Denon DRS-610 Cassette Deck

This DRS-610 is the second least expensive machine and yet it is the only one which shares their most eye-catching feature with the top-of-the-range DRS-810. I refer to the gliding drawer arrangement which loads the cassette horizontally into the machine just like a front loading CD player.

Denon claim a number of advantages for this system compared with the usual flip-up vertical cassette holder-cum-window. First there is an improved flywheel associated with the horizontal transport reducing wow and flutter, plus a ceramic composite stabilizer to clamp the cassette housing and further restrict unwanted vibrations and tape misalignment. Then there is the appearance argument that hiding the cassette behind a slim drawer front makes the deck chime more harmoniously with any associated CD player, more especially with the current Denon players, amplifiers and receivers where the "IS" (Integral System) linked remote control will additionally make for easy synchronized operation. Against this I would mildly suggest that the usual window lets us see how much tape has been used up and generally inspires confidence that the tape is running smoothly-and in the direction it should be when fast-winding.

To keep the price down, a number of features on the 810 have been omitted from the 610, notably that other confidence builder, off-tape monitoring which utilizes a separate playback head following just behind the record head to let you hear the sounds a fraction of a second after they were recorded. The DRS-610 has a combined record/playback head, Dolby B, C and HX-Pro based on a new Dolby IC giving stable performance at high frequencies, computer controlled logic giving direct start-up in any mode with the cassette drawer closed or open, switching between the usual play, record and fast wind modes plus a handy Record Return facility. Pressing this button during recording causes the machine to wind back to the point where recording began and re-enter the Record Standby mode. This is very helpful when making a short trial/rehearsal recording or correcting mistakes. It also means that you can quickly get into a position for immediate playback from the beginning."

There is also a Music Search feature which fast winds to the next or previous track gap of four seconds or longer, and a Record Mute facility to record a five seconds silence at the beginning of a track for subsequent Music Search cueing. The usual counter Memory button is provided for automatically winding to the reset zero position. The counter display is real time in minutes and seconds. Provided you toggle the Tape Size button beforehand to match the given cassette type - C60, C75, C90 or C100 - the counter can be switched to show tape time remaining.

Manual fine tuning of the bias is available but it is necessary to make one or more trial recordings for each tape brand and judge by ear on playback whether the high-frequency response sounds best at the detent central position of the Bias knob or with a lower setting (to boost treble) or higher (to reduce treble). The output level control alongside the headphones socket does not only adjust headphone volume but also, rather unusually, the sending level from the machine's output phono sockets. I welcome this variable output level control, since it helps when aligning tape playback level with that from tuner, CD player, etc. Yet it could be a nuisance that the headphones volume is simultaneously affected.

The display panel gives comprehensive indication of all transport modes and the tape type I, II or IV automatically selected by identifying the detection holes on the cassette body. The stereo bargraph level indicator has two rows of 24 LEDs but these actually act in pairs so that only 12 discrete levels are metered. A timer switch enables automatic recording or playback start-up to be programmed using an external timer unit. Accessories supplied include two pairs of phono-to-phono connecting leads and a mini - plug cable for the Denon IS remote control feature.

How it Performed

There are quite a few controls to wrestle with on this recorder: more so than on the cassette components in the Denon "Lifestyle" user-friendly NS-1 and D-100 systems. However the technical performance is of sufficiently high calibre to make any time spent in mastering this machine's functions very worthwhile.

The playback frequency responses from IEC calibration tapes for ferric (I) and chrome (U) were remarkably close to the ideal. This tells us that the designers have done a good job, that final factory adjustments were accurate and, of course, ensures that prerecorded cassettes and swapping cassettes with other "people should be trouble-free. Extended listening tests to some of my own tapes and good quality commercial cassettes produced entirely favourable results with well defined, wide stereo spread and clear wow-free treble.

To check the recording performance I used three Denon blank cassettes as recommended in the user booklet: DX4 ferric, HD8 chrome (metal particle) and HD-M metal. Again the record/replay responses for these were very presentable, with the greater bandwidth and zero level high-frequency headroom of metal and chrome clearly demonstrated. For my tests I left the bias adjustment knob at its central setting but of course it would be any easy matter to fine-tune any tape brand to suit one 's taste in terms of treble brightness versus distortion.

Subjective quality comparisons using speech and selected music sources confirmed the benefits of using premium grade tapes for their more extended treble, absence of dynamic compression and generally closer fidelity to the sound of the source. These criteria seemed better met using Dolby B than Dolby C which appeared to add certain sharpness at the high frequency end. In other ways the technical specification was easily met with wow and flutter so low as to be inaudible in practice, and excellent signal-to-noise ratio,

This is a moderately priced machine with a modest schedule of operational features. However the sound quality is above average and makes the DRS-610 a safe recommendation for anyone seeking to improve on the results generally available at this price.

Denon DRS-610 Cassette Deck photo