Widget Of The Week
Philips LFH0084 Dictating Machine, 1965
The well known Dutch manufacturer Philips is justly proud of its reputation as the inventor of the
Compact Cassette. It was launched in 1963, became an almost immediate success
and whilst practically obsolete since 2000, it continues in use to this day, albeit mostly as a nostalgic novelty.
However, comparatively little is known about where it came from and what led to
its development. Long story short, in the early 1960s it was the winner in a
two-horse race between Philips development teams based in Vienna and
Belgium. The design goal was to replace cumbersome reel-to-reel tape
with an easy to use cassette system for consumer use that could record and play
back high quality sound.
The Belgian team’s Compact Cassette design was the clear winner
but what happened next now seems rather strange. Media formats that fail at the
pre production stage are generally forgotten and disappear from history, but for some inexplicable
reason the Viennese team’s cassette, known internally at Philips as the ‘single hole’ or Einloch-Kassette,
went on to have a brief life as a tape format in an office dictating machine.
Precisely why Philips went to the trouble and expense of developing the
single-hole cassette system when Compact Cassette was so perfectly suited to
both roles -- dictation and hi-fi recording -- remains a mystery. But they did
and here in all of its glory, in what appears to be it’s one and only
commercial outing, is the desktop dictating machine that was designed to use
it. Behold the mighty Philips LFH0084.
The Einloch-Kassette system,
and as far as I’m aware it was never given a more catchy name, is essentially two identical tape cartridges.
The feed reel contains enough tape for around 20 minutes worth of recording per
side on 3.81 mm (1/8 in) wide tape, running at 4.76 cms (1 7/8 ips), and it is
probably no coincidence that both tape width and recording speed are exactly
the same as Compact Cassette. So far so mundane, but the rather clever feature
is the cassette’s STS (Self Thread System) tape lacing feature. The two
cassettes are loaded into the compartment on the top of the machine – the full one goes
on the left side. Pressing the large red key energises a lever that
draws the tape out of the cartridge by grabbing a small red (or blue)
‘hook’ attached to a short section of leader tape. The lever then inserts the
hook into the take-up cassette where it is caught by a curly notch on the
rotating empty take-up reel. A buzzer sounds, indicating that the process has
worked and recording or playback can begin. Hopefully you can get an idea of
how it works from the close-up photo of the two cartridges.
Ease of use was clearly an important design consideration. Piano
key controls on the top left side of the machine for play/record, fast-forward
and rewind are duplicated on the large microphone, which also doubles up as a
speaker. It can also be used with a stethoscope type headset and floor pedal,
both of which make dictation and subsequent transcribing a lot easier. Speaking
of which, you may have noticed the large horizontal scale running across the
front of the machine. This is effectively the tape counter and a pointer moves
across the scale as the tape is running so a particular segment of a recording
can be easily identified, and it also clearly shows how much tape has been used
or remains. By the way, the operating key on the deck marked with a red capital
‘T’ is for telephone recording. There is a socket on the side of the case for a
pickup coil that attaches to the side of a phone.
By today’s standards the LFH0084 is vastly over-engineered and I
suspect only one step removed from the first prototypes. It features a tough
metal chassis and the fancy STS tape lacer mechanism involves many, many,
moving parts, solenoids, pulleys and drive belts. The power supply is horribly
complicated as well, to allow it to work on any mains supply (110 – 245 VAC,
50/60Hz) almost anywhere in the world. Build quality is outstanding, though, and there
are handy features for service engineers, like the hinged main board and easy
access to the drive belts, though this also suggests that the complex mechanics
may have required regular attention; there’s a helluva lot to go wrong or need
It was a fiver well spent at the Sussex boot sale where I found
it. Not only was it outwardly in fair to good condition it came with a pair of
the super rare tape cartridges. You can’t have everything, though and the
versatile microphone speaker remote control it uses wasn’t included. I wasn’t
too hopeful about it working and later, when I got it home, proved right. It
was a familiar story; all of the drive belts had turned to a disgusting sticky
black goop, widely deposited throughout the drive mechanism. As usual the
removal took several hours and several pounds worth of cleaning materials. The transport
mechanism and keys had seized, mainly due to the large red tab key coming
adrift from its mounting bracket but this was easily fixed and after removing
and replacing the dried out grease and squirting a few drops of oil here and
there, it was ready for a safety check and power-up test. There were no sparks or smoke, the
motor turned and the indicator lamps lit up, which was all very encouraging.
With new drive belts fitted most tape transport functions worked straight away.
The exception was the STS tape lacer, which worked only very occasionally. I
managed to get hold of a service manual so there is a good chance I can get it
running properly again, one day... Meanwhile I managed to jury rig a microphone
and headphone long enough to verify that the electronics were okay. There was
even an old recording on the tape with some short but just about legible
snatches of dictation. Judging by the content it seems likely that it was once
owned by an estate agent.
What Happened To It?
It must have been obvious to almost everyone involved in its
development that Einloch-Kassette was no match for the Compact Cassette. It failed on
almost every level, but back then office users were a naturally conservative
bunch. The Philips brand was highly respected and a fair few LFH0084s must have
been made for the occasional one to pop up on ebay, and at car boot sales.
Incidentally the ‘universal’ power supply meant that they were also sold in the
US under the Norelco brand. Sadly though, rarity and weirdness count for
nothing and when they appear prices are generally between £10 and £25. Don’t get too excited,
though, most of them are listed as ‘for parts or not working’. On the other
hand, provided you can find one that includes the mike/remote and a couple of cartridge it
would make an interesting restoration project for a capable tinkerer; at
worst, a good source of 60’s vintage electronic components. I have yet to see a
guaranteed runner but given its rather dull appearance and the limited number
of collectors in this field I have a feeling the price wouldn’t be much
First Seen: 1963?
Original Price: £100?
Value Today: £15 (0921)
Features: Dual single hole (Einloch-Kassette)
tape cartridge (70 x 70mm), 2-track recording (20 mins per side) system, 4.76
cms (1 7/8 ips) speed, 3.81mm (1/8in) tape width, 6-transistor amplifier, Self
Thread System (STS) tape loading mechanism, combination microphone speaker
remote control, foot pedal control, telephone recording function, linear tape
110 – 245v 50/60Hz AC
290 x 260 x 75mm
Made (assembled) in: Austria
Hen's Teeth (10 rarest) 5