Compact Cassette, lest we forget, was a convenience medium. But it was a medium on a mission – to displace open reel as the world’s most popular recording format, and to do that it had to sound good. That’s why we saw some very earnest attempts from the likes of Sony (TC177), Pioneer (CTF-1000) and Nakamichi (ZX-9) during the course of the nineteen seventies. At the same time, products like Sharp’s RT-3388 pushed the convenience aspect, offering hitherto unseen operational sophistication – in some respects – with its computer-controlled APSS track selection system.
In the Beocord 8000, Bang and Olufsen audaciously attempted to offer both. Launched in 1980, it was breathtakingly expensive at £483 – costing twice as much as a Linn LP12 turntable, for example. However, B&O had engineered it to give the best sound possible from the technology of the time, and also offer unsurpassed convenience. It was widely overlooked by the hi-fi press of the time, but that was their loss!
The flagship to the Danish manufacturer’s range was a startlingly attractive yet minimalist design from the masterful pen of Jacob Jensen. Measuring 530x130x300mm and weighing in at 7.5kg it was a large machine and beautifully built too, as you’d expect at the price. Unlike its 5000 predecessor, which used bespoke B&O mechanics, the 8000 sported a high quality Japanese mechanism – a selected version of the same fitted to the Beocenter 7000 music centre and Beocord 6000 cassette deck. It used a high quality DC motor which partnered with a Sendust head which was able to provide the high levels needed to record the (then new) metal tape formulations. Quoted wow and flutter was very low at less than 0.1% (DIN), and the frequency response was a very respectable 30-16,000Hz +/- 3 dB (with MPX filter on).
Whereas the Sharp RT-3388 boasted that it was ‘computer controlled’ on the front panel, there was no such gauche iconography on the B&O, yet it had far more sophisticated ergonomics and functionality. Here was one of the first cassette machines that could be used (a bit) like the forthcoming Compact Disc machines. It all worked around the real time tape counter, which gave a direct reading in minutes and seconds. This was the stuff of sci-fi dreams at the time, only ever having been seen on expensive professional studio equipment before. But rather than recording a timecode on to the tape, the 8000 used a microprocessor to calculate it from the thickness of the tape and the cassette hub size!
To get this to work it was necessary to press the ‘go’ key, whereupon the machine spooled the tape back to the beginning, played for a few seconds, wound forward a bit and played again. Then it would wind back to where the ‘go’ key was pressed, now knowing where it was on the tape in real time! You could then enter real time points via the deck’s keypad, and it would wind to them and start playing. This was all courtesy of a microprocessor that also provided a real time clock for timer recording.
Sonically, the Beocord 8000 was excellent. Although not quite up to the standards of Nakamichi, was still wonderfully clean, clear and enjoyable with a sparkling treble and a taut, tuneful bass. In absolute terms it lacked the crystalline midband of the Nak, but still the 8000 was nothing less than top-notch performer when it had been set-up for your favourite brand of tape. And at this time, its metal tape compatibility was the stuff of most hi-fi enthusiasts’ dreams. An exquisite high end cassette ‘super deck’, the Bang & Olufsen Beocord 8000 is surprisingly cheap secondhand today. Like so much of the Danish company’s classic product portfolio, it is currently woefully undervalued – don’t expect to pay much more than £150 for a top-notch example.