Sony made cassette decks from 1974 to nearly 2004. During those three decades, the machines changed enormously; they started as top-loading designs with small VU meters with slow ballistics, Dolby B and Chrome tape functionality, and little else. By the end of their long run, they were multi-motor, had Metal switching, Dolbys B, C and S, electronic meters and tape counters and a vastly slicker user interface.
The TCK-55/II you see here – a mid-market design costing £180 in 1979 – was in the first wave of the ‘modern’ machines. It sports full logic, LED peak metering allied to fast analogue VU meters, Ferric, Chrome, FeCr and Metal compatibility and a twin Brushless, Slotless, Linear (BSL) motor transport. Upon its launch and the end of the nineteen seventies, it must have felt like a great leap forward – despite being just five years into the Sony cassette story. One stellar feature of this generation of Sony decks is the Sendust and Ferrite (S&F) record/replay head; whatever else wears out with repeated use, this will not! Many rivals at the time had soft permalloy heads, causing many owners to bin them seven or eight years into their lifespans…
Whilst mid-market Sony cassette decks were barely able to scrape 15kHz with Chrome tape just a few years earlier, the TC-K55/II again reveals its modernity thanks to a 20Hz to 19kHz (-3dB) frequency response with Metal tape. It’s worth underlining just what an important new technology that Metal was; this mark II version was hastily introduced with the S&F record/replay head replacing the Ferrite and Ferrite version of the mark I. The new head provided greater headroom and better wear resistance, needed for the new tape type. For a reason best known to Sony, the mark II also got memory stop.
Truly modern in its technical performance, even Sony’s cassette decks of twenty years later couldn’t improve much on the TC-K55/II. With Dolby B in, the signal-to-noise ratio was a quoted 64dB, and wow and flutter was a very solid 0.04%. Total harmonic distortion was quoted at 1%. The 430x130x290mm deck weighs 5.2kg; it’s reasonably solidly constructed with a metal front panel and case, although open it up and you’ll see there is more plastic inside than the previous generation.
Sonically the Sony is very good; it sounds clean and stable with an extended frequency response and low noise; it’s got a big and confident sound that five years or so earlier you would have needed to go to open reel for. It wasn’t quite up there with the best Pioneer cassette decks at its price, but pretty close and had – and still has – a crisp, clean, modernist look. Sony products of this era look strangely timeless; gone were the wooden side cheeks and gaudy brushed aluminium front panels – this looks very good even today. A great bargain second-hand, these are durable and long lasting decks that can be picked up for under £100, making them far better value than more trendy designs.