|Subsidiary of Grande Holdings Ltd|
|Founded||Tokyo, Japan (1948)|
|Website||http://www.nakamichi.co.uk, http://www.nakamichi.com/ and http://www.nakamichi-me.com, http://www.nakamichi-usa.com/|
Nakamichi Corp., Ltd. (株式会社中道 Kabushiki-Gaisha Nakamichi) is a Japanese consumer electronics brand that originated in Japan and gained a name from the 1970s onwards for innovative and high quality audio cassette decks.
Nakamichi manufactured electronic devices from its founding in 1948, but only sold them under its own name from 1972. It is credited with offering the world's first three-head cassette deck. Since 1999, its product range has included design-oriented home cinema audio systems, mini hi-fi systems and automotive stereo products, and from 2006, video DVD products.
Nakamichi was founded by Etsuro Nakamichi in 1948 as Nakamichi Research Corporation Ltd (中道研究所株式会社 Nakamichi Kenkyujo Kabushiki Kaisha) in Tokyo Japan. It specialised in manufacturing portable radios, tone arms, speakers, and communications equipment. It was later headed by the founder's younger brother Niro Nakamichi. The company was originally established as a research and development firm in electronics and optics but later became known as a manufacturer of quality audio products. While its cassette decks were particularly well known, the company is also credited with audio innovations, such as self-centering record players, high-end DAT recorders, and ultra-compact slot-loading CD changers.
In the 1950s, Nakamichi developed one of the first open reel tape recorders in Japan under the Magic Tone brand. In 1957, it developed and made its own magnetic tape heads, as well as launching the Fidela 3-head Open Reel Stereo Tape Deck.
Because of its experience in manufacturing magnetic tape heads and equipment, in 1967 the company started making tape decks for a number of foreign manufacturers including Harman Kardon, KLH, Advent, Fisher, ELAC, Sylvania, Concord, Ampex and Motorola.
From 1973, Nakamichi started to sell high-quality stereo cassette decks that benefited from the mass market's move away from reel-to-reel tape recorders to the cassette format. The Nakamichi 1000 and 700, made in the mid-1970s, had three heads, a dual capstan drive that reduced wow and flutter, and Dolby-B noise reduction to improve the signal to noise ratio. The dual capstan drive lifted the cassette tape's spring pressure pad out of the way, enabling lower head wear, and lower modulation noise. High-end features of these models included adjustable record head azimuth and Dolby calibration. The relatively high retail price of the 1000 and 700 prompted Nakamichi to offer lower-priced two-head models such as the Nakamichi 500 and the wedge-shaped 600.
The Nakamichi 550 was a portable cassette recorder that had three microphone inputs: one for left channel, one for right channel, and one for a center blend channel. This recorder could run from batteries or AC and was used to make high quality recordings in the field.
In the late 1970s, Nakamichi updated and broadened its model range, with revised products including the Nakamichi 1000-II, the 700-II, and the lower-end 600-II. Nakamichi branched out into other audio components such as pre-amplifiers, power-amplifiers, tuners, receivers and later speakers.
In the early 1980s, Nakamichi's top-of-the-line cassette deck was the 1000ZXL, retailing at US$3,800, its price only exceeded by the 1000ZXL Limited at US$6,000. The updated 700ZXL sold for US$3,000, but Nakamichi also offered lower-end cassette decks under US$300. This time marked a peak in the market for cassette recorders, before it lost ground to digital recording media such as CD.
From 2011, Nakamichi offered products targeting a younger demographic including iPod docking systems and 3D LED TVs.
The meaning of the brand name and logo
The Nakamichi logo consists, in part, of the stylized representation of the letter "N"; it is also intended to represent in a fanciful way the earth, half of which is illuminated by the sun.
A translation of "Nakamichi", the family name of the company founder, is "in the middle of a road" or "midway".
Notable Nakamichi products and advances
Three-head cassette decks
Nakamichi was the first to use a three-head recording technique in a cassette deck. Separate tape heads were used for playback, recording, and erase. Previously the playback and recording functions were combined in a single tape head. The three-head mechanism allowed higher quality reproduction as well as the ability to hear a recording in progress - as the tape traveled past the recording head onto the playback head.
