Have you ever noticed the total absence of audio equipment from the luxury houses presented in glossy architecture and interior design magazines? It makes the inhabitants of such property come across as rather uncultured.
In fact, not only is an audiophile grade sound system a minimum requirement for the home of anyone affluent enough to hire an interior designer, but it is important to choose a designer who can appreciate the aura of sophistication and intellect projected by a beautifully restored vintage disk recording lathe, set in a handcrafted custom cabinet, in a conspicuous corner of the living room!
Tasos of Epos Laboratory (a Grado retipping specialist) from the beautiful south of Greece is the lucky owner of this 1950's Rek-O-Kut disk recording system.
It consists of a Rek-O-Kut Model V 16" turntable, which he found in the USA (where else?) as a non-runner. The motor was in bad shape and refused to run at all. Even if it would run, it was expecting to be fed on a regular diet of 110 VAC/60 Hz!
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!
Depicted here, are two external rotor, polyphase, electronic commutation motors, fitted to custom mounting plates, ready to be installed in disk recording systems, to control the leadscrew.
These are very high precision motors, with features allowing accurate, closed-loop control of speed over a wide range, as well as positioning applications. A combination of hall sensor arrays and high resolution encoders makes them extremely versatile, compatible with a wide range of lathes.
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!
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...
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.
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.
In the previous episode, we had a look at taper shank stylus adapters and saw a vintage magnetic monophonic cutter head fitted to the AM44 lathe. The two are not normally compatible. Neumann lathe suspensions do not have the same mount as the suspensions of Presto, Fairchild, RCA and other lathes of the monophonic era, which were originally designed to accept such cutter heads.
But, in fact, almost any cutter head can be fitted to any lathe, as long as there is enough space for it to physically fit, by means of a suitable adapter. The eagle-eyed reader will probably have noticed that the cutter head mount on our prototype AM44 suspension is similar to, but not the same as, the mount used in Neumann suspension boxes. So, the adapter shown here was made specifically for our AM44 suspension unit.
Stereophonic cutter heads developed by Neumann are designed to accept a cutting stylus with a conical shank, resembling a micro-miniature version of a Morse Taper, a type of fitting frequently encountered in machine tools, especially metalworking lathes. Vinylium and FloKaSon cutter heads also adopted the same fitting for the sake of compatibility. But most other cutter heads, especially all those predating the stereophonic era, used long, thin cylindrical shanks, often with a flat machined on one side, to allow a set-screw to align the stylus and secure it in place.
Back in 2015, we started a big lathe project, taking a beat-up Fairchild lathe from the 1930's, fitting it with an RCA cutter head, and eventually going full-on with a stereophonic feedback cutter head, vacuum clamp-down platter and automatically variable pitch.