A true museum piece, this! It hails from a time when Akai was a highly respected Japanese tape recorder specialist, selling the world’s most popular open reel (the 4000DS, of course). The company also had designs on the fast-growing Compact Cassette market, and in 1977 launched a range of in-house designed cassette decks (it’s important to note that many Japanese companies used OEMs, like Nakamichi, to make their early cassette decks). The GXC-310D was a high end model, with all the accoutrements necessary to justify its steep £240 retail price – lest we forget, this cost more than a Linn LP12 turntable at the time!
The deck has one huge advantage, both for its purchasers at the time, and collectors now – namely, Akai’s Glass Crystal (GX) heads. Basically, these do not wear out and will be like new, even now. The downside was that such ‘long life heads’, including Sony’s Ferrite & Ferrite (F&F) design, didn’t quite have the high end sparkle of some of the better, but far softer, Permalloy designs. Still, Akai’s GX were very good all the same, and gave a kind of confidence to tape lovers who could see the heads of their beloved machines wear out, or at least experience a drop-off in high frequencies, in just a year of regular use. The heads on this model in the photograph, now thirty-eight years old, are perfect.
The other luxury features include FerriChrome (FeCr) tape capability; at this precise time this tape of tape was thought to be the future for cassette, offering as it did a more extended treble and better Maximum Output Level, and the concomitant lower noise. Akai quoted a frequency response of 30Hz to 17kHz at -3dB on FeCr, which was superb for 1977 (although by 1987 or indeed 1992 this would be thought very mediocre). On CrO2 tape, it hit 16kHz, and with standard Ferric it made 14kHz. The signal to noise ratio of 50dB was good by the standards of the day (Dolby B Noise Reduction increased it to 55dB), but again poor by later cassette standards.
This was one large and heavy machine (measuring 300x440x143mm, and weighing 8.6kg) as befitted a high end Japanese battleship, and part of the reason was its dual capstan transport which was considerably more complex than almost all other rival machines on the market. Lest we forget, only Sony’s TC-177SD offered this when the Akai was launched, and even had three discrete heads too. Being such a luxury product, the Akai sported adjustable output level, counter memory and a peak indicator for the meters. There was also an unusual ‘tape run’ indicator – a moving LED which showed that things were working down below, in the recessed tape transport area.
The Akai sounds rather dated now; it’s not as crisp and punchy as any cassette deck of five years later, let alone twenty. There’s a little too much noise, but the transport is pleasingly stable (Akai quoted 0.07% wow and flutter, an excellent figure) and the stereo image solid and wide. Treble is decently clean and the overall impression is of a sweet, rather ‘valve-like’ sound that’s certainly great for easy listening, if not punk rock. These days, these decks are fairly rare but not completely undiscoverable; pay between £50 and £200 depending on age, condition, use and whether it has a box or not.