The first Nakamichi three-head decks were the 1000 and 700 introduced around 1973. The 1000 and 700 series decks had tape bias settings for normal bias (IEC TYPE I) and high bias (IEC TYPE II). Competitor cassette decks offered Ferri Chrome (IEC TYPE III) whereas Nakamichi chose not to do so. The settings for the normal and high bias were labeled as EX and SX respectively. Nakamichi also sold its own brand of blank cassette tapes.
Around 1978, when metal bias (IEC TYPE IV) cassettes came into the market, Nakamichi produced some early metal tape capable decks such as the 580M. The tape settings on these decks were EX (normal bias), SX (high bias), and ZX (metal bias).
Around 1980, Nakamichi introduced the third generation of 1000 and 700 three-head decks. The 1000ZXL and 700ZXL had full metal capability as well as normal and high bias abilities and had built-in computers for calibrating the decks to a specific tape. These built-in computers were known as A.B.L.E. for Azimuth, Bias, Level, and Equalization. The user would use this function (activated by an "Auto Cal" button) to optimize the deck to a specific brand of tape to get best recording results from every cassette. Hence the 1000ZXL and 700ZXL were known as computing cassette decks. Also offered was a third less costly deck the 700ZXE auto tuning cassette deck.
A more expensive 1000ZXL Limited was also offered, with the same specifications as the 1000ZXL but with a gold plated face. Other Nakamichi cassette decks are the Cassette Deck 1 and the Cassette Deck 1 Limited. Like the 1000ZXL Limited, the Cassette Deck 1 Limited is more expensive than the Cassette Deck 1.
Called "UDAR" for UniDirectional Auto Reverse. Used on the Nakamichi RX series of decks. With the advent of auto-reverse (playing the tape in both directions), Nakamichi had long recognized that the angle of the tape passing over the playback head was not the same if the tape head was rotated in the opposite direction and its first approach was to track the azimuth on the tape itself by moving the head slightly—a very complex affair which led to the design of the Dragon with its NAAC. Nakamichi subsequently abandoned this approach and set its engineers in search of a more elegant solution. Nakamichi soon developed its UDAR mechanism, which mimicked the way people had manually turned over their tapes in the past: a mechanical system that would eject the tape, spin it around and reload it into the deck. It was available on all Nakamichi RX series of tape decks, i.e., the RX-202, RX-303 and RX-505. The 'top of the range' RX-505 was made after the Dragon. Its operation was elegantly simple, easy to set up, easy to calibrate, and easy to use, with only one rewind and forward operation in a unique unidirectional auto-reverse deck. It also had an updated and simpler drive system that was more direct loading, had updated and quieter electronics, and its revised capstan is essentially what Nakamichi used for its 1988 Nakamichi 1000 DAT recorder.
Tape pressure pad lifter
A cassette tape contains a "pressure pad" of some type, usually made of felt (reference image). This pad is within the cassette tape shell (located just behind the tape opening) and opposes the magnetic head of the cassette deck, providing pressure against the head(s) when the tape is being played. Nakamichi found that this pad provided uneven and fairly inaccurate pressure and was therefore inadequate for reliable tape/head contact. Furthermore, Nakamichi found that the pressure pad was a source of audible noise, particularly scrape flutter (the tape bouncing across the head, a result of uneven pressure), and also contributed to premature head wear. Nakamichi's dual-capstan tape decks provide such accurate and precise tape tension that, unlike other decks, the cassette's pressure pad is not needed at all. To remedy this problem, the vast majority of Nakamichi dual-capstan decks contain a "cage" around the record/playback heads that lifts the pressure pad out of the way so that the deck itself—specifically, the dual capstan mechanism—is able to maintain much more consistent tape tension and tape/head contact during playback.
The Dragon and special products
In the CD era (post 1983), the top line Nakamichi products were termed the "Dragon." The Dragon-CT turntable ("Computing Turntable") automatically adjusted for off-center holes in records by moving the platter in two dimensions. The Dragon CD playing system has special mechanical damping to prevent vibrations of the CD, and holds multiple CDs. The Dragon cassette deck used a special microprocessor controlled azimuth adjustment called Nakamichi Automatic Azimuth Correction (NAAC) to find the best sound for each recorded cassette tape, however because it was both expensive to manufacture and more complex as well as difficult to both service and maintain, Nakamichi sought to produce a new deck with the same excellent accuracy of azimuth but without the associated costs and difficulties of servicing. The solution (thought by some to be a gimmick) was to automate the manual turnover of tape; in other words eject the tape and flip it around to maintain proper tape head alignment. Nakamichi did this with its RX series. The RX-505 is not a compromise as many assumed but the very best method of maintaining azimuth without using the costly, complex and 'somewhat' fragile NAAC system even though the Akai GXC-65D was the first cassette deck to "actually" use this method where the cassette would flip over instead of the head being rotated but was done in a top-loading fashion as this were cassette decks from the early-mid 1970s.
