Webster Model 228 Wire Recorder
Written by Bryce Ringwood   

The Webster Model 228 Wire Recorder was made in the USA in 1952.  I am fairly sure that magnetic tape recorders were available at that time. The recording principle is quite similar in that there is a recording head and magnetic media streams past this causing a small electrical signal which is amplified to produce sound waves. In record mode, the head magnetizes the media in sympathy with the recorded sound. The principal difference is that magnetic tape is a plastic material with an iron compound finely coated on one side, whilst recording wire is simply stainless steel wire.

Webster 228 Bailer Adjustment

There are other differences. The tape transport mechanism relies on a pinch roller to pull the tape at constant speed. The take-up reel has a slipping clutch mechanism (most often) to wind on the tape and a fantastically complicated mechanism all made from nylon and driven by elastic bands (sorry, drive belts). Really good tape recorders can have as many as 3 motors, and in professional machines these may be servomotors. The wire recorder, on the other hand, operates more like a record player and has one large drum and one small drum. The large drum operates at constant speed and because there is not much difference between the diameter of the winding from beginning to end, the wire runs at almost constant speed past the head. In any case, the change in diameter is compensated during the winding process. To stop the wire tangling, the head moves up and down inside the “bailer”as the reels revolve, so winding proceeds in a criss-cross pattern. Tension in the wire is maintained by brakes on the reel platens. Generally, there is no fast-forward, only rewind. Of course, you can't record and play stereo on a wire recorder.

If the wire snaps, its a simple matter of tying a reef knot in the two broken ends and neatly trimming the wire ends. You don't even notice the break on playback. Unfortunately, when the wire breaks, it usually tangles and its almost impossible to disentangle the stuff. In my case the wire broke when it became wedged between the bulk of the recording wire and the edge of the reel. Don't imagine it can simply be pulled free – it most assuredly can't.

The recorder brought to me was in immaculate condition. Preserved by the dry highveld climate, I assume. It didn't work, but only needed the switches cleaning. The metal case is somewhat challenging, but once open, everything is very compact and difficult to get at. Having said that, its nothing like as complicated as most cassette tape recorders.

Recording wire seems to preserve the recordings very well. Sound quality is good, but restricted to about 6kHz maximum. I played back a recording of the “Bing Crosby Show” taken from a VOA broadcast. It sounded like all those parodies of old recordings. I bought a Bing Crosby CD for comparison. It sounded just the same.

Be cautious when purchasing a wire recorder. Everything is repairable – except the recording head. If that has broken, then the recorder can only be used for spare parts.

 
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