Roberts Recorders • Califone
On December 11, 2012, Chris & Martin Theophilus, Directors for the Museum of Magnetic Sound Recording, interviewed 95 year old Robert G. Metzner in his home in Beverly Hills, California. His son, Dr. Richard Metzner facilitated the interview and Robert Metzner's wife of 72 years, Esther Metzner joined in the interview and hosted lunch. We provide links to video clips from the interview on this and the Stories page.
Roberts reel to reel tape recorders were built in Japan by Akai according to Robert Metzner's specs. Roberts Recorders' staff performed quality control checks on every unit when it arrived in California, prior to being sent to distributors.
Robert G. Metzner founded several companies including:
• Pacific Sound Equipment Company International, Inc.
• Califone (which became Rheem Califone)
• Roberts Recorders (which became Rheem Roberts)
• Hyricon and
• Hear, See, Now, Inc.
View his Son Richard's page about his Dad • MOMSR's Stories section on Roberts Recorders
Founding Donor of the Museum of Magnetic Sound Recording
The Metzner Family - Esther Metzner, Robert Metzner & Richard Metzner • Richard Metzner's comments • Beverly Hills, CA
February 17,1917 - December 21, 2014
We were saddened to learn about the passing of Robert G. Metzner on December 21, 2014.
Robert G. Metzner built his first crystal radio set at age 9. He got his ham radio license and later he acquired his First Class Radio Telephone license at age 16. VIDEO
Robert G. Metzner (pictured in Caltech's 1938 annual) majored in electrical engineering at Caltech. He worked his way through university going to class in the morning and then working for the Hadley Transformer Company in the afternoons. He then was hired by Allied Phonograph and Records.
He founded Pacific Sound Equipment Company and provided portable 16 inch transcription turntable players to salesmen who marketed their 16 inch discs to the film industry. When WW II began his company provided transcription turntables and other A/V products to the US military during WW II. The company ceased to exist when the war ended. VIDEO
After the war, Pacific Sound Equipment Company held such a large inventory of military style turntables that the company had to go into receivership.
Metzner Founds Califone
On March 21, 1947 with backing from his mother and a friend, Bill Maas, Robert Metzner (pictured left in the 1940's) founded Califone Corporation which later became the educational products division of Roberts Recorders. VIDEO
Califone is still in business today and manufactures state-of-the-art consumer audio components and, was the first U.S. company to offer a reel-to-reel tape recorder and solid state radio tuners to the general public. Metzner's Califone company provided transcription turntables. VIDEO
To help Square Dancing groups popular at the time, Robert G. Metzner in 1953 invented and patented (right) a variable speed control for the turntables. VIDEO
Here are some photos from the early Califone factory from Califone International.
photos - Califone International
Califone products in use VIDEO
Roberts Electronics, Inc.
Robert G. Metzner and Robert Craig founded Roberts Electronics, Inc. Robert Craig's farther Talton Craig was Robert G. Metzner's Califone distributer. Talton Craig enabled Robert Metzner to acquire a wide distribution network for Califone & Roberts. VIDEO When Robert G. Metzner and Robert Craig began building Roberts Recorders, their first logo was double "Rs" and British solicitors/attorneys contacted them due to the similarity to the Rolls Royce logo. (1958 Roberts Electronics ad - right) VIDEO
Roberts contracts with Akai as their supplier and retains exclusive North American sales
Robert Metzner's relationship with Akai first started around 1953 with a turntable that was brought in for repair to Califone. Robert's brother-in-law, who was working for him at the time said there was a very unusual motor in the player. Robert Metzner noted the numbers of the motor and found they were registered to Saburo Akai. Mr. Metzner contacted Akai and said he would like to know if they were making these motors and if not, could he have the tooling to make them. If they were making them, could he get their distributorship. Akai sent Robert Metzner a brochure about the motors they were manufacturing. A relationship developed and Akai provided motors for some of the Califone products.
