Vintage 78's - Getting in the Groove

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Vintage 78 RPM Record Transfer to CD

Though we transfer Vintage 78 recordings to CD as a business, this page is dedicated to those desiring to learn more of the techniques employed as well as to those interested in getting involved in vintage 78 rpm restoration as a challenging hobby.

If you stumbled upon this page out of curiosity, and somehow manage to suffer through it all, you're probably about ready to get hooked on an uncommon, yet extremely rewarding hobby.

 

 

Vintage 78 MP3 Audio ClipVictrola and RCA Cat

In case you never heard a vintage 78, here's what you can expect to hear !

This is a brief clip of a typical vintage 78 in average condition from 1929 you'll come across in a flea market. It's loaded with crackles, clicks, hisses, pops and rumble. Part of the challenge as well as the fun, is getting them restored.  You'll need Windows Media Player or equivalent software capable of playing MP3's installed on your computer to listen to these audio clips.

To listen to an un-restored excerpt from the original recording .......   Click here.

For the restored version with minimal filtering .................................   Click here 

With just the right amount and proper type of digital filtering, most of the original fidelity is preserved. Add too much processing and the audio will become muddy....

Many folks have asked the name of the song we chose for the demo.

It is the lead-in to "My Sin" recorded in 1929 by the California Ramblers on an Edison Diamond Disc.

To listen to "My Sin" in it's entirety .......................................    Click here    (mp3  4.7mb)

Here's another sample with moderate filtering ...............................    Click here   (mp3 936 kb)
(Come Josephine in My Flying Machine - Ada Jones & Billy Murray - circa 1912 - Transferred from Edison Cylinder)  Made recently popular by the Movie "Titanic", this is from one of the original Edison Wax Cylinder recordings as it would have sounded back then.  Sometimes you never know what treasures will turn up on eBay !

 

 Playing times for one side - Times are approximate and rounded off to the nearest 15 seconds



Record Diameter
in inches

78 RPM
2.5 mil Vintage Groove
33.3 RPM
2.5 Mil Vintage Groove
33.3 RPM
1 mil Micro Groove

 
5 1:15 2:30 5:15
7 2:00 4:00 8:30
10 3:30 7:00 15:00
12 4 :30 10:00 25:00
16 6:45 15:00 -

 

Now that we know what a Vintage 78 and Edison Cylinder typically sounds like, we'll move on to the various topics.......

Getting Started in Old Vintage Recordings as a Rewarding Hobby

Though a business, the love and restoration of Vintage 78's is also a hobby. 

The suggestions and recommendations below are written not for the professional, but for the novice desiring to get seriously into the hobby without going broke.......   (or at least more "broke" than is necessary).  There are many sites dedicated to this endeavor, including many vintage recording clubs and organizations, where there is a vast wealth of in-depth information on the subject.  For whatever unfathomable reason, most don't tell the novice how to get started, but just naturally (though mistakenly) assume the new comer already has somehow acquired the basic knowledge perhaps through clairvoyance. Thus I suppose this entire topic is dedicated to the "telepathically challenged".

Vintage recordings span a wide range of technologies. Vintage 78 records, Wax Cylinders, Wire Recorders, and oxide covered paper tapes- the forerunner of today's magnetic tape. Owing to their wide availability, perhaps the easiest place to start is in the area of Vintage 78's.  It's truly amazing what treasures can be uncovered at a flea market, or better yet, in Grandma's attic.

There are groups of enthusiasts who are excited in keeping 100 % traditional. The thrill for them is collecting early players such as Victrolas' , "Talking Machines", Gramophones etc, and playing the vintage discs on the early acoustical equipment they were originally intended to be played on by Gramps and Grandma. The sound produced by an early Gramophone or Talking machine is unique. This group of enthusiasts transfer the recordings to CD acoustically, by use of a quality microphone to preserve forever the unique sound that was heard in the living rooms across the world in the days of old.   For these enthusiasts, audio restoration is nothing short of blasphemy....  The low fidelity, scratches, clicks, pops, hisses and whirring of the spring driven motor, are all a coveted plus and all part of the magical charm. To this group, turning off all the room lights and lighting several kerosene lamps, sets the stage for a truly unique experience. They crank up the old Victrola and sit mesmerized by the visual and audio environment.  No longer is it simply a vintage record player, for now it has been magically transformed into a virtual time warp machine that transports them back to a different era. I do not posses the writing skills to accurately describe the experience, so I won't even attempt it...

Yet others are intrigued by restoring vintage disks to the sound as was originally recorded in the studio. This following will go to any lengths, employing the most sophisticated digital techniques and equipment they can afford to achieve that goal. The sound this group desires to achieve is  better than what was ever heard in any living room with the old acoustic reproduction equipment available at the time.

Thus there are two camps here, each equally important in the historical preservation of the early recordings. The traditionalists have it pretty easy when it comes to equipment selection. A quick tour through eBay will reveal a wealth of old recording equipment - some in excellent condition. Another good source is estate sales and auctions. Even flea markets might uncover an occasional treasure.

For the second group, there are a lot of other considerations. The impossible goal that they all strive for is nothing short of absolute perfection. It's an unattainable goal, though by standards of only 10 years ago, the home enthusiast can often come much closer to that elusive end.

The third group is driven by the appeal of both. Their equipment is a mixture of state of the art electronics and period hand cranked acoustic reproducers. They love it both ways !

Most of the topics below relate to the challenges that audio restoration imposes, though it's a source of information for all.

 

Vintage 78 Equipment Selection

Though you might have a top of the line stereo setup including an audiophile quality turntable, the playback of vintage 78's requires careful selection of specialized equipment designed to handle the vintage formats. The following sections will help you get through the maze of equipment offerings.

Perhaps a penetrating glimpse of the obvious, but......

Purchasing the wrong equipment is the biggest and most costly mistake you can make.

Avoid purchasing your equipment or listening to the claims of sales people at the large electronics - audio outlets. First of all, you can safely bet that the equipment they stock, owing to the limited market, is not suitable for vintage 78's, and it's also safe to assume that none of the young salespeople you'll encounter will have so much as even a tiny clue as to what vintage playback actually entails.  After all, the large outlets are mass merchandisers and make their profits by moving volume. Vintage 78 playback equipment is anything BUT a high volume market. Thus you can safely bet your bottom dollar the mass market outlets do not carry equipment suitable for playing vintage records.

After reading the sections below, you'll have a good grounding in the basics and will quickly be able to deduce by asking the salesperson only several simple questions based on the topics we'll cover, whether he or she knows even remotely what they are even talking about. If nothing else, it'll be great entertainment, listening to the lines of "bull" about how their top of the line, microprocessor controlled, fuel injected, "nitro burning", tri-beam laser guided, titanium turntable will flawlessly play ANY 78 or any record ever made !       You'll either be bent over in laughter or will be summarily arrested for having knocked the well deserving BS artists' lights out..... Either way, a great way to have some REAL fun and liven up an otherwise boring afternoon without spending a dime  !  ..........  (unless assuming for whatever unfathomable reason, you don't count the expense of having to "make bail" and hiring a good lawyer to get you off on the assault & battery rap......). 

 

We have no financial interest in the equipment you choose - we don't sell hardware products nor do we have any relative's I'm aware of that are even remotely engaged in such endeavors. So what follows are our unbiased opinions.

So read on, and get started off on the right track.

First of all, we'll cover the basics.......

What is a vintage record ?

Vintage records may not be exactly what the name implies. There are 2 categories of vintage records.....  discs and cylinders. 

Vintage discs were manufactured from the early 1890's to about 1960. Most folks are aware that records were manufactured well beyond 1960 until the era of the CD. So what makes these certain records "vintage" you ask ?  Well, in this case, the term "Vintage" is not necessarily related to it's age per se, but rather how the groove was cut. Vintage discs (sometimes referred to as short play SP's) are cut with a much wider groove pitch than later micro groove cuts found on later to come 33-1/3 LP's, 45's or later 78's. It's the wide groove cut that  denotes them as being termed vintage discs. Commonly, they are referred to as vintage 78's; referring to the speed in Revolutions Per Minute at which they were recorded.  Though generically referred to as 78's, "78" is a misnomer..... Standardization of the speed was not established or agreed on up until around 1930.  Prior to that time, recording/play speeds were  were left to the whims of the various manufacturers....  anywhere from 60 to 130 RPM  (not even close to 78 !).  Most however were designed to be played back anywhere in the range of 72 to 82 rpm.  Edison & Diamond Discs for example, all play back at 80 rpm. Early Pathe's at 100 rpm. Though both vintage & microgroove discs are commonly referred to as "78's, it may seem ironic that none were recorded at exactly 78 rpm - even the recent microgroove "78's" aren't exactly 78 rpm.

Vintage record sizes span a wide range of  from 5.5 inch diameter "Little Wonders" to massive 16 1/2 inch transcription discs.

The first microgroove recording was released to the marketplace by Columbia Records in 1948 although vintage grooves continued to be produced til 1960 by some labels...  What denotes this classification, is the much narrower groove cut (referred to as Micro Groove) and the slower standardized playback speeds of 45 and 33 1/3 rpm.  They are also referred to as LP (Long Play) or sometimes EP (Extended Play).  They come in a variety of formats..  7" 45's with oversize spindle holes that were well suited for jukeboxes, and 10 or 12" LP's.  Later 78's used a microgroove cut and are not classified as being vintage. Just about all of the microgrooves are made from a solid piece of resilient vinyl.

Vintage Cylinders were manufactured from around 1890 to about 1930. Like everything else of that era, there were no standards, and manufacturers were left to their own devices as to format they chose to employ. Thus audio cylinders came in a variety of sizes. Bad analogy I suppose, but most cylinders were about the size of a roll of toilet paper. Owing to their relative rarity, getting started in cylinders will not be covered here, but it is a most rewarding aspect that you may take a serious interest in as well.


Turntables & Playback Speed - Vintage Record Turntables

First some history on how the various recording/playback speeds came to be.....

78 RPM

Though commonly referred to as 78's, ironically, none were designed to be played back at exactly 78 rpm.  Even the term "78" is misleading, as the actual rpm later agreed on with the advent of the AC motor, is actually 78.26 rpm !

So how did the standard become 78.26 rpm instead of say a nice round 78 you're probably asking ?  And for that matter, where did the original 78 rpm standard come from in the first place ?

