Nakamichi cassette playback in non-Nak deck?

I've been considering investing in a good used Nak 3-head deck for home recording (DR1 or DR2 or similar) - mainly to make high quality tapes for playback at home and in my Sony walkman and Blaupunkt car deck. Yes, I do own an iPod (1gig shuffle) which I love but cassettes are still cool, too!

Anyway, researching online I came across a bit that stated playback of tapes in a non-Nak deck may be a bit disappointing due to the fact that Nak apparently uses a very narrow gap recording head to magnetize the tape which "ordinary" decks cannot fully playback, leading to a more muddy/muted sound with less soundstage vs. playback in a Nak deck. Anyone have any experience with this?

My walkman is the high-end 10th anniversary edition from 1989 (wmf-701c) with dolby C and laser amorphous head. I believe it is a narrow-gap design with 20-20,000 freq. response with metal tape and S/N better than 70dB with Dolby C. I should say that the FM tuner in the walkman sounds arguably as good or better than MP3's on my iPod at 192kbps! It's a quality deck and I think it would be fun to see how a really well-recorded tape will sound on it. Would a Nak work well in this case or should I find a used Sony ES 3-head deck for best results instead? -jz
Probably still sound better than most, but non-Nak playback will not be as good for the reasons cited. I've had three Nak decks and this was a common issue when playing Nak-dubbed tapes on other folks systems (takes me back to 1978!), since, of course, I NEVER dubbed anything out of my collection for anyone else ;).
I have had several Naks, CR-1a, CR-3, BX-300 and Cassette Deck 1 Special Edition (silver).
I would not worry about the tapes giving you problems with playback in your walkman or car. I have a pretty good walkman I paid well over $100 for back in 1998 (silver aluminum body) and tapes made on my NAK deck do not sound muddy or in any way indistinct on the walkman. These tapes sound fine in my car as well. Where they do not sound as good as playback on a NAK deck are on some other home and pro decks... on a Denon, Marantz, Teac, the tapes do sound rolled off in the highs but still have good bass. I typically record tapes on my BX-300 on my downstairs system and then play them back on my Cass. Deck 1 on my upstairs system and the tapes sound great. BTW if you can find any Nak. brand tapes these are the bomb and the best tapes I've ever used.
Same experience here. I used to play NAK recorded tapes on a Tandberg 440A. The Nak recorded tapes didn't sound as good, but they didn't sound unlistenable by any stretch either.

I just unearthed the following decks from storage:

NAK 550 (2 of them), 480, and 680ZX.
Tascam DP-1 DAT Deck
Tandberg 440A
Uher Report Writer 4400
Sony TCD-5M

Now I need to get a preamp with tape input/output to get them going again. I have tons of concert tapes I recorded back in the '80s to listen to.
I had a 7000 II Nak. CD, Phono, fm, and I-Pod (with excellent earphones) are way better
Used to make tapes on a Nak 480 for playback in the car (Concord head unit, ADS speakers) and the sound was outstanding - treble was clear and extended. If there is a problem with tape track-to-head alignment, the first to go will be the high frequencies. Listen for the highs when evaluating...if they are clear and extended, then no worries.
Most manufacturers of cassette decks boost treble in the record mode and Nak boosts it in the playback mode as prescribed by philips who invented the cassette. In the days of owning a cassette based car stereo I finally used a nak car deck and got great sound.
I own a Cassete Deck 2 and yes I still record tapes to listen in my car and the quality is very inferior. In the nak at home is fine but I've tried in other home decks with same poor results. In the car the issue is mainly due to the input/output level. To use in the car I have to record with a higher input to be able to have a decent sound level but some care is needed or you'll get sound distortion.
For great home sound from tapes I would say get a Nak but to use in other equipments maybe you can try some other brand, the Sony you mention might be better for wider use.
The width of the magnetic gap on a record head has NOTHING to do with the performance of a subsequent playback head. The only compatibility concerns are those of track width, which in a cassette will cause severe crosstalk way before it affects performance parameters.

I have heard the "Nakamichi tapes only play back well on Nakamichi decks" thing for years . . . and I think it's an old-husbands' tale. But Nakamichis were more consistently in good mechanical and electrical alignment from the factory compared to most mass market decks. So if you make a recording on a Nak, play it back on the Nak and it sounds great . . . maybe in comparison another deck doesn't sound as good on playback.

Also, if you compare two tapes, one recorded on a perfectly-calibrated machine, and another on one that runs a tad slow and underbiases the tape, and play them both on a third machine . . . to most people the recording that's higher in pitch and sizzlier on the top end (the second one) will sound "better".

If you find a nice Nakamichi, buy it. They're great.
I've owned a Nak CR-4 and a CR-7a and they both were incredible machines and the tapes sounded OK on other decks.
But, the deck that put all Naks to shame, as far as playback on other decks, was the HK CD-491. Sounded crystal clear, not even a trace of muffling and you could actually use dolby B or C, regardless of whether it was a car deck or another home deck. Great unit.
I have a Nakamichi 600 cassette console. Make me an offer if you are interested.
Thank you all for some very good feedback on this rather obscure topic! It's a little silly in this digital age of iPods but what the hey - I've always enjoyed time spent making recordings to tape real-time while listening to the music.

