Tandy Radio Shack Computer Cassette Recorder (TRS CCR) Comparisons

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PART 2: Comparison of the types of Tandy cassette deck models [photos below]

The intent of this section is to highlight pros/cons and overall differences between the various Tandy CTR/CCR models. The table below highlights some of the differences between the various models of the Tandy cassette recorders.

ModelPositivesNegatives (or notes)
CTR-41
(pdf notes)
– Original model included with TRS-80 Model 1 $599 package (c. 1978)
– “tone switch” at front
– Lacks “ALC” (automatic level control) circuitry, can make recording for digital-data purposes inconsistent
– Records from MIC and AUX (thus needing a Dummy plug to make reliable recordings)
NOTE: Clearly labeled as a “Realistic” brand, not Tandy/Radio Shack label
CTR-80A
(pdf)
– Metal carrying handle
– “condensor mic” at top front
– the “knubs” at the back make this model studier when stood upright
– “smooth” easy-press buttons
COLOR: Black
– Tallest/heaviest of all these models
– Index counter towards back
– Volume knob black labels on black wheel (difficult to read in low light)
– No pause (sixth button is EJECT)
NOTE: Manual mentions coming with a Dummy Plug to help erase tape content.
NOTE: Avoid early (non-A) models, due to potential voltage spike issues.
CCR-81
(pdf)

– Index counter towards front
– Larger speaker
– Metal carrying handle (thinner than CTR-80 model)
COLOR: Silver of Beige
– AC power on opposite side as all other cables
– Two tone (bottom black, top white) [could be a positive, depends if trying to match other equipment color; some variants offered in silver]
NOTE: For all CCR models, STOP/EJECT button are combined (unlike CTR model), which allows PAUSE to be its own button.
CCR-82
(pdf)
– Smaller size
– Sized carrying case (synthetic)
– “monitor” switch to “hear data recordings”
– Volume knob at front and with white on black labels
COLOR: White
– Large gap in backside of cassette lid cover
– no pause (5-buttons only)
– DC power only
– Index counter towards back
– Synthetic material case prone to deteriorating (if left in hot or non-air-conditioned rooms)
– Belts seem more prone to deterioration
– Not included with any “standard” power cable (“$5.95” adapter required)
NOTE: Requires “center negative” AC/6V DC adapter, or a 12V to 6V DC/DC adapter.
CCR-83
(…no PDF manual yet…)
– Cassette lid has two legs (the others technically do as well, but the legs here are more prominent/thicker)
COLOR: White
– Volume knob has black labels (difficult to read)
– Smaller speaker like CCR-82
– Plastic carrying handle
– Index counter towards back
– short/awkward buttons
NOTE: Available 1990-1992.

Here is another table to try to summarize all the main various aspects of these tape recorders: (X==YES, has this feature)

CTR-41CTR-80ACCR-81CCR-82CCR-83
DC 6V “center negative” 2.1mm portXXXXX
Built in 120V AC adapterXXXn/aX
Automatic Level Control (ALC)(“AUTO”)X(**)XXX
Battery Type4xC4xC4xC4xAA4xC
Battery CoverCLIPCLIPCLIPFRICTIONFRICTION
Speaker Size3″3″3″2″2″
Condensor MicrophoneXXn/an/an/a
Counter PositionBACKBACKFRONTBACKBACK
HandleMETALMETALMETALn/aPLASTIC
Volume KnobFRONTSIDE B/BSIDE W/BFRONT W/BSIDE B/B
PAUSE Buttonn/an/aXn/aX
ColorBLACKBLACKBEIGE/BLACK or SILVER/BLACKWHITEWHITE
Lid Gap (mm)000.220.3
Introduced1977(?)19781981(?)1982(?)1990

** I found the CTR-80A to be very sensitive about the volume level during a CLOADM (machine instruction load). In the Color Computer 1: If the level was too high (e.g. max/10) I would get “?IO ERROR” even before the system found the filename. If it was too low (e.g. under 7 in my case), I would get “?IO ERROR” at some point after the system had found the filename. I had to try around level 8.4. Despite ALU, I don’t think there is one specific level: it depends on how the data was recorded (what level was used during that recording), the quality along that position/portion of the tape, and also the condition of the READ head itself. All this collectively can make the CTR-80A fairly temperamental to use even if the belts are in fine condition. In my case, I even had to adjust volume during a LOAD from one day to the next (even on same unit and same tape) which makes me think that temperature/humidity may also influence the necessary load volume.


These CCR-models were sold along side various Tandy computer models throughout the 1980s. There are more recent Cassette Tape Recorder models (e.g. CTR-85, CTR-111, CTR-121, CTR-123, or some from the brand called Realistic), or there are stereo receivers that have cassette tape support also, which may be viable alternatives. But again, it is “trial and error” to determine which alternative will work, or what specific settings are necessary to function with a PC (different settings may be needed for pre-recorded “factory” tapes vs self-made recordings).

Keep in mind that many audio-oriented CTR’s will not have any tape counter index. That counter index is important, since it helps more precisely track what offset into a tape you are at (vital for storing multiple programs on the same tape). However, not all index counters are perfectly aligned (even within the same model), especially as belts have aged (which are used to spin the index counter). That is, if an old tape is marked as having content at index 80, on your tape device the data stream might start at index somewhere between 70-90. Most SAVE protocols will have a long header, allowing for some imprecision in these indexes. If a LOAD fails, try rewinding starting at an index that is a tad earlier (78, 77, 75, etc. if the original marked index was “80”).

In my view, the CCR-81 is the “best” model paired with a PC when looking for used units. While I would prefer the smaller CCR-82, I do think they have a quality issue that make them more prone to needing maintenance than the others (also the CCR-82 has a large gap at the base of the top lid, making the cassette area more prone to dust).

As for the CCR-83, there is nothing really newer/better about it, in terms of function or quality. In fact, despite its size, the CCR-83 has the same size speaker as the smaller CCR-82, and a cheaper looking plastic front handle. Also, the buttons are shorter on the CCR-83, making it awkward to use (have to press the buttons harder). But by being the “newest” of all the units, one good thing about the CCR-83 is that its belts are more likely to be in working condition.

I do like the “feel” of the buttons on the CTR-80A. Not just the dimpled buttons themselves, but pressing the button down feels “smoother” on the CTR-80A. If you find one with belts still in good condition (verify by powering on unit and FWD/RWD a tape and make sure it rotates in both directions), then the CTR-80A is also a good choice.

However, there is one negative about the CCR-81: the AC power cable is on the opposite side (unlike all other models). For good cable management, it would have been better if all these CTR’s had the cable connections at the back (like the original Commodore cassette decks did!). Overall, this is not a huge issue, just that being on both sides then the cables will occupy more desk space than necessary. A simple workaround is to just use a 6V DC adapter instead.

Below is a visual comparison of the CCR-81, CCR-82, and CCR-83 models (presented in that same order, with CCR-81 on left, CCR-82 at middle, and CCR-83 at right).

(click on images for larger preview)

Here are updated photos that include the CTR-80A (black) for comparison…


Below is a comparison of the gap (space) at the base of the cassette lid. A larger gap can mean more dust, debris getting into the cassette chamber and then into the device internals (eventually causing maintenance issues). This is on the order of:

  • CTR-80A (inset, effectively no gap)
  • CCR-81 (minor gap)
  • CCR-82 (largest gap)
  • CCR-83 (small gap)

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