Rack Mounts for Classic Consumer Audio Gear

Introduction

I received my first tape recorder in 1965. It was an RCA 7″ reel, half track mono, which ran at 15/8, 3-3/4, and 7-1/2 IPS. I recorded radio station broadcasts, and copy borrowed 45s to tape in a a “pre-mixtape” era. Some of my tapes were then copied for friends.

I also traded tapes with people I knew. A kid down the street had a father who loved jazz, recorded jazz LPs, and local groups who played at a bar in south Toledo. Anyone in Toledo remember “Rusty’s”? It was fun, and opened up a hobby and career for me.

By 1967 I was a tape-a-holic, trading and recording a lot of content off borrowed records LPs, the radio, and even live performances. I was learning about tape recording, and luckily, I had my brother who worked in radio, and his friends in radio engineering showed me the proper way to maintain and care for tape machines. By my junior year I was repairing and cleaning those old Wollensak T-1500 reel-to-reel tape recorder. Before I could legally drive a car I was following around guys 20 and 30 years my senior, helping them servicing tape and cart machines at Toledo radio stations. I didn’t get paid for it, but the experience was priceless!

Enter Dolby B

AN-80 Rack 04 - Unit before modification
This is the Teac AN-80 before modification. Designed to sit on a shelf or tabletop. It will need to go in a 3-RU rack panel.

In 1968 Dolby-B noise reduction came out for the consumer market, mainly marketed to the cassette crowd. The “Dolby” name comes from Ray Dolby the evil scientist behind the noise reduction method. Actually, I met Ray at one of the engineering shows and he’s a good guy!

The Dolby-B noise reduction system typically made reel to reel tapes about 10 dB quieter, which was a blessing in the days of Scotch 111, 170, and their Ampex, Radio Shack, Shamrock, and Audiotape equivalents. This was before the age of better formulations came out. A friend, Dave Collier, introduced me to Dolby B on a Revox A-77 deck. A good technical description of the Dolby-B process can be found on Sweetwater Sound’s web site.

AN-80 Rack 05 - Back of AN-80 Noise Reduction
The 4 jacks on the left go to the sound system, 4 jacks on the right go to the tape deck. These are the Line-In and Line-Out. Power cord and ground not seen in the picture.

Radio Shack had consumer tape recorders and cassette machines with Dolby-B integrated into the machines.

Radio Shack also sold an outboard consumer Dolby-B unit, the Radio Shack DNR-1 “Noise Reduction System”, model number 14-893, (seen below). It was designed to be an add-on to a home stereo system. Under the top grey cover were the pots for alignment with the tape machine. The unit came with a 5″ reel, and cassette, with the alignment tones on it.

Radio Shack DNR-1 Dolby B

The DNR-1 as very functional and useful in situations where tape noise was a problem. Live school and church performances, spoken word, and even private music sessions benefited from 10 dB less tape hiss. When dubbing from reel to cassette, (using Dolby B) the quality was noticeable over straight no noise reduction copies. Many of the early 70s tapes I recorded were encoded in the Dolby-B format.

Playing back Dolby-B tapes without a decoder sounds odd, since it works by boosting high frequencies on record, and reducing high frequencies, (and recorded noise), upon decoding and playback. So if you listened to the playback of an un-decoded tape, at near “zero VU” levels it sounded a little more treble, but as level dropped it was more noticeable.

Dolby-B received a very bad rap because users who often recorded with different brands and formulations of tape found the playback sounded funny. Recording of tapes on machines not properly biased and aligned to the tape caused tracking errors. Uneducated users reported loss of high frequency content, or tracking errors when trying to record on a machine set up for Ampex 632 when they used Radio Shack Metal-Chrome high output.

Regardless, it worked for me because I knew how to use Dolby properly, and I still have more than 2,000 tapes recorded in either the quarter, or half-track format with Dolby-B. Some of these tapes contain recording sessions and content which is priceless.

In 2020, and getting close to retirement, I decided to copy off many of my tapes. Dolby units were retrieved from storage, re-capped, aligned, and cleaned up. But now I had another problem. Over the years I had converted all my tape machines to rack mounts, with four racks to hold things. The only equipment not racked was the Audio Technica LP-120 turntable, and the custom audio control console on the desk. So, what now? The answer was clear, build rack mounts for classic gear!

Creating Rack Mounts

Three pieces; front panel with a rectangular hole which the device fits through, side panels, and pair of handles.

