Behind the Scenes (Audio magazine, Mar. 1980)

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Last month I reported on what was new in digital recording technology at the 64th AES Convention in New York.

While digital recording standards are still a most controversial and as yet unresolved problem, it was quite apparent at the Convention that this has not deterred a number of manufacturers, and I think it is now safe to say that digital recording hardware is generally available. Engineers who are aware of this, and who have embraced the digital doctrines, are now becoming concerned about the effects of the analog equipment in the rest of the recording chain. There is no question that having to leave the digital domain, enter the analog mode for a specific function, and then returning to digital causes a definite degradation of the original signal. Ideally, of course, the entire recording chain should be digital from microphone preamplifier to monitor output. As reported last month, Sony has taken the first few small steps toward this goal with their digital "mini" mixer and digital reverberation unit. Strong rumors were circulating at the Convention that a major console manufacturer would offer a completely digital multi-input/output mixing console by the spring of 1981. If one's recording activities are of the "purist" minimum microphone variety, the Sony unit might be suitable at present, and it would be reasonable to expect small digital input consoles, either commercial or custom-built units, to appear in the near future.

Since my personal recording philosophy is of the "purist persuasion," I am going to follow these developments very diligently.

As anyone who has attended the last half-dozen or so Conventions of the Audio Engineering Society can attest, while the exhibits emphasize the nuts and bolts equipment of professional recording, there are ever-growing displays and demonstrations of equipment that would be of interest to the high-end audiophile market as well. This cross-utilization of audio equipment can have a very salutory effect on both markets, and I hope this trend continues. Herewith, some interesting items from both camps that caught my eye (and ear) at the 64th Convention... New microphones, especially from the redoubtable Georg Neumann Company, are always of interest. They have introduced the U89i condenser microphone, featuring a newly developed dual-membrane capsule which is said to be impervious to close-up high humidity effects (as from a vocalist's breath). The new unit resembles the familiar U87 but is actually about 20 percent smaller. It has a rotary switch which permits selection of omni, cardioid, figure of eight, hyper-cardioid, and wide-angle cardioid. A new amplifier allows up to 140 dB SPL, equivalent to the SPL right in front of a trumpet bell! Sooner or Later

After five years of development, the new Cybersonics DM2002 disc-cutting lathe has reached the marketing stage, complete with prices. This compact (351/2 in. Wx27' in. D x 16 in. H) 250 pound lathe is in startling contrast to the massive Scully and Neumann lathes. The Cybersonic lathe features direct servo motor drive to the turntable, cutting lead screw, microscope lead screw, and head mount. The turntable motor is of the phase lock servo, quartz reference type. Their "Compu-Drive" automated cutting system is a composite analog and digital system. All signals are formatted in eight-bit words. The Cybersonic lathe can be fitted with most cutter heads, but it features the Ortofon DSS731 and DSS732 systems. An interesting note is that Ortofon will act as the distributor for the Cybersonic lathes in Europe.

With its small size and light weight and the fact that multiple units can be electronically linked, the Cybersonic lathe would appear to be well suited for remote direct-to-disc recording.

The cost of the DM2002 lathe with microscope and vacuum system is $47,700.00. Add another $40,000 or so for the Ortofon cutter head and amplifiers and you are ready for business.

Cybersonics even has a fitted transport case for their lathe, so the enterprising direct-disc specialist can advertise, "Have lathe ... will travel." The Eumig company, an old-line Austrian firm with a solid reputation in the movie and slide-projection business, entered the cassette deck market about a year ago, and at the Convention they showed their latest offering, the very sophisticated FL-1000 cassette deck. This unit has all the usual "goodies" found on high-quality decks, plus some highly unusual facilities. In the Eumig demonstration room there was the somewhat startling sight of 10 of these decks all linked together through a computer, performing the function of an automated broadcasting station (with all associated transmitters, of course). The FL-1000 deck has a computer interface system that can be directly linked to almost any eight-bit computer system such as the Commodore Pet, Apple Two, and Radio Shack TRS-80. With a multi-machine control program, up to 15 FL 1000 decks can be individually controlled simultaneously or sequentially, for any mode and any section of any tape! The computer interface of this unit employs an eight-bit parallel bus.

The CPU integrated circuit in each deck is a Mostek MK3870. Each deck has an index program that, when tied in with the aforementioned computers and a CRT, permits up to 15 selections per cassette side to be programmed and played in any sequence under computer control. There are many other programs that can be developed for this deck, and it.certainly is a fascinating taste of the future.

Speaking of computers, friend Clay Barclay was showing the latest additions to, and the ever-increasing versatility of, his unique Badap audio microcomputer. In addition to the RTA (real-time third-octave analysis) and RT/60 (reverberation time) functions I have mentioned in previous columns, Clay now has as accessories an Input Multiplexer which provides 32 channels of level display, simultaneous peak and average, and most fascinating of all, a Stereo Analyzer. This unit provides two simultaneous third-octave displays, with peak and average readings for both. The color of each display on the CRT is different. The unit may be set to show Left and Right, L+ R (lateral), and L-R (vertical). It has a Peak Accumulate feature which, in evaluating master tapes before cutting or during the recording of the master, shows in-phase information in one color and out-of-phase' information in a contrasting color. Valuable information, to say the least! Also newly available is an inexpensive printer which will furnish an immediate hard copy read-out of the octave band data being displayed on the CRT screen.

Arms and the Mass

Technics has decided to set up a Recording and Broadcast Division, headed by that versatile old pro, Jim Parks.

The division will eventually cover the full gamut of equipment used in these industries. One of the first fruits of this new set-up is the introduction of two very high-quality phono playback arms. One, the EPA-100, has been available in this country only as part of the SL-1000 turntable system (the SP 10 MK2 turntable, with black lava rock base, and the arm). I have been using this for some time, and it is really a superlative system. The EPA-100 arm is an S-shaped design with an arm pipe made of exotic titanium nitride. The gimbal suspension uses some 20 ruby ball bearings. Unique is a viscous/ magnetic variable dynamic damping system which, when adjusted for the specific dynamic compliance of a given phono cartridge, reduces low-frequency arm resonances quite effectively, something on the order of 6 dB. The newest arm from Technics' R&B Division is the EPA-500. This arm has a base with a smooth helicoid mechanism for adjusting the height (and hence the VTA) on a dynamic basis.

The arms are straight pipes of titanium nitride. Yes, the plural appellation is correct: The EPA-500 has five interchangeable arms which are meant to match with phono cartridges of a specific mass and dynamic compliance.

Specifically, the arms are of the appropriate mass for very high compliance, high compliance, medium compliance, low compliance, and low compliance/high mass cartridges (as in some moving-coil designs). They fit into the gimbal suspension via a locking system, and electrical connections are gold "fingers." Each arm has its individual dynamic damping system, somewhat like that used on the EPA 100 and affording about the same reduction in low-frequency resonances.

One of the benefits of this system of separate arms is that headshells are an integral part (non-interchangeable in the usual fashion) and thus headshell connector resonances are avoided. A good start for this new Technics division, and there are some very interesting new items waiting in the wings.

Well, it's on to the CES at Las Vegas, and from all reports it will be a very big show indeed!



(Source: Audio magazine, Mar. 1980; Bert Whyte )

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