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The Museum Of Audio History

Preserving, Teaching And Showing Audio's History

Cassette Jazzed The Jazz Producer (UK)

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.

—Graham N.

The Healthy Transistor Radio (USA)

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!

—Christy S.

The Story Of The Ampex 602 Tape Recorder. (USA)

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.

—Larry Miller

The Famous Cizek Q Switch

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.

—Dick Pierce

The ESS Transar (USA)

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.]

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