Investigation into Cook's Technique and
the Possibility to construct a DIY Binaural Tonearm
At The Audio Fair
of 1951, engineer and inventor Emory Cook demonstrated extremely realistic
sound of trains, this to the amazement of audiophiles and technicians
alike. The recording was in fact the first version of the later Rail
Dynamics and the many other real sound recordings Emory Cook made.
The inventor would soon be surprising the audio world again with realistic
sound, but now with his new invention, the Binaural LP Record.
In 1952, various
magazines gave Emory Cook a platform to introduce and explain his idea
of the binaural recording system that he and his technicians were working
on. High Fidelity Magazine published an article written by Cook himself
in which he talked about the aural restrictions of the monaural recording
and the advantages of stereophonic sound, and of course about the duplex
system he had devised.
It was too early,
he wrote, to make a stereophonic vinyl LP along the 45/45 degree cutting
system that was invented by Alan Blumlein and patented by EMI already
in 1933. And if he wanted to use that system, a high performance cutter
head and a cartridge should be manufactured first.Given the actual state
of the art in the early nineteen fifties, such a system
would result in a very low sound quality because of the restricted frequency
range feasable at the time, Cook said.
He therefor concluded
that the best quality can be achieved if each channel has its own
groove. Options like playing the two sides of a record simultaneously,
or two grooves interleaving, were too complicated to realize and will
never work for the full one hundred percent he said. That is why he
opted for a record that had two bands with engraved sound. One for
the left channel and one for the right channel.
HEADS ON A SCULLY
For the cutting
of the lacquer of a binaural record Emory Cook used a Scully lathe
which was a quality machine at the time, and mounted two cutter heads
in line. They formed an entity. No independent movement was possible.
The cutter diamonds were spaced 1 11/16 of an inch and remained so
at all instances. No mechanical corrections were made. That was a
clever idea, because now the playback could give maximum results if
it would take place in the same and exact way the lacquer was cut.
There would be minimal mechanical error.
Jecklin and his Scheibenmikrofon
The term binaural
is also used for the recording using an artificial head (dummy
head) with two microphones located at the position of the ears
or even in the ear cavity. The
first "dummy head" or "Kunstkopf" was used
in 1933. Later the head was modified by Jürg Jecklin to the
famous Jecklin disc (Scheibenmikrofon) that physically and acoustically
separates the two microphones, the measure of which depends on
the size of the disc, its thickness, and the material the disc
is made of. It is known that Erato used an artificial (dummy)
head when recording organist Marie-Claire Alain.
The image at right is taken from
Platte Nr. 6 / LP No. 6 of Deutsches High-Fidelity Institut,
German High Fidelity Institute.
Electronic Corporation from New Jersey designed the tonearm for the
playback of Cook's Binaural Record. It was a stylish design. The shapes
of the cartridge holders (short arms) differed, but certainly they
were the same in mass. Lateron a second model was introduced with
identical (mirrored) cartridge holders with the same mass. This arm
made the set-up and fine tuning much easier. Although a Livingston
arm may have the appearance of being rather heavy, only the mass of
the two short arms with the (identical) cartridges should be considered.
The main arm does not add its weight to the tracking and fundamental
resonance of the cartridge holders.
The arm to wich
the cartridge holders are connected, can be adjusted at the pivot
(arm base) in height all right. The degree of inclination can be set
by turning a screw. The drawing represents the principle of how it
functions. The cartridge holder has limited freedom, the limit set
by two stops (the two black strips at the end of the cartridge holder.
In the actual arm there is a large nut which prevents the cartridge
from "falling down".
November 1952 article, Emory Cook explains the most important mechanical
aspects of the tonearm with two cartridges. Logically the needle tips
should be spaced at the precise distance of 1 11/16 inch. No variation
is allowed. Furthermore each cartridge should have its own tonearm or
arm section (wand) and the alignment has to be precise.