Emil Berliner  (the inventor of the gramophone) determined by subjective listening tests, the optimum speed for recording vintage records. The resulting optimum speed is dependent on a balance between the groove width, stylus and design of the cutter & reproducer. Best results were obtained at speeds ranging from a low of  70 to a high of  90 rpm, and Berliner and his British Gramophone Company, determined the best sound was obtained at 78 rpm.  Since Berliner & his Gramophone established the record format to begin with, other manufacturers  followed Berliner's lead, & 78 rpm became the defacto standard.

Later however, the standard was changed to 78.26 rpm - and is the standard that remains in effect to this day. The reason for the change is actually perfectly logical. The slight change came about with the introduction of the synchronous AC motor. All AC powered turntables in the US run off standard 60 Hz power, and use synchronous motors. A synchronous motor's speed is locked to the line frequency. This yields a constant rpm, even though line voltage may fluctuate, thus minimizing any power induced fluctuations in the playback speed. Thus a standard 60 cycle synchronous motor will run at 3600 rpm (60 rev/sec = 3600 rpm).  The closest integer gear ratio to reduce the 3600 rpm down to about 78 rpm is a ratio of 46:1. Dividing 3600/46 , yields 78.26 rpm.    Voila ! - - - -  the new standard was set.....

33 1/3 RPM

The 33 1/3 speed came about with the advent of early sound films. In the early days of film, the audio was recorded on a separate record. 12 inch 78 rpm records using Gramophone groove widths, could hold about 5 minutes per side, yet a reel of film in those days, could run for about 11 minutes.  Simply dropping the record recording speed down to 32 rpm would enable the full length film audio to be recorded non-stop on one side.  Ultimately, 33 1/3  (3600 divided by a gear reduction ratio of 108:1) was agreed on as the final modern standard. Plus European power at 50 Hz yields a synchronous motor speed of 3000 rpm. - so an even gear reduction of 90:1 also yields 33 1/3. So 33 1/3 rpm was a "magic number" !

16 RPM

The 16 rpm speed came about as a necessity to maximize continuous recording times. 16 rpm was exactly 1/2 that of the  32 rpm used for recording early films. The low speed combined with massive 16 inch diameter disks (transcriptions) could yield up to about 30 minutes/side. Audio fidelity is rather poor due to the slow speed especially towards the hub(300 - 3000 Hz), but is perfectly acceptable for voice quality.

Up to this point, standardized speeds were determined by subjective listening, and "fine tuned" for compatibility with synchronous AC motors and gear reduction ratios.

45 RPM

The 45 rpm speed was the only speed to be determined by a more precise scientific approach conducted by RCA Victor in 1948.  RCA  showed that the optimum use of a disc record of constant rotational speed, occurs when the innermost track diameter is half that of the outermost recorded diameter.  Given the adopted CBS vinyl groove dimensions (microgroove) and certain assumptions about the bandwidth and tolerable distortion, RCA plugged the numbers into their algorithm & a speed of 45 rpm was shown to be the optimum for this 7" record size format.

 

Anyways, prior to the advent of AC synchronous motors, most vintage discs were commonly recorded at anywhere from 70 to 85 rpm and a few as low as 60 and as high as 130 rpm (though these are rare).  Thus vintage 78's are not really 78's at all, but has evolved into a term to merely describe any non - micro groove disc manufactured prior to 1960.

Though there weren't any standards per se, various manufacturers established their own "standards" of sorts.  Out of sheer numbers of discs distributed, the following speeds are common: 71.29, 76.59, 78.26, 78.8, 80 & occasionally 90 or 100 rpm. Most turntables designed for vintage disc playback will have preset settings for these first five common speeds.  Since even these common pre-sets don't cover all the bases, it's imperative that the turntable have a true variable speed control (not just a small variance pitch control) that allows playback at any speed of from 60 to at least 100 rpm.

Another feature to look for is a switch to select between vertical or Lateral groove cut which will be discussed shortly. Not mandatory that the turntable have this feature, as an effective alternative would be to have a separate cartridge mounted in it's own headshell with the phase wiring reversed, that can be easily swapped when a vertically cut disc is encountered.

If you intend to play 16 inch transcription disks, then there are even further turntable considerations.  First of all, we'll explain just what a transcription disc is.....

Transcription Discs....  -  Transcription Recordings  -  16 inch Transcription Records

Before the advent of magnetic tape, transcription records were used by radio stations to record programs for delayed broadcast. Commercials were cut and distributed also on transcription discs. Most transcription recordings were mastered on a large 16 to 17 " diameter discs, though 16" to 16.5 was the most common size. Composition of the discs were either aluminum core with lacquer, glass with lacquer, or more modern vinyl.  There were no standards per se, but most were recorded at 78 to 80 rpm or at 33 1/3 rpm- although others were recorded as low as 16.  What's peculiar to this format, is the way that many started on the inside track and worked their way to the outside on the second side of the disc, though side "A" started normally on the outside. This was done to minimize changes in frequency response and distortion between the end of side A and the beginning of side B.

Transcription disks contain a wealth of historical programming and are definitely worth considering !

Now that we know what a transcription disc is, it's clear to see that even most vintage turntables won't support them.

Transcription discs are both large and heavy.  Playing a transcription disc requires a turntable designed for such use. First of all the turntable must be able to physically accommodate the over-size disk.  An extended tone arm (typically 12 inches in length), adequate clearances and high torque motor to spin the heavy platter are also  necessities.

Some turntables inherently support playback of 16 inch transcription discs, while others offer a tone-arm conversion to allow 16" playback (such as the Murray II).  If playback of 16" discs is a consideration, make sure you purchase a turntable that either inherently has the capability or offers a tone arm conversion kit. 

We're often asked which turntable is the best for vintage playback... We actually have no favorites here, though the Murray II, Ramses-II, or Rec-O-Kut Rondine are good initial choices, owing to their desirable features. The most versatile of the lot is either the Murray II, Ramses-II, KAB Transcription or Rek-O-Kut Rondine.

The Murray II/Ramses-II supports 60 to 105 rpm, has a built in vertical/lateral selector switch, cue lever, 16 inch transcription capability (with the optional transcription tone arm) and also has the ability to play backwards (for playing metal masters).  Both  the Murray-II and the Ramses-II are actually the same turntable, being based on Esoteric Sounds' Reproduction Master turntable. (http://www.esotericsound.com). These tables are perhaps the most versatile of the lot, though the drive won't support 16 rpm. The now out of production Rek-0-Kut Rondine is a full capability player that has all the basic features of the Murray II, PLUS it does support 16 rpm. However, it will not spin backwards to play metal stampers (since these are quite rare, it shouldn't sway your decision). Depending upon your application, the Rek-O-Kut Rondine Jr., Aten 16,  or the KAB Transcription tables (http://www.kabusa.com)  also warrant your attention. 

Also worth considering is the older Technics SP-15.  Though no longer being manufactured, this superb broadcast table is capable of playing back even the rare transcription discs up to 20 inches in diameter ! These broadcast tables were sold "bare" - no base or tone arm. For transcription discs, the SME 3012R is a top of the line tone arm and will do nicely.  Only drawback is the limited speed availability.......  33, 45 & 78 with a limited 9.9%± pitch control. For most transcription discs though, this table is hard to beat. They occasionally turn up on eBay. Unless recently serviced, expect to have to replace the capacitors, as these tables are around 20 years old.

Less expensive turntables (of which there are many) will not have continuously variable speed adjustment, but will have preset speed selection. If choosing any of these less expensive models, make certain the speeds they support are at least 71.26, 76.59, 78.26 & 80 rpm.  These will cover at least most (though not all) of the bases and will cost substantially less (about $250 or so...)

Sadly, no one turntable does it all, though the Rek-O-Kut Rondine and Murray/Ramses-II come close.  Thus the Murray/Ramses-II, Rek-O-Kut Rondine and a Technics SP-15 all together, would cover just about anything ever recorded. Naturally, other combinations would also yield full capability...

In the "For What it's Worth" department, the Technics 1200 is a current state of the art turntable. It's a beautiful precision table, but for vintage 78's, the stock 1200 is not well suited (being limited to 33 1/3 & 45 rpm just for openers...).   Beware the salesmen trying to sell you one for the playback of vintage 78's........ Note: http://www.kabusa.com  does however sell a modified 1200 that adds 78 rpm that also warrants serious consideration.

LP & 45 Turntables for microgroove vinyl

Though this page is dedicated to vintage 78's,  I suppose we should bear short mention to turntables dedicated to microgroove vinyl.  Here the offerings are numerous - spanning a wide range of prices and performance specs. There are many better sites to "pick through" covering turntable selection for Lp's and 45's in great detail, so we won't bother to delve into the subject.

However, one of the table/cartridge combinations we use and have fallen in love with, is the Linn LP12 with the Linn Arkiv cartridge.

 

After locating a turntable (or turntables !), the next critical decision is the proper cartridge and stylus to select.  Stylus choice for the media is the most important of all....  not only for the quality of sound reproduced, but there is no better way of damaging a vintage recording than by playback using the wrong stylus.

Stylus selection is a little confusing at first. To better understand what's involved, first you must understand how the grooves were originally cut.

Vintage Record Groove Type

What is just as important as selecting the proper playback speed, is understanding how the groove was cut and how the proper stylus/cartridge combination is to be selected based on the type of cut. Typical vintage 78 grooves are MUCH wider than than the later to come microgrooves such as those found on LP's and 45's.  Thus playback of a vintage 78 requires a "78" stylus which is much wider than an LP stylus. (We'll get to more on this later....)

To make matters more confusing, vintage discs were cut with a wide variety of groove sizes and configurations (not quite what you wanted to hear, huh ?). The specifics of these are beyond the scope of this page, and there are plenty of other excellent in depth references on the subject scattered across the web. What follows here are just the basics of the topic.....

In general however, there are 2 different groove types found on vintage records....   Lateral  and  Vertical

Lateral Cut Groove

The lateral groove is often referred to as a needle cut. The undulations of the audio are cut into the sidewalls of the groove causing the stylus to vibrate back and forth from left to right if you will. Most vintage records (about 95% of them in fact) are laterally cut.

Vertical Cut Groove

Here the undulations are cut not into the sidewalls, but rather into the bottom of the groove. The stylus instead of vibrating from side to side, rides more like a car on a bumpy road, tracking up and down over each "hill and dale" of the groove. Early labels such as Edison, Operaphone, Par-O-Ket, Pathe' and some others, use this style of cut.

How a Stereo Signal is cut on a Vinyl Record

To better understand the principals, first we'll delve into how a more modern microgroove vinyl stereo record is cut and how a stereo cartridge reproduces a stereo image. Though quite more involved and beyond the scope of this page, what follows is the simple gist of it !

