Cassette decks. How good can it get?

I know some guys are going to just want to say a bunch of negative stuff about tape decks and tell me how bad they sound.  There is a lot of music that comes out on tape only (you usually get download too) so I have been acquiring quite a stack of cassettes.  I have a couple of Nakamichi decks BX100 and BX300. The 300 is not working and was thinking of trying to repair.  I am wondering how good of sound you can get out of cassette?  Has anyone taken the leap up to something like the much more expensive Nakamichis or other brands even.  I enjoy the sound. Mainly it's the background noise more than anything but even that is somewhat tolerable.  


Just had my NAK serviced. Costly, but well worth it. An alternate analog to a TT. Have an abundance of blank high quality leading brand high bias type II and type IV cassettes awaiting. Glad because to have some fun at this time they sure do want more than an arm and a leg for them. Library here I come!

@terry9 Wow, insane prices, even from a legitimate vendor.  But I won't even consider buying anything on Ebay after my one and only experience.

I never had the chance to play around with high-end Naks, but have had the BX300/150 as company for several decades now. My mentor told me that the cheaper Naks sound quite like the big ones, however the big ones can record much better. Also, while the lower-ends Naks can be maintained more easily, maintenance of the big ones is a giant challenge and money pit, and harder and harder to find someone who can maintain it. The Naks are a totally different league compared to Yamaha and other lower-end decks I had the chance to.... yet, what truly makes or breaks tape experience for you is the rest of the audio system.

They do not work well with modern mainstream systems, those make them sound like: unacceptable background noise, limited frequency extension, emphasis on wow and flutter, and make you cry for the safety and predictability of digital. Progress has not been kind to tapes. At all.

However, hook a BX150 to a high quality tube amp (without feedback), ultra-high efficiency loudspeakers, and prepare to be very much surprised.  This type of systems approach does not place the noise in the foreground. You will notice that the concept of tape hiss becomes meaningless. Yes, it's there, just like a quiet fireplace is there on a winter night. Yet, apart from a sonically separate fireplace, the music itself has no noise component in it, and comes out very clear and fleshed out. I have a couple pre-recorded cassettes that just sound astonishing, even though they are normal bias, the noise is a non-issue, has not bothered me not a single time. This is hard to grasp as most systems turn the innocuous background noise into a poisonous gritty harsh foreground noise that is ground up with the music.... if you only heard that type of sound, then you have not heard tape yet... just a shadow.   

I have a JVC KD-A5 that is set up in my garage I have friends over for music day we listen to tapes in the garage  they still sound pretty good . Then we go to the party room and listen to lp's . The cassette tapes that I recorded were mostly type II  15 -25 yrs ago they still hold up

I was a huge cassette buyer in the '80's and early '90's.  My main deck was an Onkyo Integra TA-2070 which sounded quite good and recorded well.  It was an expensive deck when new in '84.  Bought a new 2 head Kenwood for $220 in 1989 (about all the money I had as a college kid) which still operates very well.  Not a great deck as compared to all the others mentioned here, but has been a solid workhorse for mobile recording projects and general playback if needed these days.  

Totally agree with @bkeske about the retail production tapes from the golden age of cassettes.  Many of mine sounded very good.

I am a big car audio enthusiast as well and the cassette collection allowed playback at home and in the car.  Remember when the HLTAC head on Alpines came out (vs. the previous SCC head)?  I HAD to have a head unit with that tape head and spent $600 on an Alpine pre amp only pull out head unit in the mid '90's just to have increased SQ in the car...Getting off topic here (my apologies for bringing up car audio), but with A/D/S components and power, it was very high fidelity in the car.