There is practically
no record that is completely flat. If one cartridge encounters the
slightest warp, it should never be allowed to lift the other cartridge
out of the groove, not even for one micrometer. While the distance
between the cartridges should remain the same at all times, there
should be enough play to allow the arm sections to move vertically
arms, and the binaural recordings had to be tracked by "low mass
cartridges" as could be read on the label of Carlo Montoya's
Binaural disc. It says that "Failure to track the abrupt impulses
will ruin the record."
the early nineteenfifties leading manufacturers of high fidelity cartridges
were Pickering, Fairchild, and General Electric. The Pickering and
the Fairchild cartridges were considered as being of the low mass
type, if compared to the many cartridges mounted in heavy arms. Those
cartridges certainly had sturdy needle tips and were made by General
Electric, Tannoy, Decca and Ortofon. Only much later the cantilevers
of these cartrdges became more compliant.
In 1952 Emory
Cook said that the
staff at Cook Laboratories used slightly modified several Pickering
cartridges. On inspection it became clear that the short arm wands
(cartridge holders/headshells) of the Livingston binaural tonearm
have a low mass and therefor cartridges with a relatively high compliance
are needed. Above at right the second model of the Livingston arm
The Cook Binaural
system was for the adventurous record collector and hifi enthousiast.
To play back the records today in an authentic set up, one would need
such cartridges and a Livingston tonearm. But modern cartridges will
do of course. And there are possibly more options as far as arms are
CHARACTERISTIC OF THE RECORD
The Cook BN/mn (Binaural / monaural) preamplifier is
designed in such a way that both binaural and monaural records
can be played. One channel of the amp is a regular channel for
reproduction of any monaural disc cut according the NAB standard
or other characteristics used by record companies. The other
channel of this pre-amplifier has no such correction. The binaural
discs are cut that way. At left on the front is a selector for
RADIO OR TAPE and DISC. There are knobs for BASS and TREBLE
adjustment, for GAIN (including on/off switch), and FOCUS (which
we call nowadays BALANCE). At the top at right is the selector
to choose between BN (Binaural) or NORM (Normal).
For the reproduction
of the binaural records special equipment is needed, or at least a
pre-amplifier with independent tone controls for the left and right
channel, and possibly it should have frequency related turnover switches.
In High Fidelity of November-December 1953, the Cook Binaural Preamplifier
was reviewed. Actually it was more a description of how the Cook Binaural
I quote one important passage in editor Charles Fowler's review:
control unit is the product of Emory Cook, whose binaural disk recording
system is currently, as far as we know, the only one in use. As readers
know, Cook records have left-ear sound in a band of grooves at the
outside edge of the disk. Right-ear sound is recorded in an inside
track. To play back these records, two cartridges - spaced apart with
great precision - are required, also two preamplifiers (or BN unit
such as the one under discussion), two amplifiers, and two speakers.
The left-ear or outside track is recorded with a 500 cycle turnover
and with NAB pre-emphasis. The right-ear or inside track is recorded
with the same 500-cycle but without pre-emphasis."
Electronic Corporation, manufacturers of Binaural Arm and Twin-Channel
Advertisement taken from High Fidelity
Magazine of September-October, 1953. Edited by R.A.B.
the advertisment above shows, it was Livingston Electronic Corporation
who marketed the first complete stereophonic twin-amplifier. Is it
safe to say that Livingston was the first company to design the "integrated
stereo-amplifier"? The reason for manufacturing the amplifier
was that Livingston also had an interest in the reproduction because
the company went into the business of record producing as well as
the ad shows cover and label of the Livingston release of the Barbara
Livingston ad states:
"After waiting patiently for someone else to do it, Livingston
now releases a complete stereophonic twin-channel amplifier
designed specifically to take full advantage of the many 3-D sound
sources currently available. Consisting of two complete 10 Watt hi-fi
channels from cartridge to loudspeaker, 3 twin inputs have been provided
for disc, tape, and binaural broadcast. Separate tone-controls for
highs and lows on both channels mean that exciting effects can be
obtained, even with a conventional monaural program source."
an article (again in High Fidelity Magazine from October, 1954) Cook
have a theory that most recording engineers are frustrated musicians.
