Beograms side-by-side

#85 in a series of articles about the technology behind Bang & Olufsen

On the left: a “Stereopladespiller” (Stereo Gramophone) Type 42 VF.
On the right, a Beogram 1000 V Type 5203 Series 33, modified with a built-in RIAA preamp (making it a Beogram 1000 VF)

Some history today – without much tech-talk. I just finished restoring my 42VF and I thought I’d spend an hour or two taking some photos next to my BG1000.

According to the beoworld.org website, the Stereopladespiller was in production from 1960 to 1976. Although Bang & Olufsen made many gramophones before 1960, they were all monophonic, for 1-channel audio. This one was originally made to support the 2-channel “SP1 / SP2” pickup developed by Erik Rørbæk Madsen after having heard 2-channel stereo on a visit to the USA in the mid-1950s (and returned to Denmark with a test record).

Sidebar: The “V” means that the players are powered from the AC mains voltage (220 V AC, 50 Hz here in Denmark). The “F” stands for “Forforstæarker” or “Preamplifier”, meaning that it has a built-in RIAA preamp with a line-level output.

Internally, the SP1 and SP2 are identical. The only difference is the mounting bracket to accommodate the B&O “ST-” series tonearms and standard tonearms.

There were 4 variants in the ST-series of tonearms:

Name Pivot – Platter Centre Pivot – Stylus Pickup
ST/M 190 mm 205 mm SP2
ST/L 209.5 mm 223.5 mm SP2
ST/P 310 mm 320 mm SP2
ST/A 209.5 mm 223.5 mm SP1

(I’ll do another, more detailed posting about the tonearms at a later date…)

Again, according to the beoworld.org website, the Beogram 1000 was in production from 1965 to 1973. (The overlap and the later EoP date of the former makes me a little suspicious. If I get better information, I’ll update this posting.)

The tonearm seen here on the Stereopladespiller is the ST/L model with a Type PL tonearm lifter.

Looking not-very-carefully at the photos below, you can see that the two tonearms have a significant difference – the angle of the pickup relative to the surface of the vinyl. The ST/L has a 25º angle whereas the tonearm on the Beogram 1000 has a 15º angle. This means that the two pickups are mutually incompatible. The pickup shown on the Beogram 1000 is an SP14.

This, in turn, means that the vertical pivot points for the two tonearms are different, as can be seen below.

The heights of both tonearms at the pivot are adjustable by moving a collar around the post and fixing its position with a small set screw. A nut under the top plate (inside the turntable) locks it in position.

The position of the counterbalance on the older tonearm can be adjusted with the large setscrew seen in the photo above. The tonearm on the Beogram 1000 gently “locks” into the correct position using a small spring-loaded ball that sets into a hole at the end of the tonearm tube, and so it’s not designed to have the same adjustability.

Both tonearms use a spring attached to a plastic collar with an adjustable position for fine-tuning the tracking force. At the end of this posting, you can see that I’ve measured its accuracy.

The Micro Moving Cross (MMC) principle of the SP1/2 pickup can easily be seen in the photo above (a New-Old-Stock pickup that I stumbled across at a flea market). For more information about the MMC design, see this posting. In later versions of the pickup, such as the SP14, seen below, the stylus and MMC assembly were attached to the external housing instead.

A couple of later SP-series pickups in considerably worse shape. These are also flea-market finds, but neither of them is behaving very well due to bent cantilevers.

This construction made it easier to replace the stylus, although it was also possible to do so with the SP1-2 using a replacement such as the one shown below.

A replacement stylus for the SP1/2 shown on the bremdal-radio.dk website.

Just to satisfy my own curiosity, I measured the tracking force at the stylus with a number of different adjustments on the collar. The results are shown below.

Tracking force on the Stereopladespiller with the collar aligned to each side of the gradations on the tonearm. Right-click on the photo and open it in a new window or tab to zoom in for more details.
Tracking force on the Beogram 1000 with the collar aligned to each side of the gradations on the tonearm. Right-click on the photo and open it in a new window or tab to zoom in for more details.

As you can see there, the accuracy is reasonably good. This is not really surprising, since the tracking force is applied by a spring. So, as long as the spring constant hasn’t changed over the years, which it shouldn’t have unless it got stretched for some reason (say, when I was rebuilding the pivot on the tonearm, for example…) it should behave as it always did.

