Pioneer CT-A9X "Reference Master" Flagship 3-Head Tape Deck
I have been after one of these machines for some time as they have a reputation of performing to the level of a Nakamichi Dragon or CR-7a.
I'm happy to report the CT-A9X did not disappoint and in some instances outshined the venerable Dragon, especially in serviceability and reliability.
Sure it doesn't have the coolness factor of a Dragon with all the crazy buttons and knobs. But some may find its simplicity and ease of use more acceptable.
It does feature absolutely the most detailed and largest LED readouts for a VU meter I have seen on a tape deck, rivaling those found on some of the best reel to reel machines! It is unusually large and has more segments than I cared to count. My apologies for not feeding a signal through the machine to activate the meters while photographing. Also notable is the motorized cassette drawer which closes automatically by detecting a tape being inserted! Super cool and convenient.
I performed a service on this machine addressing the aging belts and rubber parts that will fail in time along with cleaning all the controls for super quiet operation. It did not need much else (a great testament to its reliability) other than addressing some of the surface scratches on the top cover which came out better than factory in my opinion.
The machine was a dream to service, with all critical parts being readibly accessible and featuring a logical and clean layout. This is a most welcome and refreshing change from working on Nakamichi machines.
The machine made a great tape with an almost industinguisahble difference on high resolution headphones between source and playback.
More from Pioneer:
The main features of the Pioneer CT-A9X are: 3 heads and off-tape monitoring, digital tape counter with 4 digits, automatic tape type selection and capable of handling normal, chrome and metal tapes, dual capstan transport.
Typical front loading cassette deck with the cassette compartiment located on the left side of the deck. Tape loading/unloading is operated motorized and the cassette needs to be placed with the side to be played facing forward in the cassette well.
Level meters used on the CT-A9X are generic digital peak reading meters. Full-logic transport controls used on the CT-A9X let it respond to the slightest finger contact for fast and effortless transport function selection.
To ensure the best response from the wide variety of tapes available adjustment of, bias, equalization and sensitivity, to optimum levels can be performed prior to recording.
Dolby C-type used in the CT-A9X provides 20 dB of noise reduction above about 1,000 Hz, fully doubling the amount given by B-type. The 19kHz multiplex pilot slgnal present in FM stereo broadcasts can cause false triggering of the noise reduction system. The switchable MPX filter of the CT-A9X filters out the pilot signal, and assuring proper Dolby processing of FM stereo programs.
For undisturbed listening a jack connector for a pair of stereo headphones is supplied. Connection to other audio components for plaback can be achieved by a RCA cable and recording from a source by a RCA cable.
Automatic silent-loading mechanism, MOL balance control type auto BLE, Auto monitor, Feather touch controls with IC logic, Tape slack prevention function, Dolby NR B and C systems, MPX filter, Auto recording mute function and Music search function.
HiFi Classics Review:
Kimber Kable - RCA Interconnects - Better
3-head, single compact cassette deck
4-track, 2-channel stereo
Dolby B and C
20Hz to 23 kHz (Metal tape)
Signal to Noise Ratio:
77dB (Dolby C)
Wow and Flutter:
Total Harmonic Distortion:
16.54" x 5.12" x 14.72"
(420 x 130 x 374mm)
The SkyFi Testing Process for Tape Decks and Reel to Reel Machines:
First steps are performed to determine if the unit is a candidate for our full restoration process or if its just in need of a light service.
We first do a basic functionality test to ensure proper playback fast forward and rewind. We look for smooth operation of the motors, transport engagement and associated rolling parts.
We then do an internal physical inspection to ensure the belts and rubber consumable parts are up to spec.
Internal components are checked to make sure that there are no signs of heat stress or damage particularly in the power supply section. Capacitors are checked for telltale signs of predictive failure including bulging, shrunken wrappers, or physical leakage. We also inspect the PCBs for discoloration from resistors or transistors that may have been running hot. On vintage units we often spot check select capacitors for value and ESR.
A light service will involve replacement of belts and rollers, external cleaning of heads, mechanism and boards and basic record and playback tests.
A full restoration will often include disassembly of the drive system and replacement of all consumable and wearable parts including pinch rollers, belts, brakes, bearings. We then clean lubricate and re-assembly the drive and perform basic mechanical alignment to ensure proper tape path and head alignment.
Final calibration will involved adjustment of playback erase and record heads and optimization of the bias for a specific tape type. We do this with the aid of a Soundtech 1510A tape deck analyzer and a Nakamichi T100 unit and reference calibration tapes.
Final listening tests are done while monitoring with our reference Grado HP1 headphones and a variety of factory and custom reference recordings. We find that there is no better system for critical listening on tapes than the headphones specially when comparing a live feed to a recorded feed.
Yes - Captive Power
Physical Condition (Info Here)
7 / 10
10 / 10