My wide, Tanya, and I were making a one-off special radio show about the Russian jazz scene. She personally collected some records, DAT tapes and CDs from various musicians. One of them gave her a cassette tape of his group.
The radio producer said it wouldn't be good enough quality for broadcast, it being on a cassette tape. So, we took it away and dubbed the recording from my Pioneer CTS 830S cassette player onto a friend's Sony DAT deck. We gave the DAT tape to the producer telling him we got the DAT recording from the musician - we didn't mention the source was the cassette!. We fooled him! He loved the tape and a track on it was subsequently used for the programme - he never found out a humble cassette was the source for the DAT tape.
I remember having a really bad fall when I was about 9 years old. This fall landed me in the hospital for over a week flat on my back. That was in 1960, and they had four people to a room. I know that sounds awful but it was really true. I was in a room with 3 much older women moaning, complaining, and just plain yelling, it was like being in a nursing home.
My Dad, knowing that I was bored and the sounds were driving me crazy. The next thing I knew he was walking in with a box for me, it was a transistor radio, a little bit bigger than a pack of cigarettes. It was one of the newest things on the market. You could listen to it by just turning it on, it had a small speaker on the inside. Or you could listen to it with an ear plug that plugged into the side of it. You could only get AM Stations because, that was all there were. So I was set!!
I absolutely loved my little radio.
When I got home, it hung on my door knob and my Mom would turn it off when she went to bed at night. It was always on when I went to sleep, when I think about that time in my life, it makes me smile. That was a great surprise and it made that week in the hospital much more tolerated. I had a transistor radio from that day on until my 16th birthday when I got my first stereo. Woo hoo!
You may not know the story of the [Ampex] 602. I have told it before, but here is the short version:
The 600, 612 and 601 used a 6F5 input tube for repro[duction]. The 6F5 is an old metal tube with a grid cap. As time went on, fewer and fewer tube manufacturers made it. Finally, we were down to one: RCA.
All of a sudden one day the 601s on the assembly line had awful hum. We discovered that RCA had changed the filament design from a coiled (self-shielding) one to a W-design like you see in a light bulb. Hum-osis!
Frantic call to RCA. They said, that we were practically their only remaining customer for these and they would not change back to the old design.
Panicsville at Ampex! We needed a new design--fast! Bob looked at what we had and decided that we could cram the PR-10-1 circuits into the 600/601-sized chassis. So that was done, and the entire project took only about 6 weeks from start to production. Much cussing to get stuff in there...
The 602 was given a new paint job (chocolate) and for the first time 602-2 owners could independently record both channels and use the "back" side of a tape; the 601-2 used a full-track erase head.
Back in the mid-'70s, there was rumored to be a most amazing
loudspeaker designer working out of the mid-west (Indianapolis)
by the name of Roy Cizek. That he used some novel and
questionable design techniques may be something of an
understatement. For example, his solution to the problem of cone
break-up (which is, essentially, standing wave patterns on the
cone) was to slit the cone with a razor blade. Interesting, if
not somewhat misguided.
Well, one day, Roy Cizek shows up in the Boston area, and starts
haunting our store, listening, asking questions, probing, and so
forth. All in all, not a bad fellow, if not somewhat of a
nuisance. It seems he's decided to design yet another
loudspeaker. "Gee, Roy," we say, "that's nice."
Several months later, we get a call from Roy. How would we like,
he asks, to hear is new loudspeaker? Sure, why not, it's winter
and nobody is coming into the store. Roy says he'll be right
down. Maybe 15 minutes later, in ambles Roy, carrying his
speakers. The first thing I do is rip off the grill cloth and
comment, "But Roy, the cone is in one piece!" Roy was not amused.
We sit down and listen to the speakers. Not bad, not great, but
quite inoffensive. The one obvious drawback is that they have no
bass. Trying to be as diplomatic as possible, we say, "Roy, your
speakers have absolutely no bass." Roy, surprisingly, replies,
"Yeah, I know, I can't quite figure out why. But they are
reasonably efficient." That they were, and that was the obvious
clue as to the problem. It seems that Roy had selected a woofer
that was far to damped electro-magnetically for the enclosure he
had designed. Thus, while the large magnet on the woofer
contributed to a high-effciency, it also meant that the bass was
far too tightly controlled.
To me, the answer was obvious. If you wanted bass, and you have
decided that you want a speaker of such and such a size using
such and such a woofer, you got a choice, either low efficiency
and bass, or efficiency and little bass. Opting for the former,
my choice would have been to save money and order the woofer with
a smaller magnet. Roy would hear none of that, however. No, he
wanted a big magnet to properly control the woofer, which was
exactly his problem.
The discussion went on and on, Roy not wanting to hear anything
about efficiency/bandwidth/power-handling trade-offs. Finally, in
frustration, I said, "Well, Roy, why don't you just stick an 8
Ohm, 50 watt resistor in series with the whole damn speaker.
