UK Columbia Viva-Tonal Portable Model 202



Check out these Videos recorded on the Columbia 161:

1930 Ted Lewis and his Band with members of the Dixie Jubilee Singers:

Dinah/ Lonesome Road (from 1929 Talkie “Show Boat”)


Ernest Ansermet and the Ballets Russes: New York June 1916:

Rimsky Korsakov: Snow Maiden – Dance of the Tumblers/
Tcherepnin: Le Pavillon d’Armide – Waltz


1918 Josef Pasternack conducts All-Star Victor Ensemble in
First complete recording of Dudley Buck’s 1873 Choral Masterpiece:

Columbia UK                         Model 202 (112, 112A)
1928 – mid-1930s                Price £5 S5 ($25.50)

“The Best Gramophone in the World” – Columbia Advertisement



Columbia UK


202 (112)


19 ½ lbs


16 1/4"


11 3/4"


6 3/4"


42 1/2"

Sound:    Design:


(The Model 202 was also sold as the 112 and 112A)

The British Columbia Plano-Reflecto Model 202 is probably the most innovative portable every made: Detail attention has been paid to any detail to produce a compact and superb sounding gramophone, there is nothing superfluous or flashy on this machine.

Horn, tone arm and case layout are perhaps the most convincing design of any portable phonograph.


Starting point again is the motor: The strong and quiet quality No. 50 Columbia motor (some were produced by Garrard) is rather bulky. Though it has a convenient collapsible crank, it does not allow an easy wrap-around horn, a problem we already saw with the US Columbia 161.





Therefore, British Columbia came up with an ingenious solution: The horn would be to the left side of the motor, and a cast metal duct would go inside the terne-plate horn, with the sound being reflected backwards. This way, Columbia was able to fit twice the length of the case into the horn space. Since the tone arm sits in the opening of the horn, the tone arm is lowered into the horn during transport, allowing a very shallow lid.

The advantage of a solid cast horn duct is immediately obvious: Metal horns made from thin sheet metal will resonate with the sound, leading to bass loss and unwelcome resonances. By having 2/3 of the tone-duct in an acoustically “dead” material, the sound quality will improve.


The next innovation is more difficult to explain: 1928 saw the introduction of the “Plano-Reflecto” tone arm and horns. This means that at each bend a 45 degree surface reflects the sound down the horn tube.

This principle is explained as follows: It is a known fact that bends and turns in exponential horns cause unwanted problems:

While low sound frequencies flow along the contours of the horn, high frequencies are reflected by curved surfaces. In a straight exponential horn, sound waves move along in a uniform wave front. When they hit a bend, the high frequency component of the wave front may be shattered and become unfocused. The audible result is a loss not only in high frequency content, but also a muddying of the treble, due to the irregular arrival of the high frequency content at the horn opening. This shattering of the wave front leads to wave cancellation and a loss in treble clarity.

The Plano-Reflecto design addresses this problem by using reflecting 45 degree areas, which are designed to reflect high frequencies straight down the horn and to preserve a uniform wave front.


While the actual effects are very subtle, the 202 portable seems to possess a particular clarity with treble details, and an amazing spaciness of sound, while still providing a very even frequency range and an amazing full bass.


The sound quality is also due to the scientifically designed Viva-Tonal soundboxes, which produce a very smooth tone with almost no needle talk.
The 202 models use the original Viva-Tonal  Soundbox No. 15, as well as the slightly modified No. 9 soundbox.


No 15 Sound Box

No 9 Soundbox

1926 – 1960 (as HMV No 23)

1928 – mid-1930s



In all Viva-Tonal soundboxes the rubber parts benefit from replacement. The flange insulator is important for a smooth sound. It is essential to create a tight seal between the rubber insulator and the soundbox, otherwise an air leak will degrade the sound. The diaphragms are mounted with the traditional rubber tubing, which should be replaced. Care should be taken with the Viva Tonal diaphragm, which is much thinner than the Victor diaphragm; it easily bends, especially when poked or blown.


The British No. 15 soundbox uses a cellulose sponge insulator which is still soft and pliable. It simply needs to be re-sealed.

The No. 9 soundbox uses a spring as flange insulator. The rubber coupling is hard and needs replacement with 40 Hardness rubber, and sealing.



The tone arm uses a sophisticated ball bearing to produce a tight seal and frictionless movement. Early models have a cast bearing race as part of the tone duct, which is somewhat challenging to seal and service. Later models have a brass bearing race with easy access for adjustments. stunning invention by British Columbia is the automatic universal brake: While previous brakes either needed to be manually pre-set, or required Victor/HMV oval run-off grooves, the universal brake monitors the movement of the tone arm, and trips when the tone arm moves faster at the end, on both an oval and spiral run-off groove.


This first Universal Brake was instrumental for all following turntables and phonographs. The same principle of tone arm velocity monitoring is still used in modern turntables.


Indirectly, the 1929 Columbia patent may also have contributed for the awful delay of the HMV 102: While HMV had planned the new portable for 1929, it had to provide a universal brake to counter Columbia. However, through 1930 and 31, the HMV team could not come up with a good design, finally settling for an very complicated contraption, to launch the HMV 102 two years behind schedule in July 1931. In a twist of fate, the same year HMV and Columbia merged into EMI, the Columbia patent became available, and the troublesome HMV brake was replaced with the Columbia model.



Now, how does all this innovation and invention work in practice?


The Columbia Model 202 portable has a sound that is difficult to improve on:
Deep dark bass, a smooth range, and a surprisingly clear treble. The sound stage is large and three-dimensional.

As with all well sealed phonographs, the surface noise is surprisingly low, and usually not intrusive.

The soundbox facing towards the back makes sure that needle talk does not interfere with the sound from the horn.


The automatic brake may need to get used to (you have two ways to start and stop the machine: a manual brake and the auto brake), but it works very reliably in stopping the records.


Despite its very utilitarian design, the highly polished motor board with nickel plated fittings convey a humble elegance.

The black Leatherette cover is tough and scratch resistant. Oxidized brass corner protectors give additional protection.
The cover material may throw bubbles when the machine had been stored in a wet environment. It can be easily fixed with glue injections. A covered needle cup and a record carrier in the lid (albums in early models, and a rack later) complement this handsome machine.




The Columbia 202 has very few durability or maintenance issues. Everything is solid and pretty unbreakable.
As with all Viva-Tonal soundboxes, the rubber parts need replacements. The motor usually still runs very quietly, but will benefit from cleaning. The only critical part is the main cast tone duct. It is made from some very good white metal, which does not have problems with cracking or swelling. However, under extreme conditions (like slamming the lid with the tone arm up) the tone arm base may break. It is not too difficult to restore a broken tone arm base to full functionaltiy. The later models with the brass tone arm base are tougher and easier to service.

I always welcome your comments and thoughts:

        sgimips1 “at” yahoo “dot” com