The recording stylus cutter cuts a  90 degree "V" angle groove into the disc surface, so that each wall of the groove forms a 45 degree angle with the vertical.  Left channel signals are cut into the inner groove wall, and the right channel signals are cut into the outer groove wall.  Undulations of the inner groove wall produce output on the left channel, while undulations on the outer groove wall produce output on the right channel. As a consequence of stereo Left  & Right separation, any difference in signal between the left and right channels results in varying groove depth, due to the phase difference between the two channels.  In contrast, the resultant stylus motion on a mono signal or a signal centered between the two channels, produces simple serpentine lateral motion of the stylus with equal output on both left & right channels with resulting constant groove depth.  Thus a mono disc can be accurately reproduced with a stereo playback cartridge. 

For a better understanding & a great animated depiction of how a stereo signal groove is cut and how the stylus tracks various groove cuts (stereo or mono - vertical or lateral), take a look at the following web site:  http://www.vinylrecorder.com/stereo.html. The best graphical representation we've seen explaining the concept ! .......    Our compliments to the author of this site who did a fantastic job of graphically explaining the concept !  He's accomplished in several animated pictures that otherwise would take me many paragraphs of typing, clumsily trying to explain !

Vertical - Lateral groove cuts & Switch Wiring

Now that we understand the basic concepts, we'll delve into the differences between vertical and laterally cut grooves as they pertain to vintage 78 records......

A vintage monophonic groove is cut either purely lateral or purely vertical.  Lateral cuts offer improved fidelity and wider dynamic range than vertically cut grooves. Stylus motion in the case of a lateral cut groove, is analogous to a car traveling on a smooth but windy street of constant width.  On a vertical cut groove, stylus motion is analogous to the car traveling down straight constant width street with many bumps, hills & dales.

Stereo cartridges by their very design are sensitive to both lateral as well as vertical movements. Groove imperfections (the result of dirt, grime, scratches etc) are manifested and distributed randomly on each sidewall as well as floor of the groove. Thus, it follows that if we make the cartridge sensitive in only one plane, we will cut 50 % of unwanted noise. The results can be dramatic with vintage 78s and early LP's. Simple re-wiring of the magnetic cartridge connections make it all possible !

A standard stereo cartridge consists of two independent channels: Left & Right. Thus there are 4 connections on the cartridge.

Left + (White)
Left Ground (Blue)

Right + (Red)
Right Ground
(Green)

Simply inverting the polarity of either channel (swapping either the white & blue OR the Red & Green wires) will optimize performance for a vertically cut groove (such as early Pathe's). This can be accomplished either by a wired switch - making life easy, or better yet: a second headshell with one of the channels reversed. If using a switch, care must be taken to use good quality coax cable and making certain that routing of the cable is kept as short as possible without it passing in close proximity to the drive motor to avoid any inductive pickup.

Note that early vertically cut discs were before the advent of electrical playback equipment and were designed to be played back on mechanical reproducers.....  most of which tracked around a heavy 100 grams or so. Playback on modern equipment using a cartridge such as the Stanton 500 series, means setting the tracking force to no more than 5 grams, so that damage isn't done to the cantilever of the cartridge. These modern light tracking forces can result in mis-tracking, as the grooves in a vertically cut disc are quite shallow as compared to a laterally cut disc. Special care must be taken to adjust the anti-skate tension, lest mis-tracking and skips are to be avoided.

Groove Wear

It's the curse of all records. A diamond, sapphire or old Victrola steel needle grinding up against a vinyl, shellac or acetate coating embedded with dirt, and the comparatively soft surface always loses the battle - it's never even a contest.  But alas (and luckily), groove wear does not usually manifest itself equally.  Use of the same stylus often results in wear on only one part of the groove wall. This is often the case in vintage 78's that have had one owner and thus resulted in being played on only one machine with the same type of stylus, as is often the case. Unless the overall wear is severe and has damaged the entire groove, the remaining wear pattern is often consistent and limited to just one area of the groove wall.

Thus even on all but the most severely worn records, there usually still remains an elusive "sweet spot" left relatively unscathed. The proper stylus selection will allow the stylus to track in the remaining undamaged part of the sidewall - either above or below the dreaded wear zone - - - into the "sweet spot" if you will........  That's the trick.

Land the stylus in the elusive "sweet spot" and it's like someone threw a switch ! Out of the distorted murk emerges a signal that has surprising fidelity, depth and brilliance with minimal noise.......   it was hidden there all the time: you just have to find it.

Truly amazing what a mil here or there will do......

 

Typical Vintage 78 Groove dimensions

 

This image depicts where a new 3 mil stylus rides in a new groove

Debris Field Definition:  Vintage 78's may have as many as 40 to over 100 years of exposure to all kinds of contaminants. No matter how well a record is cleaned, or the high tech cleaning machine employed, close inspection with a microscope reveals always a certain small amount of dirt and debris remaining in the very bottom of the groove. Short of totally destroying the disc attempting to remove it, a small amount is there to stay.

 

The most common type of record groove wear

In the case depicted here, the tip of the stylus is plowing through the rubble of the debris field and there's not much left of the mid and lower sidewalls.  The resulting audio will be mostly noise and distortion and probably not much more - - -  beyond what any restoration software or even experienced alchemist can do much with. Alas, all is not lost, there probably remains hidden the golden sweet spot. Find it and it's almost like you uncovered a new record. Life will be good !

 

As the groove wears, the mid and lower parts of the groove wall get worn down and the stylus rides lower in the groove closer to the debris field. Ultimately, unless a larger stylus is employed, the stylus will eventually wear its' way  down into the debris field with vastly increased surface noise and greatly reduced signal to noise ratios. As disastrous as this is, under certain scenarios, the upper part of the groove wall usually remains pretty much unscathed. The wear zone widens both as a result of the stylus wearing down the groove wall and sinking deeper, plus the stylus itself becoming worn with it's sides flattened at the highest stress points of contact - widening and deepening the wear zone even further. Selecting a larger truncated stylus will raise it off the "rocky"  floor and allow it to track in the middle of the golden sweet spot. If in the disc's prior history a larger stylus was used before it "bottomed out", there are often 2 sweet spots....  One on the upper wall, and the other towards the bottom. This scenario is a little more rare.

Luckily, most vintage 78's that have been in storage for years have always been played with the same size stylus. Grandma and Gramps were most likely not purist audiophiles and thus used only one steel needle ! Though it was recommended by most manufacturers that a new needle was to be used for each record played, the simple reality is that few folks ever did...  If it managed to play at all, then good enough ! ......  As a result, the entire bottom or floor of the the groove wall is simply worn out but the upper walls are sometimes almost completely untouched !

A quick check with a microscope will quickly reveal the type and location of wear and will quickly show if a sweet spot exists.  (more than likely, it usually does ! ). Now it's a simple matter of measuring the groove width at the sweet spot level and selecting a truncated stylus size to fit.

Sadly, some vintage records are simply worn out and no sweet spot is left. Many of the records made for home record cutters, used an acetate over fiber substrate. The surface coat had to be made soft enough to allow cutting by the recording cutter head.  The soft top coat on these discs would not tolerate repeated playings without the grooves prematurely wearing down.

There is much more to this topic than what is covered here...  These are but the highlights of the subject. After all these are just the basics.....

 

Anyways, now that we have a basic understanding of the concept and challenges ahead, it's time to move on to the next topic.


Phono Cartridge and Stylus Selection

These are perhaps the most important considerations....

Vintage 78 Cartridge Selection

A "trip" through any electronics catalog will reveal a plethora of different cartridges.   Like which flavor of ice cream you like, everyone seems to have their own favorite and opinion. But here, we're interested in the best quality reproduction with the least possible wear on vintage 78 records.  This narrows the selection process considerably.... or more accurately, makes it almost downright simple !  Also, this is one of those rare areas encountered in life where the most expensive product is not necessarily the best for the task at hand.

We recommend the Stanton® 500 AL or 750 AL. Both are high quality, ruggedly constructed and well suited for the playback of vintage records and neither will send you to the poor farm.  Frequency response is not an issue, since the fidelity of vintage 78's is pretty poor compared to that of later microgroove vinyl records. In that respect even the least expensive cartridge would suffice. More important than frequency response by far, is the ruggedness of the cartridge and what styli are available for it. That pretty much narrows it down to the Stanton 500. owing exclusively to the wide availability of styli available for this cartridge. Few other cartridges have such a wide variety of styli made especially for the restoration of vintage 78's. As an added bonus, it's even quite inexpensive ! (around $40 or so).  Of equal importance, the Stanton 500/750 is ruggedly constructed (vintage 78's dish out a torturous beating to the cartridge) and will tolerate high tracking forces required of vintage 78's (typically 3.5 to 5 grams). It's one of the best bargains in the vintage 78 world. The only difference between the 500 & 750, is that the Stanton 500 is a standard 1/2" mount while the 750 is a "P" mount.  Both accept the same styli.  Both are extremely rugged and designed to track at up to 5 grams.  More delicate cartridges that have a max 3 gram limitation (made for the newer micro groove records) usually (read: always) have difficulty tracking vintage discs - especially those that are warped, off center, or exhibit groove damage.....  as many are.

Stanton 500 AL

Frequency Response      20 to 17 kHz
Output @ 1kHz: 4.6mV
Channel Separation @ 1 kHz: 28dB
Channel Balance @ 1 kHz: within 2 dB
Tracking Force: 2 to 5 grams
DC Resistance: 535 ohms
Inductance: 400 mH
Cartridge Weight: 5.5 grams
Tracking Ability: 80µ @ 3 grams
Recommended Load: 47k ohms and 275 pF
Replacement Stylus: Numerous custom ground styli available

The Shure® M44 is another fine rugged cartridge for vintage archiving that you might want to consider. 

If you already haven't figured it out by now, stylus selection and availability as well as ruggedness is of the utmost importance. Owing to the inherent low fidelity of vintage recordings, frequency response of the cartridge is not even a consideration.

Microgroove 33 1/3 LP & 45 Cartridge Selection

Though this page is dedicated to Vintage 78's, cartridge selection for standard modern microgroove records also bears some discussion. Here the choices as far as quality and price are spread out across a wide range of offerings. Deciding which cartridge is best is a much more difficult choice. Microgroove cartridges range from $19.95 to well over $2,000. We won't discuss the virtues of the "$19.95" end of the market, as other than price, there simply aren't any ! To capture all that is capable on vinyl recordings, you're going to have to spend some real money.  Cartridges in this league are used only by professional archivists or true audiophiles with records in excellent to pristine condition.

So.... what do we recommend you ask ?

