majority of Nakamichi dual-capstan decks contain a "cage" around the record/playback heads that lifts the pressure pad out of the way so that the deck itself—specifically, the dual capstan mechanism—is able to maintain much more consistent tape tension and tape/head contact during playback. This lifting system is unique to Nakamichi.[citation needed]

The Dragon and special products

In the CD era (post 1983), the top line Nakamichi products were termed the "Dragon." The Dragon-CT turntable ("Computing Turntable") automatically adjusted for off-center holes in records by moving the platter in two dimensions. The Dragon CD playing system has special mechanical damping to prevent vibrations of the CD, and holds multiple CDs. The Dragon cassette deck used a special microprocessor controlled azimuth adjustment called Nakamichi Automatic Azimuth Correction (NAAC) to implement auto-reverse, however because it was both expensive to manufacture and more complex and difficult to both service and maintain within tolerance and specification in order to optimize the angle of the tape head when switching directions, Nakamichi sought to produce a new deck with the same excellent accuracy of azimuth but without the associated costs and difficulties of servicing. They came up with an elegant though some think gimmicky solution and that was to automate the manual turnover of tape - in other words eject the tape and spin it around to maintain proper tape head alignment and this is in fact what Nakamichi did with the amazing RX series. The RX-505 is not a compromise as many assumed but the very best method of maintaining azimuth without using the costly, complex and 'somewhat' fragile NAAC system.

Other products from Nakamichi did not acquire the "Dragon" name but were still notable. These include the Nakamichi 1000 series products with the 1000ZXL cassette deck being more advanced and expensive than the Dragon cassette deck. The Nakamichi 1000 digital audio tape transport and Nakamichi 1000p digital to audio converter system were Nakamichi's reference digital audio tape components. These components were intended to establish Nakamichi's dominance in the field of digital audio tape (DAT), but DAT was not widely adopted by audiophiles, as the format itself did not gain acceptance as an industry standard.

Stasis Series amplifiers

Nakamichi licensed "Stasis" technology from powerhouse amplifier manufacturer Threshold (a class A amplifier circuit by Nelson Pass, then a designer at Threshold, now at Pass Labs). This circuit was used in a line of expensive Nakamichi PA series of power-amplifiers, such as the PA-5 and PA-7, as well as their SR and TA series of receivers.

Car stereo products

In the early 1980s, Nakamichi introduced a line of car stereo products. The flagship product was the TD-1200 cassette receiver which incorporated a drawer-mounted, top-loading cassette mechanism with NAAC, Dolby B and Dolby C. Other early products included the TD-700 cassette receiver with manual azimuth correction, a power amplifier and speakers. In the early 90s, Nakamichi was one of the first companies to produce automotive CD changers that loaded multiple discs via a single slot rather than a CD cartridge.

Toyota would choose Nakamichi along with Pioneer to manufacture the audio systems for its range of Lexus automobiles. The Nakamichi unit was the flagship audio system offered to Lexus buyers, and this partnership lasted from 1989 to 2001.

Another follow-on flagship head unit was the TP-1200, which consisted of a headunit and a separate 'black box' pre-amp section. The casing for both units was made from machined aluminium, and the internal circuitry for both units was suspended using a mechanical suspension system. The headunit contained a diversity tuner and display unit only. The pre-amp section performed input switching, volume and tone adjustment. The tone controls (bass-mid-treble) were motor driven analog controls while the volume, balance and fader were digital.

Other products of note were the PA-100 amplifier and the limited edition version the PA-1000. Both were identical in specifications (4x50wrms)and internal layout, the only difference being the case color. The 100PA was silver and the 1000PA black. The mobile TD-560 was a versatile pull-out-of-dash and remote controlled cassette and FM tuner head unit, that performed at the level of excellence matched only by very best Nakamichi mobile decks of the late 1980s era. Revolutionary was Nakamichi's mobile PA-350 four channel power amplifier, with extraordinary discrete amplifiers and exemplary performance specifications.

