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3-Heads, Dual-Capstan,
Dolby HX Pro, B, C, and S:
The World's Greatest Cassette Deck

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Sony TC-KA3ES. larger.



Sony TC-KA3ES. larger. (3 heads, dual capstans, Dolby B, C and S, about $500 used). bigger. This free website's biggest source of support is when you use these links, especially this link directly to them at eBay (see How to Win at eBay), when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. Thanks! Ken.

December 2012  All Reviews  >  Audio Reviews  >   Sony Reviews


Recommended New Blank Tapes:

Few, if any high-quality cassette tapes are still made today, but there are plenty of deals to be had in top-notch leftover tape from the 2000s.

Feel free to pay $5 to $50 or more per tape over eBay for old TDK MA, TDK SA, Maxell MX and Maxell UDXL II (follow these links to each tape type), but unless you prefer the better packaging of 1970s ~ 1990s tapes, the current tapes below give me the same or better sonic results with the TC-KA3ES' superb ability to calibrate quickly and perfectly to just about any tape. All of these tapes will work great, even with Dolby C's stringent requirements for level and EQ calibration:


Sony XR60 Metal (Type IV, metal) (recent production, made by Sony in France)

Sony XR60

Sony XR60 (France).

These French-made Sony tapes work great, with undistorted peaks up to +8 dB for piano music, and very little bias or modulation noise.

These are the highest audio quality tapes available today. They have mu-metal sheilds over the head area.

If you need longer lengths like C-90 for this tape, just buy more and split between two tapes. The thicker C-60 length tape reduces print-through and has other benefits, and these tapes are so inexpensive and good that I've standardized on them. You can buy a box of ten for less than some people pay for used old metal tapes over eBay!


TDK SA90 (Type II, CrO2) (recent production, made by Imation in Korea).


TDK SA90 (Korea).

This iteration of TDK SA isn't packaged anywhere near as well as classic TDK SAs, however they sound great.

These latest TDK SAs have no mu-metal sheilds over the head area.


Maxell UR60, UR90 and UR120 (Type I) (current production, Indonesia)

Maxell UR60

Maxell UR60 (Indonesia).

These penny-stock Maxells are still being made for office and portable use, and you usually even find them at drug stores if you're in a pinch (they're much cheaper at Amazon). These cheap dictation tapes have no mu-metal shields over the head area.

The TC-KA3ES easily calibrates to these dictation-grade tapes for flat frequency response even with Dolby C.

While their modulation noise and surface finish isn't as good as the above tapes leading to slightly less clean sound if you're using only Dolby B and monitoring carefully over electrostatic headphones, with most music and conventional speakers like B&W Diamonds or Wilsons, the TC-KA3ES can make great-sounding tapes with only Dolby B if you get stuck. Pop on Dolby S, and even these dictation cassettes, once calibrated in a moment with one dial-dot less bias and one dial-dot more record level, sound great.



Performance and Operation         top

Performance & Operation   Specs   More

Adorama pays top dollar for your used gear.

B&H Photo - Video - Pro Audio

The Sony TC-KA3ES is the world's best cassette deck, as of 2013.


Last best cassette deck
Forget Studer Revox

I they love LPs, they'll wet Their pants with tape

Manual calibration nicer

Champagne also

Cassette never a serious medium anyway; always casual and car so I'm baffled as to why people ever, and today, would throw so much
money at a cassette deck.

DAT costs less!

3 head
2 capstan
Continuous HF EQ
LA laser amorphous heads - extended LF
B, C, S, HX
MM:SS counter
?motorized tape load?

DAT by mid 1990s then CD recorders by 1999

Try type I tape: Music has no dynamics anymore today anyway.

metal REC level knobs

Use playlists from iTunes DAC


Sheet metal door

Ignores transport controls sans tape

Loads tape and Punches-up tape monitor when you open door, drop in tape, and press play. No need to press close.

press rewind while playing or recording, and goes straight to rewind

Tap REC to get ready and paused, PLAY or PAUSE to roll. Only complaint is I wish it monitored TAPE instead of SOURCE as you start rolling.