Buying new seems out of the question esp. for a single-well design. They truly look to be extinct on the consumer side of the market. In the meantime, I have a pretty decent single-well tape deck built into my early '90's era JVC "executive" micro system to get me by (dolby B, metal tape capability, U-turn autoreverse, full-logic controls) but not even close to a good standalone deck, I'm sure. The JVC was built a few years before the cassette part became an afterthought (or vanished) on those systems. The big issue for me with the JVC is no Dolby C (or S, for that matter) and no line out - you can't output to your main system, aaargh! But it has an Aux In which is being put to good use connected to iTunes via my AirPort Express in the bedroom :) -jz
Another option would be an NAD 6300. 3 discrete heads, full monitoring capability, Dolby B and C, fine bias adjust, metal, chrome and reg equalization and a "car" setting that compresses dynamic range a bit in recording, to compensate for high ambient noise levels. Maybe not as high build quality as the NAK, but a great deck nonetheless.
one thing people have not addressed is azimuth. No tape will sound it's best on a deck that the tape was not recorded on if you do not adjust the azimuth of the playback head to match the azimuth of the recording deck.
The higher end Nak's have this feature. Most other consumer decks you can adjust the azimuth by turning the screws at the base of the head, but unless you know which screws to turn, this is not advisable. The Cassette Deck 1, CR7a, ZX7, ZX9, Dragon, 1000ZXL have adjustable or automatic azimuth adjustment. I've not seen any other brand of deck that has this user adjustable feature.
I have a Nakamichi RX 505 with less then 100 hours use boxed up and it looks brand spanking new. I actually thought about hooking this unit back into my system for a conversation piece. Back in the day the RX 505 was one hell of a deck.
John_z, I believe you could test for yourself. Since your options for a Nak will mean buying used, bring your Walkman with you when auditioning any deck you're considering to purchase and ask for a tape the seller made from that deck. Listen to it on the deck for sale, then listen to it on the Walkman. That should tell you if there is a compatibility problem.

And speaking of used Naks, from my experience I could not recommend the 480. I think it was a budget deck and not up to the standards of their other products. The one I owned did not perform as well as the Aiwa 770 I replaced it with or the even better Pioneer CT-S800 I bought after that. The Pioneer was a good bargain as it offered virtually the same specs as the Pioneer Elite, except for the glossy faceplate and wood cap ends, for half the price.
Pryso - that's good advice that I will use if buying local. I am looking beyond just Nakamichi now and am seeing some nice older decks for sale made by Yamaha and Denon, too. Will even consider a 2-head deck if it's quality. Always wanted a 3-head deck, though! I'll keep my eyes peeled for the NAD, too. We'll see what transpires.. -jz
John_z, back in the '70s and '80s I owned several different cassette decks. For me, the 3-head models were so much easier to record with due to the direct monitoring. With the low pricing for used cassette decks today, I would not consider anything else.
Hey Swampwalker, I'm going to look at a NAD 6100 deck from their "Monitor Series" line (circa 1989) for sale locally. Probably a step or two down from the 6300 (It's not a 3-head deck), but looks like a very nice deck nonetheless with low hours offered by the original owner. The price is right and this may be a fine choice for my needs. Pryso- I will bring my walkman to see how the tapes recorded on it sound. Thanks all! -jz
My roommate in college had the Nak that was one below the Dragon - don't remember the model number - this would have been about 1980. It made the most amazing tapes I have ever heard (he had a very good preamp and turntable/cartridge combination too). It was in the shop as much as it was plugged into his system, and I used to tease him about owning a Nakamichi instead of a Ferrari, but that is another story. Not sure this argues for buying a high end Nak used now, but the performance of that machine when it was working to specs was un-fricking-believable. I have recorded using a lot of other higher end decks from Sony, Teac, etc., but nothing even came close.

Those Nak recorded tapes played back much better than fine on any car deck and the few home decks I have played them on. I still have them ALL and they ALL still work and sound great - all Maxell's high bias tapes of the that period... FWIW
Well Audiogoners, sometimes you just get lucky. On Friday I went to look at the NAD 6100 cassette deck and ended up buying the matching cd player and receiver, too! The seller would have sold the tape deck by itself but the other components were so nice I just had to buy the set. It didn't hurt that his asking price for all three components was very reasonable. Thanks John, if you are reading this! He included the original remotes and the owner's manuals and a brochure for the whole NAD Monitor Series lineup from the early '90's. Lots of good information and detailed specs with color photos.

The tape deck is virtually like new, as advertised, and lucky for me so are the cd player (model 5000) and receiver (model 7400). Although the tape deck is not a three-head, it does have Dolby B, C and HX Pro, adjustable fine bias, remote and great specs. Looks like I found my deck! Everything was plugged in so I got to make a sample recording. The tape sounded very , very close to the cd source AND it sounded great in my walkman. This system will become my main rig in the house for stereo music once I move my surround gear to the garage for the new home theater I plan to build out later this year. I can't wait to hear that NAD amp with my Rev One's!
Somebody mentioned already Pioneer CT-S800 - it produces excellent playbacks for cassettes recorded both on my Nak RX505 and 680ZX. BTW, Revox B-215 does the same. Who said that Nak recordings sound good only on Nak ? The bottom line is that if you calibrate the azimuth of the playback head any good deck will playback Nak recordings just fine.