More Gizmos A - Z
Gizmos A - Z
More Gizmos A - Z
Le Parfait Picture Frame Radio
Linwood SImple Siren Car Alarm
Micronta S-100 Signal Injector
Philatector Watermark Detector
Sinclair Micromatic Kit (Unbuilt)
Viking Sol Invictus Metal Detector
Gizmos By Category
Geiger Counters & Atomic Stuff
Gizmos A - Z
Alba PTV-11 Mini TV Clock Radio
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B&O Beocom 2000 Phone
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Bigston PS-5 Flat Panel Speakers
Bolex Paillard 155 Cine Camera
BT Kingfisher Answering Machine
Companion CR-313 Walkie Talkies
Decimo Vatman 120D Calc
Eagle International Loudhailer
Gaertner Pioneer Geiger Counter
General Radiological NE 029-02
Heathkit GR-70 Multiband Radio
Heathkit Oxford UXR2 Kit Radio
Hitachi TRK-8015 Cass Recorder
ISI Rapid Abnormality Indicator
MINI TAPE RECORDERS
We tend to take audio recording pretty much for granted nowadays. My local ‘pound shop’ was recently selling some nasty little Walkman style cassette players and key ring voice memo recorders for a quid apiece, but back in the early sixties reel-to-reel tape recorders were a luxury item, a bit like large screen plasma TVs are today and very few homes would have had one.
At that time most ‘domestic’ tape recorders were big and expensive and mostly used valves. Transistors were just starting to have an impact but early semiconductors were inefficient and expensive and couldn’t match the power of valves when it came to amplification
It was a time of great change in tape recording technology and Philips was working to perfect the Compact Cassette but even when cassette tape recorders started to appear in quantity, in the mid 60s, they were still quite pricey. Nevertheless, for those on a very tight budget, like me, there were ways to acquire one of these magical machines, thanks to countless small Japanese factories, churning out cheap little battery powered reel-to-reel tape recorders, typically costing £3 to £5. Most of them used 3-inch tapes, which gave around ten to fifteen minutes recording time
The key difference between these machines and ‘proper’ tape recorders was the extremely simple tape transport tape mechanism.
To ensure recording quality and consistency it is essential that the tape passes the recording head at a constant speed and on the majority of tape recorders, past and present, this is achieved by pulling the tape past the heads using a rotating capstan and a pinch roller that grips the tape. This requires a lot of mechanical bits and bobs, pulleys belts and precision motors, which obviously feeds through into the price.
The little Japanese tape recorders we’re about to look at went right back to basics and used a ‘rim-drive’ mechanisms. In other words the motor, and there’s just the one of them, drives the tape capstans directly with a long spindle that comes into contact with the rubber rims of the capstans. The disadvantage is that whilst the take up reel rotates at a more or less constant velocity the speed at which the tape passes the head gradually decreases as the reel fills up.
This is not a huge problem when the tape is played back on the machine it was recorded on, but if it’s played on another rim-drive or capstan drive machine the speed variation will ruin the recording. Though to be honest the quality of most rim-drive machines is pretty dire, they were essentially toys, but that is part of their charm and take it from me, back then it didn’t matter. It seemed nothing short of miraculous to be able to record and then more or less instantly hear the sound of your own voice (even if it was mostly ‘testing one-two-three-four’). As I recall I didn’t bother recording much music, the quality was too poor and there wasn’t much worth taping on the radio in those days…
Manufacturers came up with various other ingenious cost-cutting strategies that helped to keep the prices down. The ‘erase’head, which is necessary to remove the old recording before a new one can be made, is usually a tiny permanent magnet on a swing arm that comes into contact with the tape when the machine is in record mode. There also was no fast-forward mode, just rewind and that was usually torturously slow.
We’ll be looking at some classic examples of the genre in Spycorders but we’ll round off with a few unusual sixties mini tape recorders that used tape cartridges or cassettes instead of open reels. These were the forerunners of the Compact Cassette, failed formats that generally lasted only a few years and which have now become highly collectible
These pocket size recorders were mostly designed for use in offices, as dictating machines and for taking memos. In the main they used capstan drive mechanisms so they were not cheap. Relatively few were made so the ones that have survived are now highly prized and much sought after by collectors.
The earliest one in my collection is the American Midgetape 44 or ‘Mohawk Midget', which is actually quite a lump, though just about pocket size. It probably dates from the late 1950s or very early 60s and uses valves rather than transistors. The tape reels are arranged in ‘tandem’ format, one on top of the other, and housed in a metal case. There’s only a single record or playback mode, fast wind is achieved by cranking a folding handle on the outside of the case. Unbelievably this one does still work, though the high-tension batteries it requires are no longer available.
The next machine, also dating from the very early 60s is a Minifon Attaché. This is one of a long line of precision pocket dictating machines from this German company. Earlier models, which look very similar to this one use wire instead of magnetic tape. This example uses a cassette with the reels arranged side by side, and like compact cassette, it could be flipped over to double the recording time.
The Grundig EN3 (above) is without doubt the most successful of the early cassette dictating machines and the one you are most likely to still find in junk shops and on ebay. It’s a brilliant piece of engineering, using a side-by-side cassette that forms part of the body of the machine. The detachable microphone/speaker on the top makes it look a little like a large electric razor.
Sanyo dallied briefly with its own proprietary cassette format in the mid 60s, called the Micro Pack and it was quite successful for a while. It’s another tandem type cassette, with a rim-drive mechanism, so it was probably aimed at the home user rather than serious office applications. It was really well built -- the case is all metal and recording quality is not half bad either. A lot of machines were sold in the US under the Channel Master brand (above) and they still turn up occasionally on ebay and I was lucky enough to come across a small batch of ‘new’ and unused tapes a while ago.
I know very little about this last machine except that it is badged ‘Memo Call’ and made in Japan. I’ve never seen another one like it, so I’m guessing it came and went in a very short space of time. It is fairly unremarkable except that the cassette uses a single reel. Tape is drawn from the centre of the reel and deposited on the outside. It is must be incredibly stressful on the tape and I suspect very unreliable, nevertheless it does still work, though I’ve only dared to use it once or twice for fear of shortening it’s life, which is already on borrowed time.
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