As you may have gathered already from reading this blog, I buy a lot of things at thrift stores. But, conversely, I also don’t buy a lot of things at thrift stores. My Dad and I usually do a thrift store run three or four times a week and it’s rare that I buy something interesting enough to write about on the blog. Many times I just come back with a book or two. Stumbling across something interesting enough to write about on the blog is an uncommon and happy occasion.
Other times though, I’ll see something that was interesting but that I decided for various reasons not to buy, Recently I decided to start documenting these things with my iPhone. Keep in mind that taking photos of items in thrift stores is not easy. I don’t want to draw too much attention to myself and often the lighting is very bad. These are not pictures that are up to normal Electric Thrift levels of clarity and composition.
This Bang & Olufsen Beogram 2400 turntable was a real surprise to find nestled within the serpentine labyrinth that is the Abbey Ann’s off of Tallmadge Circle. You can often find stereo equipment at that Abbey Ann’s but this was a cut above their usual offerings.
What this had going for it was that is a striking European early-1970s design. It was in the original box, including the cartridge, the Styrofoam packing material and the instructions. I adore the look of European electronics so this sort of thing is right up my alley.
There were two problems here. First, I think the price was a bit steep, though Abbey Ann’s is known to negotiate quite a bit. The second problem was that all of the glue on this thing had decided to dry up and much of the trim was coming off. It’s a bit hard to see in this photo but the wood-grain on the front was just hanging off. The little metal plate on the top of the end of the tone arm was coming off as well. The dust cover was getting stuck on something and would not close correctly.
I think if this has been one of B&O’s linear tracking Beograms I would have bought it in this condition. However, I’m already backed up on conventional turntables and this B&O looked like it was going to be trouble so I took these photos and moved on.
A few weeks later this 1980s JVC boombox showed up at that same Abbey Ann’s
This tugged at my heartstrings a bit because my Dad had a similar (probably slightly more recent, because it was black) JVC boombox in the late 1980s/early 1990s. I fondly remember making recordings with my brother using the built in microphone and tape recorder. My Dad had originally bought that JVC boombox because it got shortwave, like this one.
Despite all of the 80s electronics I buy, I haven’t yet gotten into boomboxes. I think I’m mainly waiting for one that’s in nice condition and fully functional.
Any time I’m looking at something with a tape player I’m worried about the condition of the mechanism. There are so many mechanical parts, including belts, that can deteriorate. I remembered that eventually the tape mechanism in my Dad’s 80s JVC boombox broke and I wasn’t really in the mood to spend even $10-$15 to find out if this boombox had any of the myriad of problems that tape decks can develop.
Those tape issues were also the first thing I thought of when I saw this Ampex reel-to-reel tape deck that showed up at the State Road Goodwill in Cuyahoga Falls.
I’ve wanted a reel-to-reel for a while now and this one is gorgeous in a mid-1970s silver and wood-grain way.
There were three problems here. The first is that reel-to-reels are notoriously troublesome. I believe one of the more notable moments of my Dad’s thrift store shopping career was when a reel-to-reel he purchased started smoking when he brought it home and turned it on.
The second problem was that while this is a great looking item it lacks two features I want to see in a reel-to-reel: Four channel output and some sort of exotic noise reduction like Dolby A or DBX. To me, the appeal of a reel-to-reel should be it’s exoticism compared to the common cassette deck and having fancy noise reduction should be part of the fun.
The third problem was that Goodwill wanted $50 for this thing. Sometimes I really question the pricing of some of this stuff I’ve seen at thrift stores lately. Asking $50 for something that’s for all intents not tested and sold “as-is” is not cool.
Coin collectors have a pricing theory that works like this: The price of a coin starts with the worth of the metal (copper, silver, gold, etc) and then you add a “numismatic premium” for the rarity of the coin and the condition of the coin.
I like to think that electronics at thrift stores should work in the opposite way. You start with what a sort of idea of what the thing should be worth and then subtract a “broken-ness risk premium” for the possibility that the thing is incomplete or broken.
$50 is a fair price to pay for a fully operational, totally complete (minus instructions and packaging) reel-to-reel. But it fails to take into account my risk in buying a potentially broken item.
This Memorex S-VHS deck from the same State Road Goodwill was the first S-VHS deck I has ever seen at a thrift store.
