3 machines in 1: Teac AD-800

The Teac AD-800 is an eye-catching hifi component which costs roughly $300 Australian dollars delivered when purchased from on-line sellers in the United States.

Overview of features

This device plays MP3 tracks from a USB device, MP3 & CD tracks from a CD-R or CD-RW & analogue tracks from compact cassette. What is instantly impressive with this highly-rated component is the full remote control for all functions of the USB, CD & cassette. Recording can be performed via remote control. The machine will record to USB from a CD, cassette or an external analogue source such as a turntable or FM tuner. In addition, Timer Recordings to cassette can be performed. The machine uses an adjustable recording level which are rarely found on portable MP3 recorders but can be important to maintain distortion-free digital recording.

The cassette section is full-logic with auto-reverse & pitch control which would be familiar to disc jockeys & announcers. Pitch control raises or lowers the playback speed by 10 percent. Pitch control can be valuable ‘if it does not sound right to you or does not match the playback speed of the original vinyl record it was taped from,’ according to an anonymous tester.

MP3 recording

On closer inspection, it seems that the machine is far from perfect. 128 Kbps MP3 recordings may not do the MP3 algorithm justice. Audiophile Zomax writes in his review:

I realized when playing back the MP3s on my computer through headphones: 128 [Kbps] does not cut it. Edith [Piaf records] actually sounded fairly good (probably given that the original recording already sounds like it’s am radio), but after I recorded some Nirvana, there was no ignoring the telltale wishy washy cymbals of low-rez digital. Unfortunately 128 [Kbps] is the only option — this will obviously be a deal-breaker for anyone looking to make serious digital recordings of their analogue sources.

192 Kbps MP3 recordings are subject to significant loss of high frequency sounds above 16 KHz, while 128 Kbps MP3 recordings hit the dust above 14 kHz.

Will Ryu of Ars Technica explains the inadequacy of 128 in the modern environment where a 2 GB Secure Digital storage card costs less than a pint of lager:

…At 128 [Kbps] I had no trouble discriminating the CD from the MP3s. At higher bit rates this became increasingly more difficult, but even at 256 [Kbps] I believe I could hear differences by concentrating on certain parts of the track which were more susceptible to encoding error.

..The listening conditions for MP3s have changed, but the standard bit rate of MP3 encoding hasn’t. If you can’t hear the difference between 128 [Kbps] & 192 [Kbps] then congratulations, the more hard disk space to you. But if you can, why settle for 128 [Kbps]?

Recently, three music writers for the Guardian tested the MP3 format:

In my view, there was a real discernible difference between the MP3 or CD and the studio master tracks…

What was very apparent is just how bad a poor-quality MP3 sounded, how good a 320kbps MP3 and CD sounded, and how cutting out the middle man in the audio production chain with a studio master could have unexpected results.

Cassette playback & recording

The Teac combo’s flat response between 50 Hz – 12 kHz with playback of metal cassette tape is barely satisfactory. Wow & Flutter (speed variation) is 0.25 percent using the standard Weighed Root Mean Square measurement, a specification not comparable to the better decks.

Cassette deck spectrum

By frequency response, this is what we are talking about. The spectrum from Programmer & Electronics Engineering Lecturer Albé Bredekamp, shows a white noise signal recorded onto Philips Chrome tape analyzed using Audacity software. The frequency response is measured using a signal at -20dB.

An analysis of 13 cassette decks by Industrial Engineer Alex Nikitin using Audio Tester software indicates that most will exhibit a flat response (that is, one with deviation above or below 3 decibels only below the graphical line) right up to 18 kHz – 20 kHz based on a -10dB recording level. Sony UX-Pro or TDK SA Chrome tapes were used by Alex.

On the Teac deck, the signal-to-noise ratio (even without noise reduction switched on) is excellent. Dolby B, the benchmark noise reduction for decoding pre-recorded cassettes, is included. Metal tapes can be played back but not recorded.

To sum up, the cassette mechanism has poor specifications relative to component hi-fi decks produced in the last twenty years. For example, the current Ion Tape 2 PC deck has far better specs for half the price. A better deck such as this could be plugged into the line-in inputs, but this seems like an unnecessary burden. Nonetheless, the response is superior to the average boombox. Audiophile Zomax (who evidently has great taste in music) maintains:

Tape playback was surprisingly good. Rush Chronicles and Nirvana’s Nevermind, both of which have been sitting around gathering dust for 15 years sounded crisp and surprisingly dynamic. It’s also great to be able to operate the tape playback using the remote.

A final word about recording

With respect to losing high frequency response when recording music using 128 kbps & 192 kbps MP3 bitrates or below-average grade cassette decks, Audiophile Goldear points out:

…Most material does not have such high-level [High Frequency] content. So, unless you are recording moog sythesizers which have a lot of HF energy, at high levels this really isn’t a problem (sic). Take a look at music on a spectrum analyser some time, and you will discover that the HF content above 10 kHz is usually 10 or 15 dB below the midrange in amplitude. So most of the time, you really don’t have that much of a problem.

Further information

Teac website. Full operating instructions can be downloaded.

American Ebay sellers. New stock is priced from $250 Australian dollars excluding air freight.

This entry was updated in August 2014. The article should not be construed as an endorsement of any particular device. Prospective buyers should carefully make their own enquiries. Now if we can persuade Teac for a test model? Pretty please…

One Response to 3 machines in 1: Teac AD-800

  1. anonymous says:

    Detailed, helpful review. Thnx

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