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Widget Of The Week

EMS Stammering Treatment Oscillator, 1969?

This is now officially the weirdest object in the dustygizmos collection. It’s a Stammering Treatment Oscillator and, according to a tiny logo on the front panel, it was made by a company called EMS, probably during the late 1960s or early 70s. Unfortunately I have been unable to find any evidence that this device ever existed, anywhere, but if, as seems possible, EMS stands for Electronic Music Systems, then it has a great pedigree. This British company pioneered electronically generated music and early synthesisers, including the legendary VCS3. Sadly EMS folded in 1979 and attempts to contact those involved have proved fruitless, so far.

So what precisely is a Stammering Treatment Oscillator? Some of what follows is conjecture but there are several references to the use of low frequency sounds in the treatment of speech defects. The idea appears to be that carefully selected tones mask the patient’s ability to hear their own voice, which presumably helps in some way to overcome a stammer. However the devices described in the patents I have seen are considerably more sophisticated than this one, usually with multiple oscillators and additional features for automatically varying the frequency and inserting pauses and ‘metronome’ type beats into the audio output.

 

This device has a simple oscillator, amplifier and a headphone output on the front panel – and this, plus the build quality fits in with the renowned EMS being the most likely manufacturer. However, there is some additional circuitry, which is a bit of a mystery. It appears to be configured to generate a high voltage, which is fed to a second front panel socket, marked PB. This resonates with something that the chap who sold it to me said. He had no idea of how it worked but he claimed that the person who be got it from reckoned that it was designed to give the patient a shock, presumably to act as a deterrent, or diversion, to their stammering.

 

It sounds vaguely plausible. Electric shock treatment has, and still is used for a wide variety of complaints and maladies, including pain suppression. True, in times past it had a poor reputation as a dangerous quack remedy but nowadays it is quite respectable and not as barbaric as it sounds. You can even buy a Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation or TENS machine in your local high-street pharmacist. These deliver a safe low-current, high-voltage, high frequency shock to the skin. The jury is still out on its efficacy but at the very least it takes user's minds off their aches and pains.

 

But back to the EMS box of tricks and the oscillator part. This is fairly straightforward; it’s a two transistor multivibrator circuit that generates a square wave tone of between 100 to 500Hz – there’s a control on the front panel -- which goes through some simple filtering and wave shaping circuitry. From there it is passes into a two-transistor push-pull amplifier that is connected to a headphone socket on the front panel, and a small built-in speaker mounted on the underside of the case. The purpose of the mystery circuit is a little harder to figure out. It looks a lot like a blocking oscillator, which is basically a transistor, a few other simple parts and the windings of a small step-up transformer, which together generates a high voltage. That theory is backed up by the presence of a neon bulb, inside the case mounted on the back of the circuit board. It cannot be seen from the outside so it’s of no use as an indicator, but it may be acting as a voltage regulator (neon bulbs typically ‘strike’ around 90 volts). If so it would limit the output to a high enough voltage to deliver a very lively tingle, but hopefully not enough to do any permanent damage…

 

This is all highly speculative of course so I would really welcome any experts in this field, or anyone associated with EMS to get in touch and either put me right, or point me in the right direction.

 

Unfortunately at this point it is not possible to say exactly what it does.. It’s as dead as a doornail and some rudimentary circuit checks suggested that at least two of the transistors are kaput. The electrolytic capacitors are also likely to be shot, or leaky, so they will have to be replaced as well. Old transformers and neon bulbs can be quite fragile and not having a circuit diagram is a major headache. It should be possible to reverse-engineer one but that it going to take time. On the plus side major components, like the germanium transistors, helps to date it to somewhere between the late 60s and early 70s. The wire wrap on matrix board construction is fairly easy to deal with when it comes to troubleshooting, and it’s typical of short production run items from that period. It’s also really robust and very well made so there is unlikely to be any serious wiring faults or dry joints. The steel case is built to last and in great condition, in fact the only thing missing is the Ever Ready 126 4.5volt battery packs, which are no longer made but modern (expensive) replacements are still available and it can easily be powered from a bench power supply.

 

I found it at a large open-air antiques fair in the Midlands; it was one of those cold and windy days when prices for oddities like this can be all over the place. The stallholder didn’t seem to be particularly attached to it and we both agreed that his opening price of £10 was a tad optimistic so we settled on a fiver. It was more or less as you see it now. There had been some corrosion around the battery holder but this cleaned up easily. It’s going to take a while to sort out the electronics but it’s definitely worth fixing, if only to discover what it actually does.    

 

What Happened To It?

There were a lot of weird things going on in the sixties and seventies but my guess is that if electric shocks were ever a treatment for stammering, it wasn’t very successful, judging by the lack of references to it in modern journals. Modern speech therapies appear to concentrate on the underlying causes, in conjunction with vocal exercises, breathing techniques and so on, rather than pills and potions, or electric shocks.

 

Devices like this would not have been made in large numbers nor would many of them have them been kept by clinics and practitioners – this might even be the only one. Unfortunately that has little or no impact on what it is worth. I’ve put it at £10, based largely on the value of the case and the working parts inside. It might be more, especially if there’s anyone out there mad enough to collect vintage speech therapy devices, but if there is, they’re staying well hidden…


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen          1969?

Original Price   £ probably a lot!

Value Today     £10? (0116)

Features           Variable frequency oscillator 100 – 500Hz, high voltage generator, audio amplifier, 8 transistors, built in speaker, headphone output, PB (?) connection, on/off volume control

Power req.                   2 x Ever Ready 126 4.5 volt battery packs

Dimensions:                  224 x 160 x 150mm

Weight:                         2.5kg

Made (assembled) in:    England

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):  9


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