For the better part of 70 years (my adolescent and adult life), I’ve collected – things, a lot of things. Most of what I kept were things I used in everyday life. Like most people, I found something, was given something or I bought that something. But unlike most, I felt compelled to hold on to and preserve those things that meant something to me, that remind me of a time and place, or the item was unusual, interesting or showed some innovation. Many of these things are technical in nature. Among my collections, I have a number of innovative tape recorders, four of which were made by a company called Concord.

Concord Electronics was known in the 1960s as a manufacturer/reseller of Japanese made electronics, much of it was said to be aimed at the middle tier consumer market place.

Now, before I talk about these four tape recorders, I want to say, one has to understand that these four machines were manufactured in 1969 which is 50 years ago. Though these recorders weren’t exactly high fidelity, especially by today’s standards, they were what was available at a reasonable price. High fidelity stereo sound had just started to come into vogue in 1959, only ten short years earlier.

In 1969, there were companies such as Uher, Nagra, and one or two others who made battery powered tape recorders that were a whole lot better than Concord tape recorders. However, these recorders were hideously expensive – from 10 to $40,000 in today’s dollars. Sony did make one or two professional recorders that were slightly better, but they were much more expensive.

What is unusual about two of the Concord tape recorders was that they were battery powered reel to reel recorders that had an unusual function.

Concord was the only common manufacture that sold small battery powered reversing portable reel to reel tape recorders, meaning the user could record on or playback both sides of a tape without having to manually switch the tape reels over to the second side/track.


Concord 300 – 4” Reel to Reel Bidirectional (manual reversing) Mono Portable Tape Recorder

SPECIFICATIONS: Tape speeds: 1 7/8 and 3 3/4 ips – Recording time: 2 1/2 hours at 1 7/8 (1/2 mil tape), 5 hours at 1 7/8 (1/4 mil tape) – Reel size: Standard 4" reels or smaller – Power source: Built-In AC or 6 "C” cell batteries – Microphone: Dynamic, remote control – Level indicator: Recording and battery level meter – Frequency range: 60-10,000 Hz at 3 3/4 ips – Weight: 5 3/4 lbs. – Dimensions: 10" (w), 3" (h), 9" (d).

This recorder did appear in a variety of TV shows of the late 60s and early 70s. Though it never appeared in Mission Impossible, it did show up in TV shows such as Columbo.

I bought this recorder sometime in late 1969 from Olson Electronics as a returned item for about $40. It had a suggested retail price of $100. For me back then, $40 was a lot of money which today is only about $260. I was still living with my parents and my only source of income was from my meager appliance repair activities I did on the side.

This recorder looks nice, sounds great – with recorded voice through its microphone. Remember the Nixon Whitehouse tapes that were recorded on his Uher 5000 in the Oval Office – all that echo and the poor fidelity. The Concord 300 sounds much better and it does a better job with background echo. Problem was, for some reason the audio fidelity with recorded music wasn’t all that great. It only had a measured frequency response of about 100-8,000 Hz. I used it in college for a while to record lectures but the battery life wasn’t all that great. Also, it didn’t have NiCad battery recharging capabilities.


Concord 350 – 5” Reel to Reel Bidirectional Auto-Reversing Mono Portable Tape Recorder

SPECIFICATIONS: Tape speeds: 1 7/8, 3 3/4 ips – Power source: 6 “D" size batteries or optional external AC power supply – Reel size: Standard 5" reels – Motor: 4-Pole, D.C. w/special platinum coated governor – Transistors: 9 transistors, 1 diode – Speaker: 3" x 6” – Microphone: Stop/start remote dynamic type – Remote control: By switch on microphone, foot switch optional. Automatic stop/start, built-in voice operation – Indicator: Recording level and battery condition indicator – Recording time: Up to six hours at 1 7/8 ips – Frequency response: 50-10,000 Hz – Weight 10 1/2 lbs. – Dimensions: 11 1/2" (w), 4" (h), 12 1/2" (d).

Sound-wise, this recorder is really no better than the 300 – except that it seemed to have a slightly better upper-end audio fidelity. Unlike the 300 which has manual reversing, the 350 has auto reverse. The tape switches direction when the recorder senses a piece of applied foil near the end of the reel of tape.