When Akai first sent tape recorder demos to Roberts Electronics, Metzner said they were of very poor quality and he recommended they aspire for the quality of Ampex. He sent an Ampex 600 to Akai and they actually copied the basic design. The early Akai and Roberts Recorders had the similar look, however not the electronics and mechanics of Ampex. VIDEO
Roberts Electronics, Inc. negotiated an arrangement with Akai wherein Akai would build the machines to Roberts specs, they would be shipped from Japan to the US where Roberts would inspect every unit before it went out to sales. Further, Robert Metzner negotiated a contract that enabled Roberts Electronics to be the sole North American distributor for the recorders. Akai sold the same, or similar models to the rest of the world under the Akai name and paid royalties to Metzner. This lasted until 1972 when Akai entered the US market. Robert Metzner learned the Japanese language and made 12 trips to Japan beginning in 1958, forming a strong relationship with Saburo Akai (who founded Akai in 1929) until Saburo Akai's death in 1973. VIDEO 1 VIDEO 2
Roberts celebrity endorsements
In the 1960's Roberts Recorder ads displayed a high number of significant celebrities endorsing the brand. Robert Metzner said that as they were based in Hollywood, it would be good to profile their recorders with known stars. His first indorsement came from Rudy Vallee. VIDEO
Rheem buys Califone and Roberts Recorders
In the late 1950's Congress allocated 4 billion dollars for educational resources in the US. Rheem Manufacturing Company (started in 1927 by brothers Richard and Donald Rheem as a supplier of packaging to the petroleum industry and now manufacture of air conditioning, heating and water cooling products). Rheem wanted to participate in supplying educational products and receive a portion of the funds. In 1959, Jack Davis approached Robert Metzner about Rheem acquiring interest in Califone. Rheem acquired a substantial majority interest in Califone Corp., in 1959, and a minority interest in Roberts Electronics, Inc., in 1961, and formed the Rheem Califone-Roberts Division, selling tape recorders, teaching machines, sound systems and other related equipment for the home, schools and industry. Robert G. Metzner was retained as a consultant and continued with Rheem/Califone/Roberts. Robert Craig left and founded Craig Electronics. VIDEO
Jack Davis' signature (above left) appeared on a plaque on several of the Rheem Roberts tape recorders. Comparison of the same reel tape recorder branded by the three companies; Akai, Rheem Califone and Roberts
Roberts tape recorders were also known for the Crossfield head indicated by the "X" on the various tape recorders. VIDEO
Roberts 1000 1/4" audio auto-reversing recorder with built in 1/4" black & white video recorder
This is the incredible 4 track reversing audio recorder with a built-in black and white video recorder.
Jerry Lewis pictured with Roberts 1000. '69 ad • Ad for Roberts 1050AW (note the Rheem Manufacturing address)
Rheem Roberts and Akai also released the Rheem Roberts 1000 which was a 1/4 track stereo auto-reversing audio reel to reel tape recorder with a built in black & white video tape recorder. It used the same 1/4" tape and when the tape was re-threaded would record and playback B&W video. Built by Akai, it was released under the Akai brand as the X-500VT
Robert G. Metzner Tape Mechanism Patents
Robert G. Metzner holds a total of 12 patents. Included are the reverse dial mechanism on the Roberts 400X (right). He also patented and licensed to Akai the Roberts 333X technology that combined reel to reel, cassette and 8-Track into one tape recorder (left) VIDEO
Akai Begins US Sales
Billboard July 3, 1971 - "Akai America will introduce a full line of tape players Sunday (27) at the Consumer Electronics Show, The Califone-Roberts division of Rheem Manufacturing Co. has entered into an agreement with Akai Electric Co., Ltd. of Japan that will allow certain tape products to be sold in the U.S. under both the Roberts and Akai brand names.
Under terms of the agreement, Roberts will continue to market the major part of the Akai made products under the Roberts label on an exclusive basis.
"The benefits to both parties this new agreement are numerous and mutually desired,." said Roberts president C.R.Phillips. From 1974 to 1985, Mr. Phillips was Executive Vice President and Director of Akai America, Ltd.,
The last Roberts reel tape recorder we found was sold in 1973. It was the Roberts 5050X/XD.
Please view the complete Metzner Roberts Califone story at this link • Downloads of Roberts 23 minute video available at this link
Roberts, Rheem & Califone reel to reel tape recorders in our collection
1960 Roberts Duet 191-FT
1962 Roberts Duet 192-FT
1963 Roberts Duet 1057
1963 Roberts 400
1963 Rheem Califone 73-T
1964 Roberts 1055
1964 Roberts 330
1964 Roberts 770A
1965 Roberts 400X
1965 Roberts 6000
1966 Roberts 770X
1968 Roberts 1000
1970 Roberts 333X
1970 Roberts 610X
More Photos from our Roberts collection
Roberts Recorder & Califone reel to reel tape recorder Ads
1958 Roberts reel to reel tape recorder ads
1959 Roberts reel to reel tape recorder ads
1960 Roberts reel to reel tape recorder ads
1961 Roberts reel to reel tape recorder ads
Rheem Manufacturing Company bought Califone and Roberts Recorder and kept Robert Metzner on in the company where he continued to direct recorder development and relations with Akai. In 1961 McGee was the first radio catalog that we could find to begin listing Roberts recorders for sale. However Roberts Recorders was not in the catalog the following year (1962).
1962 Roberts reel to reel tape recorder ads
1963 Roberts reel to reel tape recorder ads
view 1963 Roberts 1055 in pdf
1964 Roberts reel to reel tape recorder ads
1965 Roberts reel to reel tape recorder ads
1966 Roberts reel to reel tape recorder ads
1967 Roberts reel to reel tape recorder ads
1968 Roberts reel to reel tape recorder ads
1969 Roberts reel to reel tape recorder ads
1970 Roberts reel to reel tape recorder ads
1971 Roberts reel to reel tape recorder ads
On June 1, 1971 Akai began marketing their own branded reel tape recorders in North America as Roberts contract expired.
