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Portable Recorders, Past and Present

Ze Frias

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Although it never caught on as a professional or consumer product, the Sony NT1 was probably the most technologically innovative small recorder made.  It was tiny and recorded digital sound on the worlds smallest cassette tape cartridge.  (smaller than a postage stamp")

And it had a mechanical transport and helical spinning heads that required No Tracking (that was what NT stood for).

Of course this was before recording on Solid State Flash Ram was feasible or affordable.



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Thank you for that, Courtney, I hadn't even thought about the NT-1! I owned one and I thought it was pretty amazing, ruggedly built and easy to use. I don't think I ever used it to any extent on a job. Mine may still be sitting in some case in my shop. I'll have to look for it.


- from Sony write up:


The first digital microcassette recorder, used with postage stamp-sized cassettes developed by Sony. These cassettes were certified as the world's smallest tapes for digital recording in the 1994 edition of the "Guinness Book of World Records." The NT-1 represents all that a portable tape recorder should be. This light and compact unit offers excellent sound quality, extended recording, and good energy efficiency. Built around the microcassette layout, it is designed for easy one-handed operation. In appearance, the "Scoopman" is appealingly simple.



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Really great thread.

I spent 3 weeks using the Nagra SN on a job years ago - the director/dop/producer also had the SQN designed to couple with it and was a very cool combo - he had previously used the recorder, velcro'd to the magazine of his Aaton, while covering both sides of the Soviet/Afghan war (we were using it to film a salvage operation, so not quite as risky - the only proper 'reel to reel' job i have done).


Jeff: I've always been very intrigued at what Nagra had to show in their 'security' section, thank you posting the pic of the CBR. Just having the name has opened up a new world of google searches for me. From what i've found it looks like the CBR was released c.2007 - is that right?



The JBR (c.1970) also looks interesting.





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For some of those who might think this thread is getting away from the 'spirit / intent' of Jose Frias' OP?

I provide this cross-reference jwsound post, from 2010:


You know, originally, when I posted this picture of the Nagra SN next to the Zaxcom TRXLA2, I didn't really envision how the thread would turn out. My intent was really just to post an interesting picture contrasting two devices with similar purposes but from different times. I actually love what the thread has developed into; seeing and reading about the many different products that you all have posted has been great. Thanks for sharing!

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For some of those who might think this thread is getting away from the 'spirit / intent' of Jose Frias' OP?

I provide this cross-reference jwsound post, from 2010:


For pos·ter·i·ty


For all of those of us who toiled doing "Audio Cassette Timecode Transcription Recordings" - -

especially in the bag ... (before file-based MP3's)


Sony Walkman Professional  (from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walkman#Walkman_Professional )



The highest quality Sony Walkman was the Walkman Professional.

In contrast to other models, it was capable of recording.

Introduced in 1982 as the TC/WM-D6 and then upgraded as the TC/WM-D6C -

which added Dolby C noise reduction on September 1, 1984 -

it was comparable in audio quality to high-fidelity professional audio equipment.


Many magazines began to compare it with non-portable cassette decks.

The Walkman Professional had bright LED recording level meters

and manual control of recording levels

which were unique features not found in other portable units.


It was equipped with quartz-lock capstan servo and amorphous head.

Powered by a 6V adapter or 4 AA batteries (compared with 2 for most Walkman models) -

it was widely used by journalists and developed a following among hi-fi enthusiasts.


Even more unusual for a consumer-electronics product -

it remained in production until 2002 essentially unchanged -

with only one internal improvement, a reworked circuit board that used SMD components.


One of Henry Rollins' early spoken word CDs was recorded with a Walkman Pro.

:End Quote













From: http://www.walkmancentral.com/products/wm-d6c



This updated model added to the strengths of the WM-D6 by offering an important extra feature:

Dolby C noise reduction.

This system, which operated in playback and record, improved the dynamic range considerably.


Including Dolby C noise reduction in a compact portable was not easy, and -

the integrated circuits which performed most of the functions had to be made by Sony themselves.


The fact that this extra function could be fitted to the WM-D6 without making it any larger was amazing,

though it forced some changes, for example the second headphone socket was no longer fitted.


Other useful modifications were made at the same time.

Most useful of these was the addition of a line-in connector,

which allowed direct connection to other audio equipment without having to use the microphone socket.


This was a great improvement and helped to reduce the background noise level -

when recordings were made from line sources, such as a CD player, second tape recorder or a mixing desk.


The level meter was also altered so that as well as showing the recording level or the battery condition,

it could be switched off to save battery power.


The WM-D6C can easily be identified from the earlier WM-D6 version -

because the “professional” script on the top cover is green instead of yellow.


The WM-D6C could not really be improved upon and so remained in production almost unaltered for many years.


However, two significant changes did occur, both in the latter part of the production run.


First, the excellent and very effective amorphous head with its distinctive parabolic grind

was replaced by a simpler, cheaper permalloy type of a cylindrical section.


This later head is noticeably more wear prone and therefore could not be considered an improvement.


Only later was the “amorphous head” script removed from the badge on the front of the machine

so it cannot be used as a reliable guide to which type is fitted.


Secondly, the printed circuit was re-drafted to use surface mounted components.

These were much smaller than the types used originally,

though as the size of the recorder stayed the same -

the only advantage was a reduction in the cost of assembly.


The circuit remained substantially the same as before and offered near identical performance.

:End Quote



(I used to work w/ a tech who would call any over-abundance of PCB  'jumper' wires ... "Afterthought")


attachicon.gifComparison of early (top) and late (bottom) WM-D6C.png


attachicon.gifunderside of the main PCB of the late WM-D6C .png




This thread prompted me to go dig mine out. The first 'light-of-day,' in many years:

(Like with all things in my kit(s) - I have always tried to have @ least 2 of everything.)

attachicon.gifSony Walkman Pro - wm-d6c.jpg


This is just a current-day mock-up. I'm sure some of you can remember it all crammed into our bags, back then?

attachicon.gifTImeCode Transcription set-up - with Peter Engh Transcode - Sony wm-d6c Stereo Cassette recorder.jpg


For those curious about the "Peter Engh Transcode"? http://www.peterengh.com/pdf/transcode.pdf


FWIW .. cross reference " JWsoundgroup: P. Engh Transcode " / re: 'Timecode Transcription' posts:






Next up? Sony PCM - M1 DAT. (gaaaaack)

I still have 1 of these and about to use it to transfer some recordings for friend. so glad i kept this bit of kit :-) so gutted i threw the c90 mix tapes i made as a kid :-(

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What an amazing collection. Is that part of Zipporeels?

One of my prize recorders is a Stellavox SM5, pictured above. I did major surgery on the motor, I still can't get enough tourque from it to run properly. I have the original manual with schematics. Stellavox provided r/p response curve charts and individual spec measurements for each unit they made.

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Still got a Sony WM-D6, powered it up recently runs at about 7.5ips, ah well, looks nice. Had a Sony PCM F1/betamax  combo digital got mislaid when I moved countries. I'd love a Nagra3 for the coffee table. (But I'm still really a Studer man, apart from the B62 nothing really portable)

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Still got a Sony WM-D6, powered it up recently runs at about 7.5ips, ah well, looks nice. Had a Sony PCM F1/betamax  combo digital got mislaid when I moved countries. I'd love a Nagra3 for the coffee table-


When I was very young had a Ficord 202 http://www.vintagerecorders.co.uk/VR_View_Page.asp?IDS=103

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