The Music of the 80’s Lives Again

I am one of the Walkman generation.  Though my Mom had some great heavy classical vinyl albums in our house, I never developed much affection for the medium.  I’ve always seen vinyl for its utility (or lack thereof) and fragility.  Vinyl warps and scratches.  It gets dusty.   It is also decidedly not portable.

So, I started with a General Electric portable tape player, graduated to two or three different Sony Walkmans, and purchased something on the order of 80-100 cassette tapes before finally jumping over to Compact Discs in March of 1989.   I pretty much haven’t looked back to analog media since then, though I have branched out into SACD, DVD-Audio, HDCD, and Dual-Layer Discs in recent years.

I got a decent Fisher Boombox in the late 80’s, one that was good enough to support stereo “Line In” that allowed me to play CDs on it well into the 1990’s and digital music from an iPod since then.  It also allowed me to reach back into my tape library for anything that was out of print on CD or things like mix tapes for many years, until finally the belts on its dual tape decks finally gave out.

By then, it was after the year 2000 and I owned a decent 5.1 surround sound entertainment system, and while the boombox was worth repair, something more permanent seemed in order if I ever wanted to play any of my tapes back.  After talking with a friend who also had some archival interest in cassette tapes, looking at what was available in the mall electronics stores, and checking out e-Bay, I discovered that cassette deck manufacture peaked between about 1988-93 and that I really needed to look at a used deck from that period.  Eventually, I won an Onkyo TA-2058 on e-Bay for about $30.  It’s not absolute top of the line, but certainly good enough for my needs… and goodness knows how many hundreds of dollars it was new.  Knowing that maintenance would be an issue, I also found the English language service manual for the unit on a Russian web site for a few dollars shortly after I got it.

That deck served my needs whenever I intermittently felt the need until a few months ago.   At that point, it began to show some serious symptoms of failure.  It would play tapes, but only for short periods that ended with the tape slowing to a stop.  Consulting the exploded view of the playback unit itself, I saw that it had two belts (a main drive belt, and a counter belt) and deduced pretty quickly that they were the likely source of failure.

Finding the necessary parts took a while.  Original factory parts were rare, and had been sitting in plastic bags for nearly 20 years.  Finally I stumbled on an audio forum thread which recommended a guy by the name of Fred Marrs who manufactures (or has others manufacture) and sells belts for a bunch of good and great old tape decks.  Since he’s a one man operation, it took a few weeks to get the necessary replacement belts from him.

I was finally able to take some time today to install the new belts.  It went pretty well and the deck sounds great after the repair.

The TA-2058 with the cover off and belts replaced.

The TA-2058 with the cover off and belts replaced.

The work was tedious and cramped for space but did not require removal of the whole mechanical playback unit.  I was able to remove the plate that held the main drive motor from the back of the playback deck.


The main drive motor with replaced belt.

I was then able to remove the front bezel (though that was not necessary), the front door, the door supports, and a front plate of the playback deck to reveal and replace the counter belt.

The counter belt runs between the left capstan and geared post that functions as the mechanical counter.

The counter belt runs between the left capstan and geared post that functions as the mechanical counter (here partially obscured by the left support for the door.)

Replacing the belts and reassembling the unit took surprisingly little time, and I was able to test the tape deck using my venerable boombox as a bench amp.

Here’s the repaired tape deck playing a mix tape that a friend sent me in the early 1990’s.  The video shows the mix tape, the partially re-assembled deck, the service manual, the boom box, and the old, removed belts.