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Yamaha KX493

A Surprising Cassette Deck

Product: Yamaha KX 493
Manufacturer: Yamaha - Japan
Approx. price: 200 $/Euro
Availability: current
Reviewer: Julian Ashbourn - TNT UK
Reviewed: May, 2003

It is becoming hard to source a good quality conventional single transport cassette deck. There are quite a few dual transport models filling out manufacturers ranges as a token gesture to the continuance of the compact cassette in many people's collection of music, and there are one or two high end models, if indeed you can find them in stock anywhere.
Yamaha, to their credit have continued to support the cassette format with three single transport models, the KX 393, KX 493 and KX 580SE. The latter two models have dual motor transports, while the KX 393 is a single motor design. They are all two head designs and, interestingly, seem to share the same record/playback head.
They also sport similar features, although with presumably some difference in the electronics and in the case of the KX 580SE the addition of the Dolby S noise reduction system, which offers a greater degree of noise reduction than Dolby B or Dolby C, while maintaining a degree of playback compatibility on machines not so equipped.

The subject of this review however is the middle of the range KX 493 which, at the time of writing can be picked up for around 200 euros, representing excellent value. At this price, it is worth buying one simply to be able to play back your collection of cassettes for a little longer (which is precisely what I did). But can a 200 euro cassette deck really be any good, or have any serious pretensions towards high-fidelity sound? This is what we are about to find out.

The unit is supplied with a proper manual and attractively presented with a hinged door hiding the less frequently used controls. The included features are both generous and truly useful. These include a headphone socket with it's own volume control, an auto tape tuning feature to adjust bias and sensitivity, a manual bias adjust, Dolby B and Dolby C with separate settings to switch in a multiplex filter if recording from FM radio and an extremely useful play trim control to adjust the high frequency balance when playing back cassettes recorded on another machine which may have had different Dolby tracking characteristics. In addition, there is a counter memory facility and provision for various repeat play modes. In short, a very comprehensively equipped machine. It is worth mentioning also the very clear and attractive display which is bright enough to be seen across the room, but not so bright as to be distracting. The level meters include a peak hold facility and work well.

Mecahnically, you cannot really expect much in the way of quality engineering at this price, but the Yamaha holds it's own in this respect and seems well put together. There is a little motor noise when running, but again this is to be expected at the price and by no means extreme. OK, but what does it sound like? I first ran through a few cassettes which were recorded several years ago on a much more expensive three head machine on Maxell XL high bias tapes. To my astonishment, they sounded excellent. Both tonal balance and detail retrieval were very good indeed, indicating a competent head design. Dolby tracking (at least between these two particular machines) was also good. I had no need to use the play trim control, although experimenting with it confirmed it's usefulness in tilting the high frequency response one way or the other if and as required. I played back some jazz tapes featuring tuned percussion instruments as well as assorted brass and again, the Yamaha sounded fine. So much so in fact that I soon forgot I was listening to a cassette at all and found myself simply enjoying the music. These were good quality tapes recorded from good quality analogue sources and they provided a level of musical enjoyment and involvement which marketers of digital equipment would assure us couldn't possibly exist. An indifferent quality cassette deck would lose this subtlety, but remarkably, the Yamaha did not. I say remarkably, because this level of performance was way above what I was expecting from what is, after all, a relatively low cost cassette deck. This is an excellent achievement.

On to recording. As one who likes to use bias and other adjustments to the full in order to squeeze the last degree of quality from cassettes, I was curious as to how well the auto tape tuning feature would work on the KX 493. The answer is, it works very well indeed. It even manages to achieve a reasonable balance with the notorious Emtec high bias cassettes which have a horrible frequency response. Recording on modern Maxell XL 11 tapes (which, in my opinion are not as good as their predecessors, but still better than most of their rivals) produced good results. Not quite as good of course as the tapes recorded on either of my old three head machines, but then these cost several times the price of the KX 493.
On balance, with currently available cassette tape stock, you can make perfectly acceptable recordings on the Yamaha. Fine for recording from FM radio or making compilations from your favourite vinyl or CD titles. As something of an extreme test, I decided to make up a couple of cassettes for the car, using low cost type one Fuji ferric tapes with no noise reduction at all. The results should have been dire, but, once again the Yamaha astonished with it's ability to craft a highly listenable sound from a fairly low tech medium. These tapes actually played back quite well in a domestic setting, let alone the car. This is very impressive.


In conclusion, I can heartily recommend the Yamaha KX493 as an affordable and yet surprisingly good cassette deck. It's sound quality will not rival high end vinyl and CD players costing many thousands of euros, but then you wouldn't be buying it for this reason. However, for good quality background music replay and the ability to continue playing your valued cassette collection, it represents an outstanding buy. If you have analogue cassettes, go out and buy one now, while they are available. You will not be disappointed.
Well done Yamaha.

© 2003 Copyright Julian Ashbourn - http://www.tnt-audio.com

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