Saturday, 26 May 2012

Technics Rubber and Dual in a Drawer

I had a Technics SL-1700 MKII turntable in the house for less than a day. It's a very nice table, and one I could easily live with, but I barely even got to sleep with this one. And even less so the Pioneers Pl-518 that was here for only about an hour.


The Technics and Pioneer both belong to Clint at Space Lab and I was just tuning them up. The Pioneer really just got a cartridge and tonearm alignment as it seemed to have no issues.

The 1700 had what is a common failure on this model. This model is essentially an SL-1200 but with auto shut-off. The cueing and tonearm return is done by a small motor mounted horizontally under the right side of the platter. This motor uses a belt to drive a pulley running the mechanism, and the belt crumbles after 20 years or so. That's exactly what I found in this numerous cockroach carcasses. Yuk!

Anyway the shop vac took care of the roaches and a produce elastic took care of the shut-off, at least temporarily. It worked great but today I picked up a O ring to replace the elastic. I was not sure the size I bought would work as the rubber was a bit thicker than the original (and definitely than the elastic band), but the diameter of about 1.25" and 1/8" thick worked fine.

I meant to take a picture of the inside area with the elastic band but forgot while I was working on it. I spent a good amount of time wet sanding and polishing the lid too. It works great and looks pretty nice now though.


As part payment (or something) for the jobs I am doing for Space Lab, or maybe just because he just likes me, Clint gave me a Dual 1019 turntable the other day as well.

The 1019 is one of the most highly regarded of their turntables. Well built and reliable, or as much as a 40 year complicated piece of machinery can be at least. This one has definitely put the nail in the coffin for the 1219 I have already.

Dual 1019

They all have their fatal flaws though and probably the worst of this table is the cartridge mount, sometimes known as the "sled", the TK-11 or TK-12. They can be prone to failure from stress and corrosion and tend to command high prices when you can get them. I bought a knock-off on ebay yesterday that might be better than the original with luck, as I plan to give the sled with this one back to Clint.

I call this the Dual in a Drawer as that is what it was until recently. It came out of a custom made cabinet for a Harman Kardon Citation and Thorens system. It has rollers on the sides for drawer glides as this was the secondary turntable in the cabinet. The Thorens was accessed through the top.

Dual 1019 side

I will remove the rollers eventually and do something around the sides, but the wood is so nice that I think I will try to do very little to modify the base.

I will have to get underneath to clean and lube, and perhaps adjust the idler and a few other things. I think I have a bit of wiring to work on too, but cosmetically it is very nice.


Sunday, 20 May 2012

Some Empire Solutions And A Problem

The first of the Empire tuntables I worked on is in very good shape now. I should replace the stylus, the tonearm drifts as the cuing lowers it, and I am still waiting for the light bulb but it plays well. There are Gregorian Chants in the background right now on the big sucker.

Empire # 2 is also a 598, this time version II. It's also not yet mine but on loan for diagnosis and repair. It comes with the same tonearm, the 990 I think it is called. It's kind of hard to tell the models as the pictures I see of the 980 and 990 arms both have the VTF adjustment on the inside of the pivot are and these are both outside. The 2 I have here are identical though.

The latest Empire has other issues. It's missing a belt and they are not the most common or inexpensive thing. The length should be about 31.5" but the width can also be a factor as it affects the speed adjustment if it is too wide. I've yet to order one due to the other problems.

The connector on the base of the tonearm for the cartridge leads is an odd one and this table does not have that cable. I've heard of people paying $100 to buy one or have it made. I've got a cheaper solution.

Universal connector

Yesterday I came across this universal connector at Main Electronics. It's designed for the power connection to car stereos and comes with 5 pins that can fit in any of 10 holes in the end. Choose your layout, insert the pins, screw it together. I will either solder and heat shrink this to a an RCA cable, or perhaps add panel jacks so I can use any cables. Cost about $4 plus some wire.

Alternatively I could also use the thing I found in the next pic. It was a random find at a thrift store today, a wire remote control for a Kodak slide projector. Remember those? With digital, they are getting rare but parts still show up. It has exactly the right 5 pin layout I need and also would just need to be wired to some other cables to do the job. That's it plugged in the bottom of the tonearm.

Kodak slide projector control

The 598 II also came with another Empire cartridge. I have not yet conclusively identified either of the ones I have but will work on that. The only obvious difference in design between the II and the III is the 45 RPM adaptor in the II is a twist and pop-up thing and the III has an insert that you remove and turn upside down. Both designs are ingenious and simple and I am kind of surprised more manufacturers did not try similar thing. Cheap plastic doughnuts are usually the way.

Pabst Motor from Empire Turntable

Other than some cosmetic problems and the missing parts as described, the major problem on the 598 II is the motor. It won't run.

