Form, Function & Bling

Someone ordered an Amphenol 86CP12 plug and backshell a week ago. Amphenol made a whole series of these to mate with tube & connector sockets. They were available as 4 pin, 5 pin, 6 pin, 7 pin, octal, 9 pin, 11 pin, and 12 . The great thing about them were that they all mounted in the same size hole, with the same ring, or on the same backshell. They are simple connectors designed to do their job without you having to think about them. They are also ridiculously easy to solder and assemble. The 9 pin was used as the AC line connector on the $3,000, Collins 51-S1 communications receiver and also on some Hammond Organs. The 11 pin is used as the power connector on the R390A, triple conversion receiver.

More than 50,000 390A’s were made for the US government between 1958 and 1984. The first ones cost $1500 and the last $38,000. The 86CP8, octal plug is used on the McIntosh C8 phono preamplifier’s umbilical cord. The 86 series males and their 78 female mates are used on more pieces of equipment than you can count and people still use them today when home building when a simple, relatively rugged connector is needed. Not a week goes by when I don’t sell a least one from the series.

Back to my customer. He ordered the connector by part number and received it yesterday. His email to me states:

“It is not anywhere near the quality that we need. I’d like to return it. “

I reminded him by email that he had ordered it by part number and he replied:

“…cosmetics and mechanics of the housing are very low quality and not compatible with our high end equipment. It has a very poor cosmetic appearance and we just can’t use it on our products…”

Now I really had to find out what unbelievable “high end” equipment he was making!

Answer: He’s rebuilding consumer grade Technics reel-to-reel tape decks from the 1970-80’s. So, the 86CP12 is not good enough for a late 1970’s, 240,000 yen (Approx $2,200 back then) but the series is good enough for some of the finest tube communication gear of all time? And what’s he charging for these pieces of “high end”? Nearly $5,000.

It’s late in the game for tape machines. You can buy a Studer 810A for less than half that. One of my customers got a Stevens, with interchangeable head stacks, that originally cost nearly $80,000 new for about $5,000. Technics machines are home machines. I’ve never seen one in a real recording studio. I might have seen something like that in an episode of the Partridge Family. Technics decks have unbalanced inputs using RCA jacks. Nothing is less high end than an RCA jack. You can gold and rhodium plate them all you like they are as connectors go garbage. The cheapest Switchcraft XLR is infinitely better than the most expensive RCA jack

It’s the end times. It’s no longer enough that a part is reliable, fairly priced and above all works. Function is out the window. I guess I could take the backshells, removed the finish, burnish the metal, polish it and then gold plate it, and charge 10 times the price. Then it would be “high end.”

Clockwise from the left: 4 pin, 5 pin, 6 pin, 7 pin, 8 pin, 9 pin, 11 pin, 12 pin. In the center two style of backshells

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