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Accoson Sphygmomanometer

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Bolex Paillard 155 Cine Camera

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Music Man Talking Radio

Mystery Microphone

 

  

Widget Of The Week

Ehrcorder TP-421 Mini Tape Recorder, 1964

As cheap mini tape recorders from the early sixties go the Ehrcorder TP-421 is fairly unremarkable, except that this one, and a few others like it are still here and often in good working order. It’s a real survivor and that’s largely due to the uncomplicated, robust design.

 

The TP-421 was one of hundreds of mini reel-to-reel tape recorders on the market at the time. The vast majority of them were essentially toys, and this was reflected in the price, typically between £3.00 and £5.00. Recording quality was generally poor, but it didn’t matter too much for speech or a pop song sing along and almost every youngster back then wanted to get their hands on a ‘real’ working tape recorder. As it happened proper grown up reel-to-reel tape recorders were still far from common in the home. In fact most people regarded them as rather exotic, expensive, big, heavy and difficult to use. However, the real problem was the price, and the simple reason that apart from the odd radio program there wasn’t much worth recording…

 

On the other hand mini tape recorders like the TR-241 were cheap enough to be playthings, for kids of all ages. A few of the more serious looking machines – and the TP241 fitted the bill – could be even used as basic dictating machines or for taking memos. The 75mm (3-inch) reels, which gave around 10 to 15 minutes recording time also happened to be a convenient size and length for ‘voice letters’ to send to distant friends and relatives. They could also seem quite glamorous; some if them made it into the movies and on TV. They made perfect props, as ’spycorders’, playing vital roles in secret agent shows like Mission Impossible, Danger Man, The Man From U.N.C.L.E and of course the James Bond films. Sadly I am not aware of this particular model making it on the large or small screen but I would be very surprised if it hadn’t made at least one appearance.     

 

There are no frills or fripperies and thanks to the ultra simple rim-drive tape transport mechanism, no fast forward function, just Play, Record, Stop and Rewind. A single chrome lever protruding from the front right hand corner of the case controls everything, apart from the volume. It is connected to a rotary switch and coupled to a sliding bar that tips the motor to the right or left. This presses the rotating spindle onto the rubber-rimmed tape platter on the left, for the rewind function, and an idler wheel pressing against the take-up reel on the right for playback and recording modes. Another common feature that helped keep the cost down is the permanent magnet erase head. This is also attached to the sliding bar and in record mode it is pressed against the tape, erasing whatever was on it, just before it passes over the recording head. There is little to go wrong, which has to be one of the reasons why the tape mechanisms on these 50 plus year old machines often still work, even after years of inactivity. Other problems can and do occur, though, and the most common fault is failure of the electrolytic capacitors on the tiny amplifier board. Fortunately almost anyone handy with a screwdriver and soldering iron can swap them for modern replacements, costing just a few pence, in about half an hour.

 

The TR-241 came with a crystal lapel microphone and a magnetic earpiece, which plug into sockets on the front of the case. What look like two tiny metal handles at either end of the case are for a carry strap, which was also included with the outfit. Learning how to use it doesn’t take long, as you will see from the very brief instruction leaflet, which also helpfully includes a circuit diagram for the amplifier. This is one of four TP-241s in my collection, accumulated in the early days of online auctions, mostly from sellers in the US. They rarely cost more than £5.00, plus the same again for shipping. Happy times…

 

As I recall it needed just the usual capacitor swap, a re-grease of the moving parts and a squirt of switch cleaner on the volume control to get it running, and sounding, like new. The case and everything else that came with it had been well looked after by the original polystyrene packing, and for once it hadn’t reacted with the mic and earphone cables, which can melt into the foam. A quick word on sound quality, and yes, by current standards it is awful, noisy and incapable of recoding anything other than speech. The rim-drive mechanism suffers from the usual problem of speed stability, or rather the lack of it. It varies constantly, as one reel empties and the other fills up. As usual it doesn’t matter too much if recordings are replayed on the machine that made it (or an identical model) but on more advanced models with constant-speed capstan drives it just makes bad quality even worse.

 

What Happened To It?

Almost nothing has been written, (on the web or in the usual reference books) about the Ehrcorder name or brand. The only certainties are that it was made in Japan and it first appeared in the early 1960s. The TP-241 seems to be one of only two products bearing the Ehrcorder name (the other was a semi pro tape recorder, possibly dating from the late 70s), and unusually, the 241 doesn’t appear under any other guises. If anyone has any more information please let me know.

 

Predictably the TP-241 suffered the same fate as almost every other reel-to-reel tape recorder, small and large, from that era, and that was an almost total wipeout following the appearance of the Philips Compact Cassette format in 1963. It took the revolutionary newcomer a few years to get a foothold, but once the economies of scale kicked in, and the market for pre-recorded tapes (Musicassettes) had developed there was almost no reason for anyone want to buy a reel-to-reel tape recorder any more. Cassettes were superior in almost every respect that mattered, and although the sound quality of early machines left something to be desired, it was perfectly adequate for low-end and mid-range home hi-fi and portable use.

 

A few high-end models survived into the 70s and 80s, but the consequence of Compact Cassette’s appearance was that in the space of less than a decade an entire technology had become virtually obsolete. Vast numbers of reel-to-reel machines must have disappeared into landfill and small cheap models like the TP-241 were almost certainly the first to go. Nevertheless a few escaped the cull and got shoved into the backs of cupboards, lofts and garages and then forgotten. Those that made it in good condition into the twenty first century have become collector’s items and the few really rare or genuinely innovative models can command quite healthy prices. The small size, smart looks and a good chance of it working (or being fixable) makes the TP-241 quite desirable and every so often, when a particularly clean one appears on ebay it can sell for as much as £50.00, though £30 to £40 is more usual for well used examples. Enough of them were made for the occasional bargain to find its way onto the market, and over the years I’ve seen a few at car boot sales (though not recently) but there’s bound to be a few still out there so if you spot one, grab it!    


GIZMO GUIDE (Manual)

First seen:                        1964

Original Price:                  £4 19s 6d (£4.97)

Value Today:                    £30 (1117)

Features:                          2-track mono recording, single motor rim-drive mechanism 1 7/8 ips, permanent magnet erase, max reel size 75mm (3-inches), Single lever operation, transport modes: Play, Record, Rewind, Stop, built-in speaker (55mm), earphone & mic sockets (3.5mm jack), 4-transistor push-pull amplifier. Supplied accessories: crystal microphone, magnetic earphone, carry strap. 

Power req.                        2 x 1.5 volt C cells, 1 x 9 volt PP3

Dimensions:                      205 x 125 x 70 mm

Weight:                             840g

Made (assembled) in:       Japan

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):     6



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