Monday, 6 February 2012

Realistic Lab-500

My Realistic Lab 500 turntable is a very attractive unit from Radio Shack and was listed in the 1979 catalogue as their top model, selling at that time for $259.95. If you convert 1979 dollars to 2011 ones, you get over $840!!



It is direct drive and fully automatic, quite heavy and solid feeling and a distinctive design. It shared a lot of its design and features with models from Mitsubishi and European brand ITT among others and obviously was made in the same place.

When I got mine it was pretty sad looking. Dirt and duct tape residue covered the lid and other surfaces, and the cueing arm was stuck in a down position. With that in mind I was able to talk the owner down from $60 to $40. When I brought it home I was fairly easily able to get the cuing lever working again with some lubrication and persuasion. The lid was more trouble, and cleaning and polishing it revealed some significant cracking that is unfortunately not going to be fixable. However it works great!

The headshell and cartridge were not stock, but were certainly not a bad alternative. The original headshell, the R9000E LWS, is a plastic one and integrated (i.e. glued) into it is a Shure M95 cartridge. The combination is very lightweight and the tonearm counterweight is correspondingly low mass. Mine however came with a headshell from what might be Nagaoka and a Mission 773 MM cartridge. I can`t fine many references to the Mission cartridge, or at least very little on their Moving Magnet versions.


I like to bring my vintage gear back to original specifications if I can within reason. With that in mind I managed to find someone who would sell me the original Radio Shack headshell & cartridge. It came without a stylus, but I was able to find a cheap aftermarket replacement on ebay. That has not worked out so well though...

If you look at the picture above, you will see what looks like a healthy stylus cantilever, at least as far as the record to cartridge distance goes. Have a look at the picture below for a somewhat different look. 


In the pic above you can see the stylus holder (the yellow part) is VERY close to touching the record. In fact on a very slightly warped record or maybe even with a bit more stylus pressure it would touch, which is not good. And this is actually AFTER I did some work on the headshell to improve the angle. If you look at the next pic (sorry it`s a bit dark, but you can see some of the same features in the pic above, or the one at the bottom of this post) you can see I have pointed out some key areas. 



Arrow 1 points to the actual stylus, 2 points to a gap between the stylus holder and the headshell. 3 marks a difference between the fact that the bottom of the headshell and the sides of it which are no longer parallel. When I started the gap at 2 did not exist, the difference at 3 was essentially non existent, and 1 was in a much worse position as the yellow part was scraping along the record with the stylus cantilever basically buried in the yellow part that was rubbing directly on the record. Not Good!



My ``fix`` which was not really a fix, was to pry the cartridge from the shell (it was glued in) and put a wedge of poster putty behind the cartridge which changed the angle so that the stylus sort of works. It is still too close for comfort though. In order to be confident enough to use the cartridge I have I will have to source another stylus to test with it. This one either is not well made, or is not designed for this cartridge.  So for now, I have the Nagaoka and Mission installed and that`s not all that bad as they are quite capable and sound good. 

Update: I have another stylus for the above headshell now and it does work better, but comparing the design of this headshell/cartridge with comparable Shure cartridges does show that the angle of the lower body relative to the record does dictate the stylus required. Another thing I am going to try to fix is that the collet end of this headshell I have has some play in it where the plastic surround of the headshell attaches to it. I may need to use some epoxy to make that less flimsy feeling.



19 comments:

  1. This is exactly the model I have; I got mine in late 1980. I have actually used it off and on until a few years ago, but now have dusted it off now that I have equipment to create digital files from the output. Where have you found is best to get a replacement stylus at a reasonable price? I just wasted $18 on the wrong type and now have found one that looks more like the existing one for $38 (plus $12 shipping!)--have you seen better? I don't think I've replaced mine for 15 years and don't remember what they cost then.

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  2. I usually get stylii on ebay. A couple of times but not always from Caroles Needles but have bought from others. The R9000E is appparently a Shure M95 and uses the N95 stylus. There are some cheap options and I think the PFANSTIEHL 4767-DE is one of them.

    http://www.ebay.com/sch/i.html?_nkw=m95+stylus&_sacat=0&_odkw=m97+stylus&_osacat=0&_from=R40

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  3. stylus was r9 about 40 dollars

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  4. WELL,as a Lab 500 owner will tell you your problem with overhang is your using the wrong stylus,the one you have pictured is not made for the Realistic/Shure R 9000ws

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  5. Actually I figured that out at least a year ago. That headshell had issues anyway and I have a different one now in better shape with the correct stylus.

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  6. Found mine at a flea market, in good shape, fully working for 15 dollars. If you have one with the original headshell/cartridge combination, you can easily find the correct replacement stylus on ebay.
    http://www.ebay.com/itm/270211621805?_trksid=p2055119.m1438.l2649&ssPageName=STRK%3AMEBIDX%3AIT

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  7. Anyone have a link for a recommended replacement headshell for the LAB 500? I ordered one and I like to use Audio-Technica AT311EP cartridge. This is the one I use on all my turntables.

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    1. You can use almost any headshell but if you don't keep the weight low you might end up having to add some weight to the back of the counterweight. The original headshell/cartridge has a combined weight of 10.7 grams and that's very low.

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  8. I got as question, is there a rubber plug or cover for the hole on the left hand side of the tonearm? I think that is where you adjust the runway of the tonearm. Got mine last night and there is no cover just the hole there.

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    1. It doesn't really need a cover. However look around your house and you might find something that could cover it up if you like. A small round black sticker could do it in a pinch.

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    2. Thanks Andrew, I thought about that and I think I will go to to this arts and crafts place and look for a plug that I can use. I would like to use something made out of rubber that I can put in and remove easily while still look like it's stock.

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    3. Or the hardware store. Plugs that cover screw heads in furniture maybe?

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  9. Right, I will check Ace Hardware on my way home today :)

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  10. I am looking to acquire a Realistic LAB 500 turntable.
    I have quite a few albums and my teenage son, engineering student, wishes to go retro.
    I have a STA 240 stereo and the tower speakers that go with the set.
    Any help in aquiring the LAB 500 would be greatly appreciated.
    jeffreygiacomel@aol.com
    817-999-4950

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    1. I have had issues with eBay. I figure audiophile to audiophile is the best way to go with minimal problems.
      Thank you for your suggestion, I have been unlucky on eBay and this is kind of a big purchase.

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    2. Keep an eye on Hifi Shark. https://www.hifishark.com/

      It searches multiple sites. It won't be able to find listings in paid subscription based areas like Barter Town at Audio Karma but it can be helpful. It will search Canuck & USA Audio Mart, eBay, Kijiji and lots of other places.

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  11. Yes eBay might be your friend in this search but be very wary about shipping. I have heard many horror stories about turntables arriving badly damaged by poor packaging and careless shippers.

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    Replies
    1. Mine came with the duct cover broken, the freaking eBay seller did a poor packaging job.

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