Hi-Fi at the Planetarium
1955 Popular Electronics
of the 1950s undoubtedly were impressed by the mention of a Rek-o-kut twin
turntable with Pickering arms and pickups for playing records, let alone
a twin Ampex tape system used both for recording and reproducing. That was
awe-inducing stuff for the day, especially when applied to a planetarium
show with visual and sound effects realistic enough to , "make adult members
of the audience duck under their seats." We don't scare so easily these
days. Here is the story of New York City's famous
after the marriage of the aforementioned sound and control system with its
January 1955 Popular Electronics
[Table of Contents
People old and young
enjoy waxing nostalgic about and learning some of the history of early electronics. Popular Electronics was published
from October 1954 through April 1985.
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Hi-Fi at the Planetarium
New electronic equipment provides breathtaking realism of sight
and sound in famous "theater of the skies."
Mr. Joseph M. Chamberlain, Chief Astronomer of the Planetarium,
the new control console.
A mammoth electronic control console has been installed in New York City's
famous Hayden Planetarium, Synchronizing the Planetarium's Zeiss Projector
with an elaborate high-fidelity sound system, the console enables the "theater
of the skies" to present its shows with startling realism of both visual
and aural effects.
Hi-fi record and tape equipment, amplifiers, and controls are housed
in soundproof room.
U.N. children saw home skies protected.
Altec and Planetarium technicians took six days to install the new unit.
Martin Bender (right), designer, plans wiring and installation with
The only instrument of its kind in the world,
the new unit, as well as the entire sound system, was designed and installed
by the Altec Service Corporation of New York, with Mr. Martin Bender, Commercial
Engineer attached to Altec N.Y., supervising the entire operation, and Mr.
Joseph M. Chamberlain, Chief Astronomer of the Planetarium, contributing
to the guidance and scope of the program of improvement.
a mile of wiring is used in the unusual instrument, as well as dozens of
switches, knobs, relays, circuit breakers, and other components. The unit
weighs 1500 pounds and took a year to design and build. Now in operation,
it is capable of controlling 96 different combinations of special effects
to enhance the theatrical possibilities of the Zeiss Projector. In addition,
it controls any sequence of 15 different lighting machines, each of which
includes up to a dozen different scenes that may be displayed. The resultant
combination provides an almost fabulous range of possibilities for showing
celestial phenomena. Synchronization of these visual effects with specially
prepared sound effects is now so perfect, that the spectacle of a meteor
hurtling toward the earth, accompanied by a terrifying noise, is enough
to make adult members of the audience duck under their seats.
new control console is the climax of a five year program of improvement
at the Planetarium, during which time Altec also installed a complete audio
system. Chief problem facing Mr. Bender in this task was to diffuse correctly
the sound in the dome-like room that is the Planetarium theater, as well
as in the cylindrical room in which lectures are given. In both rooms the
shape and architectural material worked against good acoustics rather than
The dome, in which music and speech as well as special sound
effects were to be reproduced, received two speaker systems, each complete
in itself with one woofer and two tweeters for maximum distribution of high
frequency sounds. One system handles music and sound effects; the other
reproduces the lecturer's voice and serves also as a standby speaker in
case of failure of the former.
In the cylindrical room, the saturation
method of speaker placement was used by installing a ring of twenty-four
speakers around the ceiling.
Feeding these speaker systems are audio
program sources and input systems located in a studio-type control room.
In addition to the microphone used by the lecturer, the control room houses
a Rek-o-kut twin turntable with Pickering arms and pickups for playing records.
Adjacent to these is a twin Ampex tape system used both for recording and
reproducing. All input signals are fed through Altec-Lansing preamplifiers
and output amplifiers. The system is rounded out with switching and patching
panels that provide maximum flexibility in feeding the sound to any or all
parts of the speaker system as well as in monitoring programs. Because the
output frequency response of the system is flat, radio stations can connect
directly to any of the outputs and broadcast programs directly without correcting
for local equalization.
Speaker muting is provided at the control
console permitting the lecturer to communicate with the control room without
the audience being aware of it. END
The new control console after installation.
Posted June 29, 2012