Heavy Metal Analogue

In order to explain the significance of the following story, some prequels are required.

Prequel #1: I’m one of those people who enjoys an addiction to collecting what other people call “junk” – things you find in flea markets, estate sales, and the like. Normally I only come home with old fountain pens that need to be restored, however, occasionally, I stumble across other things.

Prequel #2: Many people have vinyl records lying around, but not many people know how they’re made. The LP that you put on your turntable was pressed from a glob of molten polyvinyl-chloride (PVC), pressed between two circular metal plates called “stampers” that had ridges in them instead of grooves. Easy of those stampers was made by depositing layers of (probably) nickel on another plate called a “metal mother” which is essentially a metal version of your LP. That metal mother was made by putting layers on a “metal master” (also with ridges instead of grooves) which was probably a lamination of tin, silver, and nickel that was deposited in layers on an acetate lacquer disc, which is the original, cut on a lathe. (Yes, there are variations on this process, I know…) The thing to remember in this process is

  • there are three “playable” versions of the disc in this manufacturing process: your LP, the metal mother, and the original acetate that was cut on the lathe
  • there are two other non-playable versions that are the mirror images of the disc: the metal master and the stamper(s).

(If you’d like to watch this process, check out this video.)

Prequel #3: One of my recurring tasks in my day-job at Bang & Olufsen is to do the final measurements and approvals for the Beogram 4000c turntables. These are individually restored by hand. It’s not a production-line – it really is a restoration process. Each turntable has different issues that need to be addressed and fixed. The measurements that I do include:

  • verification of the gain and response of the two channels in the newly-built RIAA preamplifier
    (this is done electrically, by connecting the output of my sound card into the input of the RIAA instead of using a signal from the pickup)
  • checking the sensitivity and response of the two channels from vinyl to output
  • checking the wow and flutter of the drive mechanism
  • checking the channel crosstalk as well as the rumble

The last three of these are done by playing specific test tracks off an LP with signals on it, specifically designed for this purpose. There are sine wave sweeps, sine waves at different signal levels, a long-term sine wave at a high-ish frequency (for W&F measurements), and tracks with silence. (In addition, each turntable is actually tested twice for Wow and Flutter, since I test the platter and bearing before it’s assembled in the turntable itself…)

Prequel #4: Once-upon-a-time, Bang & Olufsen made their own pickup cartridges (actually, it goes back to steel needles). Initially the SP series, and then the MMC series of cartridges. Those were made in the same building that I work in every day – about 50 m from where I’m sitting right now. B&O doesn’t make the cartridges any more – but back when they did, each one was tested using a special LP with those same test tracks that I mentioned above. In fact, the album that they used once-upon-a-time is the same album that I use today for testing the Beogram 4000c. The analysis equipment has changed (I wrote my own Matlab code to do this rather than to dust off the old B&K measurement gear and the B&O Wow and Flutter meter…)

If you’ve read those four pieces of information, you’ll understand why I was recently excited to stumble across a stamper of the Bang & Olufsen test LP, with a date on the sleeve reading 21 March, 1974. It’s funny that, although the sleeve only says that it’s a Bang & Olufsen disc, I recognise it because of the pattern in the grooves (which should give you an indication of how many times I’ve tested the turntables) – even if they’re the mirror image of the vinyl disc.

Below, you can see my latest treasure, pictured with an example of the B&O test disc that I use. It hasn’t “come home” – but at least it’s moved in next-door.

P.S. Since a couple of people have already asked, the short answer is “no”. The long answers are:

  • No, the test disc is no longer available – it never was outside of the B&O production area. However, if you can find a copy of the Brüel and Kjær QR 2010 disc, it’s exactly the same. I suspect that the two companies got together to produce the test disc in the 70s. However, there were also some publicly-available discs by B&O that included some test tones. These weren’t as comprehensive as the “real” test discs like the ones accompanying the DIN standards, or the ones from CBS and JVC.
  • No, the metal master is no longer in good enough shape to use to make a new set of metal mothers and stampers. Too bad… :-(

P.P.S. If you’re interested in the details of how the tests are done on the Beogram 4000c turntables, I’ve explained it in the Technical Sound Guide, which can be downloaded using the link at the bottom of this page. That document also has a comprehensive reading list if you’re REALLY interested or REALLY having trouble sleeping.

