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TC-55

(1972)

TC-55, picture by Nick Jarman

When launched, the TC-55 was the latest in a line of miniature cassette recorders from Sony. Models such as the TC-40 and TC-50 (which was used on the NASA moon missions) had set the standard for sturdy, high quality recorders that found many applications in business and industry as well as for the private user. Even today there are still “bootleg” recordings of concerts in circulation made using a TC-55, its small size, stable transport and unusually good internal microphone made it ideal for this task. Text copyright © Walkman Central. Unauthorised reproduction prohibited.

The quality and finish of the TC-55 was outstanding. All the exterior surfaces were metal - some pressed, some die-cast. The machine felt very solid, and weighed about twice as much as one would have expected. The mechanical sections were exceptionally well made too, with the minimum of plastic parts and proper bearings at all points. Dual counter-rotating flywheels were used to counteract tape speed disturbances caused by the movement of the machine and the motor was servo controlled, in order to give a constant speed throughout the life of the batteries. The electronics showed good attention to detail too, with high-specification components and a minimum of electrolytic capacitors in the signal path. The batteries fitted into a clip-on holder at the bottom of the case. A rechargeable nickel cadmium battery pack was available as an option, which was charged whilst fitted to the recorder by connecting a mains or car adaptor to the DC input socket. Text copyright © Walkman Central. Unauthorised reproduction prohibited.

For easy recording, automatic level control was fitted, though a meter was still provided to ensure that what was to be recorded was “in range”. The meter was placed next to the microphone so that is was clearly visible during dictation. The automatic level control could be switched so that was optimised for either speech or music recording. Large keys at the top of the case operated the tape transport. All the usual functions were there, as well as an unusual “cue” function which was in effect playback but with the motor running much faster. Text copyright © Walkman Central. Unauthorised reproduction prohibited.

The TC-55 demonstrated conclusively that “Made in Japan” did not have to mean “cheap” or “nasty”. Its quality of construction was at least on par with that offered by the established European manufacturers (e.g. Uher of Germany), though this came at a price: in England it cost about three times as much as a basic Philips cassette recorder. Text copyright © Walkman Central. Unauthorised reproduction prohibited.

The TC-55 included an earphone socket which silenced the loudspeaker, so in theory it could have been used as a compact portable replay machine. It was larger than the first Walkmans which appeared six years later, but not by much. Removing the loudspeaker and recording circuitry would have made room for a stereo amplifier, but although the technology was available for the Walkman to happen, the idea was not yet ready. Text copyright © Walkman Central. Unauthorised reproduction prohibited.