Member: Sideband

Following on from the introduction to Philips Service, I mentioned the service desk where, among other things, customers could bring their items for repair. In the first instance, the items were sent through to the ‘first-line’ repairs for assessment. The purpose of the first line repairs was to ease the burden on the main workshop so that simple jobs could be taken care of straight away. The engineers that manned the first line repairs were on rotation from the main workshop so we all had a go. The only criteria was that you had to have been in the main workshop for over two years and worked on all products. This ensured that there was adequate experience to enable the quick diagnosis.

It would have been around 1976. I was well established in the workshop now and quite happy repairing tape recorders, cassette decks, TV (colour and B/W) and radio. There were a number of quite nice cassette decks about and Philips had brought out a new range using the new magnetic clutch which (so they said) greatly improved the wow and flutter figures. A recent addition to the workshop was a test lab to cope with all the new Hi Fi gear including Motional Feedback speakers. It had distortion meters, power meters, audio and video generators and a really nice Ferrograph wow and flutter meter. These were all calibrated once a year and were in top-notch condition.

So there I was doing my ‘stint’ in the first line repair section (we all did two weeks) when a small cassette recorder came in (well it didn’t come in on it’s own, it was brought in by a customer….). It was a fairly basic mono model, almost new, quite neat, very portable, mains/battery with a reasonable sound for its size. I think it was an N2225. It was not in the same league as the Hi Fi units although it did use the new magnetic clutch. The note tied to it was ‘Excessive wow and flutter. Check speed’. Easy! Insert a test tape with continuous 1Khz tone and connect it to the portable wow/flutter and speed test meter on the bench. The small wow and flutter meter was designed for quick tests. There was a dual-scale meter fitted to the front and a switch at the bottom marked ‘speed’ and ‘wow/flutter’. The tests showed that speed was within about 2% of normal, wow and flutter was within the 1% mark which was quite OK for this sort of machine. The spec actually gave the speed as 2.5%. Hardly worth opening it up but I removed the back and located the speed control pot, gave it a slight tweak and brought the speed to around 1% which I thought was pretty good. Wow and flutter was about the same, so I replaced the back and wrote on the service note, ‘speed and wow/flutter within spec and popped it back through the reception hatch at no charge (we were allowed to do that).

I didn’t take any notice of the slightly raised voices on the other side of the hatch a few moments later as I now had the top off a tape recorder with a broken main belt and wandered off into the main workshop to get the appropriate belt. When I returned, one of the guys from the service desk was standing by the bench. ‘He won’t accept that cassette recorder. Says you must be tone deaf as it sounds dreadful like it’s playing underwater’. He’s coming back in a moment with his flute…….! ‘What’s he going to do with his flute?’ I asked smarting at his ‘tone deaf’ accusation. ‘Play it’, was the reply. ‘Where’s he going to play it’? ‘In the shop I think and it’s full of customers’ and with that disappeared back to the service desk.

About ten minutes later I was called out to the service desk. Now anyone around in the 70’s would have heard of Jethro Tull the prog rock/folk rock band fronted by Ian Anderson. I stopped in my tracks and thought I was seeing the great Ian Anderson himself. The customer was wearing a trench coat just like Ian Anderson did and the shoulderlength hair, ‘catweazle’ beard and flute completed the illusion. At that point he had just pressed the record button and started to play some sustained notes followed by a somewhat poor rendition of the first few bars of ‘Living in the Past’, at least I think that’s what it was! He then played it back and pointed out the slightly wavering sound. While it was playing back, he was pacing up and down the length of the counter pointing the flute at the machine and at the counter staff to emphasise his remarks. My impression was that all he needed was a three-pointed hat with bells on the points and the illusion of a court jester would be complete!

‘The wow and flutter is within spec for a machine of this type sir’ I said in what I hoped was a serious voice. He said it wasn’t good enough and that the machine was ruining his ‘promotional tapes’, demanding that we ‘give it a full test and service’.

I decided that the only way to settle things was to take him into the Test Lab where we kept all the posh test gear. However before doing so I picked up the machine again and said that I’d ‘run some more tests’ and would be about 10 minutes. In the meantime he was given a coffee from the vending machine and invited to sit in the reception area.
Now the wow and flutter spec for the cassette would have been the playback spec for a 1Khz tone (which is how it was measured). If you record a tone and then play it back, it’s quite likely that the actual figure will be higher because the wow/flutter will be recorded on the tape and then added to the wow/flutter on playback. What I didn’t want was to end up with a figure higher than playback-only spec.

Having fired up the Ferrograph wow and flutter meter I set about recording a nice 1Khz tone of two minutes duration. That done I played it back through the Ferrograph and was pleased to note that the total figure was still within the playback-only spec….just! Not bad for a budget machine.

The customer was then brought through and shown in to the Test Lab. I showed him the specs of the machine and then proceeded to demonstrate the record and playback qualities of his recorder. He was still not satisfied and proceeded once again to play his flute. Playback was still slightly wobbly but it was more drop-out than wobble! I showed him the difference with the new Ferro-chrome tapes that showed much less drop-out but he remained unconvinced saying that he shouldn’t have to buy the more expensive tapes to get a good recording.

In the end I made a telephone call to our technical department and the Top Man came over. He could hardly keep a straight face with ‘catweazel’ playing his flute but said to him that they had a brand new machine of the same type and would bring it over. Five minutes later, a new cassette recorder was in the Lab being hooked up to the wow and flutter meter. A quick test showed that the results were pretty much the same as the customer’s. ‘That’s better’ he said! ‘Let my try my flute’ and with that started to play some sustained notes again. It still sounded slightly wobbly with drop-outs but he seemed happy so the Top Man said he could take the new cassette recorder with him. ‘I’ll buy some of those new ferro-chrome cassettes as well’ he said.

As the customer was being led back to the front shop, I looked at the Top Man and said…’but the new one sounded the same’! ‘Yes I know’ he said, ‘but as long as he thinks it sounds better…..’!

Last I saw was the customer walking out of the shop with a pack of new ferro-chrome tapes, the new recorder and his flute in it’s box. I know where I would like to have shoved it!

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