Worn head

Some facts about tape heads

Worn or not worn? That is the question.

Poor output sound quality, loss of heights, is many times considered to be caused by worn head. But is it really true? From my experience, usually it is not! There are many other more probable reasons, like wrong tape path setup, wrong azimuth, worn pinch roller, aged capacitors, poor electronics design, low quality head used, dirty head, etc.
So how does worn head look? For correct answer, head gap should be inspected under microscope. Many times, head that looks completely worn, is still good, and on the other hand, head that looks like new is worn.

Here are two examples:

1. Head from cheap walkman has several thousand of hours played. Here you can see how much material is removed.

But gap looks still good. It is worn uniformly and such head still performs well.

2. Here is another example. This is head from TC-D5M and it looks like new. But notice these small hollows, just on the place where gap is located. This head performa very bad. In one channel, heigts are completely missing. I’ve seen tens of heads with this problem

How can it be fixed? Process is called head lapping. More information sometimes in the future

How can head affect sound quality?

Yes, it can significantly affect sound quality. For example, those walkmans that have amorphous head, like Sony WM-D6C, WM-DC2, WM-D3, or Panasonic RQ-S50, RQ-S80 and some Aiwa have excellent sound quality.

Which heads wear faster and which last long?

It is difficult to answer question. Generally, newer amorphous heads wear slower than permalloy or hard-permalloy heads. Also Ferrite heads and some Sendrust heads last longer. Some manufacturers, like Panasonic, Nakamichi, formed shape of their heads so that wear wouldn’t affect sound quality.