You should probably hope you haven’t seen [Techmoan’s] cassette recorder before. That’s because it is a Neal interview recorder that was mainly used by police to tape interrogations. This one was apparently used by the Royal Navy and was sold for parts. Turns out, the repair was simple, but the teardown and the analysis of the machine — you can see it in the video below — is pretty interesting if you’ve never seen one of these before.
The unit looks like a heavy-duty piece of industrial electronics from the 1980s. Unlike a commercial tape deck, this one is made to do one thing: record. You can’t even rewind a tape in it. Also unlike a consumer recorder, the Neal has a few special features aimed at making sure you didn’t miss some important confession on tape. First, it beeps if there’s no microphone plugged in. When [Techmoan] showed the recording head, we noticed it looked like it was split in half. Towards the end of the video, we found out why. In addition, the unit records two tracks: one audio track and another with a voice reading the elapsed time every 10 seconds — pretty high tech for its day.
The repair job turned out to be more about getting access to the inside than any real technical work. There was an obviously blown fuse but it was in a hard to reach place. A few improvisations with a paper clip, a chopstick, and some tacky material (we would have used chewing gum here in America) and the fuse was replaced.
The police, by the way, might be part of the reason you can still buy blank tapes. The video shows a BBC story that says as of 2011, there were still almost 2 million police interviews captured on tape. However, they did note that the trend was moving towards digital recording.
It always fascinates us to learn about specialized devices that fill some niche need. Of course, those kinds of devices are usually priced sky high compared to their consumer counterparts. On the other hand, considering the age of the machine, it looked like it held up well which is a testament to its construction.