Midrange Cartridge:    Shure V15VxMR

The Shure® V15xMR is an audiophile/professional cartridge and would satisfy the needs of most.
As of 2005, expect to pay around $500 for the cartridge & $190 for a replacement stylus

Frequency Response ±3 dB:     10 to 25,000 Hz
Tone Arm Mount: Standard 1/2"
Cartridge Type: MM - Moving Magnet
Features: Dynamic Stabilizer damper / de-staticizer, Die cast aluminum mounting block
Cantilever: V15 - Ultra low mass, Beryllium / tubular, 0.5 mil wall thickness / 18 mil diameter
Diamond Stylus Tip: MASAR™ polished natural gemstone, Micro-Ridge
     Side x front radii: 0.15 x 3.0 mil
Tracking Force (effective at stylus tip) Range: 0.75 to 1.25 grams, Optimum: 1.00 gram
Trackability at 1 gram tracking force (cm per second peak velocity)
     400 Hz: 30 cm/sec, 1 kHz: 46 cm/sec, 5 kHz: 80 cm/sec, 10 kHz: 60 cm/sec
Amplitude: 80 µm at 400 Hz
Stereo Channel Balance: Within 1.5 dB
Channel Separation (typical at) 1 kHz: 30 dB, 10 kHz: 20 dB
Output Voltage (typical at) 1 kHz: 3.0 mV (RMS at 5 cm/sec peak velocity)
Recommended Load: 47k ohms in parallel with 250 pf
Net Weight: 6.6 grams
Height: 15.875 mm

Sadly, Shure discontinued this phenomenal mid-range cartridge, citing shortages of exotic materials required for its' manufacture. However, they can still be located and most only need a new stylus.

 

Midrange Cartridge: Ortofon 540 MKII

The Ortofon 540 MKII is an excellent replacement for the discontinued Shure V15BxMR. Somewhat lower priced than the V15VxMR, expect to pay about $300 for the cartridge and $160 for the stylus

Type: Moving Magnet
Frequency response ±3 dB:     20 to 27,000 Hz
Frequency response 20-20.000 Hz ± 1,5 dB
Output voltage at 1000 Hz, 5cm/sec. 3 mV
Channel balance at 1 kHz 1,5 dB
Channel separation at 1 kHz 25 dB
Channel separation at 15 kHz 15 dB
FIM distortion at recommended tracking force, DIN 45.542 <1%
Tracking ability at 315Hz at recommended tracking force 90 µm
Compliance, dynamic, lateral 25 µm/mN
Stylus type Nude FG 70
Stylus tip radius r/R 5/70 µm
Equivalent stylus tip mass 0,3 mg
Tracking force range 1,25-1,75 g (12,5-17,5 mN

Internal impedance, DC resistance 1 kOhm
Internal inductance 580 mH
Recommended load resistance 47 kOhm
Recommended load capacitance 200-400 pF
Cartridge color, body/stylus Black/Black
Cartridge weight 5 g
Replacement stylus unit 540 Mk II
 

High End Cartridge:  Ortofon MC Rohmann

The Ortofon MC Rohmann is a true professional grade cartridge with specs that are hard to beat. Freq response is nearly flat from 20 to an amazing 55 kHz. If it's "in the microgroove" then this cartridge /stylus combination will find it !  For the true audiophile with a large collection of pristine vinyl, this cartridge is worth every penny. (Expect to pay around $1500 for the cartridge and $289 for the stylus)

Specifications:

Type: MC (Moving Coil)
Output voltage: 0.25 mV (1 kHz, 50 mm/sec)
Frequency response at - 3 dB:     20 Hz - 55 kHz
Compliance, dynamic, lateral: 12 µm/mN
Stylus type: Nude "Orto Line" (r/R 4,5/100 µm)
Tracking force range: 2.2-2.7 g (22-27 mN)
Recommended load impedance: > 10 Ohm
Cartridge weight: 9 g

Even this isn't the ultimate cartridge (if there is such a thing) The Ortofon Jubilee goes for about $1900 and there are others such as the Linn Arkiv even more expensive.  But the Ortofon MC Rohmann would do any prized vinyl collection justice.

 

In Summary

For Vintage 78's, we recommend the far less expensive Stanton 500 or 750 for Vintage 78 Discs - Though only a paltry $40 or so, it simply performs MUCH better on vintage 78's owing to it's much heavier tracking capability as well as being "built like a tank". Vintage 78's delve out an incredible amount of abuse to any cartridge - especially the cantilever. A precision cartridge designed to play modern pristine microgroove discs, will not survive for long, given the abuse and the high tracking forces  endemic to vintage 78's.  Just one play attempt on a typical rough vintage disc, and your expensive audiophile cartridge will be "magically" transformed into a pile of scrap by the thorough thrashing it'll take.

The amount of personal pain and cursing when the stylus and half the cantilever goes skittering off the edge of the record and what's left of the cartridge crashes into the (now formerly) pristine disc, will be exponentially proportional to the initial cost of the destroyed components......

Like ice cream, everyone has their own opinions, but these are our favorite flavors !

Stylus Selection

Groove cuts vary in shape and size depending upon the manufacturer, type of record and date of release. To get the very best reproduction and induce the least amount of wear, the size and shape of the stylus must match the groove (or at least what's left of it). Most collectors will simply have 2 styli - one for micro groove and the other generic one for 78's. For those involved in archiving or professional endeavors, a much greater selection is required and easily accounts for the greatest expense. The proper selection of the stylus to be used cannot be over emphasized.LP Conical Diamond Stylus

A common mistake is trying to use an LP stylus made for a micro groove on a vintage 78 or any 78 for that matter. Avoid the temptation to even try this ! The LP stylus is much narrower (about 1/4 the size) and thus the tip will ride down in the very bottom of the groove -  plowing right through the debris field. This results in extreme surface noise in addition to the stylus not riding higher on the groove wall where the sound is recorded. Signal to noise ratios are are nothing short of a disaster, and the old recording is blamed in the mistaken belief it's too worn to be playable. Aside from that, there's no better way to ruin a vintage 78 groove than to use an LP stylus on a vintage cut groove - even once !  In the case of any record, but especially the vintage 78's where there a wide variety of groove cuts to begin with, proper stylus selection is everything.

Typical generic 78 styli are elliptical and have a pointed tip. The pointed tips of a generic 78 styli tends to dig in to the bottom part of the well worn "road" and don't fit well.   A much better fit is achieved with a Truncated Stylus whereby the tip is somewhat flattened off. Another advantage of the truncated stylus is that no matter how well the record was cleaned, there always seems to be some significant amount of residual filth and debris remaining in the very bottom of the groove. A truncated stylus rides higher above the "debris" field, whereas a non truncated conical or elliptic ends up having to literally plow and gouge its' way through the mess. It's not a pretty sight ! Needless to say, quality of the playback will be impaired, not to mention excessive wear to the stylus and the groove.

Truncated Stylus  - Here, the head is flattened off to form a nice fit in the vintage grooves. The truncated stylus comes in two flavors.  Elliptical and Conical. A laterally cut groove that exhibits little previous wear will sound better when played with a Truncated Elliptical, while Vertically cut grooves (or well worn lateral cut) will do better with a Truncated Conical.

As the grooves wear, they widen out. To minimize lateral slop and raise the stylus off the floor higher on the groove wall, a larger styli size is generally recommended for grooves that exhibit excessive wear.

Truncated Styli are not mass produced but rather are custom hand ground. Owing to the limited market, truncated styli are relatively expensive (running around $160 each) and are widely available for only a few cartridges.  Most professional transfer houses have an assortment of 14 styli (5 -TC and 9 - TE) which cover all the ranges of grooves and groove wear typically encountered . Based on 2005 prices with an average cost of $160 for each TE & $100 per TC,  expect to pay only $40 or so for the cartridge but $1940 for the collection of  styli.

Why We Like The Stanton 500 / 750

The Stanton is one of the few cartridges for which a wide variety of truncated styli are readily available. Below are some of the custom sizes stocked by most professional suppliers that will fit the 500 / 750.

Truncated Conical Diamond

Truncated Elliptical Diamond

Sapphire Styli

Best suited for vertical discs and worn lateral records

For lateral recordings in good condition

For cylinders

Approximately $100 each

Approx. $160 each

Approx. $100 each

2.8 mil TC (TC=Truncated Conical)

2.0 mil TE - lateral radio transcriptions

BW Sapphire - brown wax ($80)

3.0 mil TC

2.5 mil TE - lateral & vertical radio transcriptions

2 min Sapphire - 2 minute

3.5 mil TC

2.8 mil TE - late electrics

4 min Sapphire - 4 minute

3.7 mil TC - Edison Diamond Discs & Blue Amberol cylinders

3.0 mil TE

-

4.0 mil TC

3.2 mil TE - early electrics

-

  3.5 mil TE - late acoustics

-

  3.7 mil TE - worn late acoustics  
  4.0 mil TE - early acoustics

-

  4.5 mil TE

-

-

5.0 mil TE   

-

 

Stylus Selection - Quick Starting point chart

Groove wear will ultimately determine the best stylus to be used. To a large degree, it's a bit of trial and error without employing a microscope to observe and measure the actual groove (which is the fail proof way of making the final selection and finding the elusive golden sweet spot the very first time).  This chart though only a guideline, is at least a good starting point and will get you quickly in the ballpark...

Edison 80-RPM Diamond Discs 3.7 mil spherical or non-truncated conical stylus
Edison White Wax, Brown Wax, Concert, and Gold Molded 7.4 mil Spherical stylus.
Edison Blue Amberol Cylinders  3.7 to 4.2 mil non-truncated spherical stylus
Edison Wax Amberol Cylinders 4.2 mil spherical stylus.
Wide Groove Acoustical 78 RPM Lateral Discs 3.8 mil truncated elliptical stylus
Pre-1935 Lateral Cut Electrical 78's 3.3 mil truncated elliptical stylus.
1940's -+Transcription Recordings 2.3 mil truncated elliptical stylus.
Early LP's 1.5 mil truncated elliptical stylus
Modern Micro-groove LP's 0.7 mil elliptical stylus
Standard Groove 78 RPM Discs 3.0 mil truncated elliptical stylus
Narrow Groove 78's such as Polydor 2.4 mil truncated elliptical stylus.
Late 1930's Lateral 78 RPM Discs 2.8 mil truncated elliptical stylus
Aluminum Instantaneous discs 6.0 mil conical
1931 to 1935 RCA Pre-Grooved Home Recordings 5.0 mil spherical stylus
Pathe´ 78's 3.7 mil truncated conical stylus
Etched Label Pathe´ to 14 inches in diameter 8.0 mil conical
Etched Label Pathe´ over 14 inches in diameter 16 mil conical


Important Note:
Actual Groove widths can be measured with a 200X to 300X inspection microscope equipped with a calibrated reticule. Edmund Scientific as well as others are a good source for such equipment. The location and type of wear pattern can also be observed, so that you can choose a stylus having a dimension that will either ride above or below the groove-wall wear zone. Put another way, you try and select a stylus size and shape that will keep it out of the dreaded wear zone. The sound quality reproduced even on a badly worn record is vastly improved by keeping this in mind.

