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Widget Of The Week

Teltape Miniature Tape Recorder, 1958

Notable firsts in vintage technology are a dustygizmos speciality and this little Teltape Portable Tape Recorder is assured a place on the website as the leading contender for the title, ‘World’s First Transistor Tape Recorder’. It is not the sort of thing that’s authenticated by official bodies and there may well be other claims but until someone can come up with a commercially produced transistor tape recorder made prior to1958, the honour belongs to Teltape. You might be forgiven for thinking that it came from one of the handful of countries that pioneered transistor technology, i.e. the USA, Japan and the UK, but you would be mistaken. It’s origins are not too surprising, however, and it hails from the county where the modern magnetic tape recorder was invented, Germany in the 1930s, or rather Western Germany, as it was known when the Teltape appeared.

 

As well as being the first of its kind it’s possible it was the inspiration for the hundreds, if not thousands of miniature tape recorders that were to follow over the next ten years, mainly from Japan. The distinctive feature is the single motor tape transport system, better known as a ‘rim-drive mechanism’. Put simply the motor has two elongated spindles – one a teach end -- mounted on a pivot so that one spindle or the other comes into contact with a rubber ring on the underside of the tape platters. The right hand spindle drives the take up reel for Play and Record modes and the other one, fitted with a brass bush, drives the feed reel. The larger diameter of the bush means the left hand platter spins faster, in the opposite direction to the take up reel, for the rewind function.

 

It works well enough for lo-fi recording applications but the two basic flaws are that there is no fast forward function and the speed at which the tape passes the head changes, as one reel empties and the other fills up. It’s hardly noticeable when replaying recordings made on the same machine but tapes made on other recorders can sound a bit odd. Teltape’s solution was to fit a manual speed control. Small variations in tape speed are smoothed out by the heavy metal platters and a high quality motor, which has a speed governor.

 

Another feature, later borrowed by Japanese makers of small cheap tape recorders, is a permanent magnet erase system. Magnetic tape needs to be erased before a new recording can be made. It’s a standard features on all tape recorders and more sophisticated machines typically have an extra tape head, driven by a high frequency oscillator that both erases the previous recording and ‘biases’ the magnetic particles in the tape in preparation for the new recording. However, a similar, though much less precise effect can be achieved by pressing a small permanent magnet against the tape, and flipping it into position is the job of the small red-topped lever close to the feed reel.

 

The rest of the controls are dotted around the top panel. From left to right they the on/off push-button power switch. In the middle there’s a two-position toggle switch for selecting record or playback mode; above that is the lever for tilting the motor (three positions: Play/Record, Stop and Rewind). And on the far right there’s a rotary control for adjusting tape speed. There’s also a second ‘fine-tune’ speed adjuster accessible through a small hole on the underside. In the middle of the top panel there’s a red indicator lamp that glows and acts as a sort of crude battery level indicator when the machine is running.

 

In case you are wondering where the speaker grille is hiding, there isn’t one. It plays back through a pair of headphones, which are supplied with the machine. There’s also a separate microphone, which uses a carbon-type insert. Apparently it is the same as those used in the German telephones of the day. The headphones and microphone plug into ‘banana’ type sockets on the side of the case. Speaking of which. The stylish maroon housing is made of an early thermoplastic material. It’s almost certainly another first, and not just on transistor tape recorders; in the late fifties metal, wood and thermo-setting plastics like Bakelite were the materials of choice on consumer products like this one.

 

The Teltape has no pretensions for sonic excellence. It was essentially a toy, though there are clear signs of it being marketed in the US as basic voice recorder and dictating machine, which is something it would have been well suited to. Since there is no speaker the amplifier has also been stripped to bone, using just two Germanium transistors, though it’s worth remember that at the time transistors were still quite exotic, and expensive. Sound quality is poor, it’s fine for speech but little else and the 76mm (3-inch) diameter tape reels limited recording time to around 15 minutes.  

 

This particular Teltape recorder has been in my collection for at least 20 years and was a swapsie with a fellow collector, for another vintage tape machine. It came in its original box with all of the accessories and was then – and still is – in pristine condition and full working order. At the time the only reasons I made the trade was the odd shape, striking colour and unusually good condition and looking back now I can see that I got the better part of deal. The tape recorder I swapped was a fairly ordinary Japanese model with nothing like the backstory of this one.

 

What Happened To It?

The Teltape’s design is credited to German engineer Willi Braheim. His other claim to fame is another classic tape recorder, the Minifon Protona, an early cassette machine that appeared at around the same time as Philips Compact Cassette, which eventually became the predominant format.

 

Teltape doesn’t seem to have had much of a presence in the UK but it was widely marketed in its home country and in America, by Filnor products, and it seems it was quite successful. They do make occasional appearances on ebay US and because its part in the history of consumer technology is rarely mentioned prices tend not to be too alarming, anywhere between £30 and £80 for one in decent boxed condition. By rights they should be worth quite a lot morel maybe this mention will make future auctions a little livelier… In short if you can find a good one at a fair price it could be a nice little investment for the future.


DUSTY DATA

First Seen:          1958

Original Price:    90 Deutchmarks ($29.95 in US)

Value Today:      £50.00 (0819)

Features:            2-track mono recording, rim-drive transport mechanism, permanent magnet erase head, 76mm tape reels, motor speed stabilisation, variable speed control, 2-transistor amplifier, headphone output, carbon microphone,

Power req.                     4x 1.5-volt C cells

Dimensions:                    222 x 160 x 70mm

Weight:                          700g

Made (assembled) in:     Western Germany

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):    8



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