I designed my rack mounts around three pieces. A front plate, side supports, and handles.

You can design a shelf system and have the equipment sit on a tray, and even make a face panel to cover the tray.

With a tray, unless you secure the unit, when you press a button on the front of the equipment, the gear can get pushed back into the rack.

This is why I went with the three part design for my equipment.

The side supports mount to the unit using an existing screw used to hold on the cover. It then attaches to the front panel. A #8 screw attaches the side support, through the front plate, and is captured by the handles. When everything is tightened up, nothing moves. Its all one piece ready to go into the rack cabinet.

AN-80 Rack 01 - Side Piece, Handle, Front Panel
The side plate is aligned on the back of the front panel. A #8 screw, .375 to .500″ long goes through the back side panel, to the front panel, and is captured by the handle threads.

The side panel is made of steel, with a .5000″ lip bent at 90 degrees. The holes on the bend correspond to the handle alignment, and line up with the front panel. See the pictures to the right.

When assembled, the front plastic panel of the AN-80 is tight against the metal rack panel. The unit is supported by the front bottom opening

The back is captured to the equipment by a screw which goes through the side piece into an existing hole on the AN-80 used to secure the cover. Note, this screw is a metric. If the existing screw from the AN-80 is not long enough, you will need to get another screw which needs to be about .375″ long.

The side panels are easy. Just a 90-degree bend, locate where the holes need to be, and you’re done. The front panel can be a little trickier. There are three ways to make one.

1 – You can make a rough rack panel with opening with a band saw, or scroll saw, with a lot of care and patience. Aluminum plate is available at most home store like Lowes and Menards.

2 – Optionally, have Front Panel Express make them for you with their easy to use software. You design the panel, send the file to them, and they make it and sent it back to you.

Front Panel Express version of AN-80 Rack Panel

3 – Another source is Markertek’s custom metal services, which I’ve used in professional builds. Markertek also has blank panels, sold separately, and in bulk “contractor packs“.

4 – If you have access to a CNC machine you can make panels easily. The stock should be at least 0.0787402″ thick (2mm), 19.00″ wide by 5.25″ tall, for a three RU panel. The Teac AN-80 required a rectangular hole, (4) round holes for mounting the side plates to the front panel, and (4) oblong holes for mounting to the rack mount to the rack cabinet.

The handles were from Lowes, kitchen cabinet department. Specifically, I used “Rusticware” 3.0″ Center to Center Chrome Rectangular Handle Cabinet Door Pull, Item #1442765, Model #993CH, ($7.53 each, need 2). I use the square style handle for my audio gear, and the round chrome handles for my RF and ham radio equipment. (The Sugatsune Cylindrical Handle Cabinet Door Pull, Lowes Item #1270138, Model #H-42-B-8, is perfect for 3.5″ rack panels). With grey paint, and chrome handles, it has that “military look”.

After all the metal panel parts are made, I took them, and the handles, to a powder coating shop and had all the parts coated the same color as the Teac AN-80. They used PPC “Satin Black” powder coat, and the match was perfect to “Teac black”.

While metal and paint were underway, I recapped the AN-80 so I had ready for action when the panels were attached. I also changed the VU meter incandescent light to a light-blue LED.

As soon as all the AN-80 Dolby units are done I have Teac AN-50 and AN-60 to do. Also on the build schedule are mounts for a Teac X7R and A-3440 reel to reel machines. I’ll probably write an article on making them since trying to find Tascam A-34404 mounts is like trying to find Jimmy Hoffa.

Here is AN-80 #1 hot off the bench.

Finished AN-80 mounted in rack panel.

References and Resources

1). Format Characteristics and Preservation Problems Version 1.0 – [PDF]

2). Richard L Hess—Audio Tape Restoration Tips & Notes – [Web Page]

3). Fun article from the Chicago Tribune – [Web Page]

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Why it’s Time to Leave Facebook

When Facebook arrived on the scene it took off like wildfire. Facebook’s premise of connecting with friends and sharing of memories was a good idea. For my part, being a 60 year old guy, finding old friends and reconnecting was a pleasurable experience. Then as Facebook became more popular friends of friends started sending requests to “friend them”. OK, that wasn’t bad until their friends wanted to be friends, and their friends want to be friends; and here I was with three of four levels of people who I don’t know.

Today it seems that Facebook has run its course. Facebook Fatigue is setting in on many people. I’ve noticed a definite change in attitude of people, and an ugliness crawling out of posts.

