JVC UX-1 micro system

hfnvintageOffering all the functionality of full-sized components, this petite five-part '90s system took micro to the max, spawning imitations industry-wide. How does it sound today?

The first time I saw a JVC UX-1 it was pictured on the side of a bus. The image was part of an ad that carried the simple message 'All features, Great, and Small'. And this turned out to be true, for the UX-1 micro system had every function imaginable, sounded like 'proper' hi-fi and was tiny.

The miniaturisation of hi-fi equipment has been covered in these pages before, models such as the Sony TA-88 and ST-88 [HFN Apr '12], Aurex Micro System 15 [HFN Apr '16], Technics SL-10 [HFN Apr '19] and Sony D-88 [HFN Jul '16] all demonstrating that diminutive equipment could still deliver decent sound quality. The UX-1 probably represented the limit of what was possible, its dimensions dictated as much by the formats it played as by the size of the mechanisms needed to achieve this.

Two-Party System
The UX-1 was the first of a new generation of micro systems. Introduced in 1991, it was soon imitated across the industry. Many, if not all, of the copies were of inferior quality or less well specified, but most of the big players had a go. Since playing records was no longer a priority, the width of the UX-1 was little more than the diameter of a CD or the length of a cassette. There had, of course, been radio/cassette/ CD portables before, and some of them even used detachable loudspeakers, but what made the UX-1 special was that it was built from the start as a hi-fi system. This meant no compromises had been made with regards to weight reduction or battery operation.


'Digital brilliance for on the go' – this German flyer promoted the UX-1's compact size and extensive feature set, though it still required an AC mains connection!

The main part of the system was divided into two units, carefully styled so that they could either be stacked on top of each other or placed side by side – a property that defined this new genre of equipment. The complete UX-1 package consisted of five items: the UX-RL1 CD/tuner unit, UX-RA1 cassette deck/amplifier unit, a pair of UX-B1001 speakers and the RM-RX1001 infra-red remote control. It was not intended to be a budget model so everything (bar the loudspeakers) was produced in JVC's top-tier factories in Japan.

Stack Machine
The UX-RA1 contained the power supply for the whole unit, the power amp and the cassette deck. The UX-RL1 housed the complete CD player, the tuner and preamp, plus a microprocessor controlled clock/timer. Inside, both units were stacked with multiple, densely packed PCBs, JVC's experience with portable video products providing the necessary miniature assembly techniques.

What was perhaps astonishing was how much JVC had packed in. The CD player had a motorised lid that could even be operated from the remote control. It was fully programmable and could make synchronised recordings onto a cassette. The tuner covered the FM and MW bands, could store 30 preset stations and had a PLL (phase-locked loop) stereo decoder. The timer could be used to start any source at any time and also make timed recordings from the radio station presets. Meanwhile, the preamp offered a motorised volume knob along with proper bass and treble controls. An auxiliary line level source could also be accommodated.


Pictured here with the system's two units placed side by side, the UX-1 met every need of the keen listener in the early 90s

As for the quality of the cassette section, this put many full-sized decks to shame. It was built around a three-motor, full-logic drive that offered track search facilities and auto reverse using a rotating head platform. The recording and replay electronics even had the necessary service adjustments for full tape calibration, should the owner wish to optimise the machine for a particular brand of tape.

Let's Get Active
As for the power amp, it was IC-based and produced a claimed 11-23.5W per channel. This, and the substantial mains transformer which powered it, were shoehorned into the back of the UX-RA1. Compared to the sophistication of the main units, the speakers, which were made in Malaysia, were perhaps a little unremarkable. Each contained a 12cm long-throw woofer and a 5cm cone tweeter. The cabinets were ported to provide a little extra bass and could be used either standing up or laid down on one side.

Bass enhancement technologies were all the rage in the early 1990s, Sony's 'Mega Bass' being the most widely recognised. The UX-1 included JVC's 'Active Hyper Bass' mode, which was engaged using a push-button on the front of the system and worked in much the same way as the Sony implementation, the aim being to produce a bass lift at low volume levels that diminished as the music became louder. In previous generations of equipment this had been achieved with tapped volume controls linked to extra filters and the once familiar 'Loudness' button.


The units could also be stacked, as seen here. Arranged like this, the UX-1 is exactly the same height as its matching loudspeakers

The trouble with this arrangement was that the depth of the effect was linked to the mechanical position of the control, not the actual signal level or its content. Both Mega Bass and Active Hyper Bass made electronic measurements of the signal as it passed through the amp and boosted the bass accordingly. As well as leading to a more pleasant effect, this also preserved the power amplifier's headroom with the result that unnecessary distortion could be avoided.

Still Surprises
On its release in 1991 the UX-1 stood alone in the JVC catalogue. The following year saw the UX-A3 and UX-A5 micro systems launched, the former a budget version of the UX-1 with mechanical cassette controls and less power, the latter a more comprehensive model that offered more features but which had been simplified inside so as to be easier to produce. After these came the flood; it seemed like everyone was making micro hi-fi. Even B&O's Beosound Century was essentially a reworking of the JVC UX-1 concept.