Triple I Phi-Deck: What A Transport!

Submitted on: 14 Aug 18

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Category: Digital recorders/players

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Few days ago I visited Mr Branko Nojkovic at his home in Belgrade, and I had a unique opportunity to take a look at the tape transport I have never seen for around 35 years that I am dealing with this hobby. I was really, really surprised. During the phone call Mr. Branko told me that few decades ago he bought professional tape transport for his project of making a cassette deck. It also included programmable control unit and the cost was pretty high for both – 400 USD.

In early 80s Japanese companies were running their own race towards the rest of the world and only few other companies from Europe (and none from USA to my knowledge) made their own tape transports.

But this transport is from so called Phi-Deck series made by USA company Triple I at the start of 80s, based at that time in Oklahoma City.

The quality is top notch: cast aluminium chassis with four motors. There is just one capstan but everything looks very, very solid. The complete system is belt driven: both capstan and reels with one motor for each. The fourth motor is used for moving head bridge by gears and the rocker, which is a brilliant and reliable solution.

The capstan motor speed is controlled by electronics and optical sensor which uses special disc in order to make pulses for control. Micro switches are top notch quality, much better than the ones used in commercial 80s gear and later.

By the way, Mr. Branko told me that there were two versions: one for the vertical and the other for horizontal implementation. The transport contained no heads, they had to be purchased separately.

It took me some time to get available info about Phi-Deck. It seems that this was a professional tape transport made at the first place for serious microcomputers which were starting their own run (for example some models with 32 kb RAM… European readers may remember Sinclair ZX Spectrum with so much RAM… 48 kb, but this was way out of Spectrum league :). The other possible implementations of Phi-Deck transport were laboratory measurement devices, data duplicators etc.

I didn’t have an opportinity to take a look at control electronics, but as I understand it is a little bit different comparing the one for a commercial cassette deck. The one I saw on the Internet hasĀ  direct button commands, it is completely programmable one including variable tape speed and control by means of central computer which it should be interfaced with. In a cassette deck implementation this may make things a little harder.

No matter what, this is a very high quality and brilliantly engineered tape mechanism.


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