Zero clicks for cal

Multiplexed meters,
Solid back light

Clik-click monitor switch

Linear taper phones pot

Stabilizer cuddles tape. Cute, but who cares? It makes it impossible to see the sides of the tape, or even what kind of tape it is.

Doesn't unslack much tape when loaded.


MM:SS counter, nonvolatile

not that accurate, can be off 1 second per minute in either direction (30 seconds on a 30-minute side)

counts to 99:59 and resets to 0:00. If you rewind, rewinds through -0:01 etc, not 99:59.



14.8w idle
15.2w pause play
18.7w play

Bass squashes first

Flywheels keep spinning a long time when power off



This TC-KA3ES replaced the




Timer missing the :
Lead zero suppression

No limiter

No permanent peak hold

Dolby S
M:s counter



HX Pro

AMS only finds starts.

Weird all in one cal

SACDs need mpx filter!

MPX filter pops in and out without clicks

Counter needs manual reset on loading new tape

Metal for classics, CrO2 OK for pop

With power OFF, hold EJECT and power ON to raise heads for cleaning

Dolby was only a problem with decks that don't calibrate, or whose users don't calibrate and maintain them well.


Sony TC-KA3ES Review

Read no futhrter!


Specifications         top

Performance & Operation   Specs   More



Two 75Ω F-connector inputs.

87.5 ~ 108.0 MHz in 100 kHz steps.

6-gang tuner.

10.7 MHz IF.

Signal strength meter reads from 16 to 70 dBµV in 1 dB steps.

10.3 dBf (0.9 µV) sensitivity for 26 dB quieting, mono.

38.5 dBf (23 µV) sensitivity for 46 dB quieting, stereo.

Signal-to-noise ratio at 40 kHz deviation: 95 dB mono; 86 dB stereo (that's 100 dB mono, 91 dB stereo at 75 kHz deviation, the US broadcast standard).

Frequency response: 15 Hz ~ 15 kHz ±0.2 dB.

0.008% ThD (mono) and 0.02% (stereo), WIDE IF.

0.04% ThD (mono) and 0.07% (stereo), NARROW IF.

65 dB separation at 1 kHz.

70 dB at 300 kHz selectivity at NARROW IF.

90 dB at 400 kHz selectivity at NARROW IF.

45 dB at 300 kHz selectivity at WIDE IF.

80 dB at 400 kHz selectivity at WIDE IF.

600 mV output at 40 kHz deviation (1.125 V at 75 kHz deviation).



Pair of spring-clips for antenna input.

530 ~ 1,710 kHz in 10 kHz steps.

450 kHz IF.

Signal strength meter reads from 0 to 10 arbitrary steps.

200 µV/m usable sensitivity with included antenna.

54 dB SNR at 50 mV/m at 1050 kHz.

0.3% ThD at 50 mV/m at 400 Hz.

50 dB selectivity.



40 presets

Each preset can be AM or FM.

Four banks (A, B C and D), each with 10 (1-0).

Each recalls all the tuner settings: Band, A/B Antenna, IF bandwidth, RF attenuation, FM stereo mode, etc.


5 years.



RCA stereo pair.


Power consumption

13 watts, rated.

9.35 watts, measured, FM, dim display.

9.55 watts, measured, FM, bright display.

7.65 watts, AM, dim display.

7.75 watts, AM, bright display.



17 x 3-1/4 x 12-3/4 inches WHD, excluding projections.

17 x 3-7/8 x 14-1/4 inches WHD, including connectors, knobs and feet.



8.8 pounds.

4 kg.



Made in Japan.



Anti-resonant aluminum front panel.

Off-center insulator feet.

Preset Station Naming: up to 8 characters for each preset.

Multi-sorting function.

Multi-process memory.

Infrared receiver to select presets selected from a compatible Sony remote control.


More Information         top

Performance & Operation   Specs   More

Sony's TC-KA3ES manual.

Sony's dimensional drawing.


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Mr. & Mrs. Ken Rockwell, Ryan and Katie.


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June 2012