Turntables and Vinyl: Part 4

Back to Part 3

MMC: Micro Moving Cross

As mentioned above, when a wire is moved through a magnetic field, a current is generated in a wire that is proportional to the velocity of the movement. In order to increase the output, the wire can be wrapped into a coil, effectively lengthening the piece of wire moving through the field. Most phono cartridges make use of this behaviour by using the movement of the stylus to either:

  1. move tiny magnets that are placed near coils of wire (a Moving Magnet or MM design
    or
  2. move tiny coils of wire that are placed near very strong magnets (a Moving Coil or MC design)

In either system, there is a relative physical movement that is used to generate the electrical signal from the cartridge. There are advantages and disadvantages associated with both of these systems, however, they’re well-discussed in other places, so I won’t talk about them here.

There is a third, less common design called a Moving Iron (or variable-reluctance(1)) system, which can be thought of as a variant of the Moving Magnet principle. In this design, the magnet and the coils remain stationary, and the stylus moves a small piece of iron instead. That iron is placed between the north and south poles of the magnet so that, when it moves, it modulates (or varies) the magnetic field. As the magnetic field modulates, it moves relative to the coils, and an electrical signal is generated. One of the first examples of this kind of pickup was the Western Electric 4A reproducer made in 1925.

Figure 1: Figures from Rørbaek Madsen’s 1963 patent for a Stereophonic Transducer Cartridge.

In 1963, Erik Rørbaek Madsen of Bang & Olufsen filed a patent for a cartridge based on the Moving Iron principle. In it, a cross made of Mu-metal is mounted on the stylus. Each arm of the cross is aligned with the end of a small rod called a “pole piece” (because it was attached to the pole of a magnet on the opposite end). The cross is mounted diagonally, so the individual movements of the left and right channels on the groove cause the arms of the cross to move accordingly. For a left-channel signal, the bottom left and top right cross arms move in opposite directions – one forwards and one backwards. For a right-channel signal, the bottom right and top left arms move instead. The two coils that generate the current for each audio channel are wired in a push-pull relationship.

Figure 2: Erik Rørbaek Madsen explaining the MMC concept.

There are a number of advantages to this system over the MM and MC designs. Many of these are described in the original 1963 patent, as follows:

  1. “The channel separation is very good and induction of cross talk from one channel to the other is minimized because cross talk components are in phase in opposing coils.”
  2. “The moving mass which only comprises the armature and the stylus arm can be made very low which results in good frequency response.”
  3. “Hum pick-up is very low due to the balanced coil construction”
  4. “… the shielding effect of the magnetic housing … provides a completely closed magnetic circuit which in addition to shielding the coil from external fields prevents attraction to steel turntables.”
  5. Finally, (although this is not mentioned in the patent) the push-pull wiring of the coils “reduces harmonic distortion induced by the non-linearity of the magnetic field.”(2)
Figure 3: The magnetic circuit representation of the MMC cartridge, showing the diagonal pair of pole pieces for one of the two audio channels.
Figure 4: The Micro Moving Cross MMC 4000 cartridge design. 1. Nude Pramanik diamond, 2. Low mass beryllium cantilever, 3. Moving micro cross, 4. Block suspension, 5. Pole pieces, 6. Induction coils, 7. Mu-metal screen, 8. Hycomax magnet
Figure 5: Large-scale models of the MMC cartridges used for past demonstrations.

Footnotes

  1. reluctance is the magnetic equivalent of electrical resistance
  2. “Sound Recording Handbook”, ed. Glen Ballou

Turntables and Vinyl: Part 1

Lately, a large part of my day job has been involved with the Beogram 4000c project at Bang & Olufsen. This turned out to be pretty fun, because, as I’ve been telling people, I’m old enough that many of my textbooks have chapters about vinyl and phonographs, but I’m young enough that I didn’t have to read them, since vinyl was a dying technology in the 1990’s.

So, one I the things I’ve had to do lately is to go back and learn all the stuff I didn’t have to do 25 years ago. In the process, I’ve wound up gathering lots of information that might be of interest to someone else, so I figured I’d collect it here in a multi-part series on phonographs.

