Tag Archives: Throwback

Rewind: The vintage tech and trends of CES

Long before becoming the world’s largest consumer electronics show, the first CES took place in New York City back in June of 1967. The debut event, which originally began as spinoff from the Chicago Music Show, had attracted just about 17,500 attendees and 100 exhibitors. Since then, attendance has risen to over 160,000 visitors along with 3,600-plus exhibitors and countless new product releases. While the smart home, wearables and virtual reality may be the focus of CES 2015, once upon a time devices like VCRs and Nintendo consoles stole the spotlight.

With this year’s show in full swing, let’s take a quick look at the most noteworthy gizmos, gadgets and trends from the show since its 1967 inauguration.

Videocassette Recorders (VCRs), 1970


Laserdisc Players, 1974


Camcorders, 1981


Compact Disc Players, 1981


Nintendo, 1985

Nintendo NES main_clip_image002

Digital Audio Technology, 1990


Compact Disc Interactive, 1991


Digital Satellite Systems, 1994


Digital Versatile Discs (DVDs), 1996


High-Definition Televisions (HDTVs), 1998


Digital Video Recorders (DVRs), 1999


Microsoft Xbox, 2001


Plasma TVs, 2001


HD Radios, 2003


Blu-ray Discs, 2003


HDTV PVRs, 2003


IPTV, 2005


OLED TVs, 2008


Netbooks, 2010


Tablets, 2010


Drones, 2010


3D TVs, 2011


Smart Appliances, 2011


4G Phones, 2011


Ultrabooks, 2012


3D OLED, 2012


Fitness Bands, 2013


Atmel XSense, 2013


Flexible OLED, 2013


Smart Glasses, 2014


Smart Lights, 2014


4K TVs, 2014


Driverless Cars, 2014


Futuristic Car Center Consoles, 2014


Want an Apple computer from 1976? It’ll cost you $400,000

If you’re an engineer, geek, history buff or all of the above with a little extra cash you’d like to spend, you’re in luck. While the Apple 1 computer was originally released to the general public in 1976 at a price tag of $666.66, that piece of computing history is expected to fetch upwards of $300,000 at auction later this month — yes, that’s 600 times its cost 38 years ago!

(Source: Bonhams)

(Source: Bonhams)

However, the rare motherboard is believed to be one of the original 50 that Steve Wozniak assembled himself on order for Byte Shop’s Paul Terrell in Steve Jobs’ family garage. And, it is said to be only one of 15 that are still fully functional.

(Source: Bonhams)

(Source: Bonhams)

Bonhams in New York will be offering up the item in its first-ever History of Science auction on October 22nd, which will also feature a number of other electronic treasures, books and memorabilia — ranging from a 1921 Magnavox Amplifier to a 1905 Helmholz Sound Synthesizer.

Though 200 or so Apple 1 units were created, only 63 were listed in Mike Willegas’ Apple 1 Registry. The Apple 1 in possession of Bonhams, etched number “01-0070,” is slated to join the registry.

(Source: Bonhams)

(Source: Bonhams)

The auctioneer will likely to start the bidding somewhere between $300,000 and $500,000, which is just a tad bit over the $210,000 tag it sold for in a 2010 London auction.

For a complete list of history items up for grabs, head on over to Bohams official page here.


Taking apart a vintage Symphonic SL-149 record player

So audio guru Steve Williams sent me a bunch of pictures of a portable phonograph that he just bought. He collects these old cheap units. It’s kind of like collecting beetles, they are ubiquitous and dumb, but you have to admire their diversity. So Steve has an inordinate fondness for 1960’s vintage portable record players.


The Symphonic SL-149 record player ready for business. This is the kind of unit we used to put an old Pink Pearl eraser on the tone arm so it would stay in the groove.

He didn’t say where he got it, but eBay is full of such treasures.


Here is the Symphonic SL-149 record player in all its glory.

Steve wrote us a mock note, acting like he was a young kid that could not understand something this simple.

“Can any or all of you help me to understand the complex subtleties of this device? Note the schematic includes 5 resistors including a variable one, plus 3 capacitors, a little heat sink diode thingie, a motor, a switch, a tube, a transformer, a speaker, and this funny thing that creates electricity when bent back and forth via perturbations in a flat disc rotating beneath the arm thingie that the little crystal generator is located at the end of. Said disc being rotated via the motor through a rubber wheel connected to the table the disc rests on…”

“It’s all too simple to do anything. There must be some magic involved. Where is the software, what is the storage media, what is the underlying code? Where is the D to A converter for that matter?”


Here is the schematic that Steve Williams was marveling over. I know someone will be doing a Spice run on it now.

Of course, why buy this old precious stuff if you don’t immediately take it apart? Here are the guts of the unit. This is the kind of things my pals bring up with a Variac variable transformer, to try and condition that old paper capacitor. Usually it is these caps that go bad, putting a huge 120Hz ripple in the power supply, which you hear as a horrible hum in the sound.


Old phonographs are much more interesting inside, where there are mechanical motors and gizmos and tubes and such. Hand wiring—nice.

My pal Eric Shlaepfer restored an old Clough-Brengle oscillograph. Eric doesn’t just replace those old dried-out capacitors with new ones. He takes apart the old capacitors and puts a new one inside, so the restored ocsillograph still looks vintage. Bravo.


This is Schlaepfer’s trick to put a modern film capacitor into the guts of a dried out paper capacitor shell.

And in case you want to see Steve’s record player working, here is a YouTube video of a similar one playing a record.

[Update:] I sent this post to audio guru Steve Williams and he sent back a nice note:

“Thanks for the write up. Only minor correction is that the video on my YouTube channel is of the same player not a similar one. Yes, the cap is weak but the hum is only semi atrocious. Didn’t replace it yet. Put in a very similar NOS Crystal cartridge I had. The album is my very first LP. I sent the mass email and initially only Ron Quan responded. -“

‘It’s a very efficient circuit by using the tube to drop 25 volts AC for the motor winding. The crystal cartridge could deliver at least 0.5 volt AC into the grid of the 25L6. As I recall, these phonographs could play very loud. Of course, the tracking force was in the order of 5 grams or more. Ron’

“Of course Ron meant that the motor drops the other 90 some odd volts leaving 25 for the 25L6 filament in series. (Which AFAIK is  _not_  the same as a 6L6 with a different filament voltage.) –Steve”