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Old 18th May 2017, 9:08 am   #1
ct92404
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Question Citroen (Freeman) 550 tape recorder- bad capacitor?

Hi,

I just recently bought a small antique reel-to-reel tape recorder. I'm not sure exactly when it was made, but based on what I've been able to find out so far, it was made in Japan and might be from the early 1960's. It's in beautiful condition, and even came with the original case and microphone and even some extra blank tape reels.

It's kind of confusing though, because there are two company names shown. It says "Freeman Electronics Corporation" on the case, but on the tape recorder itself, it says "Citroen Electronics Corporation." The case was definitely meant to go with the tape recorder though. Maybe the company changed names at some point?

When I first tested it, it played and recorded ok. But then I started noticing that the recording started getting worse. It sounded kind of distorted and muffled, and now it's barely recording at all. It hardly records over sounds already on the tape (like how you can normally just re-use tape by recording over it). Instead, I get a really distorted sound of both recordings playing at the same time. I tried cleaning the heads with alcohol and that didn't do anything. The recording is still bad.

I've read before that bad capacitors can cause problems like this with tape recorders. Could that be what's going on? I know that with antique tube radios, bad filter capacitors will cause loud humming from the AC line power, but this tape recorder just runs on batteries. I don't know much about how tape recorders work or what the capacitors do.

I really want to get this little tape recorder working again. It seems to be very solid and well made. It's pretty much entirely made out of metal and is really heavy for its size! It's probably bullet proof! I attached a few pictures, including one with the back cover off. The batteries (4 AA) go in a holder on the left side that connects with a 9v style plug. IF capacitors are the problem, I wonder if it's the big 10v 100mfd ones? But I just don't want to start messing with it and changing parts haphazardly until I have some idea of what can cause problems like this.

I'd appreciate any help. Thanks!

- Chris
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Old 18th May 2017, 9:31 am   #2
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Arrow Re: Reel to reel tape recorder - bad capacitor?

Quote:
Originally Posted by ct92404 View Post
I've read before that bad capacitors can cause problems like this with tape recorders.
I don't know much about how tape recorders work or what the capacitors do.
Bad capacitors can be responsible for many faults in all types of electronic equipment. The crucial factor is knowing just why any particular capacitor is there and what determines its capacitance value (and voltage). Conversely, there are many other components - apart from capacitors - that could be responsible for the fault you describe. Moreover, your second sentence is really your biggest stumbling block here and a full description of how tape recorders work is simply not feasible on this forum. (But I am prepared to be proven wrong! )

Having said all that, I (and most likely others here) would like to help: here's a few thoughts.
1. Are the batteries up to 'full strength'? If they're low on voltage (when connected to the recorder), that could easily be the cause. By your description, it seems that connecting an external 9v. power source could be quick test to eliminate the batteries as likely candidates.
2. Are the tape heads clean? Look for signs of brown deposits on the heads where they contact the tape. Remove all traces of that brown deposit with methylated spirit or isopropyl alcohol with a cotton bud. Also consider the possibility that the tapes you are using may be the cause of those deposits: the tapes may be shedding material onto the heads. If that is the case, those tapes have reached the end of their life. I note that you have said that this machine is quite old and that it came with some extra tapes. These tapes are probably just as old as the recorder itself. Therefore . . .
3. Now things get a bit technical: the h.f. oscillator that comes into play during record maybe faulty. But, reading what you have said, I suspect that 1 and/or 2 above are most likely culprits.

Finally, I'm sure others here will make helpful suggestions that I have forgotten to mention. Good luck with it.

Al. / Skywave.
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Old 18th May 2017, 10:06 am   #3
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Default Re: Reel to reel tape recorder - bad capacitor?

Items 1 and 2 in Skywave's post are where I would start looking for the problem. If you use an external supply use a 6 volt one. Perhaps easier to put new batteries in the machine.

Frank
If you have access to a public library, check with them for any books on tape recorder theory, they may have inter library loan service if they don't have a book.
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Old 18th May 2017, 11:04 am   #4
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Default Re: Reel to reel tape recorder - bad capacitor?

