Applied Microsystems Spin Time
The Spin Time from Applied Microsystems is a low cost digital tape counter designed to replace the mechanical counter on your tape recorder.
Historically, the tape counter has always been a mechanical device usually driven by a rubber band which was connected to the capstan or spool motor. Until the advent of digital counters this was a satisfactory way of obtaining a numerical read out.
With the advance in microprocessor and digital electronics we have seen the death of many a mechanical device. These have not just been replaced by digital equivalents, but surpassed, often with the bonus of additional facilities. Nowadays almost every semi-professional Japanese tape recorder has a digital counter, previously the domain of professional machines. With almost every part of a modern tape recorder under microprocessor control many people now expect this sort of facility as standard.
The Spin Time was specifically designed to be used with a Revox A77 or B77, though the makers do say it can be used with almost any tape machine. Revox are one of the last remaining tape recorder manufacturers who still use mechanical counters. Applied Microsystems recognised this deficiency, spotted the market for a digital counter and quickly jumped in.
The Spin Time is supplied as a three part kit, the digital read out unit, bracket and cable. The mounting kit enables you to locate the digital counter against the left-hand side of the tape machine and secure it in position. Once you have carefully lined up the idler wheel with the tape transport guides you can screw the bracket in place. The electronics of the digital counter are connected to the remote control socket of the Revox via a cable. This cable serves two purposes, it provides power for the Spin Time and secondly it relays information to the stop function of the transport electronics. After installing the unit you can now lace the tape recorder up in the normal manner except this time you also pass the tape around the Spin Time idler wheel.
The motion of the tape drives the idler wheel around, this movement being converted into a digital counter readout calibrated in hours, minutes and second. Before using the counter you must first select via a switch the tape speed ie. low or high, the direction you want it to count in ie. forwards or backwards, and finally by pushing the toggle switch down to the Reset position, zero the counter. After performing these initial setting up procedures the Spin Time is ready for use.
Press the Revox Play button and the display will start to count as the tape moves, go into the fast forward mode and the counter follows at a faster speed. Having zipped off up the tape you can now press the rewind button and have the tape automatically return to the zero position and stop. To operate this function you must first set the mode switch on the Spin Time to reverse and then push the toggle switch up into the RTZ position. By pressing the rewind button the tape will rewind and then automatically stop when it reaches zero, well that is the theory anyway!
Unlike many digital counters the Spin Time does not shuffle around the zero point until it comes to rest at zero or very close to it. It only rewinds to zero and then stops, if it passes zero which it often does, then that is where it remains, no shuffle facility is available. On short rewinds this is not really a problem, however, this is not true on long rewinds where an overshoot of 60 seconds or more is just a pain and you might as well have operated the Stop button yourself. The position at which the tape comes to rest is determined by two factors, the condition of the Revox's brakes and the accuracy of the Spin Time itself.
The actual digital electronics within the Spin Time can be taken as giving an accurate time read out of the idler wheel revolutions. Any inaccuracy that occurs is between the tape and the idler wheel. The recorder's tape transport mechanism maintains a certain tape tension, which determines how well the tape stays in contact with the idler wheel but any slackness will result in the wheel slipping and therefore give a false read out. This tape slippage normally creates small inaccuracies but these are greatly increased when in the fast forward and rewind modes.
The Spin Time should in practice be a very useful addition to your tape recorder. As a counter it's not really any more accurate than a mechanical one, the real usefulness of the Spin Time being its return to zero facility. However, if such a facility is to be of any real value then it must be accurate. The Spin Time's digital circuit may be accurate but you are then left to the mercy of the brakes and tape tension of your own machine. These points all contribute to the fact that the Spin Time can't ever really be accurate over long fast forward and rewind conditions. To be fair many people may still find the device useful once they have adapted to the feel of its operation.
If we return to the original reason for the existence of the Spin Time, namely to replace the mechanical counter of a Revox, then it would seem to have a short product life as Revox must surely be looking towards the inclusion of a digital counter on their next model's. Obviously the Spin Time will still be relevant to current A77 and B77 owners, and as we all know Revox's have a heck of a life span.
Overall I didn't think the Spin Time to be worthwhile, it seemed a bit gadget-like and although an admirable effort perhaps Applied Microsystems were clutching at a short straw.
Spin Time is available at £87 plus VAT from Applied Microsystems Ltd, (Contact Details).
Review by Paul Gilby
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