It was in pretty bad shape and my same concern with the tape mechanisms on the boombox and the reel-too-reel applied here as well.
There was also a front panel door missing. This looked like a lot more trouble than it was worth, whatever price they had on it.
Completeness is also a common reason I don’t buy some things.
This strange thing was at the Village Thrift on State Road a few months ago. I didn’t know what it was at first. Maybe some sort of TV?
When I turned it around and read the label things became clear.
This was some sort of pen-based tablet PC input device, like a poor man’s Wacom Cintiq.
I have learned from an experience with a Wacom Intuos (which I someday may write about) that you should never buy a pen-based tablet of any type without the pen because finding a suitable pen can be very expensive.
Completeness was also the reason I didn’t buy this Sony Mavica camera.
Comparatively early digital cameras are an area I’ve wanted to start collecting, so I was happy to see this Mavica show up at the Midway Plaza Goodwill. Unfortunately, the very proprietary looking battery (Sony, natch) was missing. I looked for a place where I could at least plug in an AC adapter. Then, I realized that there was this notch cut out of the area around the battery door with a little spring loaded door. it seems like rather than having an AC adapter this model had a thing that went into the battery compartment with a cord coming out of it (hence the little spring-loaded door) that acted as the AC adapter. Another piece of proprietary crap I would have to pay shipping for on eBay. Not worth it.
The Cuyahoga County Hamfest was on September 22nd and I went not knowing what to expect. Last year was somewhat of a disappointment. Partly that was because it rained and a lot of the outdoor vendors didn’t seem to mind how wet a lot of neat looking electronics were getting and partly it was because I didn’t come back with an impressive doodad (though I did buy an old copy of Lotus 1-2-3 you may have spotted in the Windows/386 entry).
This year the weather was more agreeable and the items for sale were more exciting. There was a table of what seem to be radios and radio components from the 1920s and 1930s.
There was this Yamaha M-60 power amp.
There was this pair of exotic looking Acoustic Research M2 speakers, which are the big brothers of the M1s that my Dad bought in the 1990s. Today the M1s grace my living room.
There was this Pioneer CLD-D504 Laserdisc player from the heyday of LaserDisc player technology in the mid-1990s.
But, I didn’t buy any of those things. Hamfests are strange places to go shopping because you have to make split-second decisions. There really isn’t time to do research. There’s usually not AC power available for testing (as there would be in even the most spartan thrift store). There are multitudes of other people with nerdy interests walking by who at only moment could buy the thing you’re thinking about. If you see something you like you have to very quickly weigh all of the variables and decide if you want to buy it.
Sometimes I’m in the mood to drop $60 on a LaserDisc player. That day I was not. If I was going to buy a substantial piece of audio or video equipment, I wanted it to be dirt cheap.
My Dad and I rounded a corner in the indoor portion of the Hamfest and sitting on a crowded table amongst a lot of serious ham gear was a Pioneer PL-L70 linear tracking turntable. I inquired about the price and they wanted $10. Bingo. It took about 30 seconds for me to decide to buy it.
I’ve wanted an linear tracking turntable for awhile because of their association with the 1980s. While they weren’t invented in the 80s there was a sudden proliferation of them in the the 80s when designers saw them as a way they could make a record player look high tech.
There was a moment in the early 1980s when the minimalist, silver look that European manufacturers like Wega and Bang and Olufsen had pursued in the 70s was combined with the burgeoning Japanese penchant for electronic wizardry and created the “80s look”. I like to describe the look as “if the Delorean DMC-12 was a stereo”.
Manufacturers decided that the 1970s look of wood paneling and numerous knobs needed to go in favor of a look that emphasized sharp angles, push-buttons, and computer/microcontroller driven gimmicks. Linear tracking turntables satisfied those urges.
In a linear tracking turntable the tonearm is straight and is mounted on a mechanism that moves it in a straight line across the radius of the record rather than in an arc, as on a traditional turntable. Hence, linear tracking.
Because the tonearm on a linear tracker is shorter and is located further back than on a traditional record player designers could slope the front of the dust cover which gives many of these turntables a sleek, aerodynamic look.
If I had my pick I would choose a Technics SL-10, the king of Japanese manufactured 80s linear tracking tables, but those are difficult to find and they go for hundreds of dollars on eBay. This Pioneer was $10 and said LINEAR TRACKING in large, geometric sans-serif type on the lid (is that Eurostile?). What’s not to love? Sold.
