Wireless multi-room audio and high-end audio dominated the news cycle in recent days, but on a recent weekend trip to New York’s state’s Hudson Valley region, my thoughts turned to an earlier generation of home-audio products. Much earlier.
In a dusty antique store, I found not one but two compact audio systems from another era. Both were RCA Victor turntables with a footprint of only about 1.5 square feet and a height of about eight inches, excluding tonearm. Neither was designed for use with a bulky gramophone horn. And neither turntable required electricity to operate; you cranked a handle and let the 78s spin.
Because of their size and hand-crank operation, you could use either one as a portable boombox and take your music on the go. Boombox, by the way, would be an accurate description of these devices. Vibrations picked up by the record player’s “needle” are transmitted through the tonearm to the hollow oak base beneath the record player’s rotating platter. Inside the base, the vibrations are amplified by a wooden horn with horizontal wood fins that fire out toward listeners. To adjust the volume, you swing open two doors on the front of the base, opening them up all the way to crank it up.
I brought the smaller model home to join a trio of old-time radios. The turntable’s sound was bright, and the vocals weren’t always intelligible. (Might have been the software.) But I caught enough lyrics to understand why one record was labeled “not licensed for broadcast.”