Roland RE-201 Space Echo Heads

I was looking to buy a local Space Echo to fix and flip, but I didn’t because the erase head looked like this:

 

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Notice the line going down the middle of the erase head.

That line going down the middle of the erase head gave me cold feet, because if I learned anything from tape machines is that heads wear and eventually open up and the gap between the poles shows, and presumably that is what I was seeing here. So I started looking online for examples of RE-201 erase heads. Here’s what I found:

So as you can see, most heads have a line. The Echo shown in pictures 4 and 5 don’t have a line down the erase head, but these are also a bit blurry, so maybe I’m just not seeing it. So maybe all these are examples of heads that started to go, or maybe that’s just the design? I emailed the folks at soundgas.com to ask for their opinion. If you’re not familiar with them, they refurbish and sell a lot of different tape echoes, so I figured they would know. And they did. Here is their response:

A very thin vertical line should be there – it’s the dividing line between the two poles of the head. However you shouldn’t be able to feel it – if you can then the head is not right.

So indeed this is the line between the two poles, but IT IS normal for it to show. And there’s even a little method of testing it. I’m still a bit unsure about this being the design of the heads, but at the same time, the unit I was looking at was erasing, and probably so are all the other examples I found online.

Photo credits: First (Soundgas LTD), second (stuffandfood.wordpress.com), third (StudioRepair.com), fourth and fifth (stickylight.wordpress.com). I only download and re-upped these photos in case those sites ever go down.

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Studer B67 fix explained

I explained two posts ago that the problem with this tape machine was IC 3, an SN75462 that was put on backwards and therefore fried. That IC was responsible for interpreting logic from the transport and operating the tape sensors’ locking solenoids. Here’s the data sheet for the SN75462, and I can’t say I understand it all, but the gist of it is that it has two NAND (or AND) gates followed by an NPN transistor whose collector is taken to a pin on the actual chip, so it’s not necessarily connected to Vcc powering the chip. This is called an open collector, and here’s a very good explanation of what it is, and what are some applications. Here’s a little drawing of what this looks like in this particular case (can also be seen in the data sheet):

open collector

 

Here’s the portion of the schematic that shows IC3 in the circuit, the anode of the zener (D59 in this case, but all of them do) goes to ground.

IC 3 circuit

Now, when I was measuring the voltage at pins 3 or 5 of IC3 (after it’s been replaced with a functional one), what I saw was that it was “delivering” +24V when it was supposed to deliver +5V (Vcc), and that was very confusing because how could it put out such a high voltage when Vcc is 5V? Not only that, the +24V was identical to what I was seeing on the other side of the relay (that should have tipped me off..)

The answer to this is the open collector but also a KVL of the circuit. I was thrown off before because someone mentioned off-hand that the reverse diode pulls up the voltage, and that sent me on the wrong path for a while. I finally understood what’s going on when I drew the NAND gate + the transistor + diode + relay together:

open collector + relay

Here’s how I understand it. When the transistor is ON, the collector is pulled to ground through the transistor, so current flows through the relay. When the transistor is OFF, no current flows through it so the collector is free to being pulled up. What does it mean, though? KVL shows it. There’s +24V on one end of the relay, but no current flows through it (the transistor is OFF and the zener is reverse biased), so there’s +24V on its other end. That other end is the collector, and that’s why I was seeing the exact same voltage on both ends of the relay.

Now, one might ask why use the zener at all? Pull it out of the circuit and you get the same behavior. However, when you open the switch connected to a relay, the relay shoots out a spike of high voltage. Without another path to ground, that voltage will fall on the transistor and burn it. Instead, the zener starts conducting as soon as the voltage across it is higher than 30V. A regular diode reverse biased won’t work because it won’t recover from being pushed to its breakdown region. And of course, a forward biased diode will always conduct so current will always flow through the relay.

FMR RNC Repair

I bought a broken RNC online for $40 shipped. The seller literally tried every possible wall-wart with the unit except for what’s written on the back of it: 9VAC @ 500mA.

He mentioned smoke coming out at some point, so the first thing I did when I got it was to open it and see what burned, but nothing looked burnt. So I ran it on a 9VAC wall-wart I have, but before I plugged it into my interface, I decided to look at the outputs to see if spitting out a high voltage. Both were putting out 4VDC. I took another glance at the unit and noticed two bulging 470uF capacitors.

I tried to trace the power supply circuit, but it didn’t look like the usual rectifier and regulator circuit. I called Mark at FMR Audio and he explained that they use a charge pump to generate +/-15VDC. Now things were making more sense, especially when the two bulging capacitors are the rectifying caps. I replaced them with other 470uF 25V capacitors and no more DC at the outputs. The compressor seems to work fine, but the capacitors get kind of warm and the regulators get even warmer to the point where I can’t leave my finger on them for too long. I also noticed that the DC voltage on the two caps I replaced is a bit over 25V. Weird since the factory caps were also rated at 25V. Another weird thing I noticed is that my wall-wart puts out 10-point-something VAC even when it’s loaded.