Custom ground Styli can also be ordered from these folks

Expert Stylus Company
P.O. Box 3 - Ashtead
Surrey KT21 "QD - England
Tel: +44 01372 276604

 

Nauck's Vintage Records is also a dealer for Expert Stylus Company here in the States as well as others.

http://65.36.235.139/Merchant2/merchant.mvc?Screen=CTGY&Store_Code=NRC&Category_Code=112 

 

 

Groove Inspection Microscopes - Measuring Record Grooves

Vintage 78 Groove wear shows a filthy un-cleaned disc.

Note the lateral cut undulations . The narrow white line is the reflection from the very bottom of the groove. This disc was played exclusively on a Victrola with a steel conical needle that dug it's way into the bottom of the groove.   (200x lens

So....   now you're starting to get serious and have decided to invest in a microscope. A quick check of eBay will reveal everything from "kiddie scopes" priced at about $20, to professional lab instruments running easily into the multi - thousands of dollars.  Here is what we recommend for a first scope that will get the job done without "breaking the bank".

The first requirement for ease of use, is to go digital. This allows the image to be displayed on your computer monitor in real time. When attempting to re-cut a groove, this makes the task almost a breeze, as it's much easier to observe the monitor when performing the surgery - especially on the grooves towards the center hub. The other consideration, is that it has a bright direct light source illuminated from above. The other requirements are that it be capable of magnification up to at least 200X and finally that it can be mounted to a stand with sufficient swing to safely allow inspection anywhere on the disc.

What fit's these basic requirements at a reasonable cost is the Proscope® HR or the Dino-Lite 1280x1024..   Just search the web for more info.... 

Neither are true lab quality, but the quality is more than sufficient for the task of measuring and inspecting record grooves.  Either will also prove very handy to determine the amount of stylus wear as well as type...

With a proper scope and measuring capability in the case of the Dino-Lite AM413T, you can easily and accurately determine the proper stylus to be  used. For professional restoration, an inspection microscope of at least 200x is a necessity.    500X is an ideal power for measuring groove width.   (The Dino-Lite AM413T5) although you can get by with 200x...

The other option is to purchase every  popular vintage stylus size.    Simply swap styli until the best reproduction is achieved.....   At an average $180 each (you'll require at least 20 to fit most grooves), this could prove to be a somewhat expensive endeavor to be able to cover all the bases so to speak.

 

 

 

 

Vintage 78 Tid Bits

 

Stereo Cartridges

If you have a mono cartridge, you're better off retiring it (for this endeavor, anyway) and using a stereo cartridge. Since vintage 78's were all mono, at first glance it might seem that an older mono cartridge will do just as well if not better.  After all it's only a mono recording anyway, right ? ....

This is not the case however.  Often times, one side of the groove wall will wear faster than the other (old Victrola's and Talking Machines didn't have much in the way of anti-skating controls nor was the needle always skewed true vertical). Home recording equipment cutters were often out of alignment. By using a stereo cartridge and recording in stereo, you can later select which track (read: groove wall)  is the better of the two. (with the headshell & cartridge properly wired, the Left channel is derived from the inner wall and the Right channel from the outer)

Turntable Speed

The most basic of settings to make, is the proper playback speed. Most Victor and Columbia recordings were made at 78.26 RPM. Edison laterals, on the other hand, were recorded at 78.8 RPM and diamond Discs at 80 RPM.  Many other vintage recordings (early Pathe' for example) could have been recorded at anything from 80 to 100 rpm. Use a strobe disc to calibrate the playback speed. If no data is available, then you're "on your own". In that case, adjust the playback speed such that the human voice sounds natural.

Off Center Discs

Many vintage 78's exhibit off center spindle holes and will not rotate concentrically. It's a problem all too common and endemic to many vintage 78's. The symptom will be a "Wow" pitch effect as the relative disc to stylus speed varies. If your turntable has a removable spindle, this anomaly can easily be rectified. Just remove the spindle and place the disc such that concentric rotation is achieved. Naturally, your turntable will have to have a removable spindle.

Crazed Discs

Much of the blank home recording media such as Recordio  Discs, were an acetate surface over a flexible porous fiber  substrate. NEVER attempt to wet clean any of this type of media.  If the disc has been exposed to high humidity over the years, it is not uncommon for the surface to have become crazed with fine lines or cracks due to different expansion/contraction coefficients of the disparate layer materials. DISCS THAT ARE CRAZED, SHOULD NEVER BE ATTEMPTED TO BE CLEANED AT ALL BY ANY METHOD, OTHER THAN JUST A SOFT BRUSH. Best to just live with the dirt . Some are crazed so badly that accurate tracking is poor at best.  The best bet here is to use 1/2 speed - or even 1/4 speed mastering.

Any disc showing signs of any crazing should be given highest priority for transfer to CD while there is still hope.

 


Record Tracking Tricks

Fix Record Tracking - Skipping Problems

If the record is severely warped and is having trouble tracking, try the old tried & true coin trick that your grandparents probably used. (Note: Most vintage 78's track best at 3.5 to 5 grams on modern equipment).  A deep scratch, gouge and damaged groove, literally throws the stylus, cartridge and head of the tone arm for a loop - launching it into the air to land where it may. The trick is to add mass to the cartridge, so placing coins on the cartridge shell dramatically decreases the time constant of the second moment of inertia (remember all those wondrous high school physics classes ?), allowing the tone-arm to better track warped records without launching the tone arm skyward. The greater the mass, the greater reluctance for the stylus to be quickly diverted from it's normal path.

Rule of thumb: Pennies are used for mild cases, dimes are used for slightly tougher cases, nickels for more serious cases, and quarters are used for the basket cases ! 

US Penny (1Cent):           2.5 Grams

US Dime (10 Cents):        2.3 Grams

US Nickel (5 Cents):        5.0 Grams

US Quarter (25 Cents):    5.7 Grams

Be sure to adjust the counter-balance to keep tracking pressures within the maximum cartridge specification to avoid damaging the cantilever or "bottoming out" that will result in distortion.


Half Speed Re-Mastering

If your record still skips, try using the half-speed re-mastering technique. This often works, as the turntable is running at only 1/2 speed during the transfer. When the faulty groove is encountered, only 1/4 the error force is exerted on the tracking mechanism.  (error forces go up as the square of the speed). If the combination of these fail, then the only solution is either microsurgery to "re-cut" the faulty groove, or digital editing and waveform matching.

To perform half-speed re-mastering, you will need a turntable with wide-ranging speed variability and a reel-to-reel tape deck with at least two speeds (preferably 7 1/2 and 15 ips). Set the turntable to one-half the record RPM rating. For example, if your record is a true 78 (78.26), set the turntable for 39.13 RPM. Set the tape deck speed for the speed just under the highest speed available. For example, if your tape deck has 15, 7.5, and 3.25 ips speeds, use 7.5 ips to transfer the record to tape (a three minute song will take 6 minutes for the transfer - as the turntable is going at half speed.) To restore the original pitch of the recording, transfer the tape back onto your hard drive at 15 ips. 

Some software offerings also allow  wide range "speed control".  Although easier and quicker, using tape always yields better results.

Groove re-cutting (Micro-surgery)

This is actually easier than what you might think !  You do however need a good quality inspection microscope set to about 50X.  After locating the defect (surprisingly enough, this is the real difficult part) the solution should be readily obvious under the inspection microscope. Simply re-cut the groove with a hardened steel artists' knife as used for cutting photo mats. This I've found is inexpensive & works quite well. Don't get carried away..... Use only the minimum amount of re-cutting to get the job done - all you want to do is to clear a "path" for the stylus to follow through the mess without it getting launched into the next groove or bounced back into the current or previous one. It needn't be perfect, as the now short transient can be virtually eliminated with good restoration software.  Practice on several "Junkers" before attempting this on a valuable vintage disk.  On the plus side, vintage discs are much easier to work on than newer micro groove discs, owing to their much wider groove cuts.

Though it's not brain surgery, and I said it was easier than you might suspect, there is a knack to it and there's a lot of trial and error learning how much force to apply and where. The best analogy is learning how to weld....  You can read all the books ever published on the subject, but the only way to become proficient, develop the motion and accurately gauge the appropriate temperatures, is to practice. The same holds true for re-grooving.... You'll initially ruin more than you'll save, until you grasp the concept. A good productive way to spend several rainy days... It shouldn't take too long for you to figure out what works and what doesn't....

RIAA Equalization

Prior to 1950, each manufacturer of electronic equipment employed their own equalization (EQ) curves to achieve the highest possible fidelity and smoothness of response. In the 1950's the mayhem of different EQ settings was thankfully ended with the establishment of the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America). The RIAA established one agreed on equalization curve.

All well and good, but vintage records were not meant to be "flavored" by RIAA EQ curves or any other for that matter. Vintage recordings were made prior to the implementation of equalization or in many cases before even electronic amplification became a reality. (these recordings are referred to as "Acoustics").

Vintage recordings played back on equipment that has built in RIAA EQ curves (most modern day amps with phono inputs do) will sound "muddy" and full of heavier bass with attenuated highs.

 RIAA Correction Curve

This is the inverse of the RIAA equalization curve and will thus cancel it out. Merely adjust the frequency bands of your graphic equalizer to match the points on the chart. The left scale is in dB.  A RIAA curve boosts the bass but attenuates the high frequencies. This curve does exactly the opposite....  Voila !!! -  Instant cancellation !

There are several ways of getting rid of RIAA EQ.  The first is to get a graphic Equalizer (10 band minimum) and simply cancel out the RIAA curve. (see above) The only minor drawback to this method, is manually setting up the individual frequency bands - at least for the first time - not difficult - just a pain.  Once set up however, just note or mark them for future reference. The other method is to purchase a phono pre-amp with non RIAA equalization  or a "flat" setting (A little more pricey of a solution, but just plug it in & forget it).  The third option is that offered in professional restoration software, where RIAA removal is done via processing.

