Investigation into Cook's Technique and
the Possibility to construct a DIY Binaural Tonearm
The Audio Fair of 1951, engineer and inventor Emory Cook demonstrated
the 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.
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.
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
of the art in the early nineteen fifties, such a
would result in a very low sound quality because of the restricted frequency
range feasable at the time, Emory Cook said.
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
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
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.
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 a later version the actual arm has a large nut which prevents
the cartridge from "falling down".
his 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.
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 and independently.
Livingston 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. That
category of 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.
Emory Cook said that the
staff at Cook
Laboratories used several slightly modified 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 is shown.
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 concerned.
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).
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
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:
preamplifier 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!' "
Food for thought for the producers and engineers of today's recordings.
recorded his binaural sound with only two microphones, spaced 10 feet
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
much liked 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
do.' 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 later
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 is issued on COOK 1094,
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, nor in the 1953 and
later editions. The Livingston label does not appear in Schwann's
list of Record Companies before the fall of 1954, nor does
it appear in earlier Jazz 'n Pops catalogs.
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
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 the same band, right after the third movement on Part
3; Cook likes to indicate Parts instead of Sides.
also entered the binaural recording business and printed the following
text on the back of the covers:
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
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.
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 that 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.
DO YOU NEED
A LIVINGSTON TONEARM?
you do not need a Livingston tone arm 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
I used 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 open.
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.
The next 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 the channels.
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 in Audacity.
Now that 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.
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 to.
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 from
You can 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.
MICROPHONE PLACEMENT EXPERIMENTS
Kaplan writes to me on November 9, 2015, that the very first commercial
binaural recording was made in September, 1952, of Wilbur DeParis. The
record was already released in November of 1952 titled Rampart Street
Ramblers. They were in a hurry to launch the disk right in time for
the holiday season to score the best impact.
photo on the rear of the album shows that two microphones were employed,
spaced about 25 cm apart and sitting atop a tripod. He says that
when "listening to the recording issued on a tape around 1955,
it is clear that some microphone experimentation was made, and I
suspect that the standard distance of 10 feet was also used on some
of the tracks".
Scans of Atlantic Binaural BIN 1208 and tape AT 7-5 BN submitted
on November 10 and 11, 2015, by Michael Kaplan..
Stereophonic Recording of The Atlantic Tape Library duplicated
and distributed exclusively by Livingston Electronic Corporation.
AT 7-5 BN. 7.5 IPS Stereophonic.
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.
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 a
this drawing and print it out. It may help you, or give you
an idea if you want to construct a binaural tonearm.
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
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.
July 23, 2014:
discovered in a newly acquired edition of High Fidelity Magazine,
January 1956 issue, 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. See also:
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.
The negative 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 and expanded.