Denon DR-M44 Cassette Deck Review

Denon DR-M44
Denon DR-M44

Denon, a division of Nippon Columbia, is probably best known to audiophiles in the U.S. for its high-quality turntables and digitally mastered LP's and Compact Discs. The company is very active in the tape field also, as exemplified by the DR-M44 cassette deck. A three-head, dual-capstan model, the DR-M44 includes an automatic tape-optimizing circuit and both Dolby B and Dolby C noise reduction.

A d.c. servomotor directly drives the main capstan. A second servomotor belt-drives the second capstan, which differs slightly from the first in diameter and rotational speed. This design feature isolates the tape as it passes across the heads and thus helps minimize wow and flutter. The separate record and playback heads (mounted in a common case) permit immediate monitoring of the recorded signal and enable each head's magnetic gap to be sized optimally for its function.

The DR-M44's conventional cassette well is illuminated from the rear to show the tape remaining. Its door is transparent, affording full label visibility, and removable for head cleaning and demagnetizing. Sensors inside the well detect the cutouts on the rear of the cassette shell and automatically switch the bias and equalization for the factory-reference ferric, CrO2-type, and metal tape formulations. The selections cannot be overridden. When tape types are changed, an illuminated rectangle beneath the fluorescent record-level indicators changes position to show the recommended maximum peak-input levels.

To optimize the deck's internal adjustments for the slightly different needs of various tape brands, there is an auto tuning start button that activates a built-in microprocessor program. This recalibrates the deck's bias and tape-sensitivity adjustments, stores the new settings in memory, and rewinds the tape to the point where the fine-tuning process began. The procedure takes only 7 or 8 seconds. Repeatedly pressing the memory/reference switch during recording permits instant comparisons between the factory-reference and optimized settings. While many decks have tape-optimizing systems, no other within our recollection permits a user to monitor their effects directly.

The DR-M44's dimensions are 18-1/4 x 4-1/2 x 11-1/4 inches, and it weighs about 14 pounds. There are no microphone inputs. Price: $599.95.

Lab Tests

The playback frequency response of the DR-M44, as measured with our IEC-standard tapes, was very smooth. With the ferric (120-microsecond) test tape it fell within + 1.5, -3 dB over the 31.5- to 18,000-Hz calibrated range. With the CrO2 (70-microsecond) tape the variation was. even smaller: +2, -0 dB. There was no sign of fluctuations in low-frequency response (so-called "head bumps").

Overall record-playback measurements were made using the Denon DX4. (ferric), DX7 (CrO2-equivalent), and DXM (metal) tapes for which the DR-M44 was factory adjusted. We also checked the deck's performance with a number of more readily available tapes from Maxell, TDK, BASF, and Scotch. The automatic optimizing system was especially useful in this regard, taming an excessive (+ 6-dB) treble peak we found with Maxell XLI-S and properly increasing (by 2 dB) the tape sensitivity for BASF Pro II Chrome. Scotch XS I and XS II were extremely similar to the corresponding Denon formulations, and TDK SA was so close that the effect of optimizing, though measurable, was inaudible.

Using the Denon tapes, frequency response at the customary - 20-dB level measured ±1.5 dB from 40 to 20,000 Hz with all three tape types. Below 40 Hz the response dropped sharply, a characteristic of many cassette decks. The IEC reference level of 0 dB (250 nanowebers/meter) registered + 1 on the DR-M44's indicators. At these levels the superior treble storage capacity of the metal tape is evident from the graph. Because Dolby C reduces the normal record treble pre-emphasis, the metal-tape response extended out to 20,000 Hz -3 dB.

The signal-to-noise ratios of the Denon DR-M44 were very good, as were the wow-and-flutter measurements. Tape speed error was about average. Fast-winding times were on the slow side, but not exceptionally so, and the line input and output levels were entirely normal.

Comment

We found that the DR-M44 did an excellent job playing prerecorded cassettes and in dubbing and playing back material from both LP's and CD's. Wow-and-flutter was notable only for its absence, and with Dolby C hiss was noticeable only against the virtually silent background of a wide-range digital source.

We have had occasion to criticize a number of automatic tape-optimizing systems, but the one in the DR-M44 did its job properly. We were particularly pleased at the ability to make direct comparisons between optimized and factory-set performance-one feature we would like to see widely emulated.

Nor could we fault the human engineering of the deck, except perhaps for its somewhat slow rewind speed. Others might find a single-memory rewind-to-stop insufficient automation, but we did not.

In short, the Denon DR-M44 has the features and performance we like to find in a cassette deck, and we can recommend it without hesitation.