A Tiny Tape Player With Digital Sound

The portable stereo unit that plays Philips Electronics' new digital compact cassettes (DCCs) finally made it into the stores this month. A car cassette/radio system is due in October. Should you care?

If you're interested in compact-disk-quality sound in easy-to-handle cassette form and you have a large collection of same-size analog tapes, the DCC 130 is a product worth considering. For one thing, DCC offers a much cleaner, crisper sound compared with chrome analog tape--as I discovered when Philips' senior product manager Gerry Wirtz in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, asked me to listen to both versions of Robert Cray's bluesy album Midnight Stroll. And its compatibility with regular cassettes gives it an edge over its competitor, Sony's portable MiniDisc player, which won't take your standard CDs.

Sony promotes MiniDisc as a sturdier portable format, given tape's propensity to stretch, jam, or break. But DCC cassettes have a slidable protective metal cover over the tape opening that should eliminate many analog drawbacks. It does take four seconds longer to move from track to track compared with MiniDisc. But I find cassettes easier to handle on the run than fingerprint-sensitive discs.

DCC technology has been available in larger, more expensive home units since last Christmas, but the format has yet to catch on. Philips believes the pocket-size units will have wider appeal, despite a suggested retail price of $450--comparable with the MiniDisc player, but much stiffer than a high-end Sony Walkman at about $200.

The bump-proof DCC player weighs 1.1 pounds, about the same as a portable CD system, and comes with an AC adaptor/recharger and a 4.7 volt rechargeable nickel-cadmium battery that runs for three hours. Versions licensed by Technics and Panasonic will also be sold. About 600 prerecorded DCC titles are available in the U.S. now for $16 each.

DCC portable stereos have playback capability only. A version that can record blanks--$9.99 for a 75-minute tape, $5 less than blank MiniDiscs--is due next year. No need to wait that long for the DCC car unit. It will retail for less than the $1,000 charged in Europe.

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