I called Mark at FMR again and he explained that since my wall-wart is rated at 1.5A, it’s probably too stiff a voltage source for the RNC. We then calculated that the extra voltage is what’s causing the higher DC voltage I was seeing on the capacitors.  He also suggested swapping the 25V capacitors for ones rated at 35V so that they’ll last longer. He did say that the regulators getting warm is normal and expected considering the voltage drop and current through them. He also tipped me to the wall-warts they sell with their units (Jameco part no. 100061). Lastly, he said that the two distortion trimpots should be left alone. They dial in the distortion with an Audio Precision to .005%. He then mentioned that the units keep their calibration for the longest time.

As you can tell, Mark was extremely helpful. He is happy to answer question and help probe a broken unit, and never even said that I should mail it to them to repair it. If you’re looking for a new compressor, consider the RNC because it’s awesome and cheap, and their support is excellent.

December – March updates

Nothing fancy. Worked this week on an Aria Precise bass (a P-Bass knockoff). It’s a pretty neat bass, but needed a new volume pot and I felt like the neck was weird – I ended up maxing out the truss rod for acceptable relief.

I also had to replace the pickguard on that bass (owner wanted a different flavor, is all), and that required a lot of filing, scraping, and sanding to get it to fit right by the neck and over the pickups. A razor blade with a burr works really well for scraping here. Files are not great. The best tool for getting the pickup openings right is to take one pickup cover, put sticky sandpaper around it and use it to shape the openings. This maintained the right radii of the corners.

I also set up a friend’s Guild M-120. All Mahogany, made in China, and it sounded and played great. Fretwork was pretty much excellent, and the neck is straight with a very responsive truss rod. For that price, you really can’t go wrong with those guitars.

Also re-wired an EV RE 664 with an XLR connector and at the same time eliminating the Hi-Z output. I’ll make a post about that later.

I also finished (in December) my second rack. It turned out pretty well, about as good as the first one did. I had a few mishaps, the biggest of them was that even though after I dry-practiced for more than 5 times, when I came to glue it together, things weren’t square so I had to take it apart while the glue was starting to set. It was incredibly stressful and I had to clean the glue out of the joints with a lot of water, which warped the the wood a bit, but like I said, it turned out fine. I’ll probably write a whole post about the new rack, but for now here are some pictures:

 

Also worked on a few other guitars in the last few months, as well as my own Stratocaster. I “inlayed” a piece of mahogany in the neck pocket:

Also leveled its frets. Also it probably needs a new nut.

I’m also building some drawers for my works area, but more on that when they’re done next week hopefully. Maybe I’ll write a whole post about it.

That’s pretty much it other than little jobs.

Re-foaming Beyer M380

I’m lucky enough to own two Beyer M380, and since they’re both probably over 20 years old, their foam needed to be replaced. In one microphone (gold M380) the foam was almost completely gone, but for the other it was more of a precautionary measure – the foam had holes in it, but wasn’t exposing the whole capsule. Anyway, these guys can go bad if even a small hair gets in the capsule, so it’s a good idea to replace the foam as soon as it starts showing signs of breakdown.

Greg from Electrical Audio tipped me off to McMaster Carr and said to search their website for “the thinnest Reusable Polyurethane Foam Air Filter”. It’s this one, and in case the link goes dead in the future, the catalog number is 9803K301. The thinnest one is 1/8″ thick, and that’s the same thickness of the foam that’s already in the microphones.

The next question is the porosity, 30 or 60 pores per inch? I got both and compared them to the existing foam in the microphone. The answer is 60 PPI. See for yourself!

The difference between 30 and 60 pores per inch is very obvious:

One sheet was enough to re-foam two microphones with some extra material left over.

There’s really not a lot to it once the microphone is open. One side the body comes off completely and the other is holding the capsule in place with a couple of screws.

I started on the gold microphone because its foam was in worse shape. However, it was deteriorating so badly that I couldn’t use the old foam as a template. So in retrospect, I should have started with the black M380 whose foam was in a better shape. Anyway, it took a bit of experimenting to figure out how to cut the foam. Like I said, it’s better to use the old foam as a template, but if it’s in rough shape, start with a square that is bigger than the grill. Fit the square of foam in the “tub”, and cut the four lines for the corners. Now the foam is overlapping at the corners and need to be trimmed. This is kind of tricky and here’s what I learned: the body of the mic has these vertical slats, right? They go all the way around to the rim of the tub, so if you cut to much foam along the length of the tub, you might leave holes in the foam that overlap with a slat. That’s bad. So the trick is to cut the excess at the top and bottom of the tub. Also, make sure to first cut the lines for the posts where the screws go in. Anyway, that’s basically the only tip I have for how to actually cut the foam. Here are a couple of shots of how my foam pieces turned out.