They want to put themselves into the records they make, from behind
a forest of microphones and a 17-channel mixer, to 'create' something
they can identify later, with pride, and say 'This is me!'
recorded his binaural sound with only two microphones, spaced 10 foot
apart. At left part of the edited image of the cover of High Fidelity
Magazine, issue October, 1954, showing the man with the Magnacord
Binaural Magnecorder. The technically oriented and popular conductor
Leopold Stokowski spoke out in favor of the Magnecorder equipment.
used the typical microphone set up for the Road Recordings as well
as for the performances of the new Orchestral Society of Boston. He
advised to playback the records by placing the speakers also 10 feet
apart. That would give an authentic result. And there should be a
rug on the floor. And the wall opposite the speakers should have sound-absorbing
curtains or drapes.
The binaural system as developped by Cook
Laboratories and Livingston Electronic Corporation was well
received by the reviewers of High Fidelity Magazine, but probably
not so much by the average record collector as it meant buying
specific components to add to their already expensive quality
1067 has Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, performed by the New
Orchestral Society of Boston conducted by Willis Page.
Reviewer C.G. Burke wrote in High Fidelity: 'Heard through
a well-adjusted binaural apparatus, the demanding tumult of
the Fifth Symphony surges from all directions in a reality
of irresistable power that makes one exult and say, "This
is it, at last".'
Page conducting the New Orchestral Society of Boston can also
be heard in the First Symphony of Brahms pressed on COOK 1060,
a 2 LP set.
Again G.C. Burke says: '...the suffusion of binaural grandness
may make the binaural version seem like a great musical happening,
something that the standard disk of this performance cannot
At right the cover of Cook 1060 designed by
House Curt John Wittt.
Samuel Sorin plays a recital of works by Chopin, Granados,
Liszt, and Scriabin on COOK 1038.
Reviewer Ray Ericson writes: 'In its customary way, Cook has
reproduced with 100% realism the sound of a piano. I am tempted
to say that a piano never sounds this good in concert; it
is true that concert performances on the piano are rarely
heard under such advantageous circumstances, in this ideal
state of maximum resonance without blur.'
Great Britain Cook's Sound of the Times recordings were released
on the Nixa label. Example is the recording of the New Orchestral
Society of Boston conducted by Willis Page with popular works
by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov (Dance of the Baffoons), Johann
Strauss (Emperor Waltz), Camille Saint-Saëns (Dance Macabre),
and Johannes Brahms (Hungarian Dance No. 6). Soloist is violinist
Alfred Krips. Nixa SLPY 802.
recording of a rather unknown work, The Seven Last Words (Les
Sept Paroles du Christ) written by Belgian composer Théodore
Dubois, also received a positive review in High Fidelity magazine.
the reviews also indicate is that there is a difference in
sound coming from a vinyl disc if compared to the reproduction
with tape as sound carrier.
sound of Barbara Carroll's piano on Livingston 1081 BN is
very well captured by the technicians of Livingston. Could
be that the recording was made in cooperation with Emory Cook,
or just by Emory Cook alone if hired by Livingston. Although
the COOK label was first mentioned in September 1954 in Schwann
Long Playing Record Catalog, the Livingston disc with Carroll
is not mentioned in the jazz section - not in 1953 and in
the years after. The Livingston label does not appear in Schwann's
list of Record Companies before the fall of 1954, nor does
it appear in The Longplayer and Jazz 'n Pops.
you devise a new recording format it is of the utmost importance
to get the support of manufacturers who will produce the equipment
for playback if your company is not able to do that . The
above advertisement is from High Fidelity Magazine, January-February
1953 edition. It shows the importance of the cooperation of
hardware manufacturers. In this case Livingston and Bozak.
Together with Cook Laboratories they formed what one could
call a "trinaural" cooperation.
up the "Hole in the Wall". That was the heading
of the Bozak advertisement promoting the new binaural format.
