A customer recently imported a vintage Presto 75A disk recording lathe from the USA, with a view to cutting records in Europe.
He quickly discovered, like many people before him, that it was spinning a bit slower than it should, when operated from 50 Hz mains, via a simple step-down transformer. As with most vintage record cutting machines, the platter is powered by a synchronous AC motor, which “locks” to the line frequency.
Mr and Mrs Agnew are now officially husband and wife! What better occasion to preserve forever, on a long lasting format that can be enjoyed by future generations?
The wedding ceremony and the wedding speech of J. I.’s father were recorded direct-to-disk, using a 1930’s Presto 75A disk recording lathe. It was also recorded in parallel on analog tape. A Nikon FT-2 35 mm film SLR camera was used for photography.
Analog media will last a very long time, making them ideal for the documentation of important events. They also contributed beautifully to the romantic aesthetic of our wedding.
We have done 50 Hz conversions (and even some 60 Hz ones!) on many different lathes and turntables, using all of the possible methods of doing so: New rubber rollers, new capstans, new belt pulleys and even electronic frequency conversion (Agnew Analog Type 191 frequency converter) for professional disk mastering systems.
This week, we will have a look at the Presto 75A, a high quality machine, dating from the 1930’s, which was even used by the BBC as a broadcasting turntable!
No need to hide your transformers!
With powder coated end-bells in Agnew-cream-white and our fancy engraved stainless steel product plates riveted on, with type designation and serial number stamped by hand as a seal of approval following our extensive testing and quality control procedures, our transformers now look as good as they are!
As with the vast majority of disk recording lathes of US manufacture, this 1956 Rek-O-Kut Model V was configured to spin at the correct speeds when powered by 50 Hz mains. One of our customers imported it from the USA and wanted to run it at 230 VAC/50 Hz European mains power. We have encountered this situation countless times by now. We recently also described how we converted a Presto MRC16 to 50 Hz operation by making new rubber rollers to different dimensions, while some years back, we developed the first version of Type 191, a stable electronic frequency converter for professional disk mastering lathes, which are often impractical or costly to convert by other means (Lyrec direct-drive motor on Neumann lathes, belt driven Scully lathes, gear-driven Fairchild systems, etc).
We are very excited to present our new product plates, featuring our new logo, engraved on stainless steel plates!
The new logo was designed by Sabine Agnew and the choice of stainless steel as a material for the plates acts as a further statement of our commitment to exceptional quality, to accompany our products throughout their extremely long service life with no deterioration.
This item is the latest addition to our collection of experimental transducer prototypes. What you see is a multi-layer miniature winding on a custom machined former, entirely made in-house at the Agnew Analog Research & Development Laboratory.
Over the past few years, we have restored a number of SME 3009 and 3012 tonearms, covering most of their variants made over the impressively long production life span of this model range.
This outstanding tonearm was first introduced in 1959, setting a standard for high performance tonearm design which is still hard to beat, 60 years later.
We have used our restored SME tonearms on a large number of reference reproduction systems, for our own use and for our customers, such as the Thorens TD160 project which was presented here last February. These systems are excellent for Quality Control in vinyl record manufacturing, to ensure that any defects are caught early.
They are of course also capable of offering an intensely enjoyable, accurate listening experience, coupled with an accurate cartridge.
Inspired by the toolposts used in metalworking lathes and improving upon the cutter head mounting system used by Neumann, the Type 6021 will accurately and rigidly hold any cutter head fitted with a suitable bar, including Neumann, Vinylium and FloKaSon heads, as well as any other head imaginable, through the use of our Series 1400 head mount adapter range.
A rather optimistic gentleman arrived with a Presto MRC-16 disk recording lathe, inquiring about the possibility of repairing the broken suspension and making a cutter head bracket from scratch. He then asked about the possibility of figuring out some way in which lead-in, lead-out, and track mark spirals could be cut on this machine, which was originally intended as a very basic machine, with no provision for spirals, not even a hand crank. Then came the really ambitious part: He would ideally like to be able to adjust the pitch and if possible, control the lathe through his computer!
One glance at the steampunk aesthetic of the manufacturer’s name plate and the overall state of this primitive machine would have been enough to deter the average engineer, in fear that there might be something potentially radioactive hiding within…
For some reason, the people involved with the manufacturing of vinyl records are rather stoic types. The rare occasion when they are in a talkative mood, they mostly talk about the manufacturing process and equipment. They are not often talking about what happens after the records have been manufactured, the actual reproduction of these records, for pleasure or for the most critical step of manufacturing: Quality control.
What follows is the story of the restoration, modification, assembly, calibration and testing, of some components, which, if used properly, can result in a highly accurate phonograph disk reproduction system.
In 2015, J. I. Agnew started developing a high-end cutting amplifier for disk mastering systems, to be used with motional feedback stereophonic cutter heads. During this process, he investigated the design and implementation problems of such transducers in great detail. As usual, he documented his progress, which evolved into an engineering report, titled “An Investigation of Motional Feedback Disk Recording System Design”, which was accepted for publication in the November 2018 issue of the Journal of the Audio Engineering Society, following the customary peer review process.
Happy new year! Time to reveal what has been secretly developing in the lab throughout the past year: A stereophonic cutter head of an entirely unique design, invented by J. I. Agnew during his work with experimental transducers for measurement and testing purposes.
Working together with Eric on upgrading his Scully Disk mastering system, Sabine grabbed the chance to give our readers a little peek into the head of an experienced mastering engineer. Eric Conn works together with Don Cobb and a small Dog called Chaco at Independent Mastering in Nashville, Tennessee.
It started life in the 1940’s as a completely manual machine. A sturdy design, capable of very decent results, these lathes were extensively used across the USA and other parts of the world for several decades. Many are still in operation today. In the original condition, they were quite limited in what they could do. But, as with most good lathes, they can take a lot of modification and improvement.
There is a long history of use of precious stones as industrial materials, from precision bearings to cutting tools, lapping compounds to grinding tools and several other specialised applications.
The recording of phonograph records is essentially a machining operation, performed by means of a machine tool called a disk recording lathe. A special cutting tool is used to cut a continuous spiral groove on the surface of a blank disk. This tool is called a disk recording stylus, or simply cutting stylus.
The big difference to other forms of machining is that there is sonic information stored as modulation of the cut groove, which can be reproduced on another special machine, often called turntable or record player, or disk reproduction system.
Many different stylus materials and geometries have been used through the years, along with different blank recording disk materials. The superiority of precious stones as cutting stylii was already evident from the early days of disk recording, so they are now the only type of stylus used for cutting masters for vinyl record manufacturing.