Nakamichi Dragon Cassette Deck
LPs and 45-rpm singles remained the unchallenged music formats throughout the 1950s, 1960s, and well into the 1970s when the Compact Cassette really took off. Cassettes were more portable and didn’t suffer from scratches and surface noise issues (but tape hiss could be a problem). The cassette was also the first recordable format to garner a bona-fide, mass-market foothold.
With a tape speed of 1 7/8 inches per second, the cassette wasn’t initially considered a high-fidelity format, but thanks to the fierce competition among cassette-deck manufacturers, sound quality advances quickly elevated the format’s status. Nakamichi emerged as the uncontested king of the hill when it built the world’s first three-head machine in 1973. That deck, the 1000, had separate playback, record, and erase heads, and some owners thought it sounded as good as the better open-reel tape machines. While Nakamichi may have looked like an overnight sensation in the U.S., the company was founded in 1948 in Tokyo, Japan. In 1982, it raised the ante yet again with the Dragon, the ultimate consumer-cassette machine.
The feature that made the Dragon the ne plus ultra deck was its Automatic Azimuth Correction technology. With this technology, all tapes—even prerecorded ones—were played in perfect alignment to ensure accurate and airy, high-frequency response (and for both “sides” of the tape). The Dragon’s downside was that its record bias settings weren’t automated, as they were on many other high-end decks. The Dragon required hand tweaking to optimize recording quality. But if you got it right, it was really right. Nakamichi’s tape transport mechanism used different sized diameters (and, hence, rotational speeds) for the two capstans and flywheels to ensure the smoothest possible tape movement over the record and playback heads. To deal with tape hiss inherent with the Compact Cassette format, the Dragon had Dolby B and C noise reduction, but Nakamichi never added the more advanced Dolby HX Pro.
Priced at $2,499, the Dragon was targeted at serious high-end clientele. It was discontinued in 1993 after an 11-year production run. Used Dragons still regularly show up on eBay and go for $600 to $1,000.