It's very difficult to describe its quality with words and almost impossible to do without doing constant comparisons with other decks.
Until now I was using my beloved Super-D6C (a specially modified and upgraded SONY D6C by Dr Walkman in Italy), a very good recording made with in it on a SONY UX-Pro and a Sennheiser HD280 Pro professional monitoring headphone. But since the last years I had put big interest in learning more about audio quality and trying to find out what's the world's best quality out there. I had the chance to listen to a 200,000 € gear in an acoustically conditioned room, so I guess I could learn that. I also acquired some extraordinary headphones, like the Sennheiser HD650, the famous HD800 and the Focal Elear and the legendary SONY MDR-CD3000, which are far better than the 280 Pro.
Many new and extraordinary decks were added to my collection, like a highly upgraded Pioneer CT-F1250, a Nakamichi RX-505, a Revox B215, a Tandberg 3014 or a highly modified Technics RS-B965, so I think I can say I really know how good a tape can sound. I also highly improved my listening skills. I can now detect distortions or issues when I heard nothing 4 years ago. However, there's still a lot to learn for me and, while I can say I'm prepared for a subjective evaluation, there are people out there who are much better than myself for doing such an evaluation.
For the testing, I've chosen my SONY TC-K909ES and let both them run for a quarter (to warm up). I connected both of them to a simple audio switch (no circuit inside) so I can instantaneously switch from one to another.
I recorded two identical SONY MetalXR exactly the same way, using a deeply cleaned vinyl disc. Of course, I recorded the very same songs, that I carefully chose for having an excellent recording quality and for being excellent samples of how good a song can sound.
All were deeply cleaned and played in my Technics SL1200 LTD with my ANT-Audio Kora3T Limited Edition high-end phono preamp and recorded in my upgraded Nakamichi RX-505.
For listening I've used both my Sennheiser HD650 and HD540 Gold Reference high-end headphones. I stopped using my HD280 Pro for testing as I realized they are not as good and have almost no soundstage.
The Sennheiser 650 is a big one, a bit old but still considered one of the best headphones ever made. And it has a huge number of fans, (myself included). However it has much higher impedance and it can only be fully enjoyed when using very high quality headphone amplifier, like my ALO The PanAm.
When you compare decks with superb performance level, differences become very small and are often entirely up to the listener's taste. I haven't done an objective testing (although I've done lots of RTA analysis with pink noise) but this time I prefer to stay subjective.
Compared to a walkman, the F1250 beats them all. Period. No walkman can achieve the clarity and sharpness of it, specially after being upgraded by Alex. If I compare it to a good mid-level walkman, like a SONY WM-504 or a B39, it is at a far higher level, but if I compare it to some of the best ones, like my Super-D6C, my Super DC2 or the Superb DD9, then the difference is not big. Not very small, though, but not big indeed. The walkmans have a narrower sound, and a bit muddy compared to the F1250.
To analyze the sound I've tested the deck with 7 different cassettes, going from a standard type I ferric to a high quality type IV metal tape, through some popular and excellent chrome
type II tapes:
The 7 tested tapes. From top to bottom and left to right:
BASF Chrome SuperII, SONY HF, TDK SA, TDK AR Limited Edition, SONY UX-S, SONY UX-Pro and MetalXR.
Although not pictured here, I also added for this time a SONY FeCr to test this particular mode in this deck.
Let's start with the chrome tapes, which are the ones I use the most. And the SA from the '92 is the first one tested:
As it can be seen, the SA from the '92 has an excellent performance, as expected. The world's most sold high quality tape stands up to its reputation with an expected performance. Even in a deck that's 14 years older!
Not only the performance at -20dB is almost perfect (like his direct competitor, the SONY UX), but also at -10 and even 0dB it is really great.
Using the assisted calibration system you can see that the result is clearly out of line. A big drop at 15 kHz is something that indeed affects the sound noticeably, so with this deck a good ear or -even better- a good tool like the one I'm using is very welcomed. Keep in mind that its system was designed to work with '75-'79 tapes, but this one is from 15 years later!