The Fi-cord 101 Minature Audio Tape Recorder
What we have here is a push button operated single motor belt driven pocket tape recorder, that
was designed by Georges Quellet and made for the English company Fi-cord by Stellavox in
Switzerland. This was in the early 1960's and while there may have been other and better tiny
machines available in those days, I can't think of any at the moment. There were though many
partucalarly nasty things that called themselves tape recorders about as well. This early example
of the Fi-cord 101 series uses special reduced size 2 Inch diameter spools of standard 1/4 Inch
magnetic tape, and was intended for office dictation use. This solid and weighty little machine
runs at 1 7/8ths, and would seem to have DC bias and a simple permanent magnet as an erase
head. It also has a seperate permanent magnet mounted on the deck for 'Fast Erase'. Using
permanent magnets as erase heads was quite common with non-Hi-Fi machines of those days. It
makes the tape magnetic (!) and the high frequencys are lost, but it vaguely works. I suppose this
tough little recorder was made some 10 years before the very advanced Nagra SN was
introduced, but they were for very diffrent markets; the Ficord was for serious business dictation
use and the Nagra was for serious high quality sound recording.
The Fi-cord runs on 2 AA cells, which might have been quite cutting edge battery technology for
the time, and has a rather nice and simple latching push-button 'user interface'. The machine was
also designed for remote control via a special playback docking unit, as you could hook a length
of string to the end of the pinch roller arm to make the transport stop and go. Unfortunately the
arrival of the compact cassette in 1964 rather destroyed all the hopes for this very well made
I have to own up that I know very little about this tiny recorder. Like many I suspect I vaguelly
recall seeing them in shop windows as a scoolboy. But Rolland Schellin's excellent book was
able to 'put me right'. He writes:
'The Ficord 101 was the first >all in one< pocket device to have a built-in
microphone, loudspeaker and capstan drive. Georges Quellet's idea of a stationary docking
station, similar to what you can find in devices of computer periphery nowdays, showed how far
ahead of his time he really was.'*
Nicely made from blue textured folded aluminium and gold-anodized extrusions, it seems that
9,000 recorders were built by Stellavox in Switzerland, and the whole design certianly reflects
that it was intended for large scale production. Ken Gough, the english owner of Ficord thought
that they could sell around 1000 units a month, but this was before the arrival of the very
affordable Philips compact cassette recorder. Such is life...
The blue 'Bondeen' outer wrapper is rather nostalgic to me, as about 25 years ago I used to buy
the stuff for the medical electronics company I worked for. Actually a great deal of electronic
equipment used this 'Marl blue' textured platic coated aluminum sheet for cladding in the 1970's
and 80's. And I have a theory that it was because it formed part of the IBM mainframe computer
house colour scheme of the time.
Unfortunately while a few spots of oil and a general clean up got this machine transporting tape,
the audio electronics seem rather dead. As with most compact tape recorders of the time, the
mechanism is an interesting exercise in highly inventive 'minimalism'. Speed regulation involves
the use of a light bulb filament and one transistor, and the capstan (which in itself is a
considerable advance on those machines that just drove the take-up spool) is a rather nice co-
axial contra-rotating assembly that combines both capstan pulley and a fairly massive little brass
flywheel. This probably gave the machine some imunity to movement induced speed variation,
and something vaguely similar was used in the Sony Walkman of some 18 years later. The Fi-
cord's substantial DC motor drives this capstan/flywheel by a long flat Neoprene (?) belt, that
also drives a rather convenient mechanical tape counter. A clever series of interlocking push-
button linkages operates a quite usable set of fast forward and rewind speeds. (The Nagra SN
while a genuine professional 'studio' recorder in miniature has no fast forward and a quaint
There are two printed circuit boards inside the Fi-cord 101: the single transistor speed regulator
board, and the record/replay electronics. The rather elegant push-button system both actuates the
mechanics of the tape transport as well as moving a number of spring-loaded switch contacts.
These directly slide against various copper contact pads on the underside of the audio PCB to
change the amplifier from replay to record (actually just switching the input from the head to
microphone as bias and erase electronics are not used). The prominent silver tube in the above
image is a nicely done battery holder, and the two AA cells are loaded from the outside of the
machine and held in place by a nicely turned knurled screw cap.
In all this is a cleverly packaged, tough and finely made little recorder, quite expensive (at 600
Swiss Francs) and I whish I knew rather more about it (so I can fix mine). Later Fi-cord went on
to introduce the bigger and much better 202 series of audio recorders, but these were actually for
a diffrent market (broadcast reporting / film sound recording) and were made (and designed?) in
England by Erskine Labororties in Scarborough. (But they still had a blue Bondeen casing
Bob Marriot sent me this nice picture of his Stellavox SM5 deck mechanism. It's not the same
as the Fi-cord of course, well actually the whole machine looks very much better engineered.
But there does seem to be a certian similarity.
In October 2004 Mr Alan Jarratt was kind enough to contact me about FiCord and I am very
pleased to included is valuable contribution below:
I first heard of Fi-Cord in the late '50s when I was asked about it by the president of an
American customer of my Company selling office systems/business machines. I believe he had
heard of the Fi-cord 101 pocket dictation machine being sold by Karl Heitz, a photographic
dealer in New York, acting as distributor for Fi-Cord in the USA.
