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Widget Of The Week

Dokorder PT-4K Mini Tape Recorder, 1965

1960s miniature reel-to-reel tape recorders generally fall into one of two broad categories. The vast majority of them are essentially cheap toys, but no less interesting for that. The rest are altogether more serious, designed for the most part for dictation, with the odd sub-miniature model aimed at the security and surveillance market. Then there’s the Dokorder PT-4K. It’s a bit of a maverick, neither fish nor fowl, a little too large and heavy for dictation and, as always, limited by how much tape can be spooled onto a 3.25-inch reel (around 15 minutes worth). Nevertheless it is capable of half-decent speech reproduction, thanks to a chunky motor and flywheel stabilised capstan drive mechanism, but it’s not quite good enough for music recording.

 

It’s a quirky design, a bit of a committee job by the looks of it with the person responsible for the controls not speaking to the chap who designed the case, or the bloke with the apparently thankless task of figuring out where to put all of the sockets. Either that or someone just threw all for the parts into a table and where they fell is where they ended up on the final product… Maybe that’s a little unfair, and once you get used to the fact that nothing is where you expect to find it, it’s many idiosyncrasies are quite endearing, and it does look unusual, especially the weird deck layout.

 

The capstan and pinch wheel are a case in point, they’re top centre, immediately before the take up reel, and you may have noticed in the specs that it’s a two-speed design ((1.7/8 & 1.3/4 ips). This is accomplished by swapping sleeved capstan rollers – one thick (slow) and one thin (fast) -- and you can see the second one (for the slower speed) screwed in to the top panel, to the right of the pinch roller. There are two heads, the one on the left is a magnetic erase head and it rotates, to bring a tiny permanent magnet inside the head cylinder into contact with the tape. A pair of spring loaded pressure pads are mounted in front of the heads on a hinged plate, making it easier to thread the tape and clean the heads and in case you get confused the convoluted tape path is handily printed on the top of the deck panel.

 

There are plenty of other small oddities. For example a set of shiny smooth-action push button controls for Stop, Play and Record have been very craftily concealed on the back panel where you can’t see or get to them, but there’s a large, ugly and stiff rewind lever stuck on the left side, along with the volume control and a microscopic meter for recording level and battery condition. On the bottom edge there’s a slot for the battery holder (5 x AA cells), which probably sounds like a good idea, except that there’s no easy way to get it out, without resorting to a screwdriver.

 

I have had this PT-4K for at least ten years. I cannot recall exactly where it came from but it was probably early-days ebay, or one of the other auction sites around at the time that I used to frequent, before ebay swallowed them all up, but the one thing I can say for certain is that I would not have paid much more than £5.00 for it.

 

Thanks to the high standard of construction and quality materials, like the all metal case and chassis, it was then and still is in good working order but it will win no prizes for sound quality, However, unlike most other mini tape recorders from that era, the tape speed is rock solid, and it is surprisingly loud, thanks to a beefy 6-transistor amplifier. The general condition is good, it has a few minor dinks and scuffs but generally speaking it has worn quite well.

 

What Happened To It? 

To the right of the battery compartment is the maker’s name badge and here we find another minor curiosity. This says the PT-4K was made by Denki Onkyo Co. Ltd, and the few mentions that I have found on the web usually reckon that the company behind the Dokorder brand became either Onkyo, or Denon. In fact neither is right. Denki is Japanese for light, as in light-industry, and Onkyo is a fairly common word for sound harmony; well-known Hi-Fi brand brand Onkyo is an entirely different company. Denon has nothing to do with it either, though  the confusion probably arose because it is a contraction of Japan Denki Onkyo Ltd, an unconnected company, which became Denon when it merged with Nippon Columbia.

 

By the time this machine hit the shelves the days of reel-to-reel tape recorders were already numbered, curtailed by the arrival of the Philips Compact Cassette in 1963, which out-performed machines like this on almost every level. By the late 60s Denki Onkyo appears to have moved away from small machines like this, and into high-end and specialist models, but it never made the big time and in 1982 was taken over by Murata Manufacturing, which nowadays makes electronic components and a bike riding robot called Murata Boy.

 

Average Dokorder PT-4Ks like this one do not come up for sale very often and when they do, fetch between £30 and £50, depending on the condition. Boxed examples are super rare, though and the last one I saw, a couple of years ago, sold for over £100, so keep your eyes peeled! 


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen         1965

Original Price   £15?

Value Today     £30  (1014)

Features           Single motor capstan drive, 1/2 track mono, dual speed (1.7/8 & 1.3/4 ips, using capstan sleeve adaptor), separate record/playback & magnetic erase heads, 6 transistors, battery/level meter, 3.5mm jacks for remote pause, earphone/ext speaker/microphone, DC power, push button controls (Stop, Play Record, slide rewind) 60mm speaker, 6mm (1/4in) wide tape, max reel size 82mm(3.25 in), folding carry handle/stand

Power req.                     5 x 1.5v AA cells

Dimensions:                   200 x 100 x 55mm 

Weight:                          1.3kg

Made (assembled) in:    Japan

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):  7


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