The most surprising thing about this PL-L70 is that despite being almost 30 years old and having a complicated mechanism that’s necessary to drive the tonearm everything about this thing seems to work. I had totally expected this turntable to have been priced at a mere $10 because it had numerous faults but I can’t find anything wrong with it other than a few scuffs on the dust cover. Either this record player has had more than $10 worth of maintenance over the years or its lived a very lucky life. Maybe this was one of those situations where the seller’s wife told him he couldn’t bring it home from the sale?
According to this Audiokarma post about Pioneer’s date codes a serial number starting with FA means that this PL-L70 was made in January 1985.
The PL-L70’s two biggest 80s selling points are two microcontroller-based gimmicks: The tonearm is controlled by servos and has an optical sensor that reads the gaps between tracks on the record so that you can do things like press a button to skip to track 4.
You should be able to see the sensor there at the end of the tonearm. There’s a little label on the head shell that says “OMS” for Optical Music Sensor. I have tried it and shockingly, this actually works.
On the front of the turntable you have the standard Start/Stop button that’s required on automatic turntables as well as a button to lower the or raise the tonearm. There’s also the buttons that are necessary on a linear tracker to manually move the tonearm left or right.
Inside on the plinth you have the standard speed selector control and a selector for the sensitivity of the optical sensor.
When you press Start/Stop the player uses the sensor to sense the size of the record and then find the beginning of the groove. It moves back and forth once to make sure it’s found the position and then lowers the tonearm.
To the left of the buttons to manually position the tonearm are the buttons that let you select a track, or program a series of tracks via the optical sensor.
The PL-L70’s optical sensor gimmick instantly reminded me of another Pioneer turntable I once knew, and one of the main reasons why I’m so infatuated with 80s electronics.
Sometime in the mid-1990s (probably 1995) my grandparents in the Cleveland area downsized from their suburban house to a condo in a high rise. They got rid of a lot of stuff and gave my family the stereo system my grandfather had bought around 1983. I had fond memories of the day years before when my other grandfather had shipped us his Apple IIe so an occurrence like this where a family member gave us cool hand-me-downs was a Red Letter day in my childhood.
My grandpa’s stereo system consisted of an Akai AA-R22 receiver (which was pictured in the Realistic TV-100 entry), an Akai cassette deck, and a Pioneer PL-88F turntable and two EPI speakers. The speakers were sadly rotted but everything else worked. The cassette deck was fairly mundane but the receiver and turntable were silver-era 80s beauties.
The AA-R22 has done yeoman’s work in various rooms of my parents’ house and today is attached to my mother’s desktop PC. But at the end of the day a stereo receiver with enchanting display is still pretty much like every other stereo receiver.
The PL-88F turntable, on the other hand, was something else. A record player with a drawer? What sorcery was this?
The PL-88F was born into an era that craved novelty in mass-market hifi equipment. It was designed to solve one of the classic usability problems of turntables: where do you put the thing? The vast majority of audio components like receivers, cassette decks, CD players, VCRs, LaserDisc players, and even an equalizer (if you want to see blinking lights and feel important) can be stacked neatly on shelves. You may want to do some thinking about heat dissipation and weight when you figure out which order to stack them in, but for the most part you just stack them. They’re all shaped like boxes and they fit nicely in a small amount of space, like under the TV or in one of those oh-so-80s multiple shelved A/V racks.
Your turntable, on the other hand, has a lid that needs to open. You can’t put anything on top of it and you need a large amount of clearance above the turntable to open the lid. Most turntables take up the same amount of space as a CRT television of the same width because of the lid.
That is, unless you have a Pioneer PL-88F, or another turntable that puts the platter on a sliding drawer that moves in and out of an enclosure that you are free to stack things on. Somewhere, an audiophile just got the shivers because they want their platters to be heavy and well sprung from a solid plinth and a sliding drawer probably compromises that. But darn it, the PL-88F is just incredibly cool looking.
