| An AIG Online Exclusive I realized at the time, mid-1989, that buying this tape recorder and selling my Nakamichi CR7 would be viewed by readers and other audiophiles as sheer insanity. Now, more than 15 years later, I still have my PMD430, and yet another one to last me through my dotage. Don’t see many CR7s coming up on eBay any more, if any are still in use. But I’m not going to knock that once great machine. I come not to praise nor to bury CR7 (I’ll get to that later), but to marvel at the longevity of this little professional Marantz, many of whose siblings have toiled for decades in courtrooms and other places where accurate archiving is in order.
There were just two stereo models, the PMD430 being the 3-head version, featuring Dolby B and dbx noise reduction. The single-motor transport uses a belt-driven capstan system for low flutter, and while not bullet-proof, the mechanism has been reliable and unfussy. Record speed is very accurate, and variable playback speed allows tuning to pitch of recordings made on other machines. After I bought the second one (which was actually a CP430, made for the European market but otherwise identical), I had its speed synchronized by All-In-One Electronics tape-deck whiz, Boris, after he had made some other circuit board repairs earlier this year.
A few weeks later I decided it might be interesting to once again measure the original 430 along with the newly acquired one. I first ran curves in Summer 89 (Volume 9 #1), and was quite astonished, not just at the frequency response, but the fact that it would maintain those curves at Dolby calibration level, something no other cassette deck in my experience had ever managed. As I noted then, “As you can see, it is almost ruler flat, with just the slightest evidence of the beginnings of tape saturation above 15 kHz. What this tells us is that with this tape [TDK MA-X], especially if one switches in dbx and the limiter (both off for measurements here), it is almost impossible to drive this recorder into distortion.”
Would all this still be true? Well, measurement techniques have been refined over the years, and now I can simply hook up the recorder to my AudioControl SA3050 1/3 octave spectrum analyzer, fire up its pink noise generator, set levels, and put it into record. I chose 3 tapes of current vintage, a TDK MA 90 Type 4, Maxell XLS 110 Type 2, and Memorex dB 60 Type 1, planning to show results for all 3. But due to the virtually identical traces with all 3 (and a few other Fuji and other tape brands), and the difficulty of photographing the 1/3 octave measurements (follow the bouncing balls!), I opted to show just the one above, which is the TDK MA. The less potent tapes showed a dB or so greater rolloff at 16 kHz and above, the ferric down 3 or 4 dB at the highest frequencies, while the Type 2 and 4 had strong energy to 20 kHz. It is worth pointing out that full waveforms can be reproduced by analog tape at these frequencies, something 44.1 digital is incapable of doing. Note also that the rolloff at the lowest frequencies is partly the captured bounces of the “balls”, as well as some moderate slope in response.
The deck shown above is my 17-year-old PMD430, but the performance of the CP430 (numbered with a 2, since they are visually identical right down to the vinyl protective case) was virtually identical after Boris’s cleanup and tuneup. In all those years, I’ve made many outdoor recordings with trains, loons, storms, and so on, as well as annual recordings of the Branksome Hall Girls School Christmas Carol service, and other regular concert recording gigs. In recent times, it has been a loyal backup to my various portable DAT recorders, as well as preserving many CBC Radio 2 concert broadcasts for continued listening. These days I use either almost exclusively in dbx mode, which maintains the extraordinary high frequency headroom (which Dolby doesn’t), as well as reducing noise by 30 dB without any audible consequence. Though I’ve heard dbx pump in other applications, especially when used for dynamic expansion, here it works perfectly, with no noise modulation that I can discern, either.
I you find this performance a little incredible (as in unbelievable), note at photo top that the record/play controls are down (on), the Pause button closest to the meters is not engaged, and the Monitor button below Record and Play is out (tape), all this clearly designating off-tape monitoring in progress. The Limiter button is also out (off), and the meters can be seen to read just a hair above Dolby level. Seventeen years and still performing at spec or better! And a well used (and well loved) portable deck at that!
I’ve owned open reel machines that don’t even come close to this at 7 1/2 IPS, and here we’re operating at 1 7/8 speed. My considerable experience with open reel machines has been less successful, most of them being very finicky for setup, prone to excessive head wear, and very choosey about what tape brands they will tolerate. Not so here. Also, like many other professional recordists, I’ve been hit by the bad binder problems of the 70s, and now have a closet full of 7 1/2 and 15 IPS tapes that demand head cleaning after every track to retain any high frequency response. Luckily this curse did not spill over into the cassette genre, which has proved to be a very robust medium. Most of my cassettes have retained their playback quality, even tapes that spent dozens of seasons in various nooks and crannies of my numerous cars. Would that CDs were so robust!
So, if I’m seeming a little optimistically nostalgic about Philips’s humble little invention of 40 years ago, it’s nice to be able to show the proof of its evolution into a true audiophile format in the 80s. In the case of the Marantz PMD430, it is an evolution of excellence that has endured into the 21st Century.
Hi, I came across this article with interest. I am a musician and love analog sound and recently bought a Marantz Cassette Recorder CP 430. I would be very grateful if you could recommend a suitable high quality stereo mic for use with this machine.
As you’ve no doubt observed, the CP/PMD430 has a pair of 1/4″ TS (tip/sleeve) microphone inputs, but the left is also TRS (tip/ring/sleeve), so you can plug both types of mike in for stereo recording. SONY has several excellent electret types that plug in directly, including the excellent ECM-99 stereo mike.
What you should be aware of is that the 430 has no microphone powering for electrets, so you need types that have internal batteries (usually AAs) for this purpose. There are also lots of dynamics that can also serve, but these may not have the high-end crispness of the electret condensers.
My Marantz PMD430 is an excellent machine, and it still works well. However, the tape runs fast. That is, when played back on another machine, the tape is being played back slower than it was recorded, so it sounds slow. The tape mechanism needs a speed calibration adjustment. I’m sure there is an adjustment for it somewhere, but I can’t find it. Can you point out where it is located?
The speed calibration pot is on the bottom of the circuit board, so you remove the bottom plate. I believe it is clearly marked. However, it’s a tricky hit-and-miss operation that will require a calibration tape to determine speed via frequency. In other words, a technician has to match the frequency on the tape to the same one on a very accurate tone generator; I believe the tone frequency is around 3 kHz, also used to measure flutter. He then has to make sure a signal recorded from the generator matches the source exactly, using a digital frequency meter.
That said, I would strongly advise you to take the recorder to a qualified technician in your area. That’s what I did, because I have two of these machines, and I wanted their speeds to exactly match. Also, as you know, you have variable speed control on playback, so it’s the record speed that has to be calibrated. You might also want to find out if your other machine is running at proper play speed. Good luck in getting things properly matched and set up.