From the year that pre-recorded cassette sales overtook LP records, comes this swish black box. Whereas previous generations of flagship Sony cassette decks sported features that were once the stuff of dreams, the 1987 700ES brought nothing new to the party. It’s still a high specification machine though, the most important part of which being its brushless, slotless, linear direct drive capstan motor, working with a DC reel motor. This closed-loop dual capstan design gives a vanishingly low 0.025% (WRMS) wow and flutter figure, close to Nakamichi’s CR-7A, no less! A long life Sendust & Ferrite erase head is fitted, next to Sony’s top-end LC-OFC Laser Amorphous record and playback heads.
Its quoted 20Hz-20kHz (at –3dB, Sony METAL ES) frequency response would be undreamt of in a cassette deck just five years earlier, and it sports a strong quoted S/N ratio (60dB with Dolby out). With the then new-fangled Dolby C NR, the figure went right up to 73dB with METAL ES, but not everyone was convinced about the alleged ‘inaudibility’ of this new system. Impressive specs, all the same! Ergonomically, the 700ES is more average, but makes up for it with fine build quality that’s only one rung from the very best – it’s standard sized for a late eighties Sony (430x125x350mm), but weighs a chunky 8.4kg.
Dolby C aside, the feature count of the 700ES isn’t much to write home about – and disappointingly lacks a proper tape calibration system. Because there’s no test tone, the only way to tune the deck to the tape is by putting it into off-tape monitor mode and listening for a flat frequency response as you twiddle the fine bias adjuster. Five years earlier, the TC-K81 sported a sophisticated manual bias and (discrete left and right channel) record level calibration system, so nil points here! The real time electronic tape counter is nice, but the cold blue fluorescent displays on either side aren’t as easy on the eye as some rivals. Indeed, this Sony is a rather charmless machine to use, even if you never feel like you’re in the cheap seats…
Sonically it’s a mixed bag; that direct drive capstan motor is instantly obvious, giving an incredibly tight and solid sound – more so even than the great Walkman Professional. Shame about the head, then – while the record/ replay electronics are very good, the show is let down by a middling record head that saturates earlier than it should do. This means you have to keep the levels down to around 0dB, or you get distortion and overload – this isn’t painful to listen to, but translates as a feeling of compression. Sony obviously dropped the ball here, and it’s perplexing trying to understand why.
These days, the deck still pops up fairly regularly in the classifieds, at a decent price. It’s not a bad machine, but not the great one it should have been. Still, given that you could easily pay under £100 for a well preserved specimen, and they’re a hardy breed, it’s still fine value. Just don’t put it too far into the red when recording and give it a helping hand by using a high headroom Ferric like TDK AD.