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.
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!
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.
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.
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.]
During that summer in 1972, a friend and I went around scavenging electronic equipment that had been discarded, dumped, or otherwise abandoned. Within a few weeks, among the many treasures we had acquired was a busted Victrola with a wind up motor that was missing part of the cabinet and its tonearm. We also found several dead vacuum tube (valve) radios and a record changer that was missing the motor, cabinet, and electronics but that had an intact tonearm and a hopefully-working crystal cartridge. It must've been a fairly fancy record changer, because the tonearm had a counterweight.
The Victrola mechanism was rusted solid, so it took several weeks to loosen everything up and get the mechanism working. 3-in1 Oil is amazing. After I got it working, I set about to modify it so it would run at 33-1/3 RPM, not 78 RPM. This involved adding lead fishing line weights to the flywheel of the centrifugal governor, tied on with scrap wire.
The next challenge was replacing the little felt pads on the ersatz pitch control that worked by adding friction to slow the speed down. Some of those self-stick moleskin callus pads served well enough for replacements. I had to keep replacing them, because their adhesive would go bad after a few days.
After quite a bit of trial and error, I got an LP to rotate at 33 1/3 rpm within a fair degree of accuracy. Another benefit of these modifications was that the mechanism would run for about a half hour after being wound up.
Next, I spent several days trying to work out how to mount the tonearm from the dead record changer onto the plinth of the Victrola. This eventually involved using a scrap of plywood, fairly poorly sawn, with a hole for the tonearm cut out by drilling (with a hand drill) a series of holes in a circle then using a file to make it a smoothish round hole. A few more scraps of plywood, and some more poorly done sawing resulted in a crude base for the affair.
Getting the tonearm to track the record properly was another huge hassle. This took several days to accomplish. (I found out later that the tracking force required by the cartridge was 8 to 10 grams. This was not going to be particularly gentle on records.) A severe vibration from the wind-up motor caused a few problems with the tonearm wanting to skip out of the record grooves from time to time. This frustrating trend continued until I was able to find the source of the vibration. Apparently I had not lubricated the axle of the centrifugal governor.
But how to get sound out of it? Well, after a little bit of studying in the library and quite a bit of trial and error, I found a solution: salvage an output transformer and loudspeaker from one of the radios, then connect the wires coming from the phono cartridge to the primary of the salvaged transformer. Connect the speaker to the secondary of the transformer. In other words, use a transformer to step down the high impedance cartridge to the low impedance speaker. The mismatch between the 1 Megohm cartridge and the 10K ohm transformer caused a loss of treble, which approximated the RIAA record equalization curve. The treble cut was actually too much, so this sort of added the bass boost defined by the RIAA equalization. Crude, but good enough.
The ceramic cartridge was capable of outputting about 1 volt with a typical record. I found this out after having saved my allowance for a couple weeks to buy a new stylus. Turned out the cartridge was a Sonotone, so the stylus didn’t cost too much, only $1.25 from Pfanstiehl, as sold by the local TG&Y department store. The nice old guy in the radio department helped me pick out the correct stylus. I didn't have any "mils," those little plastic coins we used to pay sales tax back then, so he was kind enough to not charge me sales tax. That's customer service you won't see today. One of our neighbors had a volt-ohmmeter, and he was kind enough to let me borrow it to find out how much output the cartridge produced.
Once connected to the transformer and the speaker, the 1-volt from the cartridge produced enough signal level that I could hear music at a reasonable volume from the 8" speaker I had salvaged from one of the radios. It certainly wasn't discotheque levels, but it worked. And it wasn't as bad sounding as you are probably imagining.
I had no tone control, or volume control, but I did have a fully portable record player. No electronics, no electricity supply needed. It required that you wind it up after every side of a record, but I didn't care.
This was true musical freedom.
A few years later, I had a real stereo. The crudely made, cobbled together fully portable record player ended up in the basement, and eventually disappeared during a move to a new house years later. My guess is that my parents found it in the basement of the old house, thought it was junk ,then threw it away. At the time, I didn't care. But, I actually wish I had it now.
It really was pretty cool.