The cons of the 350: Unlike the 300 which has an integrated AC power supply, this larger recorder does not have integrated AC power; rather, one has to lug around a large heavy wall-wart. Another quirk is it will only switch into reverse but not back into forward. You have to stop the machine and then press play again. This was kind of annoying when one is searching through a tape.

Technically, when the user presses the play key, they are cocking a spring loaded mechanism that, when two contacts (the tape sensor or the reverse button contacts) are closed, a small solenoid releases the latched mechanism and the player is mechanically thrown into reverse. This is why the recorder can’t be switch back into forward without stopping the recorder. The play key has the reverse button integrated into it.

It seems to me that this recorder was primarily designed for voice and really didn’t do all that well with music. We’ll see after I restore it.

This recorder got lost in some box in my parent’s house only to be recovered five years ago when it was unearthed after my dad’s passing. I don’t remember where I originally got it from. I do remember that it did stop working. It now quietly sits on a shelf waiting for me to fix it.

Unusual Concord Cassette Recorders

In 1963, the Compact Cassette tape was introduced by Philips. In the late 60s, there were a number of companies that produced stereo cassette recorders. However, very few of them were portable battery powered recorders, especially with integrated stereo speakers.



Concord F-400 – Portable AC/Battery Powered Stereo Cassette Recorder

SPECIFICATIONS: Tape speed: 1 & 7/8 ips – Cassette tape cartridge: Standard C-30, C-60, C-90 and C-120 – Recording time: One and a half hours on C-90 – Recording system: Stereo and monaural – Playback system: Stereo and monaural – Record/playback head: Concord Flux-field stereo – Erase head: Ferrite – Tape transport mechanism: Professional TM-100, push-button operated – Electronics: Two solid state stereo recording preamplifiers, two playback power amplifiers – Outputs: Line outputs for operation as a tape deck. – Extension speaker outputs – Microphone: Two dynamic, one with remote control – Power output: 8 watts – Power source: 110/117v AC house current or 6 "D" cell batteries – Drive motor: Servo type with electronic speed regulation – Record level control: Selectable automatic (mono) or manual (stereo) – Frequency response: 50-10,000 Hz – Wow and flutter: Less than 0.25% rms – Speakers: Two 6” acoustically matched – Weight: 11 lbs. – Dimensions: 12-3/8” (w), 9-3/4 " (h), 3-3/4" (d).

This was my first stereo compact cassette recorder which I also got used in 1970 from Olson Electronics. I recorded a whole lot of stuff with this battery powered thing including live performances. The guys in the dorm at college got freaked out when I was playing music in my room during a power outage. Because the college was out in the countryside, the power would go out a lot during storms. I had a set of Realistic Solo-103s speakers with real Fostex FE103 drivers hooked up to this recorder. It could easily drive them because the F-400 had an 8 watt amplifier in it.

This recorder has all kinds of inputs and outputs such as left and right line level in, line level out, microphone in, and speaker out. It also has a ¼ inch stereo headphone jack. It tried to be all things for a cassette recorder – and it did a good job of it. One more thing: it has an integrated AC power supply.

This cassette recorder which was made by the same company as the 300 and 350 has much better fidelity. Depending upon the quality of the tape, this cassette recorder is capable of a 12 kHz frequency response – which isn’t all that bad for a 1969 cassette deck.

It must be noted that in 1969, cassette recorders had notoriously poor frequency response. The highest quality cassette deck only had an upper frequency range of 12,000 Hz. It was in 1970 when I was in my favorite electronics store – Olson Electronics where I asked one of the sales guys to demonstrate an H. H. Scott stereo system for me. I was initially impressed that it had a cassette deck and I wanted to hear it. He recorded a cut off a Jimmy Hendrix album and then he played it back. My hearing was really good then and when the song started to play, it sounded to me like the high end was completely gone – like listening to a recorded AM broadcast. I expressed my disappointment about the sound and he abruptly responded, “Hay stupid, its cassette!” – And he walked away.

You-know, now that I think about it, back in 1969, cassette tape wasn’t all that good. But today, cassettes are much improved and this may account for the higher frequency response from the F-400.

Note. J. C. Penny Co. sold a clone of this recorder which was a rebranded Concord F-400 under the Penncrest label.


Concord F-600 – Portable AC only AM FM Stereo Cassette Recorder with Detachable Speakers

Specifications: TBD

What was unusual about this recorder was that it is a portable stereo system.

