UK Columbia Viva-Tonal Portable Model 202
PICTURES WILL TAKE A FEW SECONDS TO
Check out these Videos recorded on the
1930 Ted Lewis and his Band with
members of the Dixie Jubilee Singers:
Dinah/ Lonesome Road (from 1929 Talkie
Ernest Ansermet and the Ballets
Russes: New York June 1916:
Rimsky Korsakov: Snow Maiden – Dance of
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:
FESTIVAL TE DEUM in E Flat Major
Columbia UK Model 202 (112, 112A)
1928 – mid-1930s Price £5 S5 ($25.50)
“The Best Gramophone in the World” – Columbia Advertisement
19 ½ lbs
(The Model 202 was also sold as the 112 and
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.
tone arm and case layout are perhaps the most convincing design of any portable
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.
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
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.
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.
is explained as follows: It is a known fact that bends and turns in exponential
horns cause unwanted problems:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Another 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
Universal Brake was instrumental for all following turntables and phonographs.
The same principle of tone arm velocity monitoring is still used in modern
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
Now, how does
all this innovation and invention work in practice?
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
facing towards the back makes sure that needle talk does not interfere with the
sound from the horn.
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
very utilitarian design, the highly polished motor board with nickel plated
fittings convey a humble elegance.
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