Friends

Who are our friends?  As stated above; friends are who we interact with on Facebook. In some cases they are those who I knew in high school, (class of 1972). Some are old radio people I knew and worked with. Some are casual acquaintances, such as vendors of products I knew or the guy who owned the hot dog stand which is now owned by his kids. Then there are the kids who we knew “of” in school, but never reacted with each other at the time.

When you get to casual acquaintances the relationships become cloudy. And when the friends of the acquaintances enter your friend list, things get interesting. The one thing I have to stress is that although all 500 people in your Friend List are called “friends”, only about 5% of them are really friends. The rest are “drive by acquaintances”.

The Triggers

Covid-19 and the reactions of our city, state, and federal leaders has given birth to both Covid Crows and Covid Deniers. The “Crows” keep chattering with the reasons we must stay vigilant, and protect humanity. The “Deniers” give us all the reasons that the disease is a total farce and we’re being played as idiots. Both camps seem to have a fondness for dropping their meme bombs; or pictures with sayings, supposedly proving their positions. I find it astounding how many of my friends have worked in a biological lab, have a degree in medicine, or source their views from other Facebook users or non-medical web sites.

The same applies for the political puppies. These folks gleefully post their memes about their preferred party, barking about one side or the others virtues or perceived/real immoral judgements. Along with their medical degrees you find their writings, (and memes), paint a picture of their profound involvement with some of America’s premier Constitutional scholars.

More triggers include those of brand preferences, such as Chevy versus Ford, or brand of electronic equipment, machinery, and even contractors. Then there are the requested recommendations, which a third of the respondents cite something off the top or their head, a third will cite something more educated and on mark, and the final third will argue about the choices or flame the other two thirds.

Add to that, the computer is a perfect shield for saying something to someone which you would never say to them in person. I’ve seen some truly horrific slurs and comments about race, religion, nationality, party affiliation, etc. I’ve believed ever since the Internet allowed us to communicate in mass through forums, news lists, and other methods, that the tone of dialog has become confrontational. Not speaking to someone face to face, or having that double thought before stamping a written letter for sending, has allow people with a short fuse and strong beliefs to say incredibly hurtful things.

Facebook Groups are of often the most feral when someone asks a question, and another person will respond with, “are you stupid”, “read the friggin manual”, or opine an uneducated answer. I recall in an electrical group one of the members giving someone advice which would have caused death, if not permanent injury. Luckily the group’s admin took down the post, which later the poster said he as “just kidding”. Anyone who visits a group should know that there are various levels of proficiency and intelligence. And there are always some wise-guys who contribute nothing of substance, but is quick with what they feel is a clever or comical comment. I have yet to see one post showing the aftermath of damage to equipment, vehicle, or boat where someone has not typed those hilarious words, “that will buff out”.

It’s interesting to note that no groups are exempt from triggered individuals. Even highly moderated groups struggle as the moderator desires a balance between 1st amendment speech, and something outright wrong or misstated. Even in a Bible group I’ve seen more  than a few dust ups over meanings of scripture, which book is correctly stated, etc.

Trolls

Trolls have become a major problem in Facebook. They may post some comment with an article, (usually opinion), from a manufactured web site, which is usually partisan or leans in a specific direction. Often it’s just clickbait. Then there are those who use Youtube as their source of information and enlightenment. I find it surprising how many people believe a heavily produced and CGI video of a flying saucer over a town proves, beyond a shadow of doubt, that extra-terrestrials are visiting us.

Trolls also come in the flavor of either promoting or demonstrating a flaw of a political candidate or the latest social media cause. “Q”, 5G, 4D/5D, and Underground Government are some of the ones which come to mind. I’ve watched as someone will post an article, (usually tracing back to Youtube), and participants swallow it hook, line, and sinker.

If P. T. Barnum ever needed validation for his statement, “there’s a sucker born every minute”, the trolls are the fertilizer for the mind. I’ve seen some pretty bold claims and statements, but it seems that once you post it on Facebook, it brings followers.

Fact Checking & Inappropriate Content

Lately, Facebook started doing Fact Checking. Their methods and algorithms for detecting fraud or fake information are closely guarded. What is a given is that they are highly flawed. Here are a couple of examples.

A friend posted picture of his granddaughter being baptized in a church. The pictures showed an infant, in her mother’s arms, with the minister dropping water upon her head. Most of us have seen this tradition for decades. Facebook marked it as inappropriate and took it down. Many of us were dumbfounded how a simple, innocent photo of a child being baptized in church could be a violation of Facebook’s community standards.

