State of the Ark

September 15, 2010

Despite all the stuff I’ve managed to dispose of in the last few years I’ve still kept three Reel to Reel tape recorders…even though one of them (an Akai 4000DB) doesn’t work. I thought that perhaps I ought to have another try at repairing it. In theory it shouldn’t have failed as it is the newest (from circa 1977), least used and most expensive (dolby noise reduction and stereo) tape recorder I’ve ever owned. Amazingly, updated versions of this machine were still available until as recently as 1984. The early 1960s Cossor machine in its cream “suitcase” case (which may even be valve-powered as it takes so long to “warm up” !!) still never misses a beat. It has that wonderful “warm” sound which you don’t seem to get any more. Perhaps something to do with the sheer weight of the chassis or its limited frequency response ?? But it doesn’t appear to have any meaningful way of me connecting it to an amp or speakers let alone my computer. So transferring old recordings to mp3 is left to my (t)rusty Philips 4302. But this small tape recorder, although reliable is merely a 2 track machine that won’t accept reels bigger than 5 3/4″ in size. Hence my need to restore the Akai 4000DB to health. I’ve a stack of 4 track 7″ reels I’d like to play for one final time just to see what treasure/rubbish they contain….

So I was pleasantly surprised to find someone selling not just the appropriate replacement belts but also detailed instructions on how to fit them. Once the mechanics are removed from the cabinet It’s not all that easy to even see the drive belt let alone remove and replace it. I won’t mention how I put it all back together and then found a ball bearing on my tool tray…assumed the worst….thought I’d missed refitting a ball bearing on the end of the flywheel….took the whole thing apart again…. found that I had refitted the ball bearing after all…and had to put it back together once more. Such fun. Anyway the important thing is that the Akai now plays tapes once more. I quite enjoy the sensation of threading a tape around the head and onto a spool. But it’s difficult fast-forwarding to find anything in particular. You just have to let the tapes play through in real time. Hard to imagine that once upon a time this equipment was state-of-the-art. Now it’s state-of-the-Ark. But at least it was designed to be repairable. You couldn’t dismantle and repair an mp3 player…….