The ad shows their specially designed multi-way loudspeaker
system for the reproduction of the two channels. The units
were mounted in one single enclosure. That was obviously done
to give the acquisition of a binaural loudspeaker system a
high WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor). But it was also an important
aspect for any record collector. This speaker would mean that
the listener did not have to "mess up" his "finest
audio outfit". The speaker could be switched to mono
reproduction if desired. The ad says that adjustable directors
(the two side panels) control the sound placement to enhance
the acoustical qualities of any room.
order to be able to play the binaural discs without the use
of the Livingston tonearm, a special clip-on device was available
for $ 5.95. It could 'easily' be connected to the head of
other tonearms. Cook Laboratories advertised for this CLIP-ON
showing the head of a Garrard tonearm.
YOU LIKE BRAHMS ?
of the recordings I recently acquired is of Symphony No. 1 of Johannes
Brahms performed by the New Orchestral Society of Boston under conductor
Willis Page, released in september 1954 on Cook 1060 (2 LP set).
The symphony has an impressive beginning as many of you know. But
it is also a long symphony. The first movement takes about 14 minutes.
second movement has a length of about 10 minutes. The 3d movement
is rather short, about 5 to 6 minutes. And the last movement has
a length of 18 minutes. It all depends who is the conductor. The
total for these movements is 48 minutes.
means that the symphony needs 2 discs. Interesting to see how Emory
Cook divided this lengthy work on these 2 LP's. The first movement
can be accomodated on Side One. The total is 28 minutes plus you
do need space for the separation of the bands and for the lead-in
and lead-out grooves. One side can hold 30 minutes of music, this
means that Side One is used up to the maximum. The second movement
and third movement do not present problems. They are short. But
the last movement of the symphony is 18 minutes long and that is
too much for one Side. Therefor the beginning of the last movement
starts in tghe same band, right after the third movement on Part
3; Cook likes to indicate Parts instead of Sides.
Inch binaural recordings were also issued in mono on 10 inch discs.
Only one band did suffice for Sounds Of Our Times Series. Above
are Pacific 231 (Honegger) and Danse (Debussy). The binaural disc
was released in October 1954.
Cook started recording sounds in the open. They were released on
a different label named Road Recordings. Above is the label of record
5011 "Voice of the Sea".
labels started recording in the new format. Atlantic joined in with
Wilbur de Paris. And Livingston recorded The Barbara Carroll Trio
(Joe Shulman Bass, Billy Exiner Drums) with good realism on 1081-BN,
already in 1953.
Carlos Montoya disc had a different style of label.
red label of THE PIPE ORGAN recording.
binaural recordings were later issued in the 45/45 stereo groove
format and labeled 'microfusion'
LIVINGSTON BINAURAL TONEARM
cartridge has to mimic the diamond of the cutter head at the time
the lacquer was engraved. Not "just about right", but "exactly and
precisely". Not only the 1 11/16 inch distance between the needle
tips has to be adjusted and fixed so no deviation is possible during
the playing of the record. That is the first step to good reproduction.
Furthermore there should be no time difference between the signals.
The needle tips of the cartridges should be in the same spots when
the cutting of the record was started. No cartridge is allowed to
track the groove in advance of the other. Nor should a cartridge be
allowed to lag behind. Even if it were a micrometer.
In order to achieve the perfect set up, one arm wand of the Livingston
tonearm can be set to reach the required distance of 1 11/16 inch
by turning a screw which is connected to a small disc which is out
of center. The plate on which the cartridge is mounted, can only pivot.
The mounting plate in the other cartridge holder can slide forward
and backwards. This makes it possible to adjust the alignment until
there is no difference in time.
To help the audiophile, Emory Cook produced a ten inch binaural disc
containing the sound of a ticking clock. This disc makes it possible
to adjust the cartridges in the two horizontal planes by ear. Once
the ticking is without time delay, the adjustment is right.
NEED A LIVINGSTON TONEARM?
today you do not need a Livingston tonearm to enjoy Emory Cook's
binaural recording process. Just make a recording of the seperate
left and right track using Audacity, AVS, or Audition, or any
other recording-editing program.