Another friend was debating the topic of rioting and stated that Dr. Martin Luther King stated “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that”. That statement was said to be false, yet some of us have the audio recordings of Dr. King saying just that.

The fact checking also is suspect when politics or Covid comes up. I have to wonder if it’s a rogue Facebook employee or a flaw in a bots word recognition, but I’ve seen many statements either marked as inappropriate or wrong, only to be proved later as correct, and reflagged as wrong.

Scams

For me, Facebook ads are not to be believed. The only ones I see as legitimate are local businesses, whom I know about already and don’t require an ad to attract me. Lately the ads have been scams or outright frauds.

Take for example in March the ads for masks. One seller sold a cloth mask, claiming it was made by veterans, and supported veterans. The mask was made of the highest grade materials. When the mask arrived it contained no stitching, and the only material was cloth similar to what would be used for a light t-shirt, and die cut. The large adult size was ordered, the item could only be used by a young pre-teen otherwise it would be painful to wear. Although the mask claimed to be made by veterans, and insinuated U.S. veterans, the item was received from a Chinese vendor with an address in Hong Kong, showing a China Post cancellation.

It should be noted that when complaining about this and other sellers, I heard nothing from Facebook. It seems that Facebook has no concern they are being used to sell, and defraud people. At the least you would think someone at Facebook would check into it.

Conclusion

When several friends made the statement “if you don’t like what I say, unfriend me”, I have. And oddly, one of the nine challenged me after going through his friend list to see who did unfriend him. He confronted me for my reason for unfriending. I told him, “you put a line in the sand to agree with you unconditionally or leave and I did what you asked”.

In the end, we didn’t stay friends because his view of what matters, and my view of what matters, differed. And while I could live with his view being his opinion, he could not live with me not accepting his view unconditionally and professing such publicly.

I’ve found even more people like to give opinions, but are loathe to even view something close to what they believe, yet just slightly off.   And there are those who are rabidly tribal to the point where you can’t have a dialog.

My only recourse is to be honest with my views, but keep my opinions to myself. I may mark every ad on Facebook as a scam, and friends posts which are wrong as “I don’t want to see this”, or report them. But in the end, I don’t have any need for seeing this gibberish, and I don’t think I have an obligation to tolerate it.

I’m pretty much done with Facebook. At first it was fun. But now the tone of the platform has taken a pretty nasty turn, and even people I “thought” I knew have demonstrated very poor judgement when it comes to their language, or positions on topics.

I fear as we get closer to elections Facebook will become worse. This is not the place I want to call home. If I find another, more civil platform, it would be nice. If not, I have other things in my world to do than to be aggravated on a daily basis.

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The Immediacy of Apps & Irrelevance of Thought

Years ago I was at a friend’s home, when the phone rang. He was in the middle of something, and after the third ring I asked if he was going to get it.

“I decide when I’ll talk on the phone”, Phil said. “The telephone doesn’t control me”.

Fast-forward 40 years later and we have e-mail, texting, Messenger, and hundred of apps with the ability to communicate. But is it effective? Should we step away from the convenience based on mis-perception? Personally, I say “yes”. I’m tired of it controlling me.

Each tool we have comes with it’s joys and warts. But one common detractor is the impression people have about use, immediacy, and importance. I would suggest to you that most of what is transmitted is simply unimportant.

The problem comes when someone who has free time expects someone working to play. Or the other way around, where they are working and they expect a coworker to respond to a business question or concern.

A recent article in The Atlantic, titled “How to Email“, made valid points which were debated heavily in a Facebook group. It’s fair to say that if you were to ask 100 people what the proper protocol is for 7 different platforms, you would get 700 different criteria, all base on their personal perceptions.

I use the word “personal” as there is no agreed to standard for how to communicate electronically.

Some offices have very detailed employee use of apps/media in the workplace. But for the sake of this article I’m speaking from the personal standpoint. However, crossing the line with communications can be tricky.

Two of my friends are at exact opposite ends of the electronic message spectrum. Bill is one of those who has all the apps, and his phone is constantly going off. He’s tied to it 24/7/365. Phil doesn’t have any apps, and he says if you want him, call him. If he doesn’t answer, leave a message and he will get back to you on his terms. He doesn’t text, and believes his friends are not on Facebook, but having drinks and dinner with him. So who is better off, Bill or Phil?