At first glance this looks like one of the many "generic" branded rim-drive machines that were plentiful in the early '60s. It looks a lot like my Ehrcorder for instance. They can be a lot of fun!

Most such machines used a permanent magnet for erase and DC bias for recording. Both these techniques were to save on complexity (cost!) and extend battery life (at the expense of background noise and inherent distortion).

Make sure your tape path includes the erase magnet on record (has it dropped off?!?) and please do check the battery.

I realise some of these terms may be outside your experience (at the moment) but we're here to explain. I'm sure you know what a magnet is!
Looking forward to hearing the results of your next steps.
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Old 18th May 2017, 1:22 pm   #5
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Default Re: Reel to reel tape recorder - bad capacitor?

Hi
Looking closely I think we have a capstan drive here - I see a pinchroller so that does lift the machine out of the toy category.
I think you should concentrate on making sure the heads are REALLY clean. After some years the oxide can build up and be very hard to remove - it is rust, after all! Keep on at the heads with alcohol and look with a magnifying glass to make sure.
I concur with making sure you have enough volts!
The capacitors used in this type of Japanese consumer electronics are extremely good and that wouldn't be where I'd be inclined to look to start with.
Citroen? Could it be that it was given away as a promotion by the car manufacturer?
Glyn
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Old 18th May 2017, 1:28 pm   #6
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Default Re: Reel to reel tape recorder - bad capacitor?

Ah, I see what you mean.
Let's have a close look under that head block cover.
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Old 18th May 2017, 1:38 pm   #7
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Default Re: Reel to reel tape recorder - bad capacitor?

LOL well, I'm not that clueless!

I understand the basic concept of how a tape recorder works - using a magnetic field from the head to record sound on the magnetic tape, and playback works in reverse so that the magnetized tape induces a signal back in the head. I just don't understand the really intricate, "nitty gritty" details of the circuit and exactly how the signal is amplified and converted back into sound. I do have some experience with electronics, but just not a whole lot of experience fixing tape recorders. So far, the only repair work I've done on them is replacing belts or soldering loose wires back on.

This one does have a capstan and pinch roller. It's not rim drive. But it is kind of an oddball. It doesn't have fast forward, for one thing! It has Rewind, Play, and Record, but no fast forward. I thought that was pretty weird. But now I'm also thinking this thing doesn't have an erase head! Although I actually didn't even know that tape recorders needed a separate erase head - I thought that whatever sound was already on a tape would just be naturally destroyed if you recorded over it, by the process of recording. I always thought that's how it worked. When I was a kid, I used to re-use tape cassettes all the time and recorded over them and never thought about it. But apparently you have to erase the tape first before you record on it, otherwise there will be overlapping sounds. So, hey, I've already learned something new!

The reason I think there is no erase head on this tape recorder is because there are only 2 heads. At first, I thought that maybe one of them could be a combination record\playback head. But I found another old tape that came with the recorder and you can hear people talking and one guy seems to be talking about how the recorder doesn't erase. He says things like "If there is already sound on the tape..." and talks about how he could buy a small "demagnetizer to clear the tape." So, apparently there might not be anything wrong with the recorder, and that was just how it was made? That seems so weird to me. Were there tape recorders that didn't have erase heads back then? Maybe they didn't think people would be recording over tapes that often?

I cleaned the heads, and I put in a different tape from another recorder I have that I know is working. This time the recording and playback sounded much better. So apparently the tape I was using when I tested the recorder earlier was just worn out. But when I tried to record over the tape (which I'm so used to being able to do with tape recorders), the sounds overlapped. It's so weird. I guess I'm going to have to look to see if I can find a manual. This tape recorder seems to be really well made to me, it would be so strange that they didn't even make it able to record over tapes. (Or why it doesn't have a fast forward!) Still, I like it. It's a cool little tape recorder, even if it is kind of an oddball.

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Old 18th May 2017, 3:36 pm   #8
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Default Re: Reel to reel tape recorder - bad capacitor?

If it has two heads then the first head is likely to be the erase head. Does the machine have pressure pads to press the tape to the heads? These may be worn or missing?
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Old 18th May 2017, 6:26 pm   #9
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Default Re: Reel to reel tape recorder - bad capacitor?