And the two M380s fully re-foamed.

 

Old foam (from the black M380):

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Important: Don’t try to glue the foam to the grill, that’s not how it’s supposed to be and the glue will probably eat the foam. When I got my black M380 I was dumb and decided to glue it to the grill, and when I re-foamed it I had to clean out a bunch of old gunk. It sucked.

(This was done in September, but I only now remembered to post about it)

EV RE20/PL20 Repair, Part II

I took the top grill off and of course there was disintegrated foam everywhere. I cleaned the top grill and fixed the actual grill a little (it was pushed in).

The capsule has this little black plastic basket that protects it. It comes off by undoing the two little screws on the perimeter of the capsule. Be careful to not drop the screw driver into the capsule, though. I didn’t take a picture with the basket on, and I also started cleaning the capsule before taking pictures, but here’s the capsule with quite a bit of dirt still, and the basket before cleaning it.

A guy I talked to through the TapeOp messageboard said that he didn’t have to clean the capsule too hard to get the bass reponse back. I tested it in the condition shown above, but I still got no bass. So I kept cleaning.

At first I was cleaning with a q-tip dipped in 99% isopropyl alcohol. It worked, but I was told that the q-tip is a little too rough for the delicate membrane. So I switched to a fine artist’s brush dipped in 99% IPA. That worked well and it was better for when cleaning around the tiny coil wires or getting into the crevices. Also, the IPA is only necessary for getting the gunk loose. It can be brush off with a dry brush, and remember to brush towards the outside, away from the center.

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Clean membrane, but notice the off-center pole piece.

There are still some specks of dirt under the membrane, but now the bass response was back. Check it out. I don’t have a very boomy voice, but for comparison, you can check my friend trying out the microphone on his voice prior to handing it to me.

At this point I was ready to move ahead and order new foam, clean the whole thing and work on the wiring (low cut switch is not working). However, if you’ve spent any time reading about these microphones and the ways in which they become dysfunctional, you probably saw mentions of “baby rattle”. There are examples of it online, but basically the rattle is there when the microphone is used on low end sources with fast transients. So I decide to test it on bass, and sure enough, with some low notes that were loud enough, there was this rattle that almost sounded like static. Here’s what it sounded like.

Honestly, I don’t know if that qualifies as baby rattle, because baby rattle is the result of the pole piece being loose, and this one is not loose. I also noticed that the buzzing is still there, although to a lesser extent, when the microphone is facing away from the speaker cabinet.

I asked a friend who worked on a couple of RE20s about it, and he said that he had one with a similar problem and he believed that it was dirt dirt in the motor and that some notes would make it resonate against the coil. Whether this is the problem, or it is a variant of the baby rattle or another pole piece related problem, this is the end of the road for me. I do not know how to remove the membrane, I do not have the tools to do it, and I don’t think the owner of the microphone will want to pay to learn how to do all this on his microphone. So I contacted Ben at MicDaddy.com. He’s universally recommended for fixing EV microphones and his rates are supposed to be lower than EV’s. I still haven’t heard from him, so I don’t know what are his rates yet. If he’s too expensive, the owner of the microphone said that he’ll have me replace the foam, and then the microphone at least will be usable on voice.

EV RE20/PL20 Repair, Part I

A friend of a friend brought to me a very beat up PL20 to repair. At the moment it has no bass response and the capsule moves around. The foam had obviously deteriorated and needs to be replaced. I should say that I never worked on an RE20 or a PL20 before.

The first issue was trying to open the thing. YouTube has videos and people show how to do it, but basically there’s a small hex screw at the bottom of the top grill.

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Location of the screw

It supposed to use uses a 0.035″ key (confirmed via the Ampex Mailing List). The screw was stripped and neither my 0.035″ or 0.9mm keys would grab onto it. I thought that maybe the screw was seized, so sprayed some WD-40 on it. When you do that, cover the grill with a paper towel or a rag so no WD-40 gets inside. That didn’t help and the key kept slipping.

Removing a stripped set screw that is sunken in its socket is tough. Some people say to use a very small flat head screw driver. I tried with one but I didn’t have a good grip on it. I went to the makers space I’m a member of and found a Pittsburgh Precision tool that had a 0.9mm bit (which I was sure was square, but looking online it says it’s hex). I put the bit into the socket and tapped it lightly so it grabbed into the screw. Then I used a handle to turn it slowly while applying some pressure. The screw came out.

I should really get that Pittsburgh tool thing, it’s cheap and it came in handy. It seems sturdy, too.