There have been times when I’ve wanted to wring Bill’s neck. Take for example the time I woke to 13 text messages from him spaced out over 4 hours, from 9:00PM to 1:26AM. It started with a question, which then became a clarification, then another question, getting more dire with each transmission. By the 13th message he said, “You must not be home. Text me when you have a chance.

I didn’t text the next day, but I did call and chew on him reminding him that I go to bed at 8:30PM because I get up at 4:30AM the next morning! I also explained that the phone is in the charger, in the home office, and is OFF. What is so important that I need to be awaken? The excuse he gave was, he was up, and he though he would see if I’m up.

Bill also peeved me off by using Facebook Messenger during the day to ask a personal question, when a call to my office would have gave him an answer in less than 10 seconds. Instead, he got all worked up because I was not replying. I asked him, “did you really expect me to stop in the middle of a budget meeting to reply to you”? Ironically, he though it would be appropriate.

Overall, I think Phil has the better life, Bill is a slave to his phone, and when he can’t use it he’s like an addict on withdrawal. You can’t carry on a conversation with Bill because he’s engaged on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and several other platforms, and HAS to know what’s going down all the time.

This begs the question, what is the correct use of electronic media?

Texting – Text messages should be a heads up. Follow the rule; “if it requires more than two text message, you should CALL”.

Texts should be things like, “pick up milk on the way home”, “Doctor called. Appointment changed to next Thursday”, or “Call me when you are free”.

Above all, there is no expectation that once you send a text it will be acted on. If you need immediacy, call the person.

App Private Messages – These are even less important than Texting. I can’t tell you how many times people think a message on Facebook, Twitter, or any other platform has immediacy, or priority.

An even bigger problem is the perception that a message sent in Messenger is one which will be acted on upon receipt. Such as been the case with a few friends who send messages, only to get mad when a reply does not come back quickly.

I’ve shut off Messenger on all my devices except my home computer because I got tired of it going off, being interrupted by some minutia like, “Don’t you think Taylor Swift looked awful last night on TV?” Or something which would be best handled by talking to each other.

I hesitate to “Block” people on social media, but there are times when someone is rude, offensive to others, uncaring, or just so inconsiderate that they deserve to be blocked.

E-mail – It’s bad enough that we still get spam in e-mail, as well as the occasional Nigerian Prince asking for help. But we don’t need to have our e-mail abused.

For me, I don’t mind occasionally chatting in e-mail, as long as there is not the expectation of immediacy. E-mail is like a letter, and the best letters are to the point, contain the facts, and any relevant attachments. Otherwise, call me on the phone.

What I don’t like are chain letters, political diatribe, or byte-intensive attachments, such as an MP4 video which eats up 35 mb of e-mail showing a Russian Dash Cam montage. Such actions are like stepping in dog crap, then walking in my home whilst depositing it on the carpet. THINK before you send!

Another thing you shouldn’t do in e-mail is send lewd material, nudes, and rants. Modern businesses employ e-mail scanners, and your e-mail and words are property of a business if it touches their server. Scanners can flag messages, which admins are allowed to review and inform management of contents and exchanges. Such was a case when a friend of an employee sent a message joking about buying a taser to shoot coworkers the thought annoying.

I knew someone who routinely received, and forward inappropriate cartoons from his friends at work. He lost his job after his company was involved in a legal issue, and attorneys subpoenaed e-mails from the company. A newspaper reporter published in the local paper; “_____ had daily transmitted racist, sexist, and inappropriate cartoons over e-mail which can not be shown here“, because the plaintiff’s attorney mentioned this as part of the case. Needless to say, the employee was fired.

Voicemail – If you leave a voicemail, be professional and think about the person you’re calling. State your name, phone number, and reason for calling, and conclude the message with the number a final time in case they are writing it down.

Don’t assume caller ID works. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve received a call from someone who doesn’t leave a number, and when I check my phone to see the number it says “Private Number” or “Unlisted”.

Driving – Electronic communications has made it so easy we can get information while driving, or can we? Technically we can. Practically we can’t.

Nobody should be texting, or on social media while driving. There should not be the expectation by a sender that the recipient will pull over and read the message.

Cellphone calls should be hands free. And while we’re on cellphone use in a car, don’t tell someone to write something down, or do something which takes a driver’s focus off the road. Ask them to call you back.

I mention all this as starting this year I’ll be making a lot of people unhappy. My use of electronic media will change drastically because my phone and apps do not control me.

I’ll let you choose if your phone or apps control you.

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