The Stellavox was the only true alternative to the Nagra portable audio tape recorder. But there
again it is perhaps rather unfair to think that Mr Georges Quellet's machines are just alternative
products to the undeniably more successful recorders made by Stephan Kudelski. Both these very
clever men began designing and building their machines at roughly the same time in the mid
1950s, when there were great opportunities in the exciting new medium of magnetic tape. One
company; Stellavox had periods of great sucess and also some very hard times, and in the end it
was they who were eventually to fail. But this was only after some 30 years of struggle late in the
1980's, and was probably more to do with the arrival of digital in the form of DAT and some bad
luck, than anything else. The Stellavox name of course lives on, but (as with so many other modern
iconic names) as a very diffrent entity, having nothing to do with their original founder.

Nagras were functional and beautifully made workhorses that (mostly) film sound recordists could
rely upon day in and day out. They were no nonsense recording tools of the highest quality,
reliability and cost. The Stellavox was a more compact and rather better looking machine that
could do all the Nagra did but perhaps in a slightly more quirky way. Indeed, one might think of
the Stellavox, by contrast to the Nagra, as beautifully made artifact first, and then functional
object. Each machine had its strengths and weaknesses and there were (and maybe still are) fierce
adherents to each camp. In the end though and despite any personal inclinations, both machines are
lovely examples of Swiss standards of fit, finish and engineering. Indeed and rather regrettably,
they truely don't make them like this any more.


The image above is of my own Stellavox SU8, and this was one of the last models from the
original Stellavox company, it was made in 1984. The 'U' stands for universal because the
machine came already 'loaded' with a wide range of modules and options (biased towards use
as a film sound recorder) as follows:

MSP module - switchable mono, stereo, 'snchrotone' or 'neopilot' head assembley
SXQ module - crystal pilot tone generator
SQS module - in-built synchronizer module with associated front panel controls
SOT option - balanced 600 Ohm output transformers and associated 4mm connections.
AMC - mechanical tape counter unit

The S8 series recorders also has switchable 48V phantom or 'T' microphone powering together
with a two position low frequency microphone filter, peak limiters and three position
microphone gain attenuators. They also had 2 extra cells in the battery pack to improve the
headroom and distortion figures of the electronics. The microphone gain controls on this
machine have the optional 'ganged' gearing arrangement, and can be mixed with adjustable line
inputs or the fixed level external mixer inputs. Stellavox also made recorder powered external
microphone pre-amplifiesr (together with various other external modules), so that one could
have a fairly self-contained set of 4 microphone inputs if required. Oh, and the moulded plastic
reel cover had the machined-satin-chromed 'thingy' fitted, for actuating the slate toggle while the
machine is sitting in it's leather case.
Portable Reel-To-Reel Audio Tape Recorder
The father of the Stellavox, Mr Georges Quellet himself was kind enough to send me the above
image of his earlier and highly successful SM5 recorder. This machine must have brought great
hopes for the future to this fledgling company.

It would seem that in 1950's in addition to those in America and Britain, a number of people in
Switzerland were also developing high quality reel-to-reel magnetic tape recorders. Whereas Mr
Studer would go on to produce his superb professional full size machines, Stephan Kudelski and
Georges Quellet made portable and even 'pocketable' tape recorders. As a school boy I can just
remember the British Fi-cord brand of miniature audio recorders, though 30 years later I found
out that these tiny exotic machines were also designed in Switzerland by Georges Quellet (see
other pages on this site). It was perhaps quite obvious that the combination of miniature
electronics and precision mechanics needed to make small high quality tape recorders would suit
a country known for watchmaking, and one might argue that the end results would cause some of
the finest examples of 20th Century electro-mechanical engineering to be built.

The
I was told that Mr Quellet was proud of the robust, compact and recessed control panel of his
recorder. But in contrast to the unique coaxial peak metering of the Nagra, Stellavox used an
opposing pair of fairly conventional VU meters which frankly weren't as good. Though in this
series 8 model there are also a couple of peak indicating LEDs. These show the limiters in
action when that option is selected. This machine also has the extra LED and meter rotary switch
for the in-built pilot tone resolver. The circular disk between the microphone gain controls is
actually a gear wheel that can be pushed inwards to engage with the transparent 'gears'
surrounding these controls to 'gang' them together - simple but effective.
Here is a view of the right side of the machine, with (left to right) motor speed change switch
(this just changed the speeds, equalisation was switched or pre-set in the head blocks),
balanced 600 Ohm medium and high level output into 4mm sockets, and a headphone socket
with volume and mode (left only, right only, stereo) controls.
Left side of the machine containing input and outputs: power, sync heads, line outs/external
noise reduction loops, and microphone inputs. (The noise reduction socked must be fitted with
its special shorting plug or there will be no output.) There is also a mono/stereo switch and a 2
position bass cut switch. The vertical pin on the extreme right is one of the carrying strap
attachment points.
(Click on any of the above images to get pictures of the machine's insides.)