Sound is a subjective matter. Despite what the purists may say, whatever sounds good to YOU is the right EQ setting.

Saving your Audio Files - Philosophy of Audio Archiving

When archiving vintage recordings, the best strategy is to save two different copies of the audio file. The first copy or master, should be just the raw audio file that is an exact copy of the original disc with no restoration corrections applied. If equalization was applied to the master and the curve is known, use the reverse curve to cancel it out. If the restoration curve is not known as is usually the case, then it's best to just transfer it flat. All the crackles, pops, hisses are transferred as well, as it's imperative that as much audio information as possible from the master recording is captured and saved. Use the highest quality equipment you can afford, as well as the optimum stylus selection. This file can then be used as a master reference zero starting point for future restorations. Keep in mind that future software technology will make great strides in restoration capabilities, and you or future generations will need that master reference copy to start the restoration process anew. Also, restoration is often a subjective matter - in the future, someone else may shudder in horror at your efforts in light of future technology advancements. Whatever cartridge you choose, make certain it is stereo, even although vintage recordings were only mono. Often times groove damage will be greater on one sidewall than on the other. You or future generations can then choose later what channel is best. Also, some transients may show up on one sidewall whereas they are not evident or greatly reduced on the other. Good restoration software will allow you to cut and paste between the tracks, basically selecting from the "cream of the crop" !

The other copy or copies, are the restored versions. The reason for doing it this way, is that once restored with filters applied, it is very difficult (read: impossible) to undo the processing in the event you might desire to employ different restoration options in the future, or when you obtain better restoration software. Plus by saving a raw copy, you'll never have to play the record again and incur more wear and tear. Keep in mind the goal.... The digital master recording you just made, freezes degradation of the master media dead in it's tracks and is of utmost importance in true archival work. Future generations will bless you for your foresight in having made these efforts ! Also, be sure to document your efforts so that someone in the future can make heads or tails out of it ! Although audio restoration can often make substantial improvements in the sound quality, the current technology is far from perfect. Keep in mind that in the future, computer power will make quantum leaps which will allow noise reduction techniques to be employed that are far beyond what present day computers have the capacity to process. Today's software restoration techniques all use forms of filtering, whereby offending frequencies of noise are filtered out. Rumble and hi frequency hiss are easily eliminated, since neither falls within the spectrum of the human voice. If the frequency distribution of the noise falls WITHIN the spectrum of the human voice however, then there's a tradeoff between filtering out the noise and also reducing the fidelity of the desired signal. Present day software cannot easily distinguish between noise & what is part of the desired material. Future techniques employing sophisticated artificial intelligence, will be able to accurately tell the difference between the two and remove only the noise, without affecting the desired voice or music.  Based on standard characteristics of the human voice, intensive compute analysis will be able to add back in high end and bass frequencies that were not even recorded in the first place for something approaching full fidelity. The restored versions of the future even on recordings such as vintage 78's have the potential of being near CD quality.

Today, all that is only a dream, but techniques for this are already the subject of software engineering "white papers".  All that's needed are computers with 1000 times the effective speed of what is available today. (approx 4 terahertz effective cpu speeds are required).  It's not all that "far fetched".......  Consider one of the first PC's (the IMSAI 8080) when first released back in 1975 had a cpu speed of 2 megahertz and 4k of memory was considered a "full blown" system.  What we have today in even a desktop pc is already approaching 4 Gigahertz....  In a span of 30 years, desktop  cpu speed has already increased  2000 fold and memory capacity 1 million fold ! If history is any lesson, cpu speeds of 4 Terahertz are not all that far off - perhaps in another 30 years would be my guess. Super computers of the future will have possibly 500 or more super fast cpu's (by today's standards) all working together as a "team" that will divide the gi-normous computing task up into small "bite sized chunks". That already has been done.  Now to make it affordable.  Once that happens, then the software to take advantage of it & fulfill the demand will be written...  Anyways, the important thing for the time being until all that comes about, is that your original recordings have been digitally preserved without any concerns about future inevitable degradation of the records. The CD's that you have now will serve as the source for future advanced restoration techniques when they become available.

Even if you do not have restoration software yet, it's important that you at least get the files transferred and archived as a direct copy.  The more any disc is played or even handled, the greater the wear and tear - even on the best of equipment or exercising the gentlest touch.

Avoid saving the master archive files as MP3's, AAC, WMA's or in any other compressed digital format for that matter, as an MP3, AAC & WMA are sometimes highly compressed.  Although wonderfully compact, the compression/de-compression process results in losses.....  losses that can never be reclaimed.  Remember that something's got to give to reduce the file size, and that something is audio information. You want to capture it ALL.  MP3's are to audio as Jpeg is to images.....  It's best so save them as a WAV file which is uncompressed.  Each copy of a wav file format will be an exact digital copy !    In most cases it's the preferred way to go....


Laser Turntables

Money not being a consideration, the best option here is to invest in a laser turntable - well,   Maybe / Maybe not.....  There are several models currently on the market that range in price from $9500 to $13,300 the last time we checked. The advantage of the laser turntable is that the disc is never touched by a stylus, but is rather scanned by laser beams with no resulting wear to the disc. That is it's strong suite and one that cannot be discounted. Of course, the main disadvantage is the high initial cost plus the costs of maintenance and it's inability to get the best out of many recordings with worn grooves.  Use of a quality cartridge and the proper stylus will give you the same (and often better) performance for your transfer, with little additional wear - as you'll be playing it just once or perhaps twice for the transfer.  After transfer, the disc is then permanently stored with no further wear.  Thus you'll end up with the same or better quality while saving at least $9000 or so.

Laser Turntable Hype

Laser Turntables have some disadvantages no one seems willing to discuss.......

There are laser turntable transfers available on the web - even at seemingly inexpensive prices. But MUCH more important than whether or not a laser turntable is employed for the transfer, is the cleanliness of the disc and its' general overall condition to begin with. The outfits doing relatively inexpensive laser transfers cannot possibly spend the time to properly clean the discs for the rates they charge - it's just a simple economic fact. Even with a clean disc,  proper stylus selection will almost always yield just as good or even better results. It's one of those rare instances whereby old technology simply outperforms the newer if there is groove damage as is often the case. To achieve this requires some time, effort and an inspection microscope. The selection of the proper stylus cannot be stressed enough.....

Despite the hype, laser turntables have some disadvantages no one seems to be willing to discuss. The beams cannot be optimized for all types of groove wear - one cast in concrete factory setting has to handle all the possible permutations of groove types (of which there are MANY) and their associated different wear patterns.....  It's an impossible task.  In the case of worn grooves (most of us can count on having them), a proper stylus will almost always perform better, owing to your ability to be able to select one that'll keep it out of the dreaded wear zone - notably on lateral cut discs which account for 95% of all the vintage 78's out there.

By comparison, the laser beams are indiscriminate and read the reflections out of the wear zone just as readily as from the relatively non-worn parts of the groove. The laser pickup cannot easily differentiate between the two. The result is increased distortion. Future technology might resolve these issues by employing computerized groove analysis, allowing the beams to be optimized for each individual disc - to target the elusive "sweet spot". But alas, the technology for this does not yet exist in any product currently offered or any we know of on the immediate horizon.

Also, certain colored discs cannot be played on a laser turntable owing to the different degrees of reflection.  Also, the laser turntable is designed to play only 90 degree V cut grooves. Many vintage records used different groove angle cuts. The laser pickup will not be able to read the reflections off the sidewalls of these records, as the reflected beam does not land back on the pickup sensors.

Don't read all this wrong though... Laser turntables do have their place however. If you are a purist intent on playing the original discs over and over, or deal only with pristine condition vintage 78's capable of being played on a laser turntable, then the laser turntable makes sense and is the only way to go.  If you deal in high volume production, then again, the laser turntable is the correct choice, as selecting the appropriate stylus for each disc is a time consuming affair.

Most of us don't fit into these categories though - the discs we have are nothing even remotely close to being in virgin, much less even in pristine condition, and we have no burning desire to swap styli 20 times or more each day for each disc we play.  What makes the endeavor most rewarding to some of us, is the very challenge of getting out the microscope and restoring the basket cases !


Phonograph Record Cleaning for the Home Enthusiast

There are two main benefits of keeping your record collection clean:

  1. The transfers will be much "cleaner" with reduced impulse and surface noise.

  2. Attempting to play a dirty record will result in greatly accelerated groove wear.  The "filth" often containing silica, acts as a strong abrasive. Embedded organics also have a nasty habit of dissolving or pitting shellac or acetate in particular over time.

 

The were 5 surface materials used in the manufacture of Gramophone recordings... (in no particular order)

 
Vinyl  came later and was used primary for the pressing of microgroove discs.  It is made from 1 solid piece and is tolerant of all but the harshest of solvents. Almost any solution intended for cleaning records can be safely used on Vinyl recordings.

As long as the record was kept clean with a proper unworn stylus stylus tracking at 3 grams or less, one could expect 200 plays before groove wear would "raise it's ugly head". Let the record become filthy however, then the disc would often be ruined in as little as 12 plays.*

Shellac is an organic compound and does not tolerate any liquids containing solvents such as alcohol or acetone.  DO NOT attempt the use of over the counter cleaning solutions intended for vinyl records. Doing so will result in immediate disaster.  A mild surfactant bath such as 3 small drops of Ivory detergent (unscented) per 12 fl oz will work.  Better to use a formulation specific to Vintage 78's or Tergitol ®....  NEVER - EVER attempt to play a shellac coated disc when wet. If showing any signs of delamination, attempting to clean the disc would prove very risky.

Shellac discs offered acceptable fidelity up to about 50 plays. Much harder than acetate, Shellac top coated discs were typically commercial pressings.

 
Condensite  (such as used in Edison Diamond Discs) is actually a varnish and usually laid atop a celluloid layer.  It is very similar to Bakelite in it's physical properties. The use of alcohol is the preferred cleaning method . The use of any water base runs the risk of delamination.  Thus use ONLY medical grade Isopropyl alcohol 99% - NOT the store brand IPA which contains 40% water .

Similar to Shellac in hardness, users could expect about 50 plays.

 
Acetate  If the surface exhibits any signs of crazing or delamination, then dry clean only. Otherwise a light film of mineral oil followed by a mild surfactant wipe to remove the mineral oil residue will work. If the substrate is fiber and subject to capillary action, the again the only safe way to clean is to dry clean only.

