Harmon/Kardon CD-491 3-Head/Direct Drive/Closed Loop Capstan Cassette Deck

Today’s Machine Spotlight belongs to my Harmon/Kardon CD-491 cassette deck.  Back in 1983, this deck was extremely advanced, and (arguably) rivaled some Nakamichi models of the day.

This deck still sounds incredible today, in both playback and recording.  Unlike most single-head cassette decks, the Harmon/Kardon 3-head unit enabled the user to listen in real-time while recording, allowing tweaks to be made to achieve optimal quality.

So many buttons!  The machine is well designed, with polished chrome buttons and an aluminum face plate.

All adjustments were easy to make.  Bias (we’ll go over this in another article) and stereo record level adjustments are all possible on this machine.  The deck even included buttons for both Bias and Record Level test tones; press the button when recording, and adjust the settings until the levels on the meter are equal.  After dialing it the settings, rewind and re-record over the tones.  The deck also comes equipped with Dolby B and Dolby C noise reduction features.  The deck features an advanced ‘computerized’ memory function, which could be calibrated to replay songs.

Green dB meter still working perfectly.

All features aside, it’s remarkable that a 36-year old piece of audio equipment still sounds so good.  Part of that is a testament to the build quality of this machine, and also due to the care of the previous owners.  I’ve owned many cassette decks in my life, and this CD-491 is by far my favorite, both aesthetically and functionally.  If you’re ever lucky enough to come across a Harmon/Kardon unit like this, I’d unquestionably recommend taking it home.


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