Audacity to begin with. First I recorded the left (outside)
track, gave it a name and saved it. The outside track contains
predominantly the piano. I did not close the file but left it
open. Then I recorded the right channel (inner band of the LP)
which contains base and drums. I did not save it and left it
Now I had two 2-track recordings. One of the left channel that
had been saved as a wav file, and one of the right channel which
was not saved. I did not apply corrections in either track,
because this will make synchronising difficult if not impossible.
step was to align these tracks so that there was no time delay
between the first recording and the second recording, even if
each recording was represented by two tracks. This alignment
is done by deleting a few milliseconds bit by bit in one of
channel on the Barbara Carroll disc (as on all binaural discs)
needs some high frequency filtering or attenuation. I choose
a low pass filter setting (in Audacity), and considered the
outcome usable after checking by playbacking the two recordings
simultanuously. Simultanious playback automatically happens
the two tracks are in sync, balance and level of each channel
can be done by sliding the left-right faders and the faders
for level. So the left track was panned more to the left and
the fader for base and drums was set more to the right. Adjusting
level and balance will allow you to choose the best stereo presentation.
That is if your loudspeakers are of a certain quality and if
they are positioned at identical distances from your pc screen.
In the case of the Barbara Carroll disc I found that the left
channel needed a bit of amplification.
meticulously aligning the tracks they are ready to be recorded
together. The two double-track recordings can be saved as one
two-channel wav file. Now this file can be edited if you want
does not have the option to convert to mp3. So the conversion
- if you need it - should be done in AVS, Audition, or a similar
program. If you are not satisfied you can reload the saved left
channel and record the right channel anew and start the procedure
hear the result of my exercise by clicking on the link below.
It is inclusive of distortion which is partly due to the old,
used (abused) recording. I am aware of the fact that a better
alignment is necesssary to eliminate the phase problem. This
result however, illustrates how difficult the alignment of a
Livingston Binaural tonearm was in the 1950s and is today. Nevertheless
I must say that results differ depending on the player you use.
Creative Labs is more precise and gives a better attaque. Real
Player has a better mid band and gives a better stereo rendition.
The AVS audio editor gives a less precise and less tangible
sound, but is great for converting the file from wav to mp3.
for a Sound Clip of jazz pianist Barbara Carroll and her
trio playing 'The Gentleman Is A Dope', from Livingston
Binaural LP BN 1081.
BUILDING A DOUBLE-HEADER
I did not have a Livingston arm. So I started to deduct the measurements
from the advertisement of the double-header, and from the data published
in the articles written by Emory Cook. By scanning and enlarging the
advertisement the picture with the top view of an arm and record on
a platter, I came up with a template for constructing a DIY arm for
binaural reproduction. As for material I intended to use a sandwich
of balsa wood and two 0.5 mm thick aluminum sheets glued to both surfaces.
The balsa is 10 mm thick. So the total is 11 mm. My initial idea was
to construct a binaural arm akin to the earliest model made by Livingston.
A standard tonearm can also be used, but then if an original clip-on
device is available or is constructed and attached to the headshell
as the advertisment shows.
begin with I made an enlargement of the arm by multiplying the distance
between the two individual arms (wands) with a factor in order to
arrive at the 1 11/16 inch. The result seemed to be satisfactory,
but the final measurements were not correct.
I received my Livingston tonearm, I have measured the arm and made
this drawing and print it out. It may help you, or give you
an idea if you want to construct a binaural tonearm.
discussing the technique of the Cook Binaural system with a technically
apt friend, we decided that the Rabco SL-8 / 8-E tangential tonearm
would be the best arm to playback the Binaural discs made by Cook,
Atlantic and Livingston. That is, if the Rabco could accomodate an
extra wand (cartridge holder).
When using the Rabco tangential arm, or any standard arm, it suffice
that only the added cartridge needs the freedom to move vertically
and thus warps do not pose a problem. But the extra wand (cartridge
holder) should not increase the arm mass of the original cartridge
holder too much.
This is just an idea that is not yet realized but it can be the
point of departure for a construction using a Rabco SL8 tangential
small screw of the connector has to be taken out.
possibility is to construct the basic tonearm and add two short
arms (segments) of aluminum tube and give these the connection for
the standad SME headshell. Two SME type armtube-sockets are necessary.