I have tested it in almost any way I can think of and even though it will spin nicely by hand I can get it to turn under power. It's not a common design either so this could be the deal breaker. It operates in a 3 phase sort of mode, with a capacitor used to trick the motor into see what looks like 3 phase power from regular line current.

The motor is German made by Papst. I don't know if anyone used them other than Empire and they are quite different than most around. This motor is one of the reasons the turntables have as much respect as they do. These motors are smooth and steady and are supposed to last forever... until they don't.

I'm not giving up on this one yet though.

Friday, 11 May 2012

AR-XB FrankenTonearm

Another project, another post.

This AR-Xb turntable came home at the same time as the Empire. It's a simpler thing, and easier to fix up in some ways. It has a lot of similarities in design to the Empire but is is almost like the poor relative of the fancy Empire, from appearance right though to execution. It's almost like both makers were given a basic design, but one of them had 5 times as much money to spend to bring it from blueprint to market.


Both tables are suspended belt drive manual devices and they are completely manual in execution.. Speed is changed by turning the table of and moving a belt from one pulley to another. They have an on/off switch and a cuing lever, the headshells are not interchangeable. The platters are 2 pieces and are fairly heavy.

They also quite quirky and are almost of legendary status for their sound qualities, largely as a result of their simplicity. They also have their fatal flaws.

AR headshell closeup

One of the flaws in the AR design is the tonearm. It is not inherently bad, but it does pose some challenges. One issue is that the headshell is again proprietary and on the one I have here it is problematic. As soon as I touched it it practically fell out of the tonearm, and with a little tug it did fall out!

A little research showed me that the glue that holds these in often does fail. In addition, the simple fact that the plastic AR headshell and it's fixed design without cartridge mounting slots is also not ideal led me to think of how I could improve it. Sometimes I am glad I don't throw things out as I was able to come up with some parts to fix this up. It might take a while to finish the job as I will have to source some wire but I made some good progress tonight.

AR Tonearm graft 1

Some months ago, I took apart the Zenith/Garrard turntable I bought with a Zenith receiver and speakers about a year ago. The speakers have been sold and the receiver is still around, and still one of my favourites, while the turntable is still around in pieces. The base and platter come in handy when I am cleaning a batch of records for example. Anyway the tonearm was still here though largely disassembled.

I had read of changes to the AR tonearm wand to add a more conventional interchangeable headshell collet and/or the full arm wand. Usually Technics was mentioned, probably partly because they are common tables but also because you can order spare parts for them because of their widespread use professionally. They also did not sound ideal because of their length and expense too.

AR Tonearm graft 2

My Zenith one looks like it will work well though and it is essentially free. I had to drill out a couple of rivets to remove the arm wand from the pivot end, and was even able to make what was an S shaped arm into the J shape the AR came with. I might have just used the collet end but the diameters did not match anyway. One reason changing the tube can be problematic is that the AR tonearm and counterweight are fairly lightweight. If you change the weight too much at one end you will have to make changes at the other or you will never be able to balance the arm.

I lucked out. Both the length and the weight of the Zenith arm parts are similar to the AR bits and the arm balances easily. I'll weigh the parts later to get some actual numbers. The Stanton headshell ends up in virtually the same spot as illustrated by the AR arm upside down on top of the new FrankenArm. The project is not done as I will still have to order some wire to redo the arm but it looks like it will work out!

AR Tonearm graft 3

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Empire 598 III Troubadour starts to sing again

I have had the Empire turntable at home for about a week now, and I've been using it the last few days as the restoration has come along nicely.

Empire 598 6

Some of the things I had to work out were excess motor noise and vibration transferring to the alumium plinth top. This was related to the speed adjustment knob being adjusted way too high and in fact it rubbed the plate you see in the lower left corner above. At the same time this caused the motor pulley to lean toward the platter significantly. The pulley has 2 steps to it and each of the steps has a slightly convex shape. Adjusting the pulley angle causes the belt to ride on a different diameter portion of the pulley, which will slightly change the speed.

Empire 598 3

The belt on here seems like it might be a bit long as the platter does not come up to speed as quickly as I think it should. There seems to be some inconsistency as to what the proper length is, but it is something in the 33" +/- area. The belt width also has impact on the speed adjusting as the belt needs room to to move on the convex pulley; narrower is better. The rubber motor bushings should also probably be replaced, again to help reduce vibration.

I had to clean all the surfaces, but held myself back from being too aggressive on the metal surfaces as some of the anodized or plated areas are already a bit tarnished and or scratched and I don't want to make it worse. The wood finish is quite good but cleaning and treating with orange oil made a big difference in beauty of the wood. The clear top pieces are plexiglass and also cleaned up pretty well. I may eventually get around to either really polishing the lid or, even better, replacing the plexi with glass.