Most simple tape recorders like this one only had two heads. One (usually the first one) would be the erase head. The second would be the record/playback (or sometimes referred to as the read/rewrite head) head. The erase head simply functions as an electromagnet on record and erases the previous recording just before the record/playback head records new information on to the tape. Some very simple and cheap machines had a permanent magnet in place of the erase head and this was mechanically moved away from the tape on playback and then pressed against the tape on record.

One reason that your machine may not be erasing/recording is that the circuit referred to as the 'bias oscillator' may not be working. This will cause no erasure of previous recordings and also any new recordings will will sound distorted and weak and will be 'mixed' with the old recording.
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Old 18th May 2017, 7:40 pm   #10
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Default Re: Reel to reel tape recorder - bad capacitor?

1963 CITROEN ELECTRONICS Model 550 Portable Tape Recorder aka Freeman,Honey Tone.
Circa 1963 CITROEN ELECTRONICS Model 550 Portable Reel to Reel Tape Recorder, also includes case and microphone. Made in Japan. Operates at 1 7/8 ips, and 3 3/4 ips with the included speed adapter.
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Old 18th May 2017, 9:39 pm   #11
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Default Re: Reel to reel tape recorder - bad capacitor?

Could the circuit be in this thread from another forum?

http://www.tapeheads.net/showthread.php?t=17265

I'd give that slider switch a clean.
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Old 18th May 2017, 10:28 pm   #12
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Default Re: Reel to reel tape recorder - bad capacitor?

Now that's an interesting design. Contrary to many early designs, it actually has a separate output stage and bias oscillator, however, the oscillator only supplies the bias via a slightly weird series circuit on the oscillator coil (transformer), and not the erase head, which is DC operated.

It looks like the variiable resistor in series with the oscillator provides some control over the bias in that it sets the maximum amplitude of the oscillator.

There certainly have been tape recorders which can record but lack an erase head, but I think that would mainly have been early (1950s) professional machines intended for on-the-spot reporting. The lack of erasure would have been only a minor annoyance, as the tapes would have been brought back to a studio, edited or transcribed, and then bulk erased before being sent out into the field again. For home use, which this machine certainly is, an erase head would have been mandatory in practice.

As for the lack of fast forward, I have seen that on several low-cost Japanese machines of that era, so it's not that atypical. Hey, you record then rewind to listen to what you recorded, what do you want to fast forward for?
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Old 19th May 2017, 6:10 am   #13
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Default Re: Reel to reel tape recorder - bad capacitor?

Thanks for the help so far, guys.

I took a picture of the heads with the cover off. There are only 2 heads, so I'm guessing the 1st one is supposed to be the erase head and the 2nd one is a combination record\play head.

Ricard, are you referring to the circuit schematic in a picture someone posted in that topic? That tape recorder was made by the same company, but it's a different model. I understand schematics and I can tell from the diagram that one does in fact have an erase head and combination record\play head. Although I'm lost on some of the terminology you used.

So could the problem with overlapping sounds be that for some reason power isn't getting to the erase head? Are there any common problems that could cause that, or is it just a matter of me having to trace the circuit from the erase head and checking each component? I'm honestly a little nervous about it. I've fixed several antique vacuum tube radios, but those have simple point-to-point wiring, whereas dealing with fragile circuit boards and solid state parts is way different.

I don't know for sure if that diagram is useful since they're talking about the model 650 tape recorder in that topic. I don't know which model that diagram is for. I guess I could try finding it on RadioMuseum.org

- Chris
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Old 19th May 2017, 7:04 am   #14
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Default Re: Citroen (Freeman) 550 tape recorder- bad capacitor?

In the text of the thread I linked to it says;-

Quote:
They both use the same mechanism and the schematic and manual covers both models and a 550 model that I have never yet seen.
OK, it's not quite clear that the 550 model is covered, but surely it's worth a try? In any case when working on vintage equipment it's often necessary to use a service sheet for a similar model, taking into account minor differences.

Why not compare the circuit with what you have in front of you? Is the transformer and transistor count the same? Are the transistor types the same or equivalent?

