A look at Panasonic's Digital Compact Cassette portable
by Mark Fleischmann
Philips' Digital Compact Cassette (DCC) and Sony's Mini-Disc (MD) have been jousting on an uneven playing field. The first DCC units were tabletop decks, while the maiden MD was a portable -- thwarting direct comparisons. More recently, Panasonic and Philips have released DCC portables and MD has come home as a Sony console. When Panasonic's RQ-DP7 DCC portable ($549) arrived in my listening room, I compared it with my initial impressions of DCC and MD.
My test tape was recorded digitally from a CD player to Technics' tabletop DCC recorder. Heard through the Panasonic portable and a better-than-average home system, the folk, blues, and jazz selections sounded slightly brittle and less substantial coming from the DCC portable than from either tabletop DCC or CD. But the more complex walls of sound in the rock and piano-concerto tracks felt just right, with the latter's string section still gratifying lush. (Strings were one of DCC's few definitive strengths over MD in my original tests.)
In sum, portable DCC works better with busy textures than with sparse instrumentation against a backdrop of silence. Tabletop DCC verges on perfect CD reproduction, but portables in general suffer from low-powered circuits and the bandwidth bottleneck of the eighth-inch mini-jack. This presumably applies as much to Philips' DCC portable, the DCC 130 ($549), as to the Panasonic.
Such sonic nitpicking fades to nothing in portable applications, where lightweight headphones and ambient noise overwhelm all fine distinctions. The Panasonic portable had no trouble playing an analog tape. With vigorous shaking, my DCC tape mistracked only once; the analog tape fluttered slightly in pitch but didn't poop out. Rechargeable battery time is 2.5 hours. At slightly more than a pound, the unit fits in a sportjacket's side pocket, though it doesn't match the shirt-pocket compactness of the better analog portables.
The biggest hurdle for DCC remains the fact that it's a rarefied high-end product aimed at a low-end listener who's used to paying far less for analog equipment and tapes.
This article originally appeared in Popular Science, December 1993.