That'll give you some bass!" Feeling even more bold, I said, "In
fact, why don't you put a big switch in there, and convince
customers they have a "Q" switch?" Well, everybody laughed, even
Roy, just a little bit, though, and we closed up and went home.
A year or so later, I was working at another store when in
marches the sales rep for Cizek Loudspeakers. The speakers looked
the same and, of course, had no bass. When that objection was
raised, the rep said, "No problem, Cizek has developed this
revolutionary new method for increasing bass response. They have
added a "Q" control switch." He promptly threw the toggle switch
on the back of the enclosure, and, obligingly, the efficiency
dropped in half and the bass came back! I turned to the rep and
the store manager and said, "I'll bet you $1000 that that switch
is connected to an 8 ohm, 50 watt resistor." They looked at me
incredulously. I just said to check it out.
About half an hour later, the manager and the rep came running
into my lab yelling "DICK! DICK! Look! You were right!" Sure
enough, Roy had taken any advantage that his big magnet had and
thrown it out the window with a big resistor. I figured at the
time the retail price of the speaker could easily have been
reduced by $100 a pair by not having the resistor and having the
right sized magnet to begin with.
And the speaker, in the "High-Q" position was not a bad
loudspeaker, not a great one, but quite inoffensive. Although, it
did have reasonable bass.
Anyone remember the ESS "Transar" speaker? For those who don't, it was billed as a "full-range" Heil-equipped loudspeaker, and was quite stunning looking for its day (mid-to-late ‘70s). It was also very expensive - $5,000 - a helluva lot of money at the time.
Actually, a "full-range" Heil, was a misnomer, as the woofer portion had nothing whatsoever in common with the large Heil used as a midrange/tweeter (same unit as in the AMT-1b). The "woofer" portion consisted of what appeared to be opened up black plastic cups, stacked about 8" above one another, through which sheets of Lexan were connected via four carbon fibre rods that ran the full height of the speaker. These strips would vibrate, much in the manner a paper cone would on an "ordinary" speaker, and generate frequencies far lower than the Heil midrange/tweeter was capable of doing.
In order for a dealer to carry the Transar, he had to attend a week-long class at ESS -- at his own expense — to learn all there was to know about the speaker, and also to know how to assemble it. Transars were paid for up front, and "custom-made" for their owners: each had a placard that said, "Custom Designed for..." with the customer's name added. Certainly the height of panache, and part of the speaker's appeal. The speakers were shipped, unassembled to the dealer who then actually built them in the customer's home. All of this carried a sense of uniqueness, which was another aspect of the speaker's appeal. To have a speaker quite literally "custom-made" in one's own home was something no one else could claim.
Unfortunately, few of the Transars ever worked properly. Most of the very large (and expensive) walnut panels didn't fit into the base for the speaker. The required amp (originally made by ESS, and then later redesigned by Carver) emitted a loud hum from its chassis, and the cement used to hold the Lexan sheets in place hardened and resulted in a loud "crack" at certain frequencies. With all of these sheets "cracking" the sonic results were an annoying "buzz," which certainly wasn't particularly welcome after having shelled out five grand!
So, what did ESS do to appease all of its angry customers and dealers? Basically, nothing, other than discontinue the speaker's production. Afterwards, mentioning the ESS name, or "Transar" to any of the handful of dealers who attended the class and sold some of these clunkers almost got one killed!
Then, in 1981, the Transar II was designed. It was a less expensive speaker ($3,900) that was smaller, and which came with a coffee-table styled subwoofer, since the so-called "Heil woofer" didn't do particularly well at very low frequencies. The "II" model also didn't require any special amplification and would work off the owner's existing amplifier.
While listening to the Transar II by itself, it seemed to sound pretty good. It played very loudly, with very impressive bass, and little or not audible distortion. The key phrase here is "by itself." One day, we took the Transar II to a local retailer who compared it to a similarly-priced pair of Martin-Logan speakers. I'll never forget that comparison for as long as I live: the Transars sounded awful by comparison!
What also told me I was in "deep s**t" was that I was supposed to be heading up the sales department for these speakers, and the Chairman's retort to the comparison between them and the Martin-Logans was something of the following order: "Music isn't always genteel, and dealers need to know that." In other words, if the speaker sounds harsh, well that's how it should sound.
That turned out to be my last week at ESS, along with my immediate superior. Not too long after that, the company declared bankruptcy, and the Transar II simply faded into memory.
I worked for a number of different companies in this industry, but none ever so mistreated their dealers as did ESS. While the Transar II didn't require assembly in a customer's home, I can only imagine the problems that might have arisen, and how ESS would, just as they had in the past, completely ignored them.
Just another "stroll down memory lane." [Name withheld for privacy.]