The reason I suggested cleaning the contacts of the slide switch is that in record mode it supplies 9V to the bias oscillator circuit (the two transistors at bottom left of the diagram) and the erase head. Easily checked with a meter even if you know nothing at all about how the circuit operates.

If 9V is present then check the voltages on the transistors in the bias oscillator and report back. If you have a scope you could check whether a bias waveform is present.
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Old 19th May 2017, 8:35 am   #15
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Default Re: Reel to reel tape recorder - bad capacitor?

Quote:
Originally Posted by ct92404 View Post
Ricard, are you referring to the circuit schematic in a picture someone posted in that topic? That tape recorder was made by the same company, but it's a different model. I understand schematics and I can tell from the diagram that one does in fact have an erase head and combination record\play head. Although I'm lost on some of the terminology you used.
Yes, that's the schematic I was referring to. I agree it's a different model, but there was also a picture of the circuit board and at least at a glance it looked identical to yours, save for slight differences in component appearance. So I wouldn't be surprised if it is the same or a very similar circuit, as Graham noted.

With some exceptions, companies often reused circuitry between models, which is very handy down the line when one can't track down the precise service manual for a product.
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Old 19th May 2017, 11:58 am   #16
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Default Re: Citroen (Freeman) 550 tape recorder- bad capacitor?

I realized I made a mistake earlier, I think I said the tape recorder takes 4 AA batteries, but it's actually 6. So yeah, it would be 9 volts. Well, I'm using Ni-Mh rechargeable batteries, which have slightly lower voltage. So the total actually measured at about 7.66 volts.

I found out a couple of things. The volume knob apparently also controls the level in record mode. I turned up the dial a little and tried recording again, and it sounded much louder and clearer. But it still won't erase previous recordings on the tape and there are overlapping sounds. I found where the heads connect to the circuit board. I measured the voltage at the wires that go to the erase head with a meter and I got about 7.4 volts. There is voltage present and so the head should be working. But it's not erasing for some reason. On a hunch, I measured the resistance across the wires going to the erase head and I got nothing, on all the meter settings. It's like the circuit to the erase head is open. So it seems like the problem is not with the circuit, but the erase head itself. Either a connection has come loose going to the head (hopefully! that's easy to fix) or the head itself is bad.

I'm going to see if I can get better access to the erase head and check if maybe a wire has come loose or unsoldered somewhere. I hope it's not the head itself. Do erase heads fail? I mean, it's basically just a small electromagnet, right? There shouldn't be much to go wrong with it. I'm still learning about tape recorders though. I used cassette tape recorders a lot when I was a kid (not reel-to-reel like this, that was before my time). But I never really knew that much about how they actually worked at the circuit level.
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Old 19th May 2017, 12:06 pm   #17
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Default Re: Citroen (Freeman) 550 tape recorder- bad capacitor?

My understanding is that the act of using a meter to measure the resistance of a head can burn out the head.

Measure the voltage across the 500R Series resistor in record mode. If you get a voltage, the head is either OK or short-circuit. No voltage means the head or the wiring to it are open-circuit.
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Old 19th May 2017, 12:32 pm   #18
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Default Re: Citroen (Freeman) 550 tape recorder- bad capacitor?

Thank you, Graham. And nope, there is no voltage across the resistor. It's 5 AM here. I can't believe I'm working on this thing right now! I can't sleep.
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Old 19th May 2017, 1:16 pm   #19
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Default Re: Citroen (Freeman) 550 tape recorder- bad capacitor?

Getting a replacement head might be tricky if you can't repair this one, but the Philips upright 3" models did use a head that might do. I don't have one but someone on this forum probably does.
You could always use a blank tape erased on another machine for the moment.
I would use a 9V supply if you can. It won't fix the head but will make things more stable - and louder!
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Old 19th May 2017, 3:07 pm   #20
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Default Re: Citroen (Freeman) 550 tape recorder- bad capacitor?

It's not unknown for heads to go open circuit, although it happens to some makes more than others. Bogen heads are notorious in this respect, and I've had a Tandberg erase head go open circuit on me once. You've certainly not got any one of those though. Keeping my fingers crossed it's just a bad solder joint somewhere...
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