Old Tech Friday: Music to Your Ears!

Hey, Aces! It’s Friday night again, and I’m cuttin’ me a slice o’ rug with my filly!

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Tonight’s music is performed by the Victrola VV-80 Phonograph!

The truth of the matter is, this machine has gotten a lot of use here in our house. It gets played multiple times a day. It is a beautiful thing to look at, the woodworking is top notch and the finish is amazing. What’s even more remarkable is the sound produced by this machine without the aid of electricity. The music is LOUD and relatively clear, and if the recording is in good condition there is minimal hissing.

A few dozen turns of the crank winds up the motor enough for three to four plays. The rest of the operation is simple: Just place the tone arm on the record and release the brake lever. The record will pick up speed and soon serenade you and yours.

The cabinet doors on the top control volume: Open one, open both, maybe just crack them both a little. They can even be used to effectively direct the sound. The cabinet doors below store your record collection.

This particular unit is unique. The VV-80 was Victor’s base model during the 1920s. It featured a more spartan cabinet with machined details rather than hand carved. The mechanical workings and soundbox were of the same high quality seen throughout the Victor range. What makes this one unique is that it is in nearly perfect original condition except the legs have been cut off. Rather than sitting on an elegant set of 8″ Queen Ann legs, it sits squat on the floor. Perhaps it was purchased by someone in a wheelchair and it was altered to meet their needs? Who knows. But because of this, I was able to buy an excellent machine for very little money, even better yet, this “scaled down” version fits my house so much better than the typical version would.

Practicality. Well, for the most part? YES!!!

Luckily, good quality reproduction parts are readily available for these. I have had to make some repairs, but considering that it is nearly 100 years old, this is to be expected. I cleaned and lubed everything with a good quality lithium grease. I also had to replace the weights and springs in the motor’s speed control. It uses a centrifugal governor to keep the record spinning at a constant speed. I also recently did a complete rebuild of the reproducer or soundbox. The total repairs probably ran me $60 and about 2 hours of time. Perhaps it will need service again in another 90 years? Stay tuned to find out! The only other maintenance issue is the needle. Victor uses a steel needle good for about 1 play. Luckily they cost about a penny a piece, and if you want to hear the same song twice, then go ahead and reuse the needle.

What music is available?

Well, 78 rpm records are where it’s at in the Victrola world. This machine can play about any 78 record except for Edison diamond discs and Pathe Records as these used a different type of stylus and reproducer. You should also be warned that later 78rpm records may wear quickly on mechanical machines, but, if the record is already in poor condition which is most often the case, then go for it. I’ve spun my cracked Doris Day platter dozens of times on this machine and it still sounds no more terrible than it did when I started. You obviously won’t find anything too modern, but there is a lot of great early Blues, Jazz, Bluegrass, Devotional, and Classical music available, with a sprinkling of early rock. You might also find some comedy, lectures and speeches as well. Be forewarned, however, that today’s social standards do not apply to 1910. You will occasionally run across some very non-pc and in some cases outright offensive material. When buying records I usually purchase them by the box at rummage sales and sort them later (no sense sweltering in the hot sun).

Buying a Victrola:

This is both easy and hard. I would claim that Victor was not the best machine available. Brunswick had a better machine out at the time that could play Victor, Pathe and Edison discs! The huge Ultona reproducer, also provides a much richer sound with a bit more base.

The reason to buy Victor is that the parts are probably the least expensive and by far the most plentiful. The motors are very simple and the reproducers are a breeze to rebuild. Another great thing about Victor is the cabinetry. The finish seems to last forever!

When you shop for one, look for one that has a motor that runs smoothly and quietly. Also, look at the sound box. It should have a Victor Orthophonic, Exhibition, or No.2 sound box. There may be others, but these are the most common. If you see anything different, you might end up paying another $100 to get the correct one for your machine.

Portables:

There were a lot of portable wind up players made over the years. For the most part these are bad sounding low quality units that were cheaply made and most of all, FUN! You won’t impress any collector with one, but it is cheap, and it is capable of producing a magnificent racket! They tend to be painfully loud, so go ahead and play it out doors. They have a charm of their own and should only be purchased for less than $50 imho.

Fakes:

I have not bought a fake, but I know you can, there is one not far from where I live that is an external horn model. It’s very pretty, but from what I have read, these reproductions are best avoided. Luckily the internal horn models like mine are rarely copied.

How does it sound?

It’s clear on a good recording, surprisingly so, with very little hiss or other noise. The dynamic range is lacking as you might expect. The base is nonexistent at times, and the upper treble can be distorted. The most surprising part is how loud it is. It will easily fill a house with music. Needles come in Soft, Medium, and Loud tone, this along with the cabinet doors gives you some control.

I’ve owned 2 portables and 2 full sized units and will never regret having bought any of them. The records are plentiful and I’ll bet long after my mp3 player has gone by the wayside, my trusty Double V 80 will still be there.

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