Empire 598 5

The tonearm is a rather massive thing but balances nicely and to quite low gram ratings too. The cuing was a bit tricky to figure out, but eventually I found the missing pad that a little screw pushes against to lift the arm.

At the right of the headshell there is a light, in the brass column that also serves as the tonearm rest, which throws via a mirror a beam across the headshell area, probably useful when cuing up a record. However the bulb is missing and I could not get one at Main Electronics today so ordered a couple on ebay. It's an odd size and rating so I was not that surprised.

Empire 598 7

In the next 2 pics, you are looking at the tonearm pivot area, one of them before cleaning. The large knob to the right is the vertical tracking force adjustment knob (VTF), and the smaller knurled nut above the tonearm tube is for adjusting anti skate. I am not sure if this is working properly yet as the tonearm drifts a lot to the outside as I drop it with the cuing lever. This is often an indication of the anti-skate being adjusted too high, but even with it all the way "off" it still does it. The cuing itself may be causing this but that will take more investigation.

Empire 598 9

Empire Tonearm pivot

The brass column to the left of the tonearm pivot is the "Dyna-Lift". This acts as an end-of-record arm lifter, and can be turned off by tilting it back. When in it's active position it uses a magnet to lift the tonearm off the lead out groove. It is supposed to work smoothly when you find just the right spot for it, but so far it is quite abrupt and literally throws the tonearm up. It's just a bit startling to see it in action the way it is now, but apparently if I work at it I can find the right spot to make it more gentle.

The most potentially problematic area of this turntable is the proprietary cartridge mounting device (often called a sled). Empire was not the only company that did similar things; Dual was famous for it. Dual however was much more mass market and their parts are still common and Empire are not. The little piece that holds the cartridge can sell for over $200! That's if you can find it, so I am glad this turntable has it and it appears to be in good shape. It may be just a pipe dream but I may start looking into trying to copy the design by molding or machining and try to bring it to market. It's not something I could sell hundreds of but maybe enough to make it worthwhile.

Empire cartridge and sled

I've been playing some records with the cartridge that came with the turntable and performing the cardinal sin of doing it with a stylus that is probably shot. In fact I know the cantilever is a bit bent, but it actually sounds ok.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Classic Gear Restoration Work Ahead

I got around to checking out Space Lab, the shop owned by my recent Sansui turntable customer. I had not been there in a while and dropped in on foot as it is only about 5 blocks away. I soon had to go get the car though...

Harman Kardon Citation & Thorens TD-124

Harman Kardon Citation II

The pics above are from my phone, so not the best.

Clint and I had talked about about some of the gear he had, both in his shop and in storage. I had a look at both today. In storage he had numerous bits of furniture, fans, lamps and stuff but the showpiece there was a custom built console with a complete Harmon Kardon Citation I, II, and III (preamp, power amp and tuner) system. The inset turntable was a Thorens TD-124 with an Ortofon tonearm of some sort, and there was an incidental Dual 1019 (I think) on a slide out rack underneath.

This setup is one of those legendary kind of sound systems I could never hope to have. It's worth thousands and sonically I am sure it's worth it. However I could not fit that in my car, but I could fit an AR turntable, a Yamaha receiver and an Empire turntable as well.   


The AR is the XB91 variation. It will need some cleaning but and probably should be rewired. That will be in one way made easier because the headshell is not attached to the tonearm. It looks like it was simply glued in place but the first thing I noticed was it was spinning. A tiny tug on it and this was the result.

AR headshell closeup

If that's the worst thing wrong that's easy, so that's put aside for now.

AR and Yamaha

The Yamaha CR-1020 is cosmetically challenged too. It has lots of dirt on the face and knobs, scratches in the wood shell, bleeding lettering where it looks like acetone was used to clean the face, and a cigarette burn on the top. As far as value added the cigarette burn might be a good thing for resale. We could say that Keith Richards did it or something. Other than that it will have to remain untested for a bit too.

Yamaha CR-!010 closeup 2

Item # 3 might be the coolest of them all. It's an Empire 598 III turntable. Lots of wood and brass, nice and heavy, suspended and functionally it looks pretty sound. It is a cartridge marked RM10, which I think might be an early Ortofon, with a mangled stylus. It will have to be gone over later too as I have to go out.

Empire 598 2

Empire Tonearm

Should be fun working on these. For now, no money has changed hands. I will check them out and start to do what I can and Clint and I will work out what we do in exchange later. Maybe we sell them and I get a cut, or sell a few and get to pick one for myself. We will see, and I am looking forward to it!