1972 Roberts reel to reel tape recorder ads
In 1972 Roberts Recorders disappeared from the radio catalogs and magazine summaries about tape recorders and the market was being dominated by Akai, ReVox, Sony and Teac in the US. However Rheem Califone was listed in the summary below.
Third Party photos related to Roberts Recorders
We appreciate all photos sent to our museum. We hope to successfully preserve the sound recording history. If we have not credited a photo, we do not know its origin if it was not taken by the contributor. Please let us know if a photo on our site belongs to you and is not credited. We will be happy to give you credit, or remove it if you so choose.
Roberts 8 track Model 575 Conference Series reel to reel tape recorder
The Roberts iPod reel to reel tape recorder conversion
Speaking of Roberts...how about this conversion of a Roberts 997 to play an iPod by W. B. Morton Please note: this unit is not for sale on this site! This is for information only!
Speaking of Roberts...how about this conversion of a Roberts 997 to play an iPod by W. B. Morton
Roberts 997 reel tape recorder iPod conversion Roberts 997 reel tape recorder iPod conversion Roberts 997 reel tape recorder iPod conversion
(summary from ebay listing used with permission from W.B. Morton) Here is a Roberts Model 997 Reel to Reel deck that has been repurposed to play music files via a universal iPod docking station. Past meets present! Plays loud enough for a small office, dorm room etc. I played an iPod and CD player through the mic inputs and everything sounded fine although there is some distortion if the volume is turned all the way up.
The Roberts 997 tape transport and record/play heads were in terrible shape, so the following was done to put the separate right and left single ended amps to work (and make the resulting case look better):
1. Removed the reel motor and associated drive wheels.
2. Remove forward/reverse link mechanisms.
3. Keep the play/record and forward/reverse switches in place for any future experimental tinkering.
4. Kept the link arm connecting the play/record switch to the sliding switches on the separate amps (again for any future experimenting).
5. Lock the amp sliding switches in place in order to fix the amps into the 'play' position. This can be easily undone if the link arm is to be enabled again.
6. Removed the 6267 (preamp) and 6AR5 (bias oscillator) tubes - not needed for current purposes.
7. Replaced the 12AD7 dual triodes in each channel with 12AU7 tubes. The original dual triodes were bad anyway and the 12AU7's work just dandy.
8. Pulled all of the exterior textured vinyl covering off (no easy task) and covered the exterior with linoleum for a smooth surface.
9. Painted the exterior and body panels with black wrinkle-finish paint.
10. Painted the interior of the cover with regular black spray paint.
11. Added a hinged fold-down shelf to the front of the chassis (where the reels were). This is where the iPod dock is placed when in use.
12. Added a 3-prong power receptacle and moved the fuse to the back panel.
13. Added a double throw switch to allow earth grounded operation or to simulate historical 2-prong operation. The 'up' position connects earth ground and power, the 'down' position connects only power, the center position disconnects both power and ground. The 'down' position will avoid ground loops depending on what other equipment may be used as a source and how that equipment is connected to earth ground itself.
14. Installed a duplex wall socket inside the chassis to accommodate power connection to the iPod dock via its USB power adaptor and to apply power to the amps.
15. Kept the internal speakers in place. Just for fun.
16. Kept the external speaker connection plate on the right side of the chassis. Just for more fun.
17. Kept the external doors for the internal speakers in place as the cavity behind each door is just large enough to hold the iPod dock and remote control when the unit is not in use.
18. Attached an iPod holder to the inside of the cover (the white thing inside the cover in the pictures). The sides of the holder are adjustable to securely hold various iPod models.
19. The front cover door is detachable just as it was when the unit was originally built.
The lucky winner of the auction will receive the repurposed player, a universal iPod dock (Apple part number MB125G/B including USB power adaptor, various cradle adaptors, remote), power cord, and coax cables to connect the 1/4" speaker out jacks to your speakers. For the input connections, RCA to 1/4" jack adaptors are included. I will also send the two 6267 tubes (tested marginally ok, each has a rubber damper) as well as the 6AR5 tube just in case further experimentation will be done. by W. B. Morton
Here's another interesting Rheem tape recorder/duplicator (I assume) • These pics were donated by Nathan Luoto
I need help identifying a Rheem model tape machine. It is built into a large black metal box, with a large nickel or chrome plated cover over the heads. It has only one lever to engage and disengage the pinch rollers against the capstan. It does not have transport controls. It appears that it was designed to have four separate tapes stacked and played together. Spacers to go between reels, four individual heads stacked parallel, and four pinch rollers. There are two level knobs, two VU meters, and two 1/4 phone connectors on the front, and three RCA connectors on the back near the fuse and power cable. The only other control is a power switch and an indicator lamp. I rescued this unit from a pile of scrap/electronic recycling.