Costing Y80,000 (£300) in its native Japan when launched in 1978, this was a high end cassette deck with a difference. Indeed, for Sony it was an uncharacteristically clumsy attempt at bringing added convenience to the Compact Cassette format. The deck itself was lovely, it’s just that it didn’t quite fit into any particular niche at that time – high end buyers wanted a different set of features, one that didn’t include the K60’s most eye-catching feature – Automatic Music Search.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that this deck wasn’t impressive. I remember browsing Sony’s Autumn 1979 catalogue as a boy, and my jaw dropping at that super-cool LED track display. It was something I hadn’t seen anywhere else apart from the Optonica RT-3151 (which had an even more impressive liquid crystal display, complete with clock functionality), and this was only half the story of this ultra high tech deck. The other gasp-inducing feature was the LCD level meters. A few decks were beginning to feature LED peak meters, sometimes working alongside conventional moving needle ones, but only Sony produced this stunning, high resolution, multi-segment liquid crystal design complete with fluorescent backlighting. The LED AMS display alongside the LCD meters made the TC-K60 about as close to something from a James Bond film that I’d ever seen!
Looked at now, it’s odd that these two features – while nice to have – aren’t actually the best thing about this cassette player. Actually, it’s the Brushless, Slotless, Linear (BSL) motor that is at the heart of the deck that really makes it for me, alongside a huge and beautifully machined flywheel. Fascinatingly, the TC-K60 doesn’t employ tricksy high tech like direct drive multi-motor transports (a la JVC) or dual capstans; instead it runs a classic two-head, single motor system that is beautifully done. For second-hand buyers, some thirty eight years later, this is a huge advantage because there’s less to go wrong. The tape plays in a beautifully stable way, and gives a very low 0.045％wrms wow and flutter figure, which is as good as almost every high end Sony cassette aside from the very best in this respect – such as 1990’s direct driven Sony TCK-730ES.
Add to this excellent mechanism a fine set of heads – Sony’s (then new) Sendust and Ferrite formulation, which is rock-hard yet has better treble extension than the company’s earlier Ferrite & Ferrite design. S&F heads were even more critical with a deck such as this, that would see the tape spinning over them whilst in full contact during track search mode. Even if the owner used this function every day, it still wouldn’t wear the heads out. Contrast that to the soft permalloy record/replay head fitted to the aforementioned Sharp, and you could see which of the two decks was the serious one…
Via standard Ferric, the TC-K60 returned 20-15,000Hz (-3dB) frequency response, 20-17,000Hz with Chrome and 20-18,000Hz with Ferrichrome. By the standards of the day, this was an excellent figure. Couple this to a good quoted signal-to-noise ratio of 59dB (Ferric, Dolby B off), and it’s a strong performer by the standards of the day. Indeed, high quality build permeates this average width, slightly taller than usual machine (430x155x325mm, 7.6kg). The brushed aluminium fascia is superbly finished, and the pressed steel case is decent. The unit runs quietly and is well laid out inside.
The strange thing about the TC-K60, and the reason it has become something of an ugly duckling as far as collectors are concerned, is that similarly priced Sony decks of before and after, are more focused on sound quality. This however, has had a lot of money spent on two fancy features that don’t really add value to the audio performance, but look(ed) extremely impressive in the showroom. Many also felt it was inexcusable to offer non-logic controlled, piano style transport keys on such an expensive deck; if AMS had been omitted, the money would undoubtedly have bought a better logic transport, with the possibility of plugging in a remote control unit.
This is why – despite its strong, stable, powerful sound (one that’s quite ‘open reel’ in many ways) – the TC-K60 remains something of an oddity and lacks the ‘must-have’ appeal for cassette collectors. Prices are duly way lower than more popular classic decks, and you can pick a decent up one for under £50 even now, which makes it an absolute bargain. Because of the battleship build, these decks soldier on and are excellent value second-hand, as a result. Overlook at your peril – remember how breathtakingly expensive they were when new!