(The Fi-Cord name originates from Fidelity Recording and reflected the company's involvement
in the sound and vision industry)
I found that Fi-Cord had a UK-based subsidiary based in East Grinstead, Sussex and, having
witnessed a demonstration by their Northern Representative, negotiated an exclusive distribution
agreement for an area 15 miles radius of my company HQ in South Manchester.
This product became a focal point of our involvement in the sale of dictation machines within
this area. Due to our exclusive distribution arrangement, we concentrated on the Fi-Cord
product and, I understand, became the most successful dealer in their network.
During this period I learned quite a lot about the background of the Company and a potted history
as told to me is as follows:
The founder of Fi-Cord was Kenneth Gough. In 1939 he was an officer in the British Army.
When France fell, he evaded the German advance and, in company with a large group of
soldiers, crossed the border into Switzerland where he was promptly interned for the duration of
The large internment camp was located near Neuchatel and was multi-national with a cross
section people of all abilities. Amongst these was (I understand) a German engineer who had an
idea for a compact recording machine. In those early days, recorders were substantial pieces of
equipment and posed a problem for people on the move.
After the war, development continued and resulted in the first Fi-Cord - the 1A which was built
by Erskine Laboratories in or near Scarborough. This was highly regarded for not only its size
but also its sound qualities. A major customer was, I understand, the BBC who purchased 300
for its reporters.
Further development resulted in the introduction of the Fi-Cord 101 which was designed to be a
pocket-size dictation machine, complete with transcription, foot control and other facilities
similar to many full-size office machines (eg Grundig Stenorette and Philips 81R). This product
was sourced in Switzerland, some production (eg the chassis and mechanical components) were
outsourced with a local Swiss firm but assembly was carried out by Fi-Cord International SA
An international marketing campaign (with the involvement of a family member Ralph - I think
Ken's son) achieved worldwide sales in over 32 countries.
In the early 1960's, the 1A was replaced by the 202, a fully-featured 'hi-fi' recorder. Again, this
was sub-contracted by Erskine Laboratories, intended for the traditional Fi-Cord market which
also included a range of microphones (Beyer) and other products I was not involved with. This
product was mainly sold by Fi-Cord's own sales team operating from the East Grinstead base
under the direction of UK MD Stan Duer. I am unable to much more information about this
product which really targeted specialised users in the camera, radio and music industries.
Feedback from the dictation machine market resulted in the introduction of the new model 303, a
more sophisticated version of the 101 with a die-cast aluminium case, a volume control and a
full range of accessories. Also made in Switzerland using the same production lines as the
previous 101 model.
The 303 (and its twin 303A intended as a compatible for the Grundig Stenorette office machine)
was more attractive in the market place and was generally well received.
Due to increasing competitiveness in dictation machine markets, especially for spool-to-spool
recorders, Fi-Cord designed a single spool cartridge along the lines of the Stenorette but the
advent of the standardised C30/C60 cassettes and ultimately the mini cassette were proving
difficult to contend with.
In the mid 1960's, offers were invited for Fi-Cord's assets. By then, Fi-Cord was a significant
product in the range offered by my Company and I looked to find someone who would acquire
An American-owned Company Erie Technological Products Inc owned, through its subsidiary in
the UK, a number of companies in the electronics business and expressed interest in the potential
which Fi-Cord product range.
However, whilst they had the production capacity to manufacture the machines, they did not have
marketing expertise in the office systems industry.
During 1967/68 various negotiations resulted in the formation of a new UK-based Company,
owned 50/50 by Erie and myself, which eventually acquired Fi-Cord International SA and Fi-
Cord UK. The new company was names Fi-Cord International Ltd.
The manufacturing facility was transferred from Switzerland to an Erie factory in Manchester,
and the marketing exercise was run by me, as Managing Director, with Erie's chairman taking up
the same role in the new Company.
Existing international contacts were maintained and production continued, although the
transmission and chassis components were imported from Switzerland.
For several years, the project was reasonably successful but ultimately it was recognised that a
significant investment would be needed to re-design and compete with products by Philips and
new manufacturers from the Far East.
Consequently, in 1972 Erie decided that they could not commit to a major investment of this
type, and I acquired their shares, continuing with production on a reduced basis whilst re-
aligning Fi-Cord towards other sectors of the electronics office machine industry (specifically
calculators and ultimately computers).
Fi-Cord then became involved as a distributor of these new products with exclusive contracts
with organisations such as Sumlock Comptometer, Monroe USA, Elektronska Indusrija
The advent of the IBM open architecture PC's and Amstrad's computer made this market sector
even more volatile than had been expected and Fi-Cord International Ltd ceased trading in 1985.
Footnote. I recently acquired the Fi-Cord name and plan to use this in connection with another
enterprise now in its early days, an entirely unrelated project to previous activity
D. A. JarrattOctober 2004
*Rolland has written an absolutely superb book about Stellavox, and I have amended my many
misconceptions thanks to him. The title is: STELLAVOX - VOICE OF THE STARS ISBN: 3-
936124-80-9, and it is published in English and German by "Funkverlag Bernhard Hein e.K. "
Dessau in Germany http://www.funkverlag.de For the Stellavox collector I cannot recommend it