This was really my first stereo. I bought it used for $100 in 1971 and after I got it home, I was sorely disappointed. This thing had so many quirks. When I took the back covers off the speakers, I was blown away – cheap 6-inch speakers. It didn’t even have any tweeters. I also looked for the battery compartment only to find – there wasn’t one.

About the F-600's portability: this dude is not lightweight. It would be uncomfortable for the average slender woman much less young children to manhandle this thing.  Altogether, it weighs about 40 lbs.

Concord did make a 35 watt stereo receiver which was very much the same as the portable F-600. It was the model HES-35 AM FM Stereo Receiver with a wood grain cabinet and the same top loading cassette recorder. I heard one of these with the matching optional speakers that, at the time, it sounded good. That’s why I bought the F-600 – thinking it was the same except that it was portable.

Soon after I got it, I took two 6 by 9 car speakers and mounted them into the cabinets by carefully pulling off the grill cloth and cutting bigger holes. I think my mother helped with regluing the grill cloth back on. It did sound better with a bit more bass.

F-600 quirks: separate volume and tone controls – one for each channel; FM stereo muting instead of automatically switching to mono while tuning or listening to weak stations; no magnetic phono inputs; and a bad design by allowing 7 volts DC across the volume control making for a slight noise as you turn up and down the volume controls.


Lafayette 19-0915 20-watt amplifier

It was a year later when I purchased a raw 20-watt amplifier board from Lafayette Electronics. I then took the F-600 and ripped out the cassette recorder as well as the preamp- amplifier section, but kept the tuner section.


F-600 Top Loading Cassette Deck

I then installed the 19-0915 amplifier board into the F-600, removing the 4 potentiometers from the amplifier board and replacing four of the F-600’s with these potentiometers. One of the volume controls became the balance control along with one of the tome controls becoming the bass. After a bunch of hacking and repurposing, the thing sounded rather good. I did some other things such as increase the low end frequency response and reduce harmonic distortion by replacing the electrolytic coupling caps with physically huge non-polarized metal film crossover caps.


1973 Radio Shack Realistic STA-120B

In 1973, I bought a Radio Shack Realistic STA-120B which became my daily driver until it was stolen in 1983. I got it at an employee discount via a – well this really good looking girl named Maggie who worked at Radio Shack. I was way too shy (stupid) to ask her out. Sometime later towards the beginning of fall quarter, she got really upset when I told everyone in the store I was returning to college that fall.


Kenwood KR-9400

It would be in 1984 when I was given a Kenwood KR-9400 – big moose of a receiver which then became my main system until 2004 when I completed assembling 2 Velleman K4030 mosfet amplifier kits.


Velleman K4030 600 Watt Mosfet Stereo Power Amplifier Kit

I got the K4030 kits in 1993 in a trade for a pair of slightly rusty 1955 Bud-Box McIntosh 30 watt tube amps. Yes, I know, today’s esoteric hi-fi nuts would most likely have paid well over $1000 for each of these vintage amps – especially being a matched set. But that was 1993.


McIntosh A-116 aka the Bud-Box mono-block power Amp w/6BG6 finals

The Concord F-600 pictured above is one I got from a yard sale. I think I either gave away or sold the modified F-600 I originally had.

In restoring the one above, I replaced every electrolytic, a bunch of resisters and a number of transistors. I have bunches of Velleman assortment packs of capacitors and resistors so it wasn’t all that expensive to do. In the end, I did get it to play, but because of its bad design, it still makes a crackling noise when I first turn it on. It looked like someone else was in there trying to figure out the noise – but it’s the DC bias across old carbon comp volume pots. I’ll be dammed if I replace those. It’s really just something to put on display in my oddity collection.

Speakers

The speakers I had at various times were mostly homebrew, culminating in me building in 2005 an exotic ultra-high-fidelity set. This is where I integrated a 2-channel Velleman K4030 amp into each speaker cabinet. These amps lent themselves very well for servo controlling mid-base and sub-base speakers. The 4” mid ranges and 1” tweeters are both titanium speakers. The mid-base speakers are an 8” Vifa – which are used in the $1,600 Mackie HR-824 servo controlled studio monitors. The sub-woofers are the Dayton Audio 295-165 (Thruster Woofer) which has a light weight moving mass of 66 grams along with 200 watts RMS power handling. With a servo system, it’s not about ass-kicking bass, rather about the accuracy and clarity of sound.

S March, 2019