Soft acetate owing to it's softness, had a very short lifespan. After only 10 plays, the groove wear became objectionable - especially if played on Acoustic Victrola's or similar, with tracking forces often exceeding 100 grams.. Often used in early dictation equipment and as voice-grams, they were never intended to be played repeatedly. The reason ?  -  The surface had to be soft enough so that consumer recording cutters could literally cut the groove undulations. The soft surface was not conducive to longevity *

Wax  This was actually the 1st material that made it to the marketplace, however such discs are extremely rare. Such recordings were a carry-over from Edison's early phonograph cylinders. Follow ONLY the cleaning procedures as used for wax cylinders.

 
In all cases, use a vacuum system to remove excess moisture asap & let air dry......
 
If any doubt as to the type of surface material used, test the hub area first. If any remaining doubt, then you will be well advised to dry clean only.... When all pigmented to the same color, it's often difficult for beginners to tell the difference between Shellac, Condensite or Acetate, at first glance.

* number of expected plays assumes use of a proper stylus in good condition and appropriate tracking forces

The concept of a finite number of "plays" remaining before excessive wear & tear would take it's toll on the fidelity and noise levels, is a concept foreign to anyone who has grown up in the "CD era".  While a CD potentially allows an unlimited number of plays, such was not the case for any system that used a mechanical stylus.

Cleaning Solvents & surfactants:

There are many commercial offerings on the market. www.kabusa.com  sells solutions for Vinyl as well as Vintage 78 recordings.

If you don't mind reliving your high school chemistry days and mixing up your own batch, then the use of a nonionic, ethylene oxide condensate surfactant such as Tergitol  15-S-3 (oil soluble) and 15-S-9 (water soluble) is recommended. Used in combination, this surfactant "brew" removes a wide range  of grime and greases, and can safely be used on most records except as noted above.

Use 0.25 part of Tergitol ® 15-S-3 and 0.25 parts of Tergitol ® 15-S-9 per 100 parts of distilled water.

The recording must then be rinsed thoroughly with distilled water to eliminate any trace of detergent residue.

Tergitol ® is a registered trademark of Dow Chemical

Tergitol is available in small quantities from TALAS   http://apps.webcreate.com/ecom/catalog/product_specific.cfm?ClientID=15&ProductID=17376
Telephone: 212-219-0770

Disclaimer:

While we are pleased to openly share this information, no guarantee of success is made or implied. Use of any information on this page or entire site, is entirely at your own risk.

Proper cleaning of vintage recordings in particular, requires knowledge in accurately determining the composition of the materials, assessing general condition of the media to accurately ascertain whether the media has enough structural integrity to tolerate being cleaned, as well as how any cleaning solution will interact with the top coat and underlying substrates. There is no substitute for experience.


Vintage 78's are fragile - many if not most, will not tolerate wet cleaning without delaminating. Always use a vacuum system as that will minimize any exposure to moisture by any water soluble materials. Even so, never use even a wet vac system or any wet application for that matter, on any vintage 78 unless you absolutely know what you are doing - no matter how much it cost, it's level of automation, sophistication or glorious advertising claims.

For the discs that may be safely wet cleaned: -  surprisingly enough, the less expensive hand operated systems are better suited for vintage 78's, as they allow fine manual control of the process. Never attempt to get all the dirt off. You'll never achieve perfection.... and attempts to do so will only greatly increase the risk of damage. Be more than content with getting 70% of it.

Any disk that shows any signs of crazing or chipping should NEVER be cleaned by any method other than just a soft brush. You'd be best advised to transfer it "dirty", rather than run the risk of totally destroying the weakened surface in any failed attempt to clean it.

 

Now with that said.....

Professionals, Serious Audiophiles and Collectors will invariably have a professional grade record cleaner. However, there are many new enthusiasts who don't. Thus for the newcomer......

Money not being the issue, break down - spend the paltry $7,000 and purchase a top of the line, microprocessor controlled, fully automated professional, deep cleaning vacuum cleaning system. Just push a button and 60 seconds later, out pops a clean (or more accurately: almost clean) disc !

Course you'll probably end up in divorce court, which will more than likely cost you a LOT more than the paltry miniscule 7 thousand....   but that's yet another topic beyond the scope of this page.

Maybe like most of us, you don't have that kind of pocket change in the first place, so it's not even an issue. There's a neat little machine that will clean the record just as well as the $7,000 model... Really ! .....  Course, you'll have to give up the concept of just pushing a button, as you'll have to apply the cleaning fluid, spin the disc, and vacuum up the fluid manually. It's not glamorous..... Kind of like housework after the "novelty" wears off, I suppose...... But it works exactly as does the fully automated model - it's just a manually operated device that even uses your home vacuum cleaner for suction.  Best of all, it's less than $160 ! ... and it really will deep clean your record just as well - plus being manually operated, you can be extremely gentle.  So what is this amazing little machine you're probably asking ?  It's the Kab EV-1® which can be found at http://www.kabusa.com .  They offer other auto and semi-auto models as well, but unless you have a large number to do, and don't mind a little time consuming effort, this little gem will do the trick just as well, and we just saved you $6,850 or so.

Whatever cleaning system you go with, opt for those that use vacuum cleaning.  The cheapie cleaners that just have you "spill" some liquid on the disk and then "mop it off" do little more than just push the soggy sludge around, no matter what the ads gloriously claim. The vacuum process is the only way to suck it off without drenching the disc or causing further abrasion.

Until you do get whatever vacuum disc cleaning system you decide on, you're still stuck with records in dire need of a cleaning.....  even a poor cleaning can be a vast improvement over no cleaning.

Ok.....

We just know you're going to give it a try and "live on the edge" so to speak, so before totally trashing the poor things, this is how you manually do it without the benefits of a vacuum system !

 

Before proceeding further please note....

Before beginning any cleaning, it is strongly advised you make a transfer of the recording first in the event you damage the recording in the cleaning process.

The next step is identify the type of recording and the construction of the disc. Some may be wet cleaned and others such as  Audiodisc or certain Recordio's  (of course there are many others) must only be dry cleaned.

Newer micro groove LP's are made from a solid piece of vinyl and tolerate solvent based cleaning solutions without any problem. Thus, solid vinyl discs never pose a cleaning problem.

Vintage 78's on the other hand are not as forgiving. If you have record cleaning solution you've used on your vinyl LP's, it's probably NOT compatible with the materials used in vintage 78's.  Newer vinyl records will easily tolerate alcohol or acetone in the cleaning solution, which makes quick work of breaking up the encrusted dirt and embedded crud. Vintage record recording surfaces were not made out of vinyl but often times shellac, lacquer or acetate (often the case of early transcription recordings).

Shellac and substrates made from even cardboard like material are not forgiving of most harsh chemicals like those used on vinyl records - alcohol and acetone in particular. Make absolutely certain the cleaning solution contains NO ALCOHOL or ACETONE....  NONE - ZERO - NATA ..  If it has any, the results will be 100 % guaranteed disastrous. Additionally, some recordings are often covered with a white coating that appears as a powdery substance on the surface. This common white coating is hexadecanoic acid and it is not water soluble. These recordings (depending on the material used for the top coat) are best played "wet" using distilled water. Naturally, this does not apply to discs that will not tolerate any liquid) Do not use solvents to attempt to remove the coating or you WILL (not just probably) destroy the recording.  In these cases, you'll just have to make the transfer "as is" and fix the noise later with good restoration software.

DO NOT leave any vintage discs immersed in water - EVER ! Columbia's, Edison Diamond Discs, Audiodisc, Recordisc (fiber core versions), Recordio home recording media, etc .   Most are laminated over a porous fiber core that will quickly absorb the moisture. These must be dry cleaned only. (Note: Discs that are "flexible" are often made from a cardboard like substrate and are porous). The least amount of moisture absorbed and the disc will be "history" as the substrate swells and the surface de-laminates. Cleaning these is best done using only a dry lint free terrycloth or a soft brush to remove the loose surface debris. Use only the minimum force. If that fails to remove it, then cleaning is best left to a professional service. Even so, we usually advise that the safest of the choices is to remove what is easy to get at (just a soft brush for example) and just live what ever is left behind. A dirty transfer is far better than no transfer, if you cleverly manage destroy the disc !  Thus the cure may be much worse than the ill. Additionally, certain labels can be damaged by water -  especially those with porous paper or water-soluble inks as many of them are. Early Pathe' labels are works of art in themselves and unblemished labels are a major coveted plus !

-------------

Ok....  You've determined that the disc is completely safe to wet clean......

To begin, just lightly damp wipe the record always in the direction of the grooves with a terrycloth dampened preferably in distilled water to get off the easily removed heavy stuff for those disks that will tolerate a wet cleaning. (For those with porous substrates, use only a dry cloth or soft brush).

For discs that you discovered in Grandma's attic that have never been cleaned in decades (if ever), here's a handy tip.....   After the initial cleaning that got rid of the superficial surface crud, just make a dry run using around a 2.3  to 2.7 mil conical stylus - NEVER an LP stylus. (Purists reading this will cringe in horror at the very thought of my even suggesting this).... You needn't even hook it up to your stereo, as all we're going to do is play the disc. The small stylus will ride deeper in the groove. This will kick up the encrusted remaining crud in the bottom of the grooves making it a lot easier or even now possible to remove with just a soft brush. Select the slowest turntable speed possible for this technique, as the stylus is going to be plowing through the encrusted crud to loosen it up. The slower speed allows the stylus to "bite" deeper into the mess and at the same time greatly reduces the possibility of additional groove wear or damage. Never repeat this process more than just once...

Again, begin by  gently rubbing with a damp (or dry as appropriate) terrycloth towel or soft brush in the direction of the grooves. This will now remove most of the kicked up dirt from the previous step.  Place the disc on a soft flat surface to prevent cracking the disc. Also, in the case of wet cleaning, the towel should be rinsed out frequently if cleaning more than just a few records. Follow the cleaning towel with a fluffy dry one, and let the record air-dry for a few minutes before placing it back in it's protective sleeve. If the record is really dirty, it is generally safe to wash it with soapy distilled water. (As mentioned before, this does not apply to Columbia's, Edison or Diamond Discs or others with a porous core). Use a mild liquid dish washing detergent (containing no aromatic additives or the like) diluted first (only several drops per quart will do - it shouldn't turn into a dramatic sink filling "bubble bath"), and rinse well before drying. Whatever you do, NEVER use alcohol or acetone based cleaners or solutions such as Windex or the like on any of your vintage records – you might (read: WILL) wind up stripping off the surface!