The designers of the PL-88F wanted you to be able to play records while the drawer was enclosed inside of the player so they gave the tonearm an optical sensor that (in theory) was supposed to read the gaps between tracks. That way you could press a button an skip to say, track 3 or even program a series of tracks you wanted to hear (assuming they were all on the same side of the record), much like a CD player. The PL-88F was not a linear tracker but tonearm did have a motor that would move it to the correct track. Unlike the PL-L70 (which had the benefit of being a model year or two after the PL-88F), the optical sensor on the PL-88F never really worked for us.
The AA-R22 and the PL-88F left an indelible mark on me regarding 80s aesthetics. I love the silver, push-button, “computer-ized” look of these things.
Sadly, the mechanism that moved the drawer in the PL-88F began malfunctioning in the early 2000s and my Dad trashed it. But, before that the PL-88F taught me an important lesson about vinyl.
One day in about 1999 or 2000 we had bought a CED player at the (now sadly late) Fifth Avenue Flea Market and I watched Rocky off of what was effectively a record. My interest piqued about the CED’s audio counterpart, the vinyl record because I had always thought of the record as an obsolete anachronism.
Most of my childhood memories about playing music (especially Paul Simon’s Graceland and Laurie Anderson’s Big Science) are about cassettes. I think this might be because my Dad’s Realistic cassette deck was located on a lower shelf that I could reach as a child and the record player (needing a lot of space for opening the dust cover) was located much higher. The turntable also seemed delicate and easy to break, so I stayed away from it.
That evening after watching Rocky we setup the Pioneer PL-88F in my bedroom and I listened to Simon and Garfunkel’s 1982 Concert in Central Park on a pair of Sennheiser headphones. That was my first important vinyl experience.
It was at that point that I understood that vinyl was something I needed to pay attention to. The PL-88F was soon followed by a succession of thrift store turntable finds (at the tail end of when good turntables were showing up at thrift stores) that included a Micro Seiki DD-20 and a Thorens TD-160. I also started accumulating vinyl and I listened to great music like Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and The Best of Emerson, Lake and Palmer.
Since then my interest in vinyl has waxed and waned. Simultaneously, vinyl is fun and vinyl is a pain in the ass. There are a myriad of ways that a record can become deranged. I have a copy of Paul Simon’s Graceland where the second half of The Boy in the Bubble is marred by sizzling highs. That stuff will drive you insane. Every time you play a record you are damaging it in some small way and that seems perverse. And, if you forgot to clean the stylus or you for got to clean the record or the stylus has become excessively worn you could be doing even greater damage to the record.
Honestly, the experience of using the PL-L70 made me appreciate even more it’s mid-1980s contemporary the Realistic CD-1000. The Compact Disc put an end to all so much of vinyl’s obtuse nonsense.
On the other hand, vinyl is the only music format you can watch and that gives it a great air of wonder. If you ever really want to deeply consider the nature of sensory experience, watch as a tiny stylus drags through a microscopic groove at 33 1/3rd RPM while rich sound booms out of your speakers. That sound is in there, somewhere hidden in those grooves. Suddenly the nature of scale starts to have meaning.
I once had the experience of watching the video output of a Sony PCM adapter do it’s magic of recording digital sound as an analog video signal on a videotape and while that was similar, it wasn’t physical, right in front of your eyes like a record player is. There are some recordings, like Genesis’s Invisible Touch, that seem to just make more sense when you can watch the record spinning around. That seems silly to me, but that’s how I feel.
Because of all the various annoyances of weight, size, and other inconveniences I don’t think that vinyl will ever (or can ever) be my primary method of listening to music, but it’s a great thing to have on the side (much like my interest in LaserDisc).
Beginning in 2004 or so, while I was at college I got very seriously interested in indie music. After I graduated I suddenly had the time and money to go to a lot of indie rock concerts and record stores. No concert is complete without a trip to the merch table and I would often buy an LP because I already owned all of the CDs of the bands I was interested enough in seeing.
As a result, I have I accumulated a small collection of treasured favorites from the indie rock era.
That copy of St. Vincent’s Marry Me on the top of the pile is actually one of my most treasured possessions. I bought it at the merch table after the St. Vincent show at the Wexner Center in Columbus in February, 2008 and Annie Clark was kind enough to sign it for me.
You may have noticed that some of the albums in that pile are still unopened. At the time I was very interested in buying mementos from shows but less interested in the hassle of playing the actual records. However, it presently seems a waste for all of this lovely vinyl to go unplayed, and that’s why I was interested in another turntable. I think it’s fair to say that the PL-L70 has reintroduced me to vinyl. I just bought that vinyl copy of Zonoscope from Amazon. I might even invest in a decent preamp.