Other products from Nakamichi did not acquire the "Dragon" name but were still notable. These include the Nakamichi 1000 series products with the 1000ZXL cassette deck being more advanced and expensive than the Dragon cassette deck. The Nakamichi 1000 digital audio tape transport and Nakamichi 1000p digital to audio converter system were Nakamichi's reference digital audio tape components. These components were intended to establish Nakamichi's dominance in the field of digital audio tape (DAT), but DAT was not widely adopted by audiophiles, as the format itself did not gain acceptance as an industry standard.
Stasis Series amplifiers
Nakamichi licensed "Stasis" technology from powerhouse amplifier manufacturer Threshold (a class-A amplifier circuit by Nelson Pass, then a designer at Threshold, now at Pass Labs). This circuit was used in a line of expensive Nakamichi PA series of power-amplifiers, such as the PA-5 and PA-7, as well as its SR and TA series of receivers.
Car stereo products
In the early 1980s, Nakamichi introduced a line of car stereo products. The flagship product was the TD-1200 cassette receiver which incorporated a drawer-mounted, top-loading cassette mechanism with NAAC (like the Dragon), Dolby B and Dolby C. Other early products included the TD-700 cassette receiver with manual azimuth adjustment (like the Cassette Deck 1, Cassette Deck 1 Limited, DR-1 and the CR-7), a power amplifier and speakers. In the early 1990s, Nakamichi was one of the first companies to produce automotive CD changers that loaded multiple discs via a single slot rather than a CD cartridge.
Toyota would choose Nakamichi along with Pioneer to manufacture the audio systems for its range of Lexus automobiles. The Nakamichi unit was the flagship audio system offered to Lexus buyers, and this partnership lasted from 1989 to 2001.
Another follow-on flagship head unit was the TP-1200, which consisted of a headunit and a separate 'black box' pre-amp section. The casing for both units was made from machined aluminium, and the internal circuitry for both units was suspended using a mechanical suspension system. The headunit contained a diversity tuner and display unit only. The pre-amp section performed input switching, volume and tone adjustment. The tone controls (bass-mid-treble) were motor driven analog controls while the volume, balance and fader were digital.
Other products of note were the 100pa amplifier and the limited edition version the 1000pa. Both were identical in specifications (4x50wrms) and internal layout, the only difference being the case color. The 100pa was silver and the 1000pa black. The mobile TD-560 was a versatile pull-out-of-dash and remote controlled cassette and FM tuner head unit, that performed at the level of excellence matched only by very best Nakamichi mobile decks of the late 1980s era. Revolutionary was Nakamichi's mobile PA-350 four channel power amplifier, with extraordinary discrete amplifiers and exemplary performance specifications.
Decline of Nakamichi
In 1989 Nakamichi, along with Pioneer, teamed with Toyota Corp. to produce a premium sound system in its Lexus line of automobiles. In 1990, Nakamichi introduced the music bank in its CD players which was based on a single loading tray concept with a total capacity of 7 CDs. This differed from the rest of the industry which typically offered a self-loading magazine or a carousel. Nakamichi further enhanced the music bank system in its 1992 offering (MB line) touting the quickest changer in the market. However, the quick changer concept experienced frequent jamming in its machines and as a result, required the company to redesign the mechanism in 1994 with a slight delay during the loading process. While this was corrected, Nakamichi's footing in the digital age was not concrete. In fact, its presence in the rapidly growing audio/video arena was modest at best with its Sansui sourced AV-1 and AV-2 receivers (introduced in 1991). Further impacting its audio reputation was the ending of the licensing agreement with Nelson Pass for the use of the Stasis technology. Without it, its line of preamplifiers and power amplifiers were compromised; its technological advantage, more important in the high end audio market, was lost. Nakamichi attempted to counter the loss with its receivers touting Harmonic Time Alignment (HTA).
