Audio etc. (April 1978)

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I have been accumulating a good backlog of practicality in the living room, lately, via equipment which is either brand new or--just as good-- older but directly related to the latest.

Good features, after all, do tend to stay around from model to model.

More items to mention, then, and some simple thoughts on living room terminology, a small but important aspect of the hi-fi biz. Things are very good in the living room right now. Take that from a music man who has seen much of what has passed for fi since our distant beginnings. Music listening is easy, as well as sonically gratifying.

Even if the prices are up 3 dB again.

We have seen some good changes in terminology, not the engineering sort but those which the hi-fi beginner must face up to. Rig and system rightly suggest collections of separate components that are not really separate, nor "units" either, since most of them combine various functions. No longer do we advise our Aunt Minnie to buy separate units. If she wants the easiest, she'll just get herself a stereo. A system is even better, and on up to the very best, and we won't argue as to which is hi fi. Gone, too, is that ugly word chassis, replaced by more gracious terminology, like receiver. I don't even remember what a hi-fi chassis was, to tell the truth, and what could a tyro understand by such a term? When I was a child, though innocent, I knew very well what that word meant. It was the female anatomy, underneath the outerwear.

Also, illogically, the under-parts of a motor vehicle, minus body, a much less interesting meaning. What was a chassis? Well, anyhow, it was definitely stripped down.

A word I particularly like is deck, because it is (a) sensible, (b) short and sweet, and (c) obscure in its hi-fi origin, though I can make easy guesses. In Europe last year I ran into wider uses of deck, including the phono or record deck. Why not? If you have a tape deck, then a phono deck is logical, a parallel source of signal; from there you can go to a radio-deck, or, if you will, an FM deck, or AM/FM cassette.

The idea behind a deck presumably refers to signal level; on ship a deck is equivalent to a story or floor on land, one level among many. In rack mounted home equipment, a series of "decks" may be mounted one above another, too, for a spatial level. All very harmonious, and we should expand our present usage to any component that is a source of line-level signal from one or another of the basic signal sources, minus "body", i.e. power amplifiers and speakers. An FM deck, I suggest, is more logical than an FM tuner, since receivers are also tuners.

And a phono deck (disc deck, record deck) bypasses "table," not a very good word for a turning platter. We have too many tables around as it is, from coffee tables to log, tide, IRS, and ours is the only one that spins.

Turntable Turnaround

Add one to the phono decks I mentioned last month. The new manual play AR 77X6 has come in to replace my ancient one, and yes, it is the same old reliable, with minor but good refinements and an enhanced price, still rating as a "good buy what with inflation" and all that. Newly svelte and compact, newly styled, and it is definitely not bothered by my loose floorboard. Of course, suddenly I miss the auto shut off of the interim replacement; I am recently spoiled.

But in a few days I will forget that easily. I like the slow-damped lift/descend lever, so you do not need to touch the cartridge (though if you don't pull the lever all the way forward your stylus will catch the table edge). In this deck the arm and turntable are a single unit, isolated on floppy springs from the base itself, and locked together so that the combined unit can move to avoid all kinds of heavy rumble and shock without the stylus jumping free.

Clever idea and it still works. But one operational clumsiness must be noted, inherent in this design. You will find that it is sometimes difficult to remove records from the spindle. The close-fitting center holes stick to the shaft and, as you try, the whole arm/chassis unit wobbles around and the record just won't let go. If you heave too hard, the arm flies up in the air. Careful warping and wedging does the job if you have a bit of patience, and I find this not too high a price to pay in convenience. As for the speed changing, involving taking off the outer half of the table and moving the drive belt from pulley to pulley, it isn't a problem unless you play alternate 33 and 45 recordings. All in all, this phono deck can hold its place as the ultimate in top performance with starkly basic simplicity, which is a thing many of us still can use. But I did enjoy the good automatic shut off of that temporary unit, a Technics SL-1350.

Cassette Componentry

I mentioned a useful recent type of cassette deck in connection with my work on binaural directionality; it has since proved even more useful to me in many ways and I recommend the type, which now appears-at last-in a number of lines: The battery/a.c. two channel portable cassette deck. Mine, again, was the JVC KD-2, one of several in that company's roster of models, and if it is typical of others, then we have an important new operational area here, extending the hi-fi "system" into new uses, joining the basic indoor home facilities to a wide range of peripatetic ("walking around") activities away from the power line.

These decks are generally smaller and lighter than the indoor a.c. cassette decks-which seem to get grossly bigger and bigger every year -- and they are set up a bit like a flounder or flat fish, with controls arranged so the unit can be carried on the hip with meters visible, and alternatively set down flat or at an angle. Mine has a shoulder belt built in, and all basic controls are immediately accessible to either hand in the carrying, which is remarkably easy for such a complete unit. Mikes and/or phones plug into the forward side as needed and an instant battery check on one meter keeps things safely under control in the field.

Even with two channels and a larger than hand-held size, the unit will run plenty long thanks to the minimal drain on the batteries required to keep the cassettes turning and the juice flowing.

I should add that, unlike many smaller single-channel portable cassette decks, this type is fully "stereo" in all respects and compatible with any indoor equipment in your system. The "ins and outs" are 100 per cent standard, the two meters are VU, and the levels come out right. Thus, a deck of this portable sort serves very well, too, as an indoor unit, via a.c. or battery if you are too lazy to hook up the cord-and I have been using mine in that fashion, to take down radio programs, copy off tapes as well as discs, even as an intermediate stage in transferring material from, say, a 15 ips reel-to-reel tape to 7 1/2 ips on the same machine. Quality stands up well in these transfers, all things considered including Dolby/ANRS. You will also find in these decks the same variety of equalization and bias positions that occur on the indoor type of deck, as well as all the usual controls, including a master volume and separate volume controls for each input. There is even a level control for the stereo phone output, to cope with widely different phone characteristics as well as different ears.

Battery Backup

I think what I like best in my cassette portable is a feature now taken for granted in all battery equipment but still new and intriguing to me. Pull out the a.c. cord and the machine just goes right on through use of an automatic battery connection.

And the same the other way ... if by chance the power fails when you are recording via a.c., you're safe.

Yes (you boat and car people), there is even a low-voltage d.c. power input socket, if you want to save your internal batteries while on board. In my particular deck, though, it is six volt, not 12, for a sensible reason. This allows you to operate with only four D cells, saving both weight and space. I expect that other portable decks, a bit larger and heavier, may offer the 12-volt option out of eight D cells or equivalent.

Check for yourself the model of your choice.

(Source: Audio magazine; Apr. 1978; by Edward Tatnall Canby)

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