This is my Sony TR-730 transistor radio.
I’ve discussed before how there’s this mish-mash section at Village Thrift where you have the possibility of finding anything and everything. It’s so packed with items of all types that you have to make several passes before you’re sure you’ve seen everything. One day recently I had made several passes of these shelves and had decided there was nothing I particularly wanted to buy. But then, just as I was about to give up, I spotted what I thought at first was an electric razor in a leather pouch.
Upon closer inspection I was surprised to find that it was actually a very small, very old Sony transistor radio, the TR-730.
After we brought it home I was eager to hear it working…And this is when we discovered, via this note we found in the battery compartment, that it needed an odd 4.5v battery.
Fortunately, equivalent batteries are still made (apparently they were used in cameras) and after a trip to Battery Bob’s site I had a PX21 in hand and the TR-730 fired right up.
I’m not sure what this thing sounded like in it’s heyday but it certainly works now.
That’s 1350AM WARF, a sports station that basically saturates this part of Northeast Ohio with it’s signal. I can tell you that the tuning wheel on this TR-730 is a bit sticky so it’s not great for fine tuning. I think I would prefer a larger wheel like the TR-1 has.
But all things considered, I’m very amused that this 50 year-old radio still works.
Most of what I know about the TR-730 I found on James Butter’s Transistor Radio Design site. He quotes an advertisement in a Pittsburgh newspaper for the TR-730 dated November 1961, which places this radio squarely in the Kennedy Administration. Depending on how old you are you may not think of transistor radios as particularly antique devices but consider that this radio has most likely celebrated it’s 50th birthday. The $39.95 price for the radio in 1961 translates to about $312 in 2013 dollars. Buying one of these radios would have been very much like buying a smartphone today. I suspect that if you bought one of these in 1961 it would have been the most technologically advanced device you owned.
What you got for your $39.95 in 1961 was a tiny AM radio with a tuning wheel, a volume wheel, and a headphone jack. That’s it. No FM. No “bass boost”. No back-light. No station memories.
But what you did get was extreme portability at a time when such a thing seemed miraculous.
In the first entry on this blog, about the Casio TV-1000 micro TV, I noted how the micro TVs of the 1980s in some ways foreshadowed today’s smartphones. If you want to go further though, you have to look back at the first handheld transistor radios of the 1950s and 1960s.
If the smartphone revolution has taught us anything it’s that any technology with mass-market appeal will be shrunk until you can carry it in your pocket. The smartphone exists because there is tremendous appeal in having The Internet with you and accessible at all times. The games and camera and phone aspects of the device just come along for the ride. What you really want is the Internet with you at all times.
The Game Boy existed because of the appeal of having a videogame with you at all times.
The iPod (and the other portable music players like the Archos and the Nomad and others) existed because of the appeal of carrying thousands of songs (if not your entire music library) with you at all times.
Before that, the Walkman existed because of the appeal of carrying one album with you at all times.
In order for something to be with you at all times it has to fit into your pocket.
I may be mistaken but I believe the first time this “fit it in your pocket” phenomenon occurred was the transistor radio revolution from the introduction of the Regency TR-1 in 1954 into the 1960s. Now, there had been portable radios for decades by this point, like Zenith’s Trans-Oceanic series, but these are large, heavy things that you might put on the ground next to you when you were having a picnic. There’s a difference between making something battery powered and giving it a handle and putting it in your pocket.
Outside of say, a flashlight, the transistor radio was the first piece of electronics that the average person might keep on their person. In my mind that’s a tremendously important point in the history of technology. As someone who grew up surrounded by tape players, radios, TVs, later personal computers, and now smartphones and tablets the idea of a world before ubiquitous consumer electronics seems fascinatingly distant and alien. In that respect, something like the TR-730 represents the first dim moments of the era I recognize as my own.
Of course the reason why we are surrounded by consumer electronics today is because of the triumph of the semiconductor and the transistor and again the TR-730 represents the opening moments of that era as well.
The TR-730 also represents the early moments of Sony’s entry into the American consumer electronics market.
When I was gathering the materials for this entry I was thinking about how much Sony stuff I own.