They can be taken off the tonearms of second hand 1970s turntables
which are no longer fit for use. Check your local flee market and
thrift stores. These represent the cheapest option as opposed to
the incredibly high priced SME-like items from any eBay seller.
Most 4-pin SME type connectors with a nut can be mounted in a 10
mm diameter aluminum tube of a few inches length. This will make
it possible to easily exchange cartridges. The mass of the two individual
arm wands has to be optimized in relation to the compliance of the
cartridges used. The damping of the short tubes can be done by adding
just a bit of balsa wood. Only if necessary of course. And you need
very supple arm tonearm wire. I may come up with a result later.
on July 23, 2014:
discovered in a newly acquired edition of High Fidelity Magazine,
January 1956 edition, an advertisement by a company named Audio
Specialties, 13167 Steel Avenue, Detroit 27, Michigan. They
were the manufacturers of the TRULINE Reproducer Arm. It is
an advertismeent that I did not come accross in earlier editions
nor in later ones. So it is not sure if the product was sold
in large enough quantities to establish itself on the market.
At left you see the ad. The TRULINE is a tangential tonearm
that came in two versions, a binaural one and a single (one
cartridge) version. It had been on display at the New York Audio
Fair. There the COOK LABORATORIES Exhibit showed the Binaural
version. And at the ELECTROVOICE exhibit the monaural (single
cartridge version) was used to demonstrate ElectroVoice's NEW
Model 84 Cartridge. The ad lists all the advantages of linear
tracking. The price for the Binaural Tonearm was $ 49.50. The
Monaural Arm sold for $ 7 less at $ 42.50. See
SL-8 and SL-8E Vintage Tangential Tonearm.
When I was in advertising I was responsible for campaigns,
presentations on audio fairs, and documentation for
Tandberg audio products and later, in the early nineteeneighties,
for Mission and Cyrus Electronics, and Cabasse loudspeakers
for some time as well. In those days I often had talks
with the sales director of the company that imported
the components of Tandberg, recorders, amplifiers and
loudspeakers. His name was Wim de Haan.
was a knowledgeable man and had witnessed the years
from the early LP in 1948 up to and including the Digital
Audio Compact Disc. In the conversations he often mentioned
this or that name, an invention, a principle, etc. Some
of the names he mentioned were those of Harold Leak,
Avery Fisher, James B. Lansing, Frank McIntosh, Saul
Marantz, and from England, Gilbert Briggs, John Bowers
and Peter Walker, and so many more. In those days Europe
was oriented towards the USA.
one time Mr. de Haan also mentioned the name of Emory
Cook, the inventor of the Binaural Duplex Recording
System. He found Cook's recording system interesting,
as so many technicians did. But he - and again many
others, typically the marketing managers - were well
aware of the fact that it was rather complicated to
set up, to maintain and use the format, and buy the
necessary extra equipment and components in order to
be able to experience the stereo effect. Therefor it
was difficult to popularize the system on a large scale.
Of course Emory Cook himself was well aware of this
handicap and issued practically all stereo recordings
as 10 inch mono editions.
in 1958 the stereo LP with the 45/45 system (invented
by Alan Blumlein 25 years earlier) finally came into
being, Cook reissued many of the earlier recordings,
now indicated with the label Microfusion.
Cook Binaural Sound Recording Process and the duplex records produced
by Cook, Livingston and Atlantic at the time have been noticed by
a few technically interested people already for a long time. But most
do not have the original arm, or a clip-on device for the second cartridge.
The obstacle of not getting involved is that the original Livingston
arm is missing. But with some experimentation you may find a solution
for playing these binaural records.
side of writing this article is that some sellers may start asking
high prices for the discs. But if you are lucky, there are chances
to get them at reasonable prices. And if a seller asks more than average,
he better be sure that the disc he offers is in Excellent or preferably
in Near Mint condition. And do check if the records offered are genuine
binaural recordings and not the 10 inch discs that are the mono versions
and are from the mono-days. Or see if they are Microfusion stereo
LP's issued from 1958 on in the regular stereo format.
Page first published on the web on April 14, 2013. This page will be updated