Decline of Nakamichi

In 1989 Nakamichi, along with Pioneer, teamed with Toyota Corp. to produce a premium sound system in its Lexus line of automobiles. In 1990, Nakamichi introduced the music bank in its CD players which was based on a single loading tray concept with a total capacity of 7 CDs. This differentiated from its predecessor, the CPC players which was based on a carousel design, and the industry which typically offered a self loading magazine. Nakamichi further enhanced the music bank system in its 1992 offering (MB line) touting the quickest changer in the market. However, the quick changer concept experienced frequent jamming in its machines and as a result, required the company to redesign the mechanism in 1994 with a slight delay during the loading process. While this was corrected, Nakamichi's footing in the digital age was not concrete. In fact, its presence in the rapidly growing audio/video arena was modest at best with its AV-1 and AV-2 receivers (introduced in 1993). Further impacting its audio reputation was the ending of the licensing agreement with Nelson Pass for the use of the Stasis technology. Without it, its line of preamplifiers and power amplifiers were compromised; its technological advantage, more important in the high end audio market, was lost. Nakamichi attempted to counter the loss with its receivers touting Harmonic Time Alignment (HTA).[citation needed]

Nakamichi Harmonic Time Alignment technology

The time alignment of an amplified music signal and its distortion components has a profound effect on perceived sound quality. Nakamichi researchers discovered that the human ear is much more tolerant of harmonic distortion if the distortion components are time-aligned with respect to the primary signal. Nakamichi Harmonic Time Alignment (HTA) amplifiers adopt a wideband, low open-loop gain design. A minimal amount of negative feedback is used, but, more important, it is kept constant over the entire audio spectrum. This assures the proper timing between the primary signal and any amplifier distortion components. The sonic benefits of this design include powerful, high-resolution bass, a natural, richly detailed midrange, and smooth, clear highs.[citation needed]

In layman's term, HTA masked distortion through the primary signal. While effective, total harmonic distortion for this technology was higher than Nakamichi's receivers utilizing Stasis technology. Whether sound quality improved or dissipated with this technology is left to the listener's ears.[citation needed]

Nakamichi's reputation for being the pioneer of audio cassettes no longer carried weight in the era of CDs. The lack of innovative digital technology meant Nakamichi was not able to successfully brand itself in the digital age. Further adding to its demise was a shrinking distribution channel as high-end audio boutiques were forced to close as they were unable to compete in a rapidly changing environment where shoppers gravitated towards electronic superstores. Ultimately, electronic consumers, who once were able to apply a significant portion of their outlay on audio-only components, needed to allocate more of their budget towards acquiring new video gear such as laser disc players, flat panel displays, DVD players, etc. In addition, a recession in the early 1990s caused many consumers to settle for mainstream electronics brands.[citation needed]

Toyota also stopped using Nakamichi systems in Lexus vehicles at this time, instead choosing Mark Levinson when Toyota made a deal with Harman International to provide premium audio systems in its vehicles in 2000. Bob Carter, Lexus general manager, also cited a lack of "resonance" with intended consumers as reasons for the switch.[citation needed]

By the end of 1990s Nakamichi failed to transition properly. In 1998, it was acquired by the Grande Holdings, a Chinese company based in Hong Kong. Grande Holdings included electronics companies, Akai and Sansui. Niro Nakamichi left in 1998 to set up Mechanical Research Corporation. The company went into bankruptcy protection on February 19, 2002.[1] In Nakamichi's defense, many high end audio manufacturers were forced to merge or sell to larger holding companies during this time period; such well known companies include McIntosh and Mark Levinson.[citation needed]

The company emerged from bankruptcy and repositioned itself as a manufacturer of high-end "lifestyle" systems" a la Bang & Olufsen. They also manufacture a range of CD changers available for Hi-fi, computer, and car audio use.

As of June 2006, Nakamichi released its first portable DVD player with built-in LCD screen, the Lumos.[2]

Niro Nakamichi

In 2001, Niro Nakamichi, designer of many of the historic tape decks, started a new company, Mechanical Research Corporation, which introduced ultra high end audio amplifiers, preamplifiers, and an integrated amplifier, called "engines." The products featured innovative designs and addressed issues of mechanical isolation, as well as presenting a unique appearance. Soon thereafter, however, the "engine" products were no longer promoted and a line of home theater products was introduced [1].

See also

  • Compact audio cassette

References

External links


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