For a long time I’ve felt some ambivalence towards Sony. There was a time when the Dreamcast was being crushed by the Playstation 2 that I really hated Sony, but today I have this general feeling that they’re a company that despite their intense drive to innovate has a tendency to drop the ball halfway to greatness.
If the MiniDisc had had a way to quickly and effortlessly copy music from a CD to a MiniDisc, like the iPod did years later, it might have been a tremendous success rather than the middling semi-failure that it became.
The PSP debuted in 2005 and coupled a fast CPU (for a portable device of the day) with WiFi and (once you bought a mandatory memory card) mass storage. Sony had all of the ingredients in front of them to have invented the App Store two years before Apple, but they dropped the ball and had to rush to create something similar after Apple did. Before that point, the process of putting demos, music, pictures, and videos on the PSP involved putting files in bizarrely named folders on the memory card. It seemed like no one at Sony had considered the consumer’s perspective in this at all.
The PS Vita is basically the best portable game hardware ever created…and Sony can’t quite figure out what to do with it. Does it exist for miniaturized versions of console games? Does it exist for $10 indie games? Does it have a chance competing with tablets and smartphones?
It’s as if this company loves to build stuff but can’t figure out how to make it really usable or delightful for the consumer in the same way that say, Apple can.
The world of consumer electronics is changing. Whole classes of electronics like digital cameras, video cameras, eReaders, digital audio players, radios, and other devices are being subsumed into the smartphone and the tablet.
The era where you could simply bring out another new model of say, a TV or a DVD player, or a camera and people would buy it simply because it was new and it contained one new feature are quickly coming to an end as people just want one new device that does all of these things.
The world that Sony thrived in where they could have tendrils into every consumer electronics market is dying. The TR-730 also represents the birth of this era as well. Does something like the PS Vita represent the terminal end; the end of the Sony era?
This is the Realistic CD-1000 CD player that I found just this past Tuesday at Village Thrift.
This is the first time I’ve found an item and posted it to the blog in the same week. When I saw this in the electronics section at Village Thrift I could tell it was pretty old from the styling, but when I saw the August 1984 manufacture date I knew I had something really special on my hands.
Checking the 1985 Radio Shack catalog confirmed what I suspected: The CD-1000 is the very first CD player that Radio Shack sold. Given my already discussed fondness for Radio Shack and Realistic I had to have it.
The problem was that the price was marked “3.00 As Is”. If Village says something is as-is, most likely it plain doesn’t work. But, for $3, I’m willing to take a chance.
When I got it home it became apparent what the problem was: While the player would turn on, the CD drawer refused to open.
I opened up the case to see if I could spot anything obviously amiss inside. The first thing I noticed was that there was a CD-R disc that must have been stuck inside the machine when it was donated that had slipped out of the drawer and was sitting among the electronics. After removing the CD-R I tried watching the CD drawer try to open with the case open. All I heard was a motor try to turn but nothing moved.
Next, I took it to my father. He quickly discovered that the belt that goes between a motor and that white, round piece in the bottom center of the picture above was broken.
We then proceeded to remove the drawer assembly from the unit to get a better look. That involved unplugging all of the connections between the drawer and the main board.
Eventually we got the drawer assembly out of the unit. My father manually turned the round white piece and we discovered how the drawer works. As you would expect, first the drawer pulls in. What was really curious was seeing the little platform on the center of the drawer move.
See that raised platform where you place the disc? It works like an elevator that places the disc onto the drive spindle. Then the white plastic piece with the “Danger!…” sticker on it moves downward and clamps the disc in place. All of this was driven by that single white round piece with the broken belt.
The next day, my father took the drive assembly to Philcap Electronics where they took some measurements and sold him a replacement belt for $3.
After he installed the new belt and reconnected all of the wires the CD player worked! I’m personally somewhat shocked that nothing else was broken on this thing but that belt. In researching this unit you find people talking about problems with distorted sound and the laser failing, but my player seems to work perfectly after the belt repair.
The thing about CD players that is a blessing and a curse is that to a close approximation they basically all sound the same. I had heard though, that the very earliest CD players had some nasty filtering in their early DACs that might be audible. Personally, it sounded to great to my ears. That got me curious about what all of those chips were inside the CD-1000.
