My Wollensak Recorders

Wollensak T-1515

Wollensak T-1515 Bought from a thrift shop because it was cheap and I wanted another machine to pull apart as practice before I open up the 1515-4 below.

The 1500, 1515 and 1515-4 are virtually identical to look at and almost identical inside. The 1500 is the base model (I don't have one) and is monoaural. The 1515-4 plays 4-track stereo. This 1515 is an in-between: it plays 2-track stereo, which was an early stereo format that didn't catch on.

If you want to impress your friends or win bar bets, there's a quick way to tell these apart just by looking at them. The 1500 says WOLLENSAK on the carrying handle and has no stereo badge. The 1515 says WOLLENSAK on the handle and has a Stereo badge. The 1515-4 has the stereo badge and says WOLLENSAK 3M on the handle.

Inside, the 1500 and 1515 are the same except for the heads and an additional pre-amplifier section inside; to play back in stereo, one track plays through the machine's internal speaker and the other goes out to a jack in the back; you line that out into an external amplifier/speaker system that has an AUX input. Some radios, some televisions, and stereo systems typically had them, or you could buy just an audio amplifier and a speaker and go that route.

Pulling this thing apart was a nightmare. Actually—pulling it apart was easy, it was reassembly that was hellish. The Old Man was saying how much he liked them because they're modular inside, and you could work on the electronics without disturbing the deck, and vice-versa. Putting it back together should have been easy but that secondary, add-on pre-amp was jammed hard against the speaker and still wouldn't seat the way it was originally, and we couldn't get the body back together; I have no idea how it ever got assembled in the first place.

The speaker's bad, and its replacement would almost certainly have a smaller footprint and the problem will be solved. When I buy the speaker and replace it, I'll do this machine on Teardown Tuesday. (But don't hang by your germaniums waiting for it.)

Wollensak T-1515-4

Wollensak T-1515-4 This is actually my father's machine but I feel an attachment to it. I would have sworn on a Gutenberg Bible that I'd bought another one at a garage sale and that we had two, but I can't figure out what happened to it. On the other hand, I know we had at least three Webcors and they're all gone. Yet I can put my hand on every crappy cassette player I owned as a kid. God has a dark sense of humor.

Another machine that needs attention. This one has a leaky filter capacitor (you get a nasty AC hum in the audio), and I haven't gotten around to opening it up yet (see notes on 1515 above).

Wollensak was owned by Revere at the time, and Revere made a line of reel tape machines. They decided to make a separate line of recorders using the basic Revere mechanism, but with a radical new look and design. After that, Reveres and Wollensaks were made at the same factory but by separate groups, and they were very competitive against each other.

The T-1500 is the classic Wollensak, introduced in 1957. To appreciate it you really have to see it side-by-side with its contemporaries. Take my Webcor Royal. It's the size of an accordion case, the cabinet is fabric covered wood and it weighs 42 pounds. The Wollensak has a metal case (mostly bare-aluminum with a white cover), is about the size of a large toaster and weighs 20 pounds. I'd say their performance is a bit in favor of the Wollensak (frequency response is definitely higher). The only big thing the Webcor offers that the Wollensak can't do is play and record in both directions (i.e. you don't have to flip the reel to play a particular side), and the Webcor's full-sized cabinet allows you to leave the reels loaded with the lid closed.

Wollensak made a large number of improvements to the 1500 over the next decade, but the basic metal-cabinet remained the same. My T-1515-4 is the 4-track stereo player version from around 1960. The 1515 also has the "Stereo" logo on the top right of the cabinet (just over the push-button controls), but it only handles 2-track stereo playback.

You have to be careful with Wollensaks because most of them look almost identical, even though their specifications vary; the good part is that you should be able to tell the model easily from the name plate on the back of the unit. I made a comparison table to try and make sense of it all.