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Widget Of The Week

Nytech CTA-252XD Series II Stereo Tuner, 1980

Any idea what this is? No cigar if you said desktop calculator, though that is exactly what the Nytech CTA-252XD was supposed to look like. It is actually a stereo tuner with a built-in power amplifier. In audiophile circles it was given the nickname ‘Calculator Amp’, and not in a mean or unkind way. It was, and still is highly regarded, to the extent that it was often bought just for the very fine amplifier it contained. The calculator comparison doesn’t stand up too well nowadays but you have to remember that when it first appeared, in the mid 1970s that is what calculators looked like. However, one of the original design goals was for the tuner to be part of a component-style music centre, with the sloping lines of the hinged black cover matching those of a Dual turntable. In the end that didn’t work out too well and Nytech wisely decided to play to their strengths and focus on the high-end audio market.   

 

The basic design and shape continued until the early 1980s. The one featured here is a Series II model, dating from 1980 (according to the inspection label inside). The most significant differences between this and earlier models is an uprated toroidial transformer, beefed up output stage delivering 25 watts rms into 8-ohm speakers and a redesigned phono input circuit for magnetic cartridges.

 

The FM tuner, although fairly conventional works very well and was spiced up with an array of three moving coil meters, where the calculator display would be. They are basically window dressing, showing signal strength, tuning and frequency; although functionally unnecessary they look really smart and probably went some way towards justifying the hefty £100 price tag. That’s the thick end of £1000 in today’s money (Autumn 2020).

 

It has four station presets, adjusted by small bank of thumbwheels concealed beneath a sliding cover. Above that the larger single thumbwheel is for manual tuning and above that is a set of five slider controls for Balance, Bass, Middle, Treble & Volume. Other tuner function on the main keypad include the AFC button, four station presets and the FM mode selector. The remainder of the keys are for power on/off, bass and treble cut, bass and treble boost, tape and phono input selectors, mono sound and the two speaker output selectors, Around the back there are 2-pin DIN sockets for the six speaker outputs (two switch, one direct), more DIN sockets for tape input and pre-amp output, an aerial socket and two flying phono sockets for phono input.

 

You only have to pick it up to tell this is a quality item. It weighs a hefty 4.5kg, most of which is due to the toroidial transformer and all metal chassis. The quality of construction is outstanding with neat wiring and excellent ease of access, should anything go wrong. At the time the amplifier and power supply circuitry were considered somewhat unconventional but it quickly won over the doubters with a sound that was favourably compared with the best amps of the day. As an added bonus it proved to be kind to speakers, unlike a lot of 60s and 70s power amps, which had a nasty habit of popping their cones. Speaking of power, you might be surprised by the seemingly weedy 25 watts per channel output. It’s a mistake to equate power with quality; when a well-designed amplifier is used with a pair of carefully matched speakers power ceases to be an issue. Nytech urged owners to audition speakers at one of their dealers and stressed the CTA-252’s audiophile credentials in the instructions, pointing out that tone controls are only necessary when the source material is of ‘inferior quality and requires optimisation’…

 

I came upon this one a while ago at a car boot sale. It almost escaped but I caught sight of the Nytech logo on the instruction leaflet underneath what looked like a rather grubby and uninteresting black box. The name rang a dim and distant bell and although I can’t remember ever reviewing one of their products, I knew they were once a respected high-end brand. I asked the stallholder what it was and he thought it might be some sort of sound mixer. The answer to the next question was ‘a fiver’. It must have been a cold or wet day because I don’t remember haggling. It was a bit of a gamble as there was no way of telling from the outside what sort of condition it was in, but I reasoned that there had to be at least a fivers worth of salvageable components inside…

 

It was well worth the punt and apart from a thorough internal and external cleanup the only minor issues were a couple of blown bulbs illuminating the meters, a noisy headphone socket and a loose DIN plug, none of which took more than a few minutes to put right. Even the sliders, which are notorious for becoming noisy, were as smooth as silk. The amplifier is indeed a cut above the average and would have deserved the praise it received back in the day. Even on my mediocre test setup it produces a smooth and mellow sound, with plenty of volume in reserve despite its apparently modest power output. One day, when I get the time I will give a thorough work out using a decent turntable and some carefully matched speakers.

 

What Happened To It?

Nytronics, later to become Nytech was founded in Portishead, in a converted Stable near Bristol 1972 by Richard Hay, Paul Hamblin and Dave Alner. They were all experienced electronic engineers, previously working for Hi-Fi manufacturer Radford Electronics. Their first products included tuner amplifiers that would be sold in Woolworths. The origins of the CTA-252 lie in another early project, to design an audio system for Philips. This didn’t pan out but Richard Hay’s brainwave of taking styling cues from calculators led directly to the CTA252. The first models went on sale in 1975 to critical acclaim, and some sales success, particularly in Scandinavian countries. Over the next few years it went through a series of upgrades and at one point, sprouted companion turntable and cassette decks, but mounting debt forced the company into liquidation in 1977. Richard Hay purchased the unsold stock from the liquidator and revived the company, this time in new premises in Chew Magna, also close to Bristol. The XD version was launched in 1978 and an estimated 30,000 CTA-252 were built over the course of the model’s production run, which lasted until 1982. Nytech was eventually wound up in 1992 but some of the original circuitry was adopted by high-end audio manufacturer Heed, and Nytech Audio emerged from the ashes, to service and repair original Nytech products.     

 

The CTA-252 has become something of a legend in the hi-fi enthusiast community and because they were so well made and sound so good, they have become a sought after, and very useable collectables. It’s not unusual tosee one or two on ebay, and in good working condition they can fetch between £100 and £150, sometimes more. I don’t expect to ever see another one at a car boot sale, at least not for a fiver, but you never know…

 


DATA

First Seen:                   1975

Original Price:             £100.00

Value Today:               £100 (0920)

Features:                     Stereo FM tuner, four station presets & free tuning, 2 x 25 watt rms power amplifier, toroidial mains transformer, tape & phono inputs, pre-amp output, signal, strength, tuning & frequency meters, stereo pilot tone indicator, AFC, mono output, treble & bass boost, bass & treble cut, headphone socket (std jack), twin speaker outputs

Power req.                       220VAC

Dimensions:                     117 x 210 x 35mm

Weight:                            4.5kg

Made (assembled) in:       Chew Magna, England

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest)      7



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