Nakamichi Harmonic Time Alignment technology
The time alignment of an amplified music signal and its distortion components has a profound effect on perceived sound quality. Nakamichi researchers discovered that the human ear is much more tolerant of harmonic distortion if the distortion components are time-aligned with respect to the primary signal. Nakamichi Harmonic Time Alignment (HTA) amplifiers adopt a wideband, low open-loop gain design. A minimal amount of negative feedback is used, but, more important, it is kept constant over the entire audio spectrum. This assures the proper timing between the primary signal and any amplifier distortion components. The sonic benefits of this design include powerful, high-resolution bass, a natural, richly detailed midrange, and smooth, clear highs.
In layman's term, HTA masked distortion through the primary signal. While effective, total harmonic distortion for this technology was higher than Nakamichi's receivers utilizing Stasis technology. Whether sound quality improved or dissipated with this technology is left to the listener's ears.
Nakamichi's reputation for being the pioneer of audio cassettes no longer carried weight in the era of CDs. The lack of innovative digital technology meant Nakamichi was not able to successfully brand itself in the digital age. Further adding to its demise was a shrinking distribution channel as high-end audio boutiques were forced to close as they were unable to compete in a rapidly changing environment where shoppers gravitated towards electronic superstores. Ultimately, electronic consumers, who once were able to apply a significant portion of their outlay on audio-only components, needed to allocate more of their budget towards acquiring new video gear such as laser disc players, flat panel displays, DVD players, etc. In addition, a recession in the early 1990s caused many consumers to settle for mainstream electronics brands.
Toyota also stopped using Nakamichi systems in Lexus vehicles at this time, instead choosing Mark Levinson when Toyota made a deal with Harman International to provide premium audio systems in its vehicles in 2000. Bob Carter, General Manager for Lexus, also cited a lack of "resonance" with intended consumers as reasons for the switch.
By the end of 1990s, Nakamichi failed to transition properly. In 1998, it was acquired by Grande Holdings, a Chinese company based in Hong Kong. Grande Holdings included electronics companies Akai and Sansui. Niro Nakamichi left in 1998 to set up Mechanical Research Corporation. The company went into bankruptcy protection on February 19, 2002. In Nakamichi's defense, many high end audio manufacturers were forced to merge or sell to larger holding companies during this time period partially influenced by the collapse of the Japanese "bubble economy"; such well known companies include McIntosh and Mark Levinson.
The company emerged from bankruptcy and repositioned itself as a manufacturer of high-end "lifestyle systems" in the same manner as Bang & Olufsen. They also manufacture CD changers for hi-fi, computer, and car audio units.
In 2001, Niro Nakamichi, designer of many of the historic tape decks, started a new company, Mechanical Research Corporation, which introduced ultra high end audio amplifiers, preamplifiers, and an integrated amplifier, called "engines." The products featured innovative designs and addressed issues of mechanical isolation, as well as presenting a unique appearance. Soon thereafter, however, the "engine" products were no longer promoted and a line of home theater products was introduced .
- Guttenberg, Steve. "Nakamichi Dragon Cassette Deck". Home Theater magazine. Source Interlink Media. Retrieved 14 August 2013.
- "Nakamichi 580M". VintageCassette.com. Retrieved 24 April 2015.
- "Nakamichi 1000ZXL Computing Cassette Deck Owner's Manual". p. 9. Retrieved 11 December 2011.
- employed at Nakamichi in 1990-1991
- "Nakamichi, apply for Civil Rehabilitation Law - debt 20 billion yen, shipping and maintenance carried out as before". AV Watch (in Japanese). Impress Corp. 19 February 2002. Retrieved 24 April 2015.
- "Nakamichi Lumos Portable DVD Player". 2007. Retrieved 2007-03-17.
- Nakamichi Nakamichi web site.
- Naks.com The Unofficial Nakamichi cassette deck resource.
- BleusNak CyberSpot Nakamichi cassette deck reference information, photographs, adverts, etc.
- The Nakamichi foundation established by the will of its founder, Etsuro Nakamichi, dedicated to the promotion and encouragement of baroque and other forms of classical music.
- Niro Corporation Niro Nakamichi's current web site, HT products.
- Vintage Cassette Decks Collection of Nakamichi Vintage Cassette decks and other brands.
- NAKS.ES : Luis Peromarta's Nakamichi Site Pictures and restoration projects of Nakamichi Cassette Decks, lots of 1000ZXL information.
- Nakamichi history and classics (German)