Note: It is imperative in most cases that the disc be dried quickly so that moisture isn't absorbed even on types of construction that tolerate wet cleaning. To speed up the process, take on the project only on low humidity days or use a small fan to gently air dry (assuming you do this in a reasonably clean environment - NEVER use a hair dryer). Also never use compressed air. There's no such thing as a clean air tank, and you'll effectively end up sandblasting the disc with chunks of rusted steel and other particulates I can't even begin to imagine. Even that notwithstanding, many vintage discs are fragile, and unlike the more modern micro groove records made of one single piece of vinyl, many vintage 78's have a composite construction. They won't take kindly to getting blasted... even with clean air...

 

Accurately identifying the materials used in construction requires experience. If you have a priceless disc, cleaning is best left to a professional service to determine the best method. If uncertain over the disc's construction, "play it safe" and dry clean with a soft brush only !


Family Audio Disc Recorders - Recordio - Rek-O-Kut - Audiodisc - Home Made Records - Early Home Recordings

Before the advent of magnetic tape and even before wire recorders, early home audio recording onto blank discs was quite the rage.  Manufacturers that made cutters for the home, were companies such as Meissner, Presto, Recordio, Rek-O-Kut, and Tru-Kut.  Recording blanks were also made by Audiodisc, Recordio and Record-O-Graph .

Though popular, most families could not afford such expensive machines.  To satisfy the demand, Wilcox-Gay had cutters strategically placed in department stores, the "Five and Ten" etc ,  where for a mere 25˘, you and your friends could make a short  1 minute, 78 recording. Many of those forgotten recordings still survive in Grandma's attic.

Most of those discs such as the popular Recordio's, are acetate over a cardboard fiber substrate.  Unfortunately, a lot of these have been destroyed by well meaning but ignorant attempts to wet clean them. The least amount of moisture absorbed, and the cardboard substrate swells....   The rest of the story is obvious: .......   Bye Bye recording !

 

Due to the porous nature of cardboard and the acetate surface, many of these valuable family discs have become crazed over time with fine de-lamination lines, mostly attributable to moisture in the atmosphere and the uneven expansion and contraction of the disparate composite materials. Some of the earlier discs were actually a hard wax surface over cardboard. Recovery of even this degree of degradation is often possible with some effort, though it will put just about all your skills to the test to effect the best transfer.

Quality of the recordings was usually pretty poor even when originally cut. This was partly due to the simple cutting mechanism and also due to inexperienced operators who just tossed in a quarter and hoped for the best !  Though the quality is often poor, the discs contain the only audible record of the period.  Disc cutters were popular from the mid 30's to the late 40's when wire recorders started to flood the market.

 

Have an old record cutter and need blank media for it ?  They are still being manufactured !

 

Blank Discs & cutting head styli are still available from this source.

Apollo Masters
101 West Lincoln Street
Banning, CA    92220
800 - 432 - 4450
www.apollomasters.com

 

Metal Records  Speak-O-Phone,  Repeat-a-Voice,  Remsen,  Kodisk, Stearns Brothers,  U&I Voice Record 

Speak-O-Phone 5 inch aluminum disc

Metal records made of steel or aluminum had a certain advantage over their shellac or other composite material based counterparts. Metal records would not de-laminate or warp !  Unfortunately, they would however, corrode if improperly stored.

Aluminum discs such as the Speak-O-Phone, were made out of soft aluminum, and in the early days, it was imperative that they should never be played using a standard steel needle, lest the soft groove wall be permanently and almost instantly destroyed.  These discs were originally intended to be played on early acoustic equipment using either fiber, bamboo, hardwood or even needles made from cactus. The soft needles would do no damage to the soft metal grooves.

Recommended tracking forces on metal disks such as the Speak-o-Phones was a recommended  3 to 4 Ounces !  (note: 1 oz = 28.47 grams). Thus converting to grams would result in recommended tracking force of 85 to 114 grams !  Little wonder a hard steel needle would destroy the groove walls with such high stylus forces and the relatively high mass - low compliance of the reproducer.

If you have an aluminum record, never attempt to play it with anything but the above mentioned "needles".  Just one play with a hard needle, and the groove walls will be INSTANTLY trashed !

 

 

Nipper - the RCA Dog - His Master's VoiceThe Nipper Label

Perhaps the RCA dog listening to the gramophone has become one of the worlds most successful and adored logo of all time.

Nipper the Dog and "His Master's Voice" was not a fictitious characterization dreamt up by a professional ad agency. No high powered ad agency could ever have been that wildly successful ! On the contrary, "Nipper" was very real.  This is the story of how it all came to be.....

Nipper the dog was born in Bristol in Gloucester, England in 1884 and was owned by Mark Barraud - his first master. Mark passed away in 1887 and Nipper was taken in by his brother Francis (a painter) who lived in Liverpool. Nipper was somewhat of a rascal and appropriately named for his tendency to nip at one's ankles. Yet for all these shortcomings, Nipper was also an inquisitive character.  Nipper was not of "Royal lineage".....  more accurately, he was part mutt, part bull terrier and perhaps a trace of fox terrier thrown in for good measure.Francis Barraud and the original painting

At Francis Barraud's photographic studio, Nipper (when not pre-occupied by going after someone's ankles) would listen attentively to the old Edison cylinder player...... ears perked - head tilted and gazing into the horn for hours on end. One day it occurred to Francis that Nipper might be waiting to hear his original master's voice. Francis was quite taken by all this and inspired him to paint the oil in 1895 of Nipper in his now famous pose, which is appropriately titled  "His Master's Voice." By all accounts, the painting is an accurate depiction of Nipper on a typical day in the studio.

Francis tried to sell the painting to the Edison Bell Company (the manufacturer of the cylinder player) without success...... "Dogs don't listen to phonographs" !!! was Edison's tort response. Alas, Edison in a major marketing blunder of epic proportions, managed to toss away the most coveted and adored of all corporate logos of all time.

Undaunted, Francis next visited the English Gramophone Company Ltd., whose manager William Owen offered to buy the painting if the cylinder player in the painting could be transformed to show a disc-playing Gramophone. Francis agreed to make the change, and the rest became history...

 

Francis collected Ł100 for the painting and rights of copy, and made the changes as requested.

On July 16, 1900, the painting of "Nipper" shown listening to a gramophone was registered as the company's trademark. The Nipper painting first appeared on the back of a recording of "Hello my Baby", sung by Frank Bata. From that moment on, the Gramophone Company became hugely successful and sold more than two million records in 1901 alone, each bearing Nipper and "His Master's Voice".  So adored was the logo, that much of that success was perhaps attributable to "Nipper".

In May 1900, Emile Berliner, the actual inventor of the disc gramophone, visited the English Gramophone Company, and so admired the painting, that he returned to the United States and began using the trademark before he had even registered it. Ultimately, he registered it as "Nipper and the Gramophone" in the U.S. on May 26, 1900 and also in Canada. Berliner founded the company that later became the Victor Talking Machine Company - later acquired by RCA. Nipper is proudly displayed on each of the Victrolas the Victor Talking Machine Company manufactured.

Meanwhile, Francis Barraud spent much of the rest of his working life painting 24 replicas of his original painting, as commissioned by "The Gramophone Company".

The image conveys a deeper meaning and tells a story - the details of that story left to the imagination of the viewer.  Perhaps that's all part of its universal appeal.......

 

Footnotes....

Nipper was 11 years old when he died in the year 1895. He was laid to rest in a garden at Kingston Upon Thames, England where a plaque resides on his grave in commemoration of the inspiration he provided.

The original "His Master's Voice" painting is now displayed at EMI Music's Gloucester Place headquarters. When viewed in the proper light, the original cylinder player can still be seen underneath the second layer of paint.

 


Recording Tid Bits

Little Wonders

Little Wonder Records came in to being in 1914 and had a brief 9 year span. Around that time, standard 2 sided 7 or 10 inch discs were selling for about 75˘ a piece, which in 1914 dollars was quite a steep price and out of the range of the typical consumer. 

Enter Little Wonder Records !  The quality of the recording were not up to the standards of the major labels, owing to their tight groove spacing, but neither was their price. The small 5 " single sided discs could play for up to 90 seconds but sold for a mere 15˘, bringing pre-recorded music to the masses. Little wonders were an instant success and took the country by storm.  They could be purchased almost anywhere - even in the local 5 n' 10's, such as Kresge's and F.W. Woolworths. Their success was ironically also their downfall. Major labels took notice and lowered their prices, succumbing to the competitive forces. By 1923, Little Wonder Records ceased production, as lowered prices by the major labels created stiff competition. 

What is so special about these "little wonders" is their place in audio history. 

 

Pathe' Records

Prior to 1919, Victor held the patent for lateral record cutting. To cash in on the lucrative record business, Pathe' decided to adopt the vertical cut groove, thus circumventing Victor's iron clad hold on the lateral cut patent.

Pathe' manufactured a special rounded sapphire stylus, custom designed for it's vertical cut records. Pathe' in it's early ads, claimed it floated like a boat on the waves. In today what may seem as an oddity, the early Pathe' records were started at the center and most were recorded at 100 rpm, though anything from 80 to 120 rpm could be encountered. In 1915, Pathe' switched to an outside start and recordings were standardized at 80 rpm.

The Rooster was to Pathe' as Nipper the RCA Dog was to the Victrola. Perhaps the most artistic of the record labels, the early Pathe' labels are works of art in themselves.

 

 

Recovering Vintage 78 Recordings - Summary

Recovering early recordings is an extremely rewarding experience, whether you are involved with it simply as a hobby or you do it professionally. Sometimes it's hard to separate the two... Maybe it's the experience of sitting in a kerosene lamp lit room transfixed by a Victrola playing what your Grandparents listened to - a trip back in time.... Or perhaps it's the experience of restoring a part of history before it's lost forever, or the challenge of restoring the basket cases that anyone else would have long since given up on. Maybe it's the satisfaction of doing what few others can do. It's partly an art and partly a technical challenge that so many of us find so appealing. Perhaps it's a little of all the above and other things I can't seem to exactly identify or be able to put into words.

Though we covered a lot of ground, we've only just touched on the highlights. There's no need to make a large investment.  The microscopes, stocks of expensive styli, cleaning systems, more advanced techniques and skills we discussed can come later to give you something to look forward to (or perhaps dread, as the case may be). But now you have a good grounding in the basics - and perhaps quite a bit more. The most rudimentary setup with but even just one generic 78 stylus is all that's required to get started.

Enjoy the journey...

 

This should be enough to get you well on your way and we hope it has been informative

 

Links

http://www.victor-victrola.com   Almost anything you ever wanted to know about the Victrola.

 

Like to see other topics added ? - Let us know...

 

Last Modified: Nov 7, 2010

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