The Nakamichi CR-7A last of the Mohicans...

The Seven's Duo: CR-7 and ZX-7
This time, I decided to give my fellow collectors of the Tapeheads website a chance to help me write this review about the "last real Nakamichi" model: the fabled CR-7. Many things has been said about this gem and most of the time the common claim is that it tends to sound "clinical", "sterile" and "cold" when compared to the old classics like the ZX & ZXL series. Some others prefer the auto azimuth alignment and sound of the popular Dragon and the most technical savy don't loose time explaining that the CR-7 is the only one who has the IEC II conform standard,etc. As you already know, the audio arena is always under fire. Not everyone sails on the same boat and opinions vary widely. I'm personally one of those who prefers the classic Naks with classic transport and sound, but, what does "classic" means in terms of sound? Smoothness? Focus? Better highs and tighter bass? Nobody knows how to describe it in simple terms and that's why the debate continues. To be honest with you, I have found more people favoring the old Naks over the CR-7 but that doesn't means that the CR-7 is not good. On the contrary; it's an excellent and highly desirable beast, part of the heyday of the cassette era remains.

I love mine, now that I could obtain the whole belts and tire set with the installation instructions thanks to Perry and Joe Radio . I noticed that the tape were not spooling tight and uniform during winding and one day it stopped while recording a Maxell C-100. That was the signal that something was wrong with the back tension. The Sankyo transports use a belt that keep tension in order to help the smooth tape handling and it usually goes between an "spur" like wheel and a spooling shaft. Other people calls this "the sensor belt". If this belt goes wrong, the machine will start eating your precious tapes, the winding would be loose and obviously the tape handling could be unstable. In my case, the deck never ate a tape but other problems were present and finally I decided to replace it all. 

For my surprise, when I took apart the front beauty plate there was no sensor belt at all! It was melted and fully destroyed. No wonder why my machine was not behaving properly. I replaced the capstans belt, sensor belt and idler tire. Re-lubed some important points here and there and re-installed everything. My CR-7 is now another kind of beast! The process was relatively easy but the instructions lack some pertinent information,so be prepared to use your imagination as several steps are missing. To make things worse, the sensor belt included in the kit was totally wrong! It was bigger that the size needed. Fortunately, I got the correct one from Perry Esposito days before and that saved my day! 

What does the other says?

1- Pro:

- Sound quality, very clear and open sound
- Very user friendly, meaning autocal, real time counter (past and remaining time), remote control
- The looks, great display


Only one, obviously the motors in the Sankyo transport.
Those are a real pita when you don't use the player 24/7.
When you leave the machine unused for two weeks, you have to fix the motors first.

2- For me the pros: Real time tape counter. Wireless remote controlPH azimuth adjustment via remote so you can adjust it from listening position.Auto CalibrationAuto and Manual tape typle/EQ selection so you can record Type II's at 120usRecording quality. Tapes sound damned near identical to the source.

Cons: Mode motor. Had to have it replaced because it wore out and deck wouldn't function.Battery for saving calibration settings soldiered to board. Had to have a battery holder installed so battery is now serviceable.No cue or RAMM. (Minor gripe)

3- Pro:- reliability, I had not once a single technical problem with it- Auto CAL- Manual PB Azimuth- Impressive looks- Nice to work with (operability)- Loved the auto fader

Cons:A somewhat thin sound compare to the old transports.As said earlier it was not serviced for a long time, however between the CR-7 and the 1000ZXL I had a CR-3 very shortly, and I recognized that sound immediately, so I just conclude from that, that it is a characteristic of the Sankyo transports...

4- All Americans stomp the CR7 into the mud because it is the one and only Nak with a European linear IEC2 conform concept ?

5- Pros: Simplicity, It just works with no drama. Love the manual azimuth, I can get the best out of any recording no matter where it comes from.

Cons: For me none...

And the beat goes on. The general consensus is that it's still a magnificent deck, but of course, it's not perfect, but which one is? NONE. The CR-7A from Nakamichi is a direct drive, three-head cassette deck with Dolby B and Dolby C noise reduction. The deck features manual playback azimuth tuning, asymmetrical dual-capstan transport, auto calibration of azimuth, level and bias and wireless remote control. The display shows remaining time elapsed time, or a four-digit counter reading in all transport modes including fast-forward and rewind. Other features include auto repeat, memory stop, timer recording/playback, and a two-speed master fader control. The Nakamichi CR-7A Discrete-Head Cassette Deck selects equalization automatically - yet you can override the choice. It adjusts azimuth, level and bias automatically - yet you can match azimuth to any tape - from your armchair - with a wireless remote control. Its real-time counter reads elapsed time and time remaining. It will even fade out a recording just before the end - if you'd like. This is what I call convenience!

