I have really special thing for you today… Nakamichi is a Japanese company which is especially known for its excellent and very expensive tape decks. Perhaps the most famous of them all is the Dragon or the 1000ZXL. But these are not what I have here today. Why do you bring that up then, you ask? Well, because what I have here today is also Nakamichi, it’s also called Dragon, it’s also top of the line, but it’s a turntable.
Very Brief History
Nakamichi had released about a billion different tape decks during their lifetime, but only two turntables. Their first turntable was named TX-1000. With its dimensions it was an absolute monster. It was 27 inches long and weighed almost 90 pounds. It wasn’t exactly cheap to say the least. In 1982 it cost 1.1 million yen, which was about 7000 GBP. It was bloody expensive, and not even audiophiles were buying the player, so it’s pretty much impossible to see one of these in the wild. Nakamichi wanted something more affordable, so they came out with the Dragon-CT in 1983 and even though it was a lot cheaper, it wasn’t cheap by any measures, it cost about £1500.
The difference between those two is quite apparent at first sight. While the TX-1000 was designed by Etsuro Nakamichi himself and built by Micro-Seiki, the Dragon was designed by Junichi Okumura and built by Fujiya Audio. The Dragon lost a lot of weight compared to the TX-1000, it’s got a lot smaller and it’s got a lot simpler. Nakamichi got rid of some fancy features, like backlit buttons or pretty amazing display (for its time). However, I fancy simple things, so the Dragon is a bit more appealing to me, moreover I’ve never seen the TX-1000 with my own eyes, I’m judging by the images I’ve found on the net.
When I first saw the Dragon in the brochure, I didn’t fancy it much, but I have to say, it looks much better in person. It’s actually very pretty and it certainly looks a lot better than today’s crap turntables like Pro-Ject. It’s a classic direct drive, two speed turntable, 33 and 45 rpm. With all the accessories, it weights about 44 lbs, which is about 20 kg. Even though it may seem quite heavy, compared to the the TX-1000 monster which weights twice as much, it’s not. But since the TX-1000 was made of metal, while the Dragon was made of wood, it’s quite understandable. The platter weights 4.5lbs which is about 2kg, the rest is chassis and electronics.
The turntable is quite difficult to set up. Just a tiny bit of a mistake and it’s skipping like crazy. I’ve never had such a problem with setting up a turntable before. There are couple of features to help you set up the turntable for the maximum performance though. First is the oil reservoir which makes the arm movement as smooth as possible. At least in theory, I’m not sure if it actually helps with anything, but it should. Then of course, we need to set up the counter weight and anti-skating according to the cartridge manual. For this test, I am using Yamaha MC-11, its tracking force is rated at between 1.5 and 2.1g. It has one unique and cracking feature up in its sleeve you can use, before you drop the needle down on the record.
But first, let me get back to the Dragon Cassette deck one more time. Nakamichi always implemented some crazy shit in their products, but it was always state of the art and sometimes a bit overengineered. The Dragon was really special in so many ways, but it has one really interesting and unique feature. Every time you play a cassette, the deck calibrates its head for an optimal performance. They call it Nakamichi Automatic Azimuth Correction. Nakamichi had implemented something similar to this turntable, they named it Absolute Centre Search System. Some vinyl records may have some minor or major imperfections, like off centre hole, or the hole may be oversized, which makes the record rotate off the centre. The Absolute Centre Search System does exactly what it says it does, it searches for an absolute centre of the record. It does that by measuring the groove eccentricity of the record with the second arm and then makes necessary corrections and adjustments to position entire platter with the little thing on the edge of the platter. Does it actually work? Well, it does. Without the calibration, the cantilever wiggles like crazy and after the calibration it’s a rock steady. Nakamichi claims, that thanks to this system, the wow and flutter will be virtually non-existent and that it can then read 100% of the information from the groove. It’s quite a bold claim. I’ve found one problem with the system though. It doesn’t fancy transparent records at all. But as it usually is, transparent records are always source of problems. Absolute Centre Search System was first implemented in the TX-1000, so the Dragon is not the first device with this feature. Nakamichi wanted to make the TX-1000 perfect, so they not only implemented the Centrer Search System, but also bought an Audio-Technica AT666, fitted the thing to the TX-1000 and named it VS-100. It’s essentially another stabiliser, that uses vacuum to hold a record and the platter together. Measuring the centre takes some time, depending on how much the record is off, of course. This can take up to one minute. If you reckon that’s long, put the bloody VS-100 on and you’ll wait for another 10 minutes before you can start the playback. If you’re impatient, you should better get two systems and switch between them. Listening to one, while the other is stabilising the record.
And here we are, how does it actually sound? They say it sounds better than the TX-1000, but since it’s pretty much impossible to get the TX-1000, I can’t test it. Even though the Dragon sounds excellent, I have to be perfectly honest with you, I find my Yamaha GT-2000 better sounding, even after the centre search. It apparently doesn’t need these kind of fancy features to get the best out of the record. I’ve made couple of direct recordings, so you’d have some idea how it actually sounds with the Yamaha MC-11 cart (watch the video). As I said, it really sounds great, but not perfect, this cartridge can do a bit more. Of course, the most important part of the entire chain is properly pressed record and properly chosen cart. And since playing the record is all about vibrations, the turntable needs proper suspension, firm and easily turning arm to reduce unwanted vibrations.
The Dragon is really special kind of turntable. In 1983 it was state of the art, it has very nice features, it looks good, the sound output is excellent, but it’s still bloody expensive. If you can find one these on ebay, it can cost about 6 or 7 000 GBP and I don’t reckon it’s really worth it. You can find better looking and overall better turntables for much less. It’s expensive just because of the name and the rarity of the turntable. The main arm is solid, rigid and very stable. Someone may be put off by the head shell which is not removable, but it should be more stable the way it is. The suspension works quite well actually, I tried to simulate a little earthquake and it was holding perfectly. It’s a brilliant turntable, the absolute centre search makes it unique. I am not aware of any other turntable with the similar feature. I absolutely love putting the record on the platter, watching the second arm measuring the absolute centre, dropping the arm on a record and listening to the crackling sound of a dirty groove. Anyway, that’s all I’ve got for you today, I’ll catch you later.