|Version: July 17, 2004|
by Colin Loffler
Figure 1. The ACT fitted to the carrier eye
Some months ago I was surfing the web and I came across a website named the Phonograph Makers, which gave details of various people's enthusiastic efforts in producing en electric phonograph. There were simple arrangements of modern gramophone tone arms tracking original Edison phonographs to complete electric powered machines and the sophisticated machine of Joe Pengelly's fame - it was all there to see.
How I wished I could find a simple method of electrically reproducing and recording my cylinders, without going through the torments of making some kind of electric player for myself. Fortunately I stumbled upon the Edison Shop website and there advertised was an electric reproducer that fitted the carriage eye of an Edison phonograph. Marvellous, I thought. I continued my search and found that the suppliers in the USA had a website giving the full technical specification. I e-mailed them to find out prices and the availability. I was told there was no UK distributor. In fact as far as they knew none had been supplied to the UK!
The reproducer, ACT as it is called, which stands for Advances Cylinder Technology, was - I thought at the time - rather expensive, and I was a little reluctant to purchase from an unknown source. Not having purchased from overseas before, this was a concern. However, a very kind CLPGS member who resides in the USA, came to my rescue. He purchased the reproducer on my behalf and very kindly brought it over when he visited the recent Communications Fair at the NEC. (You see there are advantages in being a society member!)
However, I should have not been concerned. The ACT is an excellent product, in fact, worth every penny and it does exactly what it says 'on the tin', so to speak! Before giong on to explain in detail the workings of the product, a word of warning! Your Edison machine must be in good working order to get the best from the ACT. This does not mean you would get better results from a Triumph machine than a Standard, as long as the machine is true running and properly adjusted. (I am not so sure that a Gem would give good results.)
The ACT reproducer fits any Edison machine having the standard size of carrier eye (which includes model C, H and K reproducers, for example). This would include the Standard, Fireside, Home and Triumph. The ACT operates in similar manner to a standard acoustic reproducer, but is fitted with a high quality magnetic cartridge. You place the ACT in place of the existing Edison reproducer, aligning the notch, and screwing it down as you would normally. You are now ready to connect up. It'a as simple as that!
Supplied with the ACT is a very simple battery powered pre-amp/speaker (with its own volume/output control), which is connected to the reproducer with the screened audio cable supplied. This simple setup is shown in the photograph (Figure 2).
Playback is via the pre-amp speaker, or the output of the pre-amp can be connected to your audio system's amplifier. This obviously gives better playback quality.
As the cartridge has a low output (5.5 mV) the pre-amp boosts the signal to a suitable level to feed an amplifier's line level inputs, i.e., Aux, Tuner CD or Tape. Connecting the output of the ACT to a phono stage on your amplifier would not be suitable as this would give an incorrect playback characteristic - known as RIAA, which was designed for LPs, not cylinders! (Cylinders were not recorded to any standard.) See schematic layout in Figure 3.
|Figure 3. Diagram to show electrical connections required to play cylinders through a stereo system, via the ACT reproducer.|
Recording your cylinders to tape, CD, MD, etc. can be carried out in the normal way via your amplifier, as you would, say, recording off an LP. You could also connect the output from the ACT directly into the microphone sockets of a tape machine or computer, without using the pre-amp. If using a computer equipped with a good sound card you could, of course, carry out noise reduction techniques using appropriate software.
By now, you are probably asking the question, Can you play 2- & 4-min. cylinders with the ACT reproducer? Well the answer is yes (assuming you have a machine with 2/4 min gearing), as it comes supplied with 2- & 4-min. interchangeable stylus assemblies. Changing the stylus is a very simple matter indeed. This brings me on to a vey small criticism I have of the ACT.
The cartridge is housed in a very well-engineered turned brass housing, with a skeletal hinged plate with limit stop, to which the cartridge is attached, in fact very similar to the acoustical reproducer design. The weight of the cartridge gives the necessary tracking force. However, as the cartridge has to drop down sufficiently past the housing to allow the removal and replacement of the stylus assembly, it means that in practice when playing oversized or oval cylinders the stylus does not always clear the cylinder fully when the carrier arm is in the raised position. Although, if you are aware of this, it poses no real problem. (This may of course, only be a problem with my own particular machines.)
To sum up - this is really an excellent product. With a good cylinder the sound quality is superb, and for those who fight shy of getting involved in the technical aspects of reproducing cylinders electrically, this is a product for you! As the title suggests, this is advanced cylinder technology for the non-technical !
This text was originally published in For the Record No. 3 (2002), pp. 158 - 161.
Update on the Review of the ACT Electrical Reproducer for Phonograph Cylinders, published in the Autumn 2002 issue
by Colin Loffler
Firstly, I know that members are having difficulty in obtaining the ACT - I therefore have sourced an alternative supplier, and full details are listed below with prices.
The Mark 2 version of the ACT reproducer now utilises dual outputs, in lieu of the single phono output. This enables professional transfer engineers or amateurs alike to be able to separate left/right channel outputs. Apparently it has been pointed out that there are imperfections in pick-up cartridges - in general, the two channels are not 100% alike. As some customers have pre-amplifiers which allow the balancing of the two channels for maximum rejection of the lateral component of the signal, which can result in the reduction of surface noise, the reproducer was modified to meet these requirements. Similar results can be achieved with computer software if the left/right outputs are kept separate. For general use with the pre-amp supplied with the ACT reproducer, a 'Y'-cable is provided which sums the two channels together.
The ACT also now comes in a wooden case and is supplied with software for use with a PC. An optional extra is a stylus assembly fitted with a glass ball stylus suitable for playing brown wax cylinders.
For your information, replacement styli can be obtained from the Expert Stylus Co. in the UK, as the ACT utilises a Stanton 500 cartridge. They can also supply a diamond stylus assembly that could be used in preference to the sapphire supplied with the ACT for playing 4-minute Blue Amberol cylinders.
ACT, complete with styli, pre-amp, cables, case and software
US $ 285
ACT pick-up and styli only (excluding pre-amp)
US $ 235
Additional pick-up without styli (if you wish to set one pick-up for 2-minute and the other for 4-minute)
US $ 150
The above prices include shipping to the UK. Please remember that the prices are subject to import duty and VAT in the UK. I can give you some guidance over the costs if you would like to contact me on 01908-615590. These costs are payable on delivery.
The units are available from:
Rob Lomas, The Edison Shop, P.O. Box 1643, Bethlehem, PA, 18016, USA
Payment by Credit Card, International Money Order, or Wire Transfer.
This text was originally published in For the Record No. 8 (2003/04), pp. 459 - 460.
For the Record is the official journal of the City of London Phonograph and Gramophone Society Ltd.