The first thing I found was that this player was probably designed for Tandy by Hitachi. Most of the chips inside are Hitachi chips. I stumbled upon this French website about another, much more flashy early CD player, the Hitachi DA-1000 that shows the chips it had inside of it.
Notice that both players used the MB15529 chip. Those two other chips next to it also look similar. The description of those chips is in French, but Google Translate tells me that the MB15529 decodes the bitstream into frames and the HD60901H does error conversion. Basically, these chips are the digital portion after the drive reads the bits and before the DAC turns them into analog sound.
The DAC used in the Realistic player is a 16-bit Burr Brown PCM53JP-V DAC.
It sounds like this was a common chip in pro audio equipment in the 1980s. It also looks like they’re even still in demand today to repair old gear. The Burr Brown DAC is probably why this unit sounds so good today.
From what I can gather the first generation of CD players like the famous Sony CDP-101 was from 1982-1983. By 1984-1985 when my CD-1000 debuted the hardware was settling down a bit.
This raises an interesting point about the CD-1000. Even at the time, this was an austere player. The design was pretty low-key compared to something like that over-the-top Hitachi DA-1000 I linked to above. The CD-1000 had no headphone input, no remote control, and a basic (but beautiful) display. On the other hand, the CD-1000 debuted at $400 which was probably more affordable than most players at the time. And yet, Radio Shack and Hitachi did not skimp on components, since the guts look comparable to the DA-1000.
It’s interesting to see how the designers of the CD-1000 dealt with things that are commonplace today. For example, there is no next track button. What you do instead is hold play and press the fast forward or rewind button to skip a track. If you just hit the fast forward or rewind buttons it seeks rather than skipping. If you want to skip to track 12 you have to hit the 1 button, then the 2 button, and then press Play.
The display is a simple affair with lovely, bright florescent digits.
Listening to a CD player for the first time in 1984 must have been amazing. The 1980s were a time of electronic novelties. There were portable TVs, personal computers, various type of home video like Beta, VHS and LaserDisc, huge early cellular phones, etc. But, none of them could hold a candle to the shockingly great sound of a Compact Disc. No pops, no scratches, no tape hiss. Just clean sound with amazing dynamic range. Some of the pro-CD propaganda from that era was nonsense, such as how the discs were indestructible, but the promise of clean sound was true. The Compact Disc was the ultimate 1980s novelty.
Today, as people re-embrace vinyl we forget the lesson the CD player taught us: Analog is tyranny. That is to say that in analog audio there’s always some noise, always some distortion and all you can do is spend more money to minimize it. That’s awful, when you think about it. You can whine all you want about the loveliness of analog audio but what it meant was that a select few who could afford expensive hi-fi systems got to listen to great sound and everyone else got less than that. Yes, you can have a great record player that minimizes surface noise and produces spine-tingling sound, but if you can’t make it affordable and give it to the masses, what’s the point of that?
So, if you walked into a Radio Shack in late 1984 and were blown away listening to a CD-1000 for the first time you were hearing not a $5000 turntable but a $400 component you were much more likely to be able to afford.
I can appreciate that album artwork looks much, much better on an LP dust jacket. Fundamentally I think that’s why vinyl is coming back into fashion now. It’s the beautiful artwork. There’s also a readily understandable beauty to watching a vinyl disc spin with music coming out.
But we too often forget the beauty of digital audio. It wasn’t until I watched this fantastic video from Xiph.org (YouTube link if your browser doesn’t support WebM) about the common misconceptions about how digital audio works that I realized how fortunate we are to have had the CD and 16-bit/44.1KHz PCM digital audio. The most surprising thing about the video is how Monty explains that human ears don’t really need anything better than 16/44 because 16/44 can reproduce any frequency we can hear. I had always assumed that more bits and more samples would mean better audio, but that’s not the case. Given two sampled points at a 44.1KHz sample rate there is only a single waveform that fits those points that is within the range of human hearing. The 16-bit sample depth already produces a dynamic range that exceeds the range of our ear’s sensitivity and a noise floor that is inaudible. We will never need anything greater than 16/44 with the speaker technology we possess today and the ears we will always possess.
The compact disc was unwittingly the last physical consumer electronics audio format. The depth of the 16/44 format meant that there will never be another format that sounds better to most people. For playback, there’s no need to go further.
