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To play, or not to play, fragile records on original machines


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melvind

I have been discussing this topic with another member of the forum and I think it is a good topic to start dialog with collectors about playing fragile records. I know for me part of the joy of the hobby is playing records on original equipment. And, I do that quite a lot. But over the years I have learned some hard lessons by playing “fragile” records on original machines. So, thus this topic.

 

As you may have noticed I have been transferring quite a lot of my record collection (which is not all that extensive compared to the real record folks out there). I like doing this because it makes it easy for me to play the music over and over without any worry about damage. And, I can use safer modern equipment to capture them once lessening the possibility of ruining them.

 

One thing I do believe about playing 78rpm shellac records is that when you have a machine that is well maintained and especially a reproducer properly rebuilt, the 78 rpm records tend to do very well with a needle change on every side. Especially a good orthophonic machine with a good rebuilt reproducer by someone like Wyatt Markus plays records as safely as they can be played on original equipment.

 

But, wax cylinder records are another thing. The original brown wax is something I stay away from nearly all together. I do not know a lot about them other than they are fragile and have special requirements for safe play. Also, there are experts out there preserving what they can from these records. The original 2 minute wax records seem to hold up fairly well, but one play on a machine with a poorly maintained reproducer can destroy them. I do play my 2 minute wax records on a couple of machines I trust, but not often.

 

Now, onto my main concern here. Edison Amberol 4 minute wax records. There is a reason that after about 4 years Edison moved to celluloid records instead of wax. It is nearly impossible to find one of these 4 minute wax records without extensive damage. Whether it be blasting (probably the most common problem), stylus digs, cracks, or just plain very worn out records. It is my opinion that playing these records should probably only be done on modern equipment. Even handling them can cause them to break apart in your hands. I have a few drawers full of them I just ignore as a result. Frustrating, but in my experience, they are really not often playable.

 

As a way to demonstrate my experience with Edison Amberol 4 minute records I have decided to transfer and make YouTube videos of the Special A - K series wax 4 minute records. There are good copies of these from the later released versions on Blue Amberol celluloid records, but these 111 year old wax records (as of 2021) show exactly why they need to be treated carefully. I am transferring them using a hybrid approach. I am using an Edison Fireside phonograph with an ACT 2 reproducer and a good 4 minute capable stylus. It is not the $30,000 equipment professionals are using to record cylinders, but it is much safer than playing them with an H, K , R or S reproducer. And, I will never play them again once they have been captured. If you listen to the records I will transfer you will hear the damage. The first one blasts during any medium to high level passage. The rest all have various other issues as well. They all show those occasional "magic" moments where the quiet brittle wax surface makes the music sound wonderful.

 

I am interested in what other collectors think about fragile records and how they play them. I am sure everyone is different and there are likely many opinions. And, we need to understand that everyone owns their own record collection and we cannot fault them for using them as they feel is correct.

 

What do you think?

Edited by melvind
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Analogous

Thanks for raising this topic Dan.  A lot of people know I don't play wax cylinders on original equipment, so relax: I'm setting aside that soap box. 

 

But here's a question  If you have a compromised black wax cylinder where you know a better, digitized version is out there online, does it matter if you degrade it further by playing it on period equipment?  In terms of content preservation, it makes no difference.  Plus, it is your cylinder, so why not play it?  So what if it means that future generations of collectors will be deprived of an experience you get to have.

 

We have all bought worn cylinders.  We all know the disappointment of records that have lost their original energy and sparkle.  Yet most of us readily contribute to this by making it harder and harder for future collectors to fully experience these sonic postcards from the past.

 

This is already the case with most of the records made during the first 13 years of the commercial record industry.  Until we all look in the mirror and do some soul-searching, we have to accept that this the ultimate fate of most black wax cylinders, too.

 

John

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Mainspring

I am afraid I can't afford the alternative to playing wax cylinders on anything but original equipment. It's just the way it goes. I rarely play them unless I am doing a demo anyway, so that is OK. My 5" waxes are played even more rarely, as for demos, I use Vulcan cylinders. As for discs, I have a modern turntable and styli for playing them. The only time they get played on original equipment is, again, for demos. I agree with above, it is my cylinder, I can only do so much to preserve it, if it outlasts me, I win. If it does not, it was meant to die anyway. It is the nature of things. As for digitizing them, one good EMP pulse and it is gone, my wax can survive that. Maybe not the nuclear explosion, radiation, fallout, cockroaches, and nuclear winter, but perhaps I digress. Digitizing is convenient but is by no means, permanent. Nothing is.

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Analogous

The playback rig Dan refers to slips into a standard (small diameter) Edison carriage and plugs into a stereo or computer.  It used to cost about $300:

http://nipperhead.com/old/act/

 

I don't know if they are still available.

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Mainspring
16 hours ago, Analogous said:

The playback rig Dan refers to slips into a standard (small diameter) Edison carriage and plugs into a stereo or computer.  It used to cost about $300:

http://nipperhead.com/old/act/

 

I don't know if they are still available.

That would be nice if they are still available. No email so I guess a postal missive will be required.

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melvind

The ACT 2 is no longer being produced. But I posted interest recently and found one that works very well. Be advised you will need a phono preamp to use it.

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Neilvanstem

I have thousands of discs, many many cylinder records and hundreds of wax ones and also about 100 phonographs to play them on and so I do. No need for modern mechanical gizmos to play them. As the song sang to each his own. neil 

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