A warning: this will not be a tome on why vinyl is better than digital or why digital is better than vinyl. I’m not here to start any arguments or rail against anyone’s religious beliefs. If you don’t like some of the stuff I say here, put your complaints in your own website.

Also, if you’ve downloaded the Technical Sound Guide for the Beogram 4000c, then you’ll recognise a large portions of these postings as auto-plagiarism. Consider the TGS as a condensed version of this series.

A very short history

In 1856, Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville invented a device based on the basic anatomy of the human ear. It consisted of a wooden funnel ending at a flexible membrane to emulate the ear canal and eardrum. Connected to the membrane was a pig bristle that moved with it, scratching a thin line into soot on a piece of paper wrapped around a rotating cylinder. He called this new invention a “phonautograph” or “self-writer of sound”.

The phonoautograph (from www.firstsounds.org)

This device was conceived to record sounds in the air without any intention of playing them back, so it can be considered to be the precursor to the modern oscilloscope. (It should be said that some “recordings” made on a phonoautograph were finally played in 2008. See www.firstsounds.org for more information.) However, in the late 1870’s, Charles Cros realised that if the lines drawn by the phonoautograph were photo-engraved onto the surface of a metal cylinder, then it could be used to vibrate a needle placed in the resulting groove. Unfortunately, rather than actually build such a device, he only wrote about the idea in a document that was filed at the Académie des Sciences and sealed. Within 6 months of this, in 1877, Thomas Edison asked his assistant, John Kruesi, to build a device that could not only record sound (as an indentation in tin foil on a cylinder) but reproduce it, if only a few times before the groove became smoothed. (see “Reproduction of Sound in High-fidelity and Stereo Phonographs” (1962) by Edgar Villchur)

It was ten years later, in 1887, that the German-American inventor Emil Berliner was awarded a patent for a sound recording and reproducing system that was based on a groove in a rotating disc (rather than Edison’s cylinder); the original version of the system that we know of today as the “Long Playing” or “LP” Record.

An Edison “Blue Amberol” record with a Danish 78 RPM “His Master’s Voice” disc recording X8071 of Den Blaa Anemone.

Early phonographs or “gramophones” were purely mechanical devices. The disc (or cylinder) was rotated by a spring-driven clockwork mechanism and the needle or stylus rested in the passing groove. The vibrations of the needle were transmitted to a flexible membrane that was situated at the narrow end of a horn that amplified the resulting sound to audible levels.

Magnets and Coils

In 1820, more than 30 years before de Martinville’s invention, the Danish physicist and chemist, Hans Christian Ørsted announced the first link made between electricity and magnetism: he had discovered that a compass needle would change direction when placed near a wire that was carrying an electrical current. Nowadays, it is well-known that this link is bi-directional. When current is sent through a wire, a magnetic field is generated around it. However, it is also true that moving a wire through a magnetic field will generate current that is proportional to its velocity.

Forward to Part 2: Physics

Telefunken Lido: Repair (Day 6)

Day 5’s work can be seen here.

So, it was obvious that the speed regulation wasn’t working properly at the end of Day 5. So, last night was spent digging for information on how centrifugal speed governors work and I came across this excellent explanation.

So, my theory was that the disc was seized on the axle and not moving correctly with the rotational speed. This means that everything came apart again, and the axle had to come out.

In theory, as the governor spins faster, the three weights get pulled out. This in turn should pull the disc in to rub against the friction pad. When it came out of the motor, the disc was immovable – it was stuck to the axle as I guessed. So, the three springs+weights were removed from the axle and, after a lot of WD-40 and a little repeated gentle “persuasion”, I got to here:

This is after I polished the rust off the axle with sandpaper, starting at 400 and working up to 3200 (lubricated with more WD-40). I was sanding along the length of the axle, since that’s the direction of movement of the disc.

Then it was “just” a matter of putting it all back together again… However, before I put it back in the case, I checked that the governor was working, which you can see below. Notice how the disc moves sideways to meet the friction pad, keeping things at a constant speed.

Then it was just a matter of putting everything back together again… And I have a working Telefunken Lido for those Sunday afternoon garden parties!