More importantly though, by pressing hundreds of millions of discs full of unencrypted 16/44 PCM, the industry laid the groundwork for the future. Bits are inherently portable. Get those bits off of the CD and they can go anywhere and be physically stored in a drive of any size.
What’s killing the CD now is the tyranny of space. Storing discs takes up space. Players take up space. With digital the beauty is that the music is in the bits, and not the physical medium (which is how digital defeated analog in the first place). You can make digital storage basically as small as you want. But the polycarbonate disc never matter in the first place. What mattered are the bits. And they are likely to live forever.
You have have noticed the zoomed-in image of the Realistic TV-100 Stereo TV Receiver acting as my blog “mascot” in the header.
I chose the Realistic TV-100 to represent this blog for a number of reasons. It’s a fantastic looking piece of mid-1980s audio equipment. It’s also a classic representative of Radio Shack’s Realistic brand. I have fond memories of visiting the Radio Shack at State Road Shopping Center as a kid back when Radio Shack was still an important electronics store. Basically everything about Radio Shack from the 1980s and 1990s like their house brands Realistic, Archer, Optimus and for some reason those distinctive shiny green Extra Life batteries is a childhood nostalgia trip for me. The TV-100 represents a lost era, which you’ll find is a common theme on this blog.
Therefore it’s time to give this lovely looking but slightly odd bird it’s day in the sun.
As this October 1985 ad in Popular Mechanics explains the original purpose of the TV-100 was to add MTS stereo and SAP capabilities to existing TVs. “Many stations are already broadcasting in stereo…all the time. Come in and discover the added dimension of stereo TV.”
The idea was that you plugged your TV antenna into the antenna inputs on the TV-100 and then attached cables from the VHF and UHF outputs on the TV-100 to the antenna inputs on your TV. I believe at that point the TV-100 became your TV tuner. You could then attach speakers directly to the TV-100 because it has an integrated amplifier or you could attach it to your stereo with the Tape Out.
The brilliant part of the TV-100 is that it also has an Aux input, which means that you can use it on it’s own as a small amplifier. Today, following the analog TV end times the MTS decoding functions are useless but sometimes you just need a small amplifier. The TV-100 was often sold with two magnetically shielded Minimus-2.5 speakers as seen in the Popular Mechanics ad, and together they are perfect for these situations.
At some point, I believe it may have been in the late 1980s, my grandfather gave my father a TV-100 and the two Minimus-2.5 speakers. My father also purchased another TV-100 at a thrift store.
When I was a teenager I couldn’t have a TV in my room but I did have one of the TV-100s so I listened to over-the-air TV. I have fond memories of listening to ER and SNL, trying to imagine the pictures in my head.
Somewhere along the way we got rid of the two TV-100s but my father kept the speakers.
Recently I saw this TV-100 at the Goodwill on State Road in Cuyahoga Falls and had to have it. I reunited it with the two speakers and now I have the complete set once again.
It’s not the greatest sounding amplifier in the world and it’s not particularly loud but when you just want to improve the sound of a small TV it does fine.
Today my TV-100 sits in my classic gaming nook on top of my Laserdisc player and below a circa-2005 Toshiba CRT TV with the Minimus-2.5 speakers.
Aside from it’s utility I appreciate the way the TV-100 looks. It represents the best of a transition period that was happening to stereos in the 1980s. Stereos of the 1970s often had a silver face and a large, lit radio tuning dial like the TV-100 but unlike it often had wood paneled sides and larger switches. It seems like they were all trying to look like ham radio transceivers.
About the time the TV-100 debuted in 1985 receivers started to become computer controlled and began eliminating the tuning dials and switches in favor of digital displays and more flat, computer-like buttons.
My mother’s Akai AA-R22 is a good example of this styling.
By the late 1980s, of course, receivers started going all black which for the most part, they remain until this day. Generally, the more a piece of stereo equipment looks like a DeLorean DMC-12 (silver, angular), the better with me. Chunky black monoliths are boring.
So, for the TV-100 to be silver and fully analog (in it’s operation and appearance) makes it an interesting mid-80s transition piece. There’s also something majestic about the well-proportioned analog-ness of the TV-100.
The size of the tuning dial in comparison with the turning and volume knobs and the rest of the unit is pleasing to the eye. Somehow this diminutive, somewhat esoteric add-on unit found deep within the Radio Shack catalog (1985, page 104) turned out to be a work of art.