The Nakamichi brand alone is well worth the investment here.  They are arguably, one of the greatest manufacturers of cassette decks. The CR-7A you see here is what we affectionately call the “baby Dragon.” Why? Because it is just as good as the Dragon but at a smaller price tag. This was a serious machine when it first appeared and at $1,850 MSRP, it was also one of the more expensive Nakamichi cassette decks.  Upon listening to the unit with a good recording cassette, you might even think you were listening to vinyl. It has this organic natural sound that is on the complete other side from the digital spectrum. The piano piece we were listening to sounded very dimensional in our simple setup which only added kudos to the ability of the Nakamichi to make the music come alive. Kahl Audio There you go, for all the people complaining about its "sterile" sound, like me! Ha!

Overall, the auto-calibration system worked very well indeed and achieved impressive sonic results. The record/ playback responses were the best I have measured with Dolby C NR, and in/out and source/tape matchings were outstanding. I wish that the deck had punch-in recording and that the output impedance was lower for some uses, but I'm glad that this unit has counter time modes, manual tape selections, subsonic filter, and manual playback-azimuth control. The price is high, but the Nakamichi CR-7A provides a superlative combination of wide, flat response, low noise and distortion, and a superior auto-calibration system. Hi-Fi Equipment Reviewers always find something to complaint about, otherwise readers might think that they don't know shit about what they are talking about!

An Expert Analysis: Perry Esposito is a highly esteemed Electronic Engineer from Virginia among the Tapeheads community. He's regarded as one of the best and few surviving Revox and Nakamichi experts that still service these kind of gems. I have personally used his services 4 times and all I can do is to praise his expertise. Perry did an objective analysis of the CR-7 that we are including in this review. As a former owner of three CR-7, this gent surely knows what he's talking about: 

  The CR-7 Transport
The Cons, especially the often Sankyo based ones are very real, and very annoying.I have replaced the reel motors in 4 out of the last 5 CR-7 restorations, while converting 3 from idler tire to gear driven. The gear driven are ALWAYS noisier when in play in the room, but have superior FF & REW, and often a better pack wind in play. I prefer not to reignite the tire vs gear debate. Suffice to say that while I personally prefer the gear for reduced issues, IF you have a well functioning tire version, don't be in a hurry to replace it, by assuming it's an automatic upgrade. It often is not.

The control buttons physical design is poor. Amongst the poorest of all the Naks, and IMHO, inexcusable in this price range. The Dragon is actually similar, but heftier. Totally inferior to the 68x and LX-5/3 design. CR-7/5s are often found with missing button covers, especially Play, Stop, and the Fade buttons. Sometimes its a simple matter of the glue getting brittle and the cover falling off, but often its the actual button actuator the cover is glued to that fails. Nakamichi used a fragile, and crude, pair of injection molded plastic hinges that simply flex when the button is depressed. The plastic simply gets brittle with time, or breaks from constant flexing. If you want to decrease the failure potential, and increase the life of the buttons, use the Remote often!! If you don't have a remote, then always press the buttons directly under the silk screened symbol, center from each side, and press lightly. Pressing a corner twists the button and promotes failure.

The battery retained record calibration settings are inferior to the "live" record settings. Always autocal each tape, each side. Once the tape is ejected, the calibration loaded from memory for the newly inserted (even the physically exact same tape) is NOT exactly the same. It will always reduce the highest frequency recorded music a few db. I worked for hours trying to "fix" this issue the first time I discovered it until I Realized, after I checked 4 different CR-7s, that they all did it, and it is not repairable. At the time, I tracked it down to what I believe was a D -A conversion limitation of resolution.

IEC II compatibility is not exact, but as pointed out by others, closer than any of the classic transport decks. It appears Nakamichi tried to split the difference, so it is only about 2 dB down at 20kHz from true level straight compliance, hardly audible. It is easily manipulated as posted by Alex, by changing a few components. And finally, because the auto cal is fully automatic, L&R balance as well as Dolby compatibility is out of your hands. Whatever it spits out, you are stuck with. In perhaps 14 CR-7s only 2 or 3 were correct after a full service when checked! Adjustment requires good cal tapes, good meters, and the CR-7 calibration unit.The transport can sometimes whine. Alex has stated that it is the actual leads on the open DD motor windings leads ringing that cause the whine. Dampening the leads carefully (I've used a few carefully dropped elastic rubbery strings of contact cement type glue) often reduces it significantly. On really loud units, it does not eliminate the whine completely. Once you get used to the solid, truly silent operation of a well serviced classic transport, the Sankyo transport sounds are unsatisfying. It sounds chintzy and lightweight. It doesn't really mean anything, but it's there.

On the Pro side, not mentioned, :CR-7/5 electronics aged very well. Rare is the mystery failure on them due to capacitors or power supply. The most common, and not that common, relatively, is the display itself can fail. The CR-5 & 7 use identical displays, and pushbutton. Once the EQ mod is installed on earlier decks, they all have a much more consistent profile, THD, W&F amongst themselves, than any previous series, by far. The signature and performance of the CR-5 is identical, IF the deck is calibrated for that particular tape. Head failures are very rare compared to the classic transports.From a purely subjective standpoint I can listen to my CR-7 all day. I don't find it clinical or sterile in the least. I also don't find its bass superior to a well tuned classic transport ZX-7/9 or Dragon at all. It clearly has a different signature and that bothers me, but only in an A-B comparison.

There you go. Nothing explains it better than Perry's perspective. In case you need his service, you can reach him at I do have to aware you that he's always very busy and in high demand. You should contact him first before sending anything.

Well folks, the CR-7A cassette deck introduced Nakamichi's latest automatic calibration system and offered other Nakamichi firsts as well. The microprocessor-controlled auto-calibration process includes the expected record-sensitivity and bias adjustments, but adds an important element to achieve superior results: The playback-head azimuth is first automatically aligned to the record head to eliminate misalignment as a source of droping high-end response. Then, the bias adjustments can correct for true response deviations. In conjunction with accurate sensitivity adjustments, the best possible Dolby NR tracking is secured. This machine sounds really good indeed. Since I loved how my ZX-7 records and since the CR-7 manual azimuth adj. serves as a precise and surgical fine tuning adj., I can make excellent sounding dubbing that rival CD to Tape quality. For example: just after I finished my CR 7 service, I choose 2 recordings originally made on a Onkyo machine and on a Revox B 215 in 1988! The Onkyo recording were made on December 28, 1988 using a Onkyo TA R240, a Maxell XL-IIS and encoded with Dolby C. The other were made on a Maxell XL-II, also encoded with Dolby C using a Revox B-215. 

After calibrating the tape (a Maxell XL-II), manually on the ZX-7, I decided not to use any kind of NR. I placed the Onkyo's tape inside the CR-7 and made the proper azimuth adjustment in 5 seconds, selected the Dolby C and hit play in order to set the proper recording levels on the other 7's companion...HOLY SHIT! Man, I'm telling you, this is something you must hear because no matter how many detailed descriptions I can come up with, you'll never understand how good and fascinating the sound was! Gents; we are talking about a recording here made 28 years ago, recorded in a acceptable deck (it was brand new then), but not what you call a TOL deck. Amazing! The quality of the tape recorded on the ZX-7 is one of the best dubbing I have ever heard and with all honesty, I was simply impressed! This combination served me better than the Dragon-B 215S or Dragon-ZX 7 before. No kidding here. Then came the Revox orgasm of Latin Jazz spice of Tito Puente and his orchestra! This was even more hair raising and right there I started respecting more the capabilities of a fine tuned and serviced Nakamichi CR-7!

The Nakamichi CR-7A is a marvel of audio engineering with superior sonic qualities. This cassette deck is very simple to use with its auto-azimuth fine tuning, auto-calibration of any tape formulation, easy to read, accurate fluorescent meters, real-time tape counter, and excellent build quality. Add  the wireless remote, which allows you to control the azimuth of the tape head from your armchair and a easy tape setup. Just insert a tape, press "auto cal," and after a few seconds, the ready light will tell you it's time to enjoy some good music. Some people say that the CR-7A sounds superior to the Dragon while others say the opposite.  I think that each deck has its own distinctive sound. I still own 2 Dragons also and I can tell you that the Dragon excels in the top-end of the frequency spectrum , whereas the CR-7A  excels more in a fuller, rounder bottom-end. Also, the Dragon's high-end frequency response sounds a bit softer and more delicate than the CR-7A's. Personally, I think it really comes down to which sound your ear prefers. Whichever you choose, you obviously cannot go wrong with either one because both machines will not disappoint you and will leave a big smile on your face every time you turn them on. Folks, the bottom line here is that neither one stands head and shoulders above the other, instead, both decks are superb pieces of equipment with their own distinct merits that will not only give you pride of ownership, but tremendous musical enjoyment for many years to come. The same goes for the ZX-7 and its unique sound characteristics. On this level, and this is something that I have repeated many times, the differences are very subtle and up to the listener's preference. We are not talking about apples and oranges here. We are just choosing what we feel is the best for us and in my case I finally choose all 3! Ha! 

I wouldn't loose time trying to decipher why "this" or why "that" if I like the sound. I don't care if the other Naks sounds better or different due to a variation in the equalization standards because I simply don't care a flying plane! The battle concerning the eq standards were fought during the 80's between Nakamichi and the rest of the tape world and all of us know who won! I just care about what I like and what I choose for my own listening pleasure. I leave all that shit to the techies, and while they keep loosing time trying to know why they like this better or that less, I just insert a tape inside any of my many decks, hit play and enjoy! 

So, kickback, relax and enjoy your CR-7 flight!

Text: Carlos J Guzmán - Mono and Stereo Senior Contributing Writer