The 1970s saw a revolution in the British tape recording industry.
By the late 1960s, Philip's "Compact Cassette" had come of age and, with radical improvements in tape technology, the humble
cassette was rapidly approaching acceptable standards of "domestic hi-fi". The development of greatly improved car cassette
players turned the versatile cassette into the medium of choice, ousting the reel to reel recorder from the domestic market.
While many manufacturers increasingly turned to branded, Japanese made cassette decks, few of Britain's smaller tape recorder
manufacturers were able to survive. The cheaper Collaro based decks, such as Elizabethan, disappeared. Others went the
semi-professional way, including Truvox, but even that market was fraught with danger following the introduction in 1966 of
the revolutionary Revox A77, which virtually overnight set new standards in hi-fi performance, from which Ferrograph
never really recovered following the hasty introduction of their seriously flawed Series 7. New trends in upright models, cosmetic design and unheard of reliability from Japanese models, was the final straw for the few
remaining British manufacturers.
Brenell was already at a crucial cross-roads. Many of their staff were approaching retirement
and their valve Mk.5 and STB models were increasingly looking old fashioned and out of place in the crisp, teak Scandinavian
style of the modern push-button, transistorised 1970s home! But a new design impetus came to
Brenell's rescue through, it is believed, Frank Underhill who took over from Brenell's long serving designer, J W Raine.
This resulted in an updated Mk.5 deck fitted with a brushed aluminium finish with new rectangular black plastic
head covers and rhomboid control knobs with silver arrow inserts. There was a new end of tape auto-stop pin and greatly improved
lockable pause control, which swung through an arc, allowing instant starts.
The stereo ST200 ( above ) appeared in late 1969 heralding "The Sounds of the
70s". It was an exciting new domestic tape recorder with very basic facilities and was fitted into an attractive
new charcoal leathercloth and teak trimmed cabinet of much reduced size by virtue of the new transistorised, under-deck amplifier
pcb. It was soon joined by a 1/4 track model, the ST400, but its promising future was soon dashed as it proved to be an extremely
awkward machine to service as the entire electronics had to be removed for the simplest repair - it was even loathed
by Brenell's own service department and it is suspected that its rarity now is mostly due to many being scrapped
by distraught owners!
In 1970, the domestic ST200 was joined by a transistorised, Mk.6
mono semi-professional model ( right ). This used the improved deck as fitted to the ST200, and was designed for horizontal or upright operation - a first for Brenell. The new transistorised
pre-amplifier was now mounted flush with the deck; the whole ensemble being raised on a pair of pivot pins on the
side of the new cabinet, giving unequalled access. But unfortunately it was increasingly evident that modern value engineering
had deprived the new model of the Mk.5's rugged, over engineered qualities - the plywood cabinet was flimsier; many trim
parts were simply glued into place and the pre-amplifier control buttons had spun aluminium caps on plastic shafts.
The amplifier panel included full mixing facilities with
cross-fade for radio, microphone, and ceramic or moving coil gramophone inputs, together with the usual frequency equalistion
circuits which were now engaged by push buttons! There was also of course A:B off tape monitoring. Its sound reproduction
from the internal ELAC speaker was superb - as expected from a Brenell.
mono Mk.6 was initially sold alongside the Mk.5 range as a 3-head, full, 1/2 or 1/4 track machine, as well as in
the 10-1/2" Mk.610 version.
Within a year, a Mk.6 stereo model appeared ( left ). This
featured a new stereo transistorised pre-amplifier for connecting to an external stereo amplifier and as such, lacked some
of the features found on the Mk.6; there were no internal monitor speakers for example, however it retained basic mixing
and A:B monitoring. Unlike the encased Mk.6 pre-amplifier, the stereo pcb was open to the elements and was prone to damage
when raising or lowering the hinged deck plate during services. This stereo pre-amplifier was also sold separately as their
new transistorised 'Tape Link' alongside the valve model, which remained in production for a while longer.
With a full complement of Mk.6 mono and stereo models, the old valve Mk.5s and STB2 were
withdrawn. The BBC, who had many Mk.5s for programme editors and researchers to listen to copies of master tapes, gradually
replaced them with the Mk.6.
Though sound quality from these new models was stunning, the ever decreasing domestic reel to
reel market was rapidly changing as consumers became smitten by the modern Japanese models. These rather agricultural Brenells
were increasingly being regarded as dinosaurs from an earlier age; furthermore intensive price cutting in high street Hi-Fi
chain stores meant Ferrographs, Brenells and other specialist semi-professional decks received less and less coverage in the
consumer driven hi-fi press, resulting in ever decreasing sales. Fortunately for Brenell, and indeed Ferrograph, they
had already secured a strong presence in MoD, Government departments at home and abroad, as well as in industry
which made the domestic hi-fi market increasingly of lesser importance, yet that domestic market provided the crucial
cash flow to secure the development of their professional models.
With Brenell's continual move into the professional and studio market
with their Type 19 deck (see next chapter), there was scope for a high quality model for the serious audiophile and studio
monitor. Thus, in 1973 they launched a very basic 10-1/2" model, the superb IC-2000 ( right ).
Though it shared the Mk.610 stereo deck, it had a new pressure pad free, parabolic tape path and was identified further by new,
rectangular aluminium control knobs. Ironically, 10-1/2" reels clashed with the conventional speed control knob, so the ancient
Mk.4's round pause control knob had to be used!
It had a new studio quality pre-amplifier
with phono stage and a powerful 15W output stage for the internal, studio quality, FANE monitor speakers. There
was no mixing facility, however there was bias adjustment and A:B monitoring. It was able to perform as a 2-track mastering
deck with a stunning performance and frequency response in excess of 22,000 Hz.
With good reason, Brenell marketed it as "The heart of a Hi-Fi system" - which indeed it
was - for it also incorporated for the first time DIN sockets alongside standard 1/4" jacks housed in a somewhat inaccessible
rear compartment! The IC-2000 infered Integrated Circuits and 21st century technology and
was housed in a modern teak cabinet. It still looks good today and remains my favourite Brenell model.
However, it was not without fault. The unique pre-amplifier suffered from radio frequency interference
- this was eventually solved. The case was also of a new folded steel design with teak side panels for the speakers and,
as the deck mechanism was now only accessible through a removable back panel, it made servicing difficult.
Sadly, the IC-2000 was a very short lived model. A 1/4 track version was available to order,
but few IC-2000s were in fact made and it and the ST200 became one of the